Friday, 26 September 2014

Fountains for All

' Here lies one whose name is writ in water' is the epitaph of John Keats, the English Romantic poet who died in Rome of tuberculosis on 23rd February 1821 at just 25 years old. He had been advised to travel to warmer climes by his doctor and he lived in what is now the Keats - Shelley Museum at the foot of the Spanish Steps. The sound of splashing water from the Fontana della Barcaccia is said to have reminded Keats of the play ' Loves Lies a Bleeding', lines from which became his epitaph.

This very same fountain was unveiled this week after a period of restoration which will please the countless numbers of tourists that love to congregate around the 'leaky boat' after dark.

This is just one of many, many fountains in the city. Of the lesser known, the fountains designed by Pietro Lombardi are some of the most charming. Commissioned by the city in the 1920's, Lombardi designed nine fountains which are all based on features of the districts that they represent.

In Monti, whose name means mountains, the Fontana dei Monti represents the  hills , Esquiline, Quirinale, Viminale that originally made up the district.

 Fontana del Timone (helm) is situated on the banks of the Tiber, once the site of the ancient river port of Rome, Ripa Grande.

The Fontana della Botte (barrels) is found in Trastevere and reflects the number of wine shops and taverns that are in the area.

The Fontana delle Anfore (amphora) can be found in Testaccio. The reference this time is to the man made mountain of discarded amphora that was created in ancient times.

The Fontana delle Palle di Cannone (cannon balls) is located near the military fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo.

Fontanella della Pigna (pine cone) is named after the area around Piazza San Marco, the Pigna quarter.

The Fontana dei Libri (books) can be found near the Sapienza University which is in the Sant'Eustachio district hence the inclusion of the deer head in the design.

The Fontanella delle Tiare couldn't be anywhere else but in the Borgo near the Vatican. The design is made up of Papal tiaras & keys.

I have left my favourite Pietro Lombardi fountain until last - the Fontana degli Artisti on Via Margutta. The artists materials- brushes, easel, palette - depicted , reflect the artists that are associated with this street. I like to think that the theatrical masks that are also part of the design would have been appreciated by the famous Italian film director, Fellini ,who lived at number 110 Via Margutta.

As well as providing a visual link to their surroundings these fountains supply crystal clear drinking water to visitors & tourists alike. They truly are fountains for all.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sights & Bites

It would appear plans are afoot to remove the mobile food vans from sites of historical interest (as reported here) but this begs the question why you would want to buy an overpriced, plastic wrapped sandwich from these vendors when a short walk from the places listed will lead you to infinitely better fare.
Forum / Colosseum
Cross Via dei Fori Imperiale & head towards Via Cavour. Immediately on your left you will see a small courtyard set out with tables. This is Pizzeria Alle Carette, home to delicious thin crust Roman pizza. Cheap option first - for €7.50 you can order a pizza 'to go' - big enough for two to share. Perch around the small Largo Corrado Ricci to enjoy your feast. You will. of course, have re-filled your water bottles at one of the many fountains dotted around.
If you wish to splash out a little. take your seat at one of the courtyard tables & enjoy your pizza washed down with local wine served from a jug.

Piazza Venezia
Directly overlooking Trajan's Column is Enoteca Provincia Romana -  a wine bar serving food from the Lazio area. You could share a platter of salami , enjoy a chilled glass of local frascati & drink in the view.


Alternatively, just off Piazza Venezia on Via di San Marcello 19, is Antica Birreria Peroni, where you can enjoy draught beer and food from a menu that includes salads, pasta & meat dishes - all reasonably priced.
Spanish Steps
This really is a 'no brainer'. A hop, skip and jump away from the Spanish Steps, on Via della Croce 8, is an unnamed pastificio, where, at lunchtime Monday - Friday, you can get a plate of pasta and wine for €4 - yes, seriously €4. The only catch - you have to be in line at 1.00pm.

For dessert, head further down the street to Pompi, where yet another €4 will buy you Tiramisu to share.

If you are in need of a 'pick me up' after all that sightseeing, drop in to Tazzo D'Oro, a stones throw from the Pantheon and order a granite di café which is served with whipped cream. If that doesn't revive you nothing will!


Circo Massimo
If you are in this area on a Saturday or Sunday you are in luck as on Via San Teodoro there is an indoor market - perfect for a porchetta snack.

Piazza Navona
You really are spoiled for choice here - both in the Piazza & in the immediate vicinity. My choice in the Piazza is  Vivi Bistrot, which is part of Palazzo Braschi. This really is the exception to my rule of never eating on a main piazza. The organic menu offers outstanding value with the added bonus of free WiFi and a ring side view of the fountain action.

A short stroll away, on Piazza Pasquino, is Cul de Sac, one of the first wine bars to open in Rome. Enjoy a platter of mixed cheeses & choose a wine from the huge wine list. All this under the watchful gaze of Pasquino himself.

Back on Piazza Navona if you walk past the Fountain of the Four Rivers, and exit left you will find yourself on Via della Pace, leading to Via Arco della Pace and Chiostro del Bramante. If you walk up the stairs, bypassing the exhibition ticket office, you will come to the café which occupies the four sides of the cloisters from where you can look down to the courtyard below.

