Saturday, 25 March 2017

Rome 365 - Via Giulia

Via Giulia, which stretches for half a mile parallel to the banks of the river Tiber, is lined end to end with churches and elegant palazzi. It was commissioned in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II, after whom it is named, as a pilgrim route to St Peter’s basilica.


Start your walk at the Mascherone or mask fountain. This 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!

The ivy covered archway that you see was designed by Michelangelo and was intended to connect Palazzo Farnese with Villa Farnese on the other side of the river but the project was never finished.

Immediately after the arch, on the left hand side of the street, is the church of Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte. This church was founded to collect the bodies of the unknown dead (usually fished out of the Tiber river) and give them a Christian burial. The Baroque exterior is covered with images of death.

Palazzo Falconieri.jpg

A little further along on the same side of the street is Palazzo Falconieri (now the Hungarian Academy) where two stone falcons glare at each other across the width of the facade.

Courtyard, Palazzo Falconieri.jpg

As with all of the palazzo that line this street, if you get a chance, peek into the courtyards.


At number 66 is Palazzo Sacchetti. If you turn left into Vicolo del Cefalo, just before you reach this Palazzo, and then turn right onto the Lungotevere, you will see the giant marble heads that line the garden walls of the palazzo. These will be familiar if you have seen the film ‘The Great Beauty’

At the end of the street sits the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. This was the national church of the Florentine community that lived here in Renaissance times.

If you would like to stay on Via Giulia then a couple of hotels would fit the bill - Hotel Indigo St George and D.O.M Hotel Both have lovely terraces on which to enjoy an aperitif after exploring this lovely street.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Recipes from Rome - Coda alla Vaccinara

The quintessential taste of Testaccio to us is Coda alla Vaccinara or oxtail stew. This dish, born out of the need to use the 'fifth quarter' of the animal, is named after the vaccinari, men who worked in the slaughterhouses.

Our favourite rendition of this dish is served up by Agustarello on Via Giovanni Branca in Testaccio. To recreate it at home  I turn to Rachel Roddy of course

By and large I stick faithfully to Rachel's list of ingredients but I tweak the recipe slightly as I am using a slow cooker.

The wine I use is a Sicilian red in homage to Rachel's new book, 'Two Kitchens', due out this summer, with recipes from Rome and Sicily.

One of the reasons I prefer Agustarello's coda (pictured at the top of the page) is the addition of chocolate. My secret ingredient for our version is Willie's Cacao

I use this in chilli and over huevos ranchos. A little goes a long way & it lasts for ages.

After frying off the onions I transfer them to the slow cooker before browning off the oxtail.

The wine is added and reduced down to a jammy consistancy, followed by the  tomatoes.

I don't add the 100ml of water as the slow cooking doesn't require as much liquid and there is a fair amount of juice in the tinned tomatoes. I add the grated chocolate and seasoning before transferring to the slow cooker.

8 hours later dinner is served.

The only accompaniment was a crusty ciabatta that we used to mop up the sauce - 'fare la scarpetta'. If we were in Rome we would partner this with a local Cesanese wine, Silene being our favourite.

Next time I would do as Rachel suggests and make this a day ahead, allowing for much easier removal of surplus fat. Also I might experiment with spices - cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg maybe? 
That said, the clean plates testify to the success of this recipe.

As an extra bonus the leftover sauce can be frozen to  serve on another day with pasta or gnocchi.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Michelangelo in Rome

The opening of the Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at the National Gallery explores the extraordinary artistic relationship between Michelangelo & Sebastiano del Piombi.
A trip to Rome affords the chance to see works by both artists in situ and what better base than the boutique hotel, Residenza Paolo VI, where you can admire Michelango's dome of St Peter's Basilica from the terrace. There is even a suite named after the great artist himself.

A cheaper, but no less charming option would be Quodlibet B&B, situated the other side of St Peter's Square but very handy for the Vatican Museums.

From a practical point of view if you are planning to use public transport, pick up a 48 hour ticket (€12.50) from vending machines at metro stations or anywhere that displays this sign.

 Don't forget to validate your ticket in the machine on the bus.

It may be worth downloading the It Taxi app too
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in Arezzo in 1475. As a baby he was sent out to a wet nurse in a family of stonemasons which led him to declare later in life that he "sucked in chisels & hammers with my nurses milk"
At the age of 13 he travelled to Florence to be apprenticed to the fresco painter, Ghirlandaio. Whilst in Florence he came to the attention of the Medici family and studied the works of art that they owned.
Michelangelo moved to Rome in 1496 and two years later a French cardinal commissioned the Pieta, to be found in St Peters Basilica, which forms part of our first days itinerary.

Day 1 

The best way to see the beauty of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling in relative peace & quiet is to take an early entry tour. You can do this with Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine tour or alternatively you can book an Early Entrance & Breakfast through the official Vatican website. The latter includes breakfast served in the Pine Cone Courtyard.

Originally the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted blue and coverered with gold stars. The transformation into one of the most sublime artistic works of all time is largely due to the relationship between two major figures of the Renaissance, Michelangelo & Pope Julius II. 
In 1508 the Pope commissioned Michelangelo to fresco the chapel's vaulted ceiling. The artist tried to refuse, insisting he was a sculpture and not a painter to no avail. Even so Michelangelo proposed doing far more than Julius had asked. The original plan was to paint the twelve Apostles in the lunettes and cover the ceiling with a decorative design. Michelangelo planned to cover the whole ceiling of 800 square metres with stories from the Creation. It took four years to complete.

