Sunday, 31 March 2013

La Dolce Vita

For those of you who enjoy the sweet things in life you will get your just desserts (sorry! couldn't resist that pun) if you follow this itinerary.

Day 1
After a morning touring the Colosseum/Palatine/Forum exit on to the Via dei Fori Imperiali. Cross the road and take Via Cavour as far as Via Serpenti.Turn left and head towards Piazza Santa Maria dei Monti. Take Via Boschetto from the piazza, again on your left. Here you have a couple of options for a take out lunch.Gaudeo (Via Boschetto 112) sells delicious panini or, if you are in the mood for a filled flatbread, Piadineria (Via Boschetto 98) is the place to go. Once you have picked up your food, retrace your steps to the piazza & find a spot on the steps around the fountain in which to enjoy it.

After lunch take Via Zingari from the piazza until you reach the tiny Piazza degli Zingari which is home to Fatamorgana. Here you will find gelato in the most amazing flavours.  I have two  favourites. First, 'Kentucky' - dark chocolate, cinnamon and ......tobacco! Trust me, it is sensational. Secondly, Thumbelina - rose petal, violet and almond. Gelato fit for a Disney princess.
Time to walk off this gelato in preparation for gelato number two. Take the steep Via Clementina to Via Cimarra. Turn right until you reach Via Panisperna. From here take Via Milano all the way to Piazza Quirinale, dominated by huge statues of Castor & Pollux. Palazzo Quirinale is home to the Italian President.

Cross the piazza and admire the view before taking the steps  in the right hand corner down to Via della Dataria. Follow the walls of the palazzo all the way to Via del Lavatore. Turn left to reach the Trevi fountain. Be sure to throw your coins in to ensure a return to Rome then retrace your steps along Via Lavatore only this time continue along until you see Via Panetteria on your left. This little street is home to San Crispino, yet another legendary gelateria. Their signature gelato, the San Crispino, is made with corbezzolo, a bitter honey from Sardinia or try Zabaglioni made with 20 year old cask aged Marsala.
After some well earned 'down time' make your way to the Pantheon which looks beautiful when illuminated at night.

My suggestion for dinner this evening is Armando al Pantheon on Salita de Crescenzi which is just off Piazza della Rotonda.This is a  family run trattoria that serves traditional Roman dishes. My reason for suggesting it, however,
is the Torta Antica Roma on the dessert menu, a refined version of strawberry cheesecake made with ricotta. Enjoy!

 Day 2

This could be your day for exploring the Vatican Museums and St Peter's Basilica. Obviously you are going to need a sugar hit to sustain you and I know just the place - Dolci Maniera. Fortunately it is only a couple of blocks from Ottaviano metro station at Via Barletta 27 and is accessed down a spiral staircase. The delicious aromas will lead you to a huge selection of pastries including chocolate filled cornetti. You could also pick up something savoury for your picnic lunch later.
After your morning sightseeing leave St Peter's Square by the colonnade on the right which leads to Borgo Santo Spirito. Turn right on to Via dei Penitenzieri and follow this road down to Piazza della Rovere. Cross the very busy road and start to walk up Via Giancolo. After a little way you will see a set of steep stairs, a short cut to Via Sant'Onifrio which leads to Passeggiata Giancolo. Don't worry if you miss the short cut as you will still end up at Piazza Garibaldi - your lunch stop with a view. Find yourself a spot on the wall to eat your picnic. If you require liquid refreshment there is a little kiosk where you can purchase drinks. Sit back and enjoy the view.

After lunch continue along Passeggiata Giancolo until you reach the Fontana dell Acqua Paola. The fountain itself is impressive but the view from here is equally stunning. Carry on down the winding Via Garibaldi until you reach Trastevere. If by any chance you didn't manage to pick up picnic food then you could always have lunch at Insalata Ricci which is situated just before you reach the end of Via Garibaldi. Follow the road round as it becomes Via Benedetta, then take Via del Moro. At number 37 is Valzani, a cake shop selling traditional Roman specialities such as Pangiallo & Panpetato. These recipes follow the ancient Roman tradition of using honey, nuts and dried fruit instead of sugar. However, delicious that these specialities may be, my reason for suggesting a visit here is to purchase their Torta Sacher.The custom of baking this delicious chocolate cake derives from the Austrian domination of Italy. Alongside you may like to try Diavoletti, bitter dark chocolate pralines with chilli. Both would be ideal for midnight feasts in your hotel room! The 91 year old owner, Virginia Valzani has been running the store since she was 14 and still tends to the till .

