Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Waters of Rome


Legend has it Roman soldiers would drink the waters of Rome to improve their chances of returning from war in one piece. Emperors consolidated their power & delighted the people by building public baths. Popes achieved the same by commissioning amazing fountains. As you can see , water has always played an important part in the history of Rome. In total  there were 11 aqueducts built to  bring water into the city.Some still stand today, more than 2,000 years after they were constructed. This itinerary hopefully will show you the effect that the waters of Rome have had on the city that you see today.

First Night

I encourage you to follow in what has become  our  first night tradition in Rome which is to watch the sun going down whilst sitting on the Spanish Steps with a glass of something sparkling in hand.

This could be Pellegrino but to be honest you can take a theme too far!! Prosecco for me please!

At the same time you can admire your first decorative fountain – Fontana della Barcaccia or the Boat Fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

 This fountain was the last work of Pietro Bernini, father of the more famous Gianlorenzo Bernini and commemorates the great flood of Christmas Day 1598 when a barge from the Tiber was washed up on the slopes of the Pincio Hill. The design of an old leaking boat is a very clever device that hides the fact that the water pressure from the aqueduct, the Aqua Vergine,  that feeds the fountain, is extremely low – no spectacular cascades  or spurts here.
The fountain will be surrounded by people sitting along it’s edge (as above)  so I have included a picture taken at a less busy time.

The street directly ahead of you is Via Condotti, a shoppers paradise if you are into designer apparel, but of interest to us as the name reflects the fact that the water channels or conduits of the Aqua Vergine are buried beneath the street.

By now you will be ready for dinner. If you have invested in Elizabeth Minchilli’s excellent ‘Eat Rome’ app you will have no problem in finding a good place for dinner. My personal recommendation in this area is Otello alla Concordia on Via della Croce. Yes, it may be full of tourists but it has a fantastic atmosphere in lovely surroundings, friendly waiters & typical Roman cuisine. What more could you want for a first night in Rome.

After dinner it is a short walk to the Trevi fountain which you simply have to see illuminated at night. We shall return to this area to explore in more depth later but for now why not make your way to the famous San Crispino Gelateria,Via della  Panetteria  & indulge in one of their many wonderful flavours  . My favourite is their namesake ‘San Crispino’ which is made with a bitter Sardinian honey. Mmmm – enjoy!

Day 1
We have to start our morning with coffee. Now you can either go the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ route & visit Tazzo D’Oro for an espresso fix (the best espresso in Rome??) & then enjoy the Pantheon & its Jacobo della Porta fountain in the piazza.

Or enjoy the Pantheon etc first, & then go to Cafe Eustachio for cappuccino. The latter opened in 1938 and the mosaic paving and furnishings are still the original ones.   Now I would always choose espresso over cappuccino every time & always enjoy it at the bar BUT absolutely nothing beats the experience of sipping a  Cafe Eustachio cappuccino (made to their own secret recipe – note that the espresso machines are positioned so that the barista’s activities are hidden from your view!)) whilst sitting enjoying the view of the distinctive stags head aloft the bell tower of Sant’Eustachio.

Whichever you choose you can be sure that water plays an important part in the coffee's flavour – the water supply to both of the above cafes is channelled into city by an aqueduct built in 19 B.C.

Head off in the direction of Piazza Navona stopping along the way to admire the Fountain of the Books in Via degli Staderari. This little fountain was built close to Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza which was at one time the seat of the university of Rome. In the same street you will see a fountain made from a great basin of granite which probably originated in the Baths of Nero which stood on this site

Piazza Navona itself is  built on the site of Emperor Domitian’s  chariot racing  stadium, remains of which can be seen just off the north side of Piazza Navona  at the far end of Via dei Coronari .

The focal point of the Piazza is the Fountain of the Four Rivers which 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 continents. It is the only fountain 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 Sant’Agnese in Agone which was designed by Borromini (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.

The obelisk rising from the centre of the fountain is topped by a dove – symbol of the Pamphilj family who were responsible for re building the Piazza & who funded the project by taxing bread – not a popular move as you can imagine! The obelisk itself is a Roman copy of an Egyptian original.

There are two other fountains in the Piazza – The Fountain of the Moor at the southern end has a central figure of a Moor holding a dolphin & The Neptune Fountain at the northern end depicts the God of the Sea fighting an octopus. Both were created by Giacomo della Porta but the dolphin in the Moor fountain is said to be the work of Bernini.