The Last Judgement (on the end wall) was painted by Michelangelo after the sack of Rome as a warning to the unfaithful. When unveiled in 1541 it shocked many with its expressions of anger and tormented writhing bodies. That the bodies were naked only added to the controversy  (clothes were added to some at a later date) Michelangelo's self portrait can be seen in a flayed piece of dead skin in the middle of the piece.

No photography is allowed in the chapel but the Vatican website has detailed information as well as a virtual tour.

You will have access to the Raphael Rooms including the School of Athens where Raphael portrayed Michelangelo as the philosopher, Heraclitus. It is said that Raphael added the figure as a tribute after seeing the completed Sistine ceiling.

The museum also contains the Torso del Belvedere, a fragment of a figure that was to have a tremendous influence on Michelangelo as you will have seen in the figures depicted in the Last Judgement.

As  you are part of a tour you can exit from the Sistine Chapel directly to St Peter's Basilica.

Michelangelo's Pieta can be found at the beginning of the right hand aisle as you enter the Basilica. It is protected by a glass screen after an attack in 1972. With this statue Michelangelo's genius became manifest and it is the only signed work of the artist (arcoss Mary's sash). Created from flawless white Carrara marble, the sculpture shows the dead Christ lying across his mother's lap. Mary's face is that of a young woman, reflecting the beauty of her soul. Her left hand is stretched out as if to say 'Look what you have done!' I defy anyone not to be moved by this peerless work of art.

Michelangelo was just 25 and starting out on his career when he completed the Pieta. Towards  the end of his life  he became the supervising architect for St Peter's Basilica and was responsible for the impressive dome.

It is said that Michelangelo planned the vault of St Peter's to be not an inch wider than the Pantheon, for he knew that a vault that wide would not collapse.

After your exploration of the Basilica you are probably ready for lunch. From St Peter's Square it is a short walk to Sorpasso where you can enjoy a long, leisurely meal, maybe starting with a charcuterie platter comprising of the hams that you will have seen as you walked in.

After lunch pick up the metro from Ottaviano to Repubblica. From here it is a short walk across the piazza to Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Piazza Repubblica is built upon what was once the grandstand for watching athletic displays in the grounds of Diocletian's baths.

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Pius IV to convert the central hall of the tepidarium (warm baths) into a church. He treated the classical ruins with the greatest respect and made the minimun number of alterations, thus giving us an idea of the grandeur of  baths from the era of emperors.

From here you can pick up a bus to the Area Sacra which is just a few minutes walk from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. This church contains the sculpture of The Risen Christ  which is believed to have been started by Michelangelo but finished by others. The head, neck and arms are undoubtedly by the artist. 

Return to your accomodation of choice to enjoy a well earned glass of wine on the terrace.

Day 2

Pick up bus 115 or 870 from Lungotevere Sassia/Santo Spirito which will take you to Piazzale Garibaldi  on top of the Giancolo Hill.

The views from here are stunning.....
Look over the spires & domes of the city towards the Alban Hills on one side.....

.......and Michelangelo's dome from the other.

If you continue along the Passeggiata del Giancolo, on the right hand side you will see the facade of Michelangelo's house/studio.

Michelangelo lived in the house from 1513 for about fifty years and it is where he died. It was made available to him by the Della Rovere family after taking on the project of the tomb of Pope Julius II.
It consisted of two bedrooms, a studio on the ground floor, dining room, cellar and a lodge, stables and vegetable garden in the grounds.
The house originally stood on the slopes of the Capitoline Hill and was pulled down to make way for the Vittorio Emanuele Monument. It now acts as a facade for a cistern for the Acqua Paola fountain which you will see next.

Continue along Via Garibaldi until you reach the church of San Pietro in Montorio which contains Sebastiano di Piombo's 'Flagellation' which was designed by Michelangelo and is an unusual combination of fresco and oil on plastered stone.

On leaving the church take Via Gofredo Mameli which doubles back from Via Garibaldi . This road will take you to Viale di Trastevere where you can pick up Tram 8 to Piazza Venezia. 
From here you can walk up the cordonata to the Campidoglio.

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Paul III to rebuild the area for the triumphal procession that was planned for Charles V. As Holy Roman Emperor, Charles had shown his power by ordering the Sack of Rome in 1527. The Pope was keen to make a good impression.

The Capitoline has a long history as a centre of Roman government and worship. The Temple of Jupiter once stood on this spot, a symbol of Roman civilisation and the place where all triumphal processions culminated. It was here that the sibyl appeared to Emperor Augustus, foretelling the birth of Christ.
The temple faced the Forum, which you can see if you walk across the piazza and take the path on the right hand side of the central Palazzo Senatorio.

Michelangelo redesigned the Capitoline to face northwards, looking out over the new city and the roads leading to the Vatican.

The bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius (a copy, the original is in the museum here) sits on an oval pavement in the centre of a twelve pointed star, radiating out from a sunburst. The pavement represents the earth, the star shape alludes to the heavens and the signs of the zodiac and the sunburst is the symbol of Apollo. In Renaissance times Apollo was a metaphor for Christ. In this design Michelangelo was symbolising the temporal and spiritual universality of the Pope.
Returning once again to Piazza Venezia, look across to the General Insurance building.

A plaque on this building commemorates the site of Michelangelo's house, the facade of which we saw earlier.

Walk along Via dei Fori Imperiali as far as Lgo.Corrado Rici then cross into Via Madonna dei Monti. You will find Taverna dei Fori Imperiali at number 9, perfect for a lunch stop. The daily specials are always good. (open 12.30 - 3.00)

After lunch continue walking up Via Madonna dei Monti and cross the road to Via Leonina. On the