Turn right at the end of Via del Moro on to Via della Lungaretta. About half way along on the left hand side you will see Fior di Luna - a Sicilian gelateria. The gelato here is handmade with natural, seasonal ingredients such as pistachios from Bronte and the staff are very friendly.

Continue on to Viale Trastevere where you can pick up the number 8 tram to take you back to the Centro Storico (historic centre of Rome).
After 'down time' head back to the Centro Storico for dinner. Let Elizabeth Minchilli be your guide on where to eat with ' Eat Rome' available here. For your after dinner passeggiata head to Piazza Navona. After strolling around the piazza head to Via dei Coronari. This street was named after the rosary bead (or coronari) sellers that worked here and was used by pilgrims on their way to St Peters. Today it is lined with antique shops and if you are lucky enough to be visiting in mid May you will see the street lit by candles as part of  Antiques Fair Week.
About half way along, on the left hand side you will see a small courtyard - Via di San Simone - home to Gelateria del Teatro.Two favourite flavours here are raspberry with sage and  Torta al Limone - Like eating a lemon merangue pie. Mmmm!
Day 3
Start your day at Largo di Torre Argentina which is easy to reach as it is a transport hub for both buses & trams. Play 'spot the cat' at Area Sacra which is a cat sanctuary as well as an archeological area with the remains of three temples from Republican times.

From here walk along Via Florida until you see Via Paganica on your right. This will bring you to Piazza Mattei and the delightful Turtle Fountain. The story of the fountain can be found on Day 1 of 'The Waters of Rome' post on this site. Continue on to Via di Reginella until you come to the Jewish Ghetto. Although there are no signs you will know that you have reached  Boccione - Il Forno del Ghetto, not only from the delicious aroma wafting out of this tiny corner shop but also the probable queue of people. Breakfast today should be a delicious slice of sweet Jewish pizza (Pizza Ebraica) made with almonds, pine nuts, raisins and candied fruit or ricotta cake made with sour cherries or chocolate (Torte di Ricotta). Don't be put off by the charred appearance of the baked goods - somehow this adds to the flavour! Find a nearby bench on which to enjoy your purchases. A little further up from Boccione is Beppe e I Suoi Formaggio ('Beppe and his cheeses') You will be able to get a pannini made up for you here for your picnic lunch. Retrace your steps, pass the remains of the Portico d'Ottavia as well as the Synagogue and turn left along the river bank.
Head towards Santa Maria in Cosmedin which you will not miss as it has a distinctive bell tower......... well as a tourist sight that attracts a large crowd - The Bocca della Verita or Mouth of Truth made famous in the film 'Roman Holiday'
If you walk along the western end of Circo Massimo you will come to Via di San Teodoro. Tucked away at number 88 is Cristalli di Zucchero, a Parisian style bakery in the heart of Rome. Examples of some of their edible delights can be seen in the photo at the beginning of this post. You can either choose to take a selection away with you (another midnight feast!) or enjoy with a coffee (no seating)
From here you need to retrace your steps along the edge of Circo Massimo, cross the extremely busy road then take Via di Santa Sabina from Piazzale Ugo La Malfa. We are heading to the Giardino d'Aranci or Orange Garden. Another spectacular view awaits you and there are plenty of benches & sun dappled spots where you can enjoy your picnic.