However, the Piazza’s connection to water doesn’t end with the fountains. In the time of Domitian the stadium was flooded on occasions & sea battles were re-enacted ( known as Naumachie) In honour of this , in the mid 18th century, the Pamphilj family had the Piazza flooded on hot summer weekends & encouraged the driving of carriages through the water for entertainment.

After you have finished exploring Piazza Navona make your way along Corso Vittorio Emanuele until you reach the Area Sacra dell’Argentina. We will make a short diversion here. It has nothing whatsoever to do with our ‘Water’ theme but is an important site in Rome. Not only are the remains the largest collection of structures dating from Rome’s Republican period in the city but the great platform of tufa blocks have been identified as part of the Curia of Pompey – site of the murder of Caesar. This area is also a magnet for cat lovers as the southwest corner houses a cat sanctuary –see how many you can spot basking in the sun!

Almost time for lunch. Take Via San Nicola Cesarini & continue on Via Paganica to bring you to Piazza Mattei & my favourite fountain – the Turtle Fountain. My suggestion for lunch is Pane, Vino e San Daniele in the corner of the square. Their speciality is food & wine of the Friuli region of Italy. Enjoy a relaxing lunch in the air conditioned, wood panelled restaurant whist I tell you the legend of the fountain:

Once upon a time there was a Duke - Muzeo Mattei who was betrothed to be married. Unfortunately he gambled all his fortune & lost it overnight. The wealthy father of his intended bride then cancelled the wedding but the Duke decided to show him how powerful a Mattei was, even without money,and had the fountain built overnight. The very next morning he invited his future bride & her father to his palazzo & pointed at the fountain from the best window saying ' here is what an impoverished Mattei can do in a few hours' All ended happily ever after with the Duke marrying his bride but in order to forget his humiliation he had the window walled up as it still is to this very day!

A less prosaic version of events suggests that the Duke 'borrowed' the fountain from a friend for whose palazzo it had been built & it simply was left where it stands now.

Remember Giacomo della Porta from the fountains at either end of Piazza Navona? He designed this fountain too. However Bernini was reponsible for the addition of the charming turtles which in actual fact are copies - the originals are in the Capitoline Museums

Directly opposite Pane, Vino e San Danielle is Palazzo Costaguti  the fabulous apartment rented by Matt Damon after murdering Jude Law in the film ‘Talented Mr Ripley’

Hopefully you are well fed & rested & ready to continue. Head towards Piazza Cairoli then take Via dei Giubbonari as far as Campo di Fiori (about a 10 minute walk) Unfortunately at this time of day Campo di Fiori is not at its best  as most likely the square will be full of rubbish trucks cleaning up after the morning market. However you will not fail to notice the brooding figure of Giordano Bruno whose statue dominates the square. Bruno was burnt at the stake for heresy, a reminder to us that executions once took place here.

 On that happy note we will make our way to Piazza Farnese by turning left down Via della Corda & marvelling at the beautiful square that opens up in front of you. The Piazza is dominated by Palazzo Farnese which is now the French Embassy but we are more interested in the fountains.

The two large granite basins originally came from the Baths of Caracalla whilst the fleurs de lys emblems on the top represent the  Farnese family crest.

Head towards Via  D. Mascherone from the Piazza & turn right on to Via Giulia. Here you will see our last fountain of the day – the Mascherone  or mask fountain. This too was commissioned by the Farnese family & was created by combining two ancient sculptures. It was said to have dispensed wine instead of water for Farnese parties – my sort of fountain!

Sadly the water isn’t drinkable unlike the water from the Rome’s little stand alone fountains which go by the affectionate nickname of Nasone (big nose) because of their  nose-like spouts. Here is  a short film that includes an excellent introduction of how to use these nasone like a true Roman!

 Via Giulia is a lovely Renaissance street laid out by Bramante in the 16th century. If you happen to be in possession of the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness guide to Rome there is a delightful walk which gives details of palazzos & churches along the way. Once you have reached the end of the street you will be perfectly placed to hop on the 116 electric bus which will take you back to the historic centre. Ron in Rome has very detailed information on this route. Time to chill out ready for your next day of exciting fountain discoveries!

Day 2

Today will have required advance preparation, in that  you will have booked your place on the Vatican garden tour here. It is an early start but well worth it not only for the extraordinary fountains & water features that you will see but also for  the amount of information you will hear from the excellent guides. What follows is a sneak preview of some of the ‘water’ sights you will see

The Casina of Pius IV is a lovely summerhouse built in the 16th century & incorporates a 'nymphaeum' or water theatre complete with turtle as you see here!



