Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Red Red Wine

Our love of Cesanse wine goes back to 2010 when we were stranded in Rome thanks to the Icelandic volcano. Late afternoons were spent in our local bar, Vino Veritas, now sadly closed, where Andrea introduced us to this local wine.

Our favourite producer of Cesanese is Damiano Ciolliwhose family have been making wine for five generations.

In the past quantity had triumphed over quality with the wine made from the Cesanese grape sold off in bulk. When Damiano took over the vines at the age of 24 he reversed this tradition and he now produces two Cesanese wines of superior quality.

The vines, some of which are 64 years old, grow in red volcanic soil and thrive in a microclimate that sees the air cooled by breezes from the nearby coast and the grapes protected from extreme weather by the surrounding three mountain ranges.

Dotted amongst the vines are these pretty little flowers known as Silene

The grapes are harvested manually and imperfect specimens rejected.

At the Cantine  the grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats then aged in concrete or French oak barrels.

This is where we get to taste the two wines that are produced here, Silene & Cirsium, named after plants that grow in the vineyard.

What can I say.....sitting overlooking the vines , chatting with Damiano and drinking lovely wine....just a perfect moment. Honestly, tears spring forth every time I think of it. I don't think we will ever taste wine in a more perfect setting.

Thanks to Gina & Casa Mia you too, can spend spend time with this talented winemaker who understands the potential of this grape variety which dates back to the days of the Roman Empire.
Gina is a wonderful guide whose enthusiasm & knowledge make for a fantastic tour.

Back in Rome some of our favourite restaurants stock Damiano's wine, including Sorpasso & Osteria dell'Arco.
It is also available from Eataly.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Rome 365 - Trajan's Column

Trajan's Column was erected by the Senate in 113AD to commemorate Emperor Trajan's campaigns against the Dacians
(modern day Romania)

An inscription above the door at the base  records that the height of the column corresponded to the height of the hill which it replaced.

A statue of Emperor Trajan originally stood on the top but this was replaced in the 16th century by a statue of St Peter

The column is made up of 19 drums of Italian marble covered in reliefs. These scenes tell us so much about the Roman army, for example, you can see that the helmets have small rings on top so that they could be hung from a cord over the shoulder when they were not worn.

A good way to see models of the drums up close is at the Museum of Roman Civilization in EUR district but at the moment this is closed for refurbishment.

Of course, if you are in London, the Victoria & Albert museum also has a plaster cast reproduction of the column, located in the Cast Courts

If you visit the Illuminated Forum of Caesar during the summer months, you can get a great close up view of the beautifully lit column.

Finally, a good place to eat with a great view of the column is Terre e Domus (formally Enoteca Provincia Romana). The ingredients for the traditional Roman dishes are all sourced locally and the project is managed by a social co-operative.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Emporio delle Spezie

For the past three years our pre Rome trip preparation has included sorting through our spice cupboard and making a list of those jars to to replenish.
Using Google translate, we endeavour to get our tongues around the Italian names for cinnamon (cannella), cloves (chiodi di garofano) and the like
Once in Rome we hot foot it to a tiny store on Via Luca delle Robbia in Testaccio. 
Emporio delle Spezie is an Aladdin's cave of herbs and spices from all over the world and all of the utmost quality.

The lovely Laura is so patient with our poor pronounciation of list items and our exceedingly small purchases are weighed out with care on the old fashioned brass scales, then bagged & labelled.
Once home these spices are a wonderful memento of Rome, whether it be peppered steak with Sarawak peppercorns, fish pie seasoned with Norwegian smoked salt or the aroma of oregano from Campania, which instantly transports us back to Italy.

Laura even makes an appearance in my favourite cookbook, Five Quarters by Rachel Roddy. All the spices, flour, nuts and dried fruit that Rachel uses in her recipes are purchased at Emporio delle Spezie.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Rome 365 - Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis is the most complete (and beautiful) monument to Emperor Augustus in all of Rome. The Altar was built in 13BC to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories in Gaul & Spain. It didn't always stand on this spot , as we will see later, but fragments were reassembled here in the 1930's to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Augustus's inauguration as Emperor.

Before we look in detail at the altar itself, we should look at the museum in which it is housed. I personally love the Richard Meier designed building, the first modern architectural project to be built in the historic centre since the second world war. It did attract a lot of local criticism initially, despite being such a democratic design which allows passers by to look in and see the Ara Pacis in marvelous surroundings. It is constructed in Travertine marble, an historic Roman material.

The decorative reliefs on the screen that surround the altar are divided into two sections. The lower level is richly decorated with intertwined acanthus plants as well as birds, small animals and insects.

The upper frieze on the front wall shows the celebration of Lupercalia, the founding of Rome, with a procession of the Emperor's family, led by Augustus himself. 

 The upper back wall has a depiction of Mother Earth holding two babies, supposedly Lucius & Gaius - Augustus's grandchildren & planned successors.The veiled figure is believed to be their mother, Julia, Augustus's daughter. Both children died young.