 After your al fresco lunch continue on to Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Look for the green door & peek through the keyhole for a perfectly framed view of St Peter's dome. Retrace your steps as far as the church of Santa Sabina and take the road opposite. Follow this road down as far as the tiny Piazza Tempo di Diana.Take Via di Fonti di Fauno then turn immediately right on to Via Licinia. This will bring you down to Viale Aventino. Cross the road and at number 59 you will find Il Gelato di Claudio Torce - said by some to be the number one gelato maker in Rome. Indeed he was responsible for training Maria Agnese Spagnuolo who went on to found Fatamorgana.In this emporium there are over 40 flavours to choose from including many savoury options. Continue along Viale Aventino and eventually you will come to Circo Massimo metro station. The metro wil take you to Termini where you can connect by bus to all parts of the city.
After a well deserved rest it is time to think about dinner. Again, Elizabeth Minchilli could be your guide to a restaurant in the heart of Rome or you could try Katie Parla's Rome for Foodies . Wherever you choose to eat skip dessert and take an after dinner passeggiata along Via della Croce, just off the Spanish Steps. At number 82 you will find Pompi.I may well have saved the best dolce until last as here you will taste the most heavenly tiramisu imaginable. What a way to end your sweet meanderings in the Eternal City!



Sunday, 3 March 2013

Brick to Marble

"I found Rome built simply of bricks, I left her clad in marble" claimed the mighty Emperor Augustus. As we shall see, this was by no means an empty boast.
Augustus as Pontifex Maximus
Augustus ruled as Emperor from 27BC to AD14 , one of the longest and most successful reigns of all the Emperors. In his time much of Rome was rebuilt & began to take shape as the city that we know today. An extensive road network that spread across the Italian peninsula was constructed and for most of the Mediterranean region it was a time of stability & calm.
Day 1
We start our exploration of Augustus's Rome on the Palatine Hill. Buy your ticket at the Via di San Gregorio entrance to the Palatine. Your ticket is valid for two consecutive days & covers entrance to the Forum & Colosseum as well as the Palatine. 
Augustus lived very modestly here and today we can still see four rooms of the home that he occupied before becoming Emperor in the House of Augustus (not to be confused with the Domus Augustina which means the private residence of later 'Augusts' or Emperors). Only a few visitors are permitted at any one time but it is amazing to see the frescoed walls & ceilings that Augustus himself would have seen.
Alongside the House of Augustus are the remains of the Temple of Apollo, dedicated by Augustus in 28BC. The God Apollo was said to have helped Augustus defeat Mark Anthony & Cleopatra at Actium  and thus he became the favourite deity of Augustus!
Unfortunately, the House of Livia, wife of Augustus, is closed at the time of writing but we will see beautifully preserved wall decorations from another of Livia's homes later in the itinerary.

Before you make your way down from the Palatine do spend some time in the Farnese Gardens and take in the view of the Forum from the terrace.
View of Forum from Palatine

Obviously there is much to see in the Forum and a good guidebook is essential. The legacy of Augustus can be seen here too, most notably in the Basilica Julia. The basilica was started by Julius Caesar and completed  by Augustus. It was used as law courts and the reconstruction pictured below gives an idea of the huge scale of the building. All that remains now is the vast floor and outdoor steps.

Basilica Julia

If you look closely at the steps you will see gaming boards made by the many onlookers who idled away their time between cases.

Between the Basilica Julia and the Temple of Castor and Pollux are the remains of the Arch of Augustus, built to celebrate the victories of Augustus in Dalmatia, Egypt and at Actium.
The final link to Augustus in the Forum is the Temple of Divus Julius. The temple was built on the spot of Julius Caesar's funeral pyre and was dedicated by Augustus in 29BC. To this day flowers are regularly placed on this spot.

After you have toured the Forum exit on to the Via dei Fori Imperiali and cross the road. Look beyond the statue of Augustus to view the remains of the Forum that he built to commemorate his victory over Brutus & Cassius who were responsible for the murder of Julius Caesar. Most of the remains are now buried underneath the Via dei Fori Imperiali, built by Mussolini but parts of the  temple at the centre of the forum are still visible.
View of Temple of Mars Ultor & firewall
 from Via Baccina

The temple was dedicated to Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) and was erected by Augustus in memory of Julius Caesar who was his uncle and adoptive father.
The temple is backed by a large wall of grey stone which was built to prevent fire spreading  to the forums from the densely populated Suburra which lay beyond it.
From the Forum of Augustus walk in front of the dazzlingly white Vittorio Emanuele monument and around to the steep steps that lead to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. According to legend the church is built on the spot that the Tiburtine Sibyl foretold the birth of Christ to Emperor Augustus. Augustus raised an altar - an aracoeli, hence the name of the church.
Carry on walking down until you reach Teatro Marcello. This was  completed in 13BC by Augustus who named it in honour of his nephew Marcellus. 80 years older than the Colosseum,whose structure it echoes, Teatro Marcello could seat 20,000 people.   