The Eagle fountain was built to celebrate the arrival of water from the Aqua Paola aqueduct to the Vatican. This was originally Trajan's aqueduct but was rebuilt & renamed by  Pope Paul V, a member of the Borghese family. The Eagle is the Borghese family emblem. Whilst the aqueduct did a fine job of supplying monumental fountains it's water wasn't actually drinkable - hence the Roman slang saying ' as good as the Aqua Paola ' when referring to something of dubious worth!

Finally a picture of the delightful frog fountain which can be found in the French garden.

You now have a choice to make. If you wish to see the actual Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel) I suggest that you refuel first at the Cafe where there is plenty of seating both indoors & outside in the courtyard.

However if you wish to move on then I will guide you to the absolute best pizza by the slice that you will ever taste! Head off in the direction on the Cipro Metro station. You are looking for Pizzarium which is just off Via Cipro on Via della Meloria. The shop is tiny but does have a small area where you can stand to eat or there is a bench outside. As well as divine slices of pizza you can also buy soft drinks, beer or wine. Prices are not cheap but absolutely worth every penny.

Suitably refreshed we will now head for the Metro & take line A southbound (Anagnina) to Barberini.
On exiting Barberini metro station you will see one of the most magnificent fountains in Rome - Bernini's Tritone, the half man, half fish sea monster As this was created for a Barberini Pope (Urban VIII), you will be expecting to see examples of the Barberini family symbol, in this case bees, of which there are many to spot. Also included amongst the figures are the keys of St Peter & the Papal Tiara. 

We will take a short detour across the piazza to the head of the Via Veneto where we will find yet more bees on a fountain - this time they appear to be trying to crawl out of the water.

Retrace steps on to Via del Tritone. Stay on the right hand side of the road until you reach Via del Nazareno, at the Burger King, and look down and to the left. Here  you will see remains of the Aqua Vergine, built by Marcus Agrippa in  19 BC  to supply water to his baths near the Pantheon & still supplying water to the Trevi Fountain amongst others. Wow - don't you just love Rome?! Something amazing on every corner.

Now I promised you a more in depth look at the Trevi fountain so this will be our next stop. It is well signposted but to be honest just follow the crowds because I can guarantee this is where they will be heading.

The Trevi is the first ‘Mostra’ fountain that we have seen. A mostra or showpiece fountain signals the entrance of the aqueduct into the city – in the case of the Trevi the aqueduct in question is the Aqua Vergine, part which we have just seen.

The fountain itself is a sublime Baroque fantasy which includes figures of Neptune & the Tritons. If you look above you will see a depiction of the legend of the founding of the source that fed the aqueduct - a young woman showing the spring to Roman soldiers. Also depicted is Agrippa approving the plans of the aqueduct.

The architect of the Trevi , Niccolo Salvi never saw the completed fountain - too much time spent in the dank waterworks affected his lungs & hastened his death.

Because every visitor to Rome wants to return, everyone takes part in a well-known tradition: to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. And this is the way to do it: stand with your back to the fountain, hold the coin in your right hand, throw it over your left shoulder.

The origins of leaving a coin in the Eternal City are very old: early Christian pilgrims, who were leaving Rome, would place a coin on St. Peter’s tomb. Coin tossing in the Trevi was a tradition started by the film ‘Three coins in a fountain’. One coin will ensure a return visit to Rome while a second makes a wish come true.

Around €3,000 per day is collected from the Trevi and donated to charity. See below how this is done!

The water from Aqua Vergine is supposed to be the purest in all of Rome.In the 18th century tourists would dunk their kettles in the fountain to make tea.

However I don't suggest you follow their example .- the water is that beautiful colour thanks to the addition of bleach. A much more romantic way to take the water is to drink from the 'Lovers Fountain' which is found to the left of the main fountain. The legend says that those couples that drink from the fountain together will remain faithful forever.

You are now probably ready for a break from all the crowds so I suggest you  look for signs for La Citta dell'Aqua .
Young in Rome  has an excellent article on these excavations & they are well worth seeking out not least because you will get another glimpse of Aqua Vergine.
Enough for today - I suggest you chill out ready for tomorrow!
 Day 3
Start your day by shopping for foodie items to make up a picnic. Wherever you are staying in Rome you will have access to a market, bakery or deli - most likely you will have access to all three!
Never fear - if you don't like the idea of shopping or carrying a picnic I do have an alternative which I shall reveal later.

Make your way to Piazza del Popolo with its impressive obelisk. This was transferred to Rome from Egypt by Emperor Augustus & originally stood in the Circus Maximus. Guiseppe Valadier decorated the base with fountains & lions in the early 19th century.