If this wasn't enough there is also a small lounge that overlooks the Raphael Sybils in the church of Santa Maria della Pace.

You won't get that from a mobile food truck!

Thursday, 18 September 2014


The Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace is a celebration of the peace & prosperity bought to the Roman Empire by Emperor Augustus. It was dedicated in 9BC after taking four years to complete. Fragments were reassembled in the 1930's to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus's inauguration as Emperor.
Here are five reasons I love the Ara Pacis.

1 The Setting
Controversial I know but my first reason is the Richard Meier designed structure that surrounds the Ara Pacis - the first modern architectural project to be built in the city centre since World War II. I love the democratic nature of this travertine & glass building - the altar is visible to all, whether you visit the museum or not. It is particularly magnificent at night.

I also love that you can see the Res Gestae on the exterior wall - the achievements of the Divine Augustus as written by the Emperor himself, a superstar autobiography of the day! This originally came from a precinct wall created by Mussolini and was re-used by Meier.

2. The Location
The Ara Pacis originally stood in what is now Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucinda and was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial. On Augustus's birthday the shadow from the sundial fell upon the altar. The sundial now stands in Piazza Montecitorio. A model showing the original site, and its relationship to the Tomb of Augustus, can be seen in the Ara Pacis Museum.

3. The Puzzle
The monument itself is a bit of a puzzle - it has an entrance and an exit but only one set of stairs. Theories are that it was based on an ancient Greek design or that it makes reference to the Temple of Janus (the two headed God) in the Roman Forum. The doors of the Temple of Janus were open in times of war and closed in periods of peace. The doors were closed three times in Augustus's reign as Emperor.
4. The Decoration
The monument is faced with beautiful Luna marble which would have been quarried in Carrara. The decorations of the interior appear to replicate the original wooden altar which was consecrated on 4th July in the year 13BC. The beautiful garlanded swags hang from the skulls of sacrificial bulls .
The procession depicted on the exterior walls is like a home movie from Ancient Rome with almost life size portraits of Augustus's family, including son-in-law Marcus Agrippa.

The small boy in non-Roman costume is believed to be a 'hostage guest' being educated in Rome.
On the back of the altar is a depiction of Lucius & Gaius - Augustus's grandchildren and planned successors. The veiled figure is believed to be their mother, Julia, Augustus's daughter. Both children died young.
Amongst all the acanthus leaves and mythical beasts there is also the simplicity of the egg and dart motif.
The dazzling brightness of the marble is impressive but in its day the altar would have shone with vibrant hues. If you were lucky enough to be in Rome in August/September you may have seen the digital light show that replicated those very colours.
5. The Tribute
I guess I am not the only one who loves the Ara Pacis. Woody Allen used it in his homage to the Eternal City - 'To Rome With Love'. Apparently he wanted to combine images of  historic areas alongside a modern architectural look. He chose the Ara Pacis as a setting for a fashion show. A white catwalk was created and the models were dressed in white with white wigs to complement the surroundings.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Forum for the Fainthearted

OK so you have 'done' the Colosseum, had enough of ruins but you don't want to waste your Forum/Palatine part of the ticket. I feel your pain, hence this post which could also be titled 'Forum Lite'. It is a walk through the Forum picking out highlights. You never know it might inspire you to return  for a more in depth visit on future trips to the Eternal City.

Arch of Titus
A good place to start as it is pretty close to the Colosseum. This triumphal arch celebrates the crushing of a rebellion in Judea by Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian. You can see the Jewish Menorah being paraded as captured treasure on the inside of the arch.

Via Sacra
This main route through the Forum will have seen many triumphal processions. They always started with the captured gold and other treasures, followed by exotic animals, then prisoners and finally the conquering hero.

Temple of Julius Caesar
Caesar was cremated on this spot. He was very popular with the ordinary people of Rome because of his military victories but not so popular with the Senate. The warning of his impending murder 'Beware the Ides of March' was uttered in this very Forum.

Temple of Saturn
The Via Sacra leads to this, the oldest temple in the Forum, and  where the captured treasure from conquered lands was stored.


Basilica Julia
The steps of this law court contain gaming boards that were used to fill in time between cases.

Temple of Vesta
Rome's most sacred spot where the Vestal Virgins tended the sacred flame. As long as the flame burned Rome would stand.

The Vestal Virgins were young girls, before the age of 10, chosen from noble families. They served for 30 years and were esteemed members of society. They sat close  to the Emperor during the games at the Colosseum and had the power to grant prisoners freedom.
They lived in the House of the Vestal Virgins

Arch of Septimus Severus
This triumphal arch was built to celebrate Emperor Septimus Severus' victory in Partha (modern day Iran)
Over the carvings on the arch there was an inscription with gleaming bronze letters, but the bronze has been stolen away, and only the nail holes and grooves for the letters are still there. That is enough for us to read the inscription, and also for us to see where Septimus Severus' son Caracalla, when he became emperor and killed his brother Geta, had his brothers name scratched out of the inscription. Check it out on the third line from the bottom.

Who would have thought that such a whistle stop tour of the Forum would reveal  tales of murder, treasure, beautiful girls beyond reach and an ancient form of tiddlywinks!