Carry on walking down to the river, turn right and then left at Ponte Fabricio, past the Synagogue and straight ahead to the Portico d'Octavia. This was an important passage between the forums and the theatre areas. It was originally built in 146BC but was rebuilt in 27BC by Augustus and dedicated to his sister. The portico itself enclosed temples, libraries and public rooms and acted as a foyer to the Teatro Marcello.
You are now in the Jewish Ghetto , one of the most historic areas of the city. In Republican & Imperial times the Jewish people were treated well.The first Jews came to Rome as traders in the 2nd century BC. Later, Many were bought back to Rome as slaves when Pompey invaded Judea. Julius Caesar gave them the right to settle anywhere in the Roman Empire and Augustus even organised the grain distribution to avoid the Jewish Sabbath.It was Pope Paul IV in the 16th century that decreed that the Jewish population should be confined to one area & thus the Ghetto came into being.
For 'foodie' travelers this area is a delight where you can sample typical Jewish cooking which has had such an influence on Roman cuisine. Right next to Portico d'Octavia is Giggetto who serve carciofi alla Guidia (whole fried artichokes) all year round.

Carciofi alla Guidia
Not far from Giggetto is Nonna Betta - a Kosher restaurant and a little further along Via Portico d'Octavia you will find Il Boccione, where the Limentani family have baked traditional Jewish cakes and bread for three generations. The ricotta cakes are a particular favourite. 
Almost opposite Il Boccione, on Piazza delle Cinque Scole, is Sora Margherita. A buzzy, frenetic trattoria with no outdoor sign which serves up Roman classics. 
On Via Santa Maria del Pianto is Beppe e I Suoi Formaggio, a speciality cheese store that also serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, Aperitivo & dinner.
Finally, for that gelato fix there is Alberto Pica, actually outside the Jewish Ghetto, on Via Seggiola. The speciality here are  flavoured rice gelato.
Hopefully you will have found sustenance before heading back to your accommodation. 
We start today's journey at the Pantheon or 'temple of all gods'. The building that we see today was actually constructed by Hadrian but the original Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa, friend and son in law of Emperor Augustus. Hadrian acknowledged Agrippa's work in the inscription that we see on the front.

The temple was part of a huge leisure complex which included public gardens and baths which were fed by the Virgo aqueduct, again constructed by Agrippa.

The aqueduct is still in use today.Indeed the water in the Trevi fountain is supplied by the very same aqueduct.
Walk along the left hand side of the Pantheon to Piazza della Minerva and continue on to Via Cestari. A slight detour on to Via dell'Arco della Ciambella will take you to the remains of the Baths of Agrippa. 

Remains of Baths of Agrippa on Via dell'Arco della  Ciambella
Retrace your steps, cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele II & continue down to Via delle Botteghe Oscure. Here you will find the Museo Crypta Balbi. This area was once part of the Campus Martius, land used for military training. In the time of Augustus it was intensively developed by his associates & family members, one of whom was Lucius Balbus. He built the Theatre of Balbus. A crypta is a courtyard in which the theatre goers would have taken refreshment, the remains of which can be seen as part of the guided tour in this museum.  The purpose of the museum is to show the changes in the city over the centuries.
After your visit to the museum, walk to Via di Torre Argentina and purchase a bus ticket from the automated machines or kiosk. You can catch any of the following buses : 87,492,628,70 or 81. Take the bus four stops & alight at Lungotevere Marzo. From here walk to Piazza Augusto Imperatore and your lunch stop - ReCafe. The specialty here is Neapolitan pizza but more importantly, for our itinerary, a table near the second floor window affords a marvelous view of of the tomb of Augustus. 
Much more modest than the mausoleum built by Hadrian the Castel Sant'Angelo, the tomb of Augustus reflected the more restrained spirit of the Roman Republic. Augustus began the tomb for himself and his family in 27BC. The first person buried here was Augustus's nephew, Marcellus, who died young in 23BC. Augustus was laid to rest here in AD14. Originally the tomb was planted with cypresses & topped with a bronze statue of the Emperor. The obelisks that now stand in Piazza del Quirinale & Piazza dell'Esquiline once flanked the entrance to the mausoleum. 