At opposite ends of the piazza are two fountains shaped like seashells with figures representing Neptune & Rome between the rivers Tiber & Anio


The three roads leading from the piazza are known as Il Tridente & from left to right are as follows:

Via del Babuino which leads to Piazza di Spagna & Via dei Condotti, Rome’s epicentre of fashion & material luxury 

Via del Corso  follows the course of the 2,200 year old Via Flaminia & is the road which the Roman legions used to march out of Rome & along which they returned to proclaim Rome’s glory.

Via di Ripetta heads across the river to the sacred city of the Vatican.

A very visual representation of wealth, power & 
the sacred leading out of this very piazza.

We. however, are going to take the Passeggiata del Pincio which was also created by Valadier as a scenic promenade & will lead us to Piazzale Napoleone with its spectacular panoramic view of the domes of the Eternal City. As you can imagine this is a popular spot at sunset.

After admiring the view turn around & head right to Viale dell'Obelisco, lined with busts of famous Italians. As a slight detour look for the water clock on Viale dell'Orologio 

Continue on Via delle Magnolie until you reach Piazzale d Canestre. Here is where those of you who didn't bring a picnic with you can get supplies. Just look for the little green kiosk on the corner of Viale Fiorello Laguardia called Pic Nic`
Carry on along Viale Canonica & then turn left on Viale del Largo. This will bring you to the sweet little lake with its temple dedicated to Aesculapius. The Lake is surrounded by benches on which you can enjoy your picnic. After lunch you could hire a row boat or maybe explore more water features in the garden or maybe just chill!

Whatever you choose to do you will exit the park at Porta Pinciana so that you can pick up the little electric 116 bus. This will take you (almost) all the way to your next  destination.

Get off the bus at the Santo Spirito hospital immediately after you have crossed the river . Cross the road and start your ascent on Via Giancolo. After a little way you will see steep stairs that are a short cut to Via Sant'Onifrio which eventually leads to Passeggiata Giancolo. Don't worry if you miss the short cut - you will still end up at the same place - Piazza Garibaldi. Here you will find refreshment & a stupendous view.  If, on the way up, you turn around & look to your right you will get this view of St Peter's dome 

Then you will see the Manfredi Lighthouse, a gift to the city of Rome from Italians in Argentina

 Once you reach Piazza Garibaldi not only do you get a stupendous view but also a chance for refreshment from the little kiosk. This is all very lovely & not to be missed but it isn't actually why I have bought you here. The reason of course is a fountain.
Carry on along the Passeggiata and you will come to the Aqua Paolo fountain. This large fountain is another 'Mostra' fountain and  like the Eagle fountain in the Vatican Gardens was built to celebrate the re-opening of the Aqua Paolo aqueduct. Marble from the Temple of Minerva  in the Forum of Nerva was used in the construction and the columns came from the original St Peters basilica . Look carefully & you will see many eagles & dragons dotted around the fountain - symbols of the Borghese Pope Paul V who had the fountain built.

After admiring more views, this time from the fountain begin your descent down Via Garibaldi into Trastevere. 
Head towards Piazza Trilussa, near Ponte Sisto for our next fountain. This was once a second 'Mostra' to the Aqua Paola and was originally situated on the other side of the Ponte Sisto. It was dismantled when the holding walls to the Tiber were constructed much to the disgust of the Roman citizens. They created such an outcry that it was decided to reconstruct the fountain where it is now. Unfortunately a lot of the original pieces were lost so the fountain that you see before you is a jigsaw of old & new.

If you take Vicolo della Cinque from Piazza Trilussa you will pass through Piazza San Egidio and then arrive in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Here is one of the oldest fountains in the city. The Octagonal fountain originates in ancient Rome & has stood here since the 15th century. It was restored  at the end of the 17th century by Carlo Fontana.

Trastevere is a fascinating area of the city to explore and , if timings allow, would be a good spot for dinner.
I have three personal recommendations. First, if you are in the mood for pizza, Ivo a Trastevere on Via San Francisco is a good choice. 
If you crave pasta then I would recommend Da Lucia  on Vicolo del Mattonato but for an authentic Roman experience you cannot beat Da Augusto, Piazza de Renzi. Be warned you probably will have to queue & it is very definitely 'no frills' but the food is amazing (& amazingly cheap!)

If you are looking for a pre (or indeed post) dinner beer then look no further than Via Benedetta which has not one but two micro brew beer spots - Bir e Fud & Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa.
For gelato try Fior di Luna on Via della Lungaretta.