The ornamentation on the inside walls are a series of esquisite garlands sculptured in relief that resemble the painted ones in the House of Livia on the Palatine.

The Ara Pacis originally stood in the Campus Martius, in what is now Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucinda. It was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial, the shadow from which fell upon the altar on Augustus's birthday.

The aforementioned sundial was moved in the 18th century to
Piazza Montecitorio. The obelisk on which the sundial is mounted was one of the first that Augustus brought back from Egypt and is the fourth biggest of the thirteen obelisks now standing in Rome.

All this would be reason enough to visit Ara Pacis but now there is an added bonus that enables you to go back in time with augmented reality. Slipping on a visor, the fully glory of the monument with its original bright colours comes to life right in front of your eyes and you also get to see its transformation over time. Details here


The exterior wall of the museum contains the Res Gestae which lists all the achievements of Emperor Augustus throughout his reign.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

St Paul in Rome

Today, in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Francis will celebrate the Conversion of St Paul.

Caravaggio depicted the event in a painting which can be seen in Santa Maria del Popolo and monuments to the life of the saint can be seen around the city.

The church of Santa Maria in Via Lata, just off the Via del Corso, was, according to legend, built over the house of the centurion who guarded the imprisoned St Paul on this spot.

Continuing along the Via del Corso will bring you to Piazza Colonna, dominated by the Column of Marcus Aurelius. The column was built to commemorate the triumphs of Marcus Aurelius in battle and was originally surmounted by a statue of the emperor himself but in the 16th century it was replaced by a statue of St Paul.

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius was built as the tomb of the wealthy official in 12BC and would have been one of the last monuments that St Paul would have seen as he was led to his execution along the Ostian Way.

 The small church of San Paolo Tre Fontaine was built in the 5th century over what was believed to be the site of St Paul's martyrdom. Legend says that as he was decapitated, his head bounced three times and fountains miraculously sprang up at each place where his head touched the ground.

Close by, in the crypt of Santa Maria Scala Coeli, can be seen the cell where St Paul was supposedly held before his beheading.

These two churches can be found within the shaded paths of the Tre Fontaine Monastery, not far from EUR. The Trappist monks here are well known for producing chocolate & honey.

The Basilica San Paolo Fuori La Mura (St Paul Outside the Walls) was built over the Apostles tomb. The building we see today was reconstructed in the 19th century after a great fire destroyed the basilica.

Gifts from all over the world were given at the time of the rebuilding, including malachite and lapus lazuli from Czar Nicholas 1 which adorn two of the altars.

The Paschal candlestick is one of the few things to be rescued from the fire and dates back to the 12th century.

The mosaics of every pope dating back to St Peter are copies of those from the original basilica.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Rome 365 - Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona was built over the Stadium of Domitian, used as an athletic track in ancient Rome. The buildings surrounding the piazza follow the exact outline of the stadium which was built in the 1st century.
The piazza was the scene of shows and celebrations well in to the 19th century, including a summer water festival.

During the celebrations the square was flooded and carriages would drive around through the water. This echoes the Naumachia, mock naval battles, which would have been held on this spot in ancient times.

Today's entertainment is made up of artists, performers and living statues.

The church that overlooks the piazza is dedicated to Saint Agnes and it played an important part in WWII when a clandestine wireless transmitter was hidden in one of the belfries.
The magnificance of the piazza that we see today is thanks to the Pamphilj pope, Innocent X. He commissioned Borromini to work on the family palace, Palazzo Pamphilj, now the Brazilian Embassy as well as the aforementioned church of Sant'Agnese. Pope Innocent also bought the waters of the Acqua Vergine to feed his planned fountains as well as resurrecting Domitian's obelisk which was found in fragments near the Via Appia. This was used by Bernini as the centrepiece for his Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The fountain depicts the Nile, Ganges, Danube & Rio de la Plata rivers. They represent the longest rivers in each of the continents recognised at the time of construction of the fountain & are surrounded by plants & animals native to those 


It is the only fountain in the piazza designed in its entirety by Bernini and is the subject of a story of rivalry between Bernini & Borromini. According to the story the figure representing the river Nile is blindfolded to avoid having to look at the facade of Borromini's Sant’Agnese (in reality the Nile figure is hooded probably because the rivers source wasn’t known at the time) The figure of Rio della Plata who also faces Borromini’s church raises his hand in terror as if expecting the facade to collapse. Sadly, this story has no basis in fact as Bernini had completed the fountain before work on the church had begun.

Bernini also designed the central figure holding the dolphin in the Fontana del Moro at one end of the piazza.

The Pamphilj family symbol, the dove, is in evidence throughout the piazza.

If you exit the piazza at the top end, near the tourist office, and turn left on to Via di Tor Sanguina you come to the entrance of the ruins of the original stadium. Here you can see a small section of the grandstands and also statues, decorations and the original floor.

Opening times and ticket prices for the ruins can be found here