After lunch it is time for the Ara Pacis, the most complete (and beautiful) monument to Augustus in all of Rome. The Altar of Peace 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.

Once in the museum it may be a good idea to purchase the booklet that will identify the faces depicted on the walls that surround the altar itself. The frieze on the front wall shows the celebration of Lupercalia, the founding of Rome, with a procession of the Emperor's family. The 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.
When you have finished studying this Ancient Roman version of a home movie, walk along Via Ripetta to Piazzo del Popolo. In the centre of the Piazza is an obelisk bought from Egypt to Rome by Augustus. It originally stood in the Circus Maximus.
Take the middle road from the piazza - the Via del Corso. This was originally known as the Via Flaminia and was the road that Augustus would have taken on his military campaigns in Gaul and Spain.
Look for the church of San Lorenzo in Lucinda, a liitle way along on your right. The Piazza of tha same name is where the Ara Pacis originally stood. It was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial , which we shall see shortly. On Augustus's birthday the shadow from the sundial fell upon the altar.                                                                                         
Carry on walking until you reach Piazza Colonna, dominated by the column of Marcus Aurelias and Palazzo Chigi. The latter is now the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister.
 If you cross the piazza you will come to Piazza Montecitorio and the aforementioned sundial which was moved here in the 18th century. 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.
From here take Via Guglia then turn right on to Via Pastini which will bring you back to the Pantheon where we started our journey this morning.
Day 3
Today we will explore Palazzo Massimo which is very easy to reach as it is within sight of Termini station. Your ticket from Crypta Balbi includes entrance to this museum too. Palazzo Massimo is a fascinating museum which is often overlooked. From the point of view of this itinerary I will concentrate on those exhibits that relate to Augustus but you could easily spend the whole morning taking in the various collections.
The first item of interest is in room V - the statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, head of the Roman priesthood. The head & hands of this statue are made of the finest Greek marble whilst the body is made of Italian Luna marble.
Make your way up to the second floor where you will find jaw dropping wall paintings.You could almost imagine that you are a guest of Livia, wife of Augustus, when you enter the room that holds the wall decoration taken from her villa at Prima Porta. Originally the decoration would have been in the triclinium, a dining pavilion half buried to keep guests cool in summer. Even before restoration took place over 20 botanical species and more than two dozen birds were identified in the wall painting.

In other rooms you can see wall paintings rescued from the riverside villa of Julia, daughter of Augustus, and her husband, Marcus Agrippa. The villa was built for their wedding, however, Agrippa died of a fever nine years after they were married. The decoration depicts theatrical masks, landscapes and mythological subjects.
This concludes our Augustus itinerary but I do have a couple of suggestions for lunch. If you like the idea of a picnic you could pick up food & drink from the supermarket situated downstairs in Termini station. Once you have the makings of an outdoor feast cross the bus station in front of Termini & head to the Baths of Diocletian/Terme Museum. You will find yourself in a garden that is a little oasis amongst the traffic chaos & a perfect place to picnic.

If you are not suffering from museum fatigue at this point you can use your ticket from Crypta Balbi & Palazzo Massimo to enter the Terme Museum. The ticket office is beyond the garden. Once inside you can admire the Michelangelo Cloister & the huge animal heads dotted around the fountain in the centre. Inside are hundreds of epigraphs which are fascinating........if you understand Latin!

If the idea of a picnic doesn't appeal then take Via Viminale from Palazzo Massimo. Almost opposite Teatro dell'Opera at Via Viminale 2, is Er Buchetto, a tiny 'hole in the wall' kind of place that serves authentic porchetta from Ariccia. You can wash this down with wine from Frascatti on tap. For next to nothing you can enjoy delicious food & a truly Roman experience.