Day 4
We have talked so much about the aqueducts - the lifeblood of Rome - that it is about time that we actually saw them 'in situ'. There is no better guide on how to get to the aqueduct park than that  given by Ron in Rome Again I would strongly recommend purchasing items for a picnic prior to your trip but there is a supermarket on Viale Giulio Agricola if you want to wait until you are nearer the park.

 The park itself is a delightful spot - full of mothers & toddlers, dog walkers & joggers. You will see two aqueducts - Aqua Felice which is a 16th century aqueduct built under Pope Sixtus V & the Aqua Claudia built by Emperor Claudius in AD 52. The Aqua Claudia is a truly impressive site with its arches seeming to go on forever. You are actually under the flightpath to Ciampini airport here & the contrast between ancient & modern is striking. After exploring the aqueducts

 you can either picnic amongst the arches.....
...or find a tranquil spot near a pond.

 Return to the city on the metro (Line A northbound-Battistini) and get off  at Manzoni. Look for the Via Emanuele Filiberto exit. Once on the street turn right on to Via Statilia. Here you will see remains of the  Aqua Nero, an offshoot of the Aqua Claudia, built to supply Nero's famous Golden House with water.
Follow Via Statilia all the way to Porta Maggiore. At one time six aqueducts from different water sources converged on the city at this point. However the remains that we see today are the double arches of the Aqua Claudia - we have followed it all the way in to the city!

The photograph below (taken from the huge scale model in the Museo della Civilta Romana in EUR) gives a birds eye view of an aqueduct snaking its way across the city 

Retrace your steps to Manzoni metro station & resume your journey northbound to Repubblica. Time for a fountain - an Art Nouveau fountain.The fountain of  the Nymphs, which you will see as you exit the metro station. The models for the nymphs were two sisters, popular burlesque dancers of their day. The church tried for months to prevent the fountain from being unveiled because it was too sexy. The two sisters lived well into old age and even as late as the 1920’s these two dignified ladies could be seen walking into the piazza to have a look at their fountain. Every year, once a year for as long as he lived, Mario Rutelli , the sculptor responsible for the fountain would come to Rome to take the sisters out to lunch.

Take Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando from the Piazza and head towards Via XX Settembre. You will now see another 'Mostre' fountain - this time for the Aqua Felice. This is known as the Moses fountain after the main figure - a notorious statue as it is obviously out of proportion & a poor attempt of replicating Michelangelo's Moses that resides in San Pietro in Vincoli.

Turn left down Via XX Settembre & continue walking until you come to the corner of the four fountains. These four small fountains all have a  god as their central figure. We have the Tiber river god which features the she-wolf , the Arno river god (or maybe the Nile - no-one is really sure), Juno (with a duck) & Diana

Now, you can either call it a day or carry on walking until you reach Piazza Quirinale. Yet another fountain. This time the granite basin started life as a cattle trough in the Forum, the obelisk originally came from the Mausoleum of Augustus & the figures of Castor & Pollux stood at the entrance of the Baths of Constantine.

Cross the road from the Piazza and take Via della Consulta & continue on to Via Serpentini. You are now in Monti, another area, like Trastevere which would be a lovely area to dine in. If it is too early to dine why not enjoy aperitivo. I know just the place - Fafiuche on Via Madonna della Monti. To find it continue along Via Serpenti until you reach Piazza Madonna della Monti. Via Madonna della Monti is on your right. 

There are so many places to eat in Monti and you should let Elizabeth Minchili, a Monti resident, be your guide with the Eat Rome app. 
I have recommendations too!
For pizza, Trattoria ai Tettarelli,-Via dei Capocci 
For Pasta ,La Carbonara, - Via Panisperna & for amazing food in modern surroundings L'Asino D'Oro - Via del Boschetto.
Not forgetting gelato - Fatamorgana, Piazza degli Zingari where they have such concoctions as 'Kentucky' (dark chocolate, cinnamon & ......tobacco!) or my absolute favourite 'Thumbelina' (almonds, rose petal & violet flowers).

Of course we can't end this day without a visit to a fountain. Head back towards Piazza Madonna della Monti & enjoy  taking in the atmosphere of this lovely square with its Renaissance  fountain . I can guarantee you will feel part of a real Rome neighbourhood.

Optional Day Trip 
If you are lucky enough to be staying in Rome for a longer period of time you might like to consider a day trip to Tivoli & the Villa D'Este. Again Ron in Rome has a foolproof guide on how to get there. Here you will see fountains & water features with attitude! Not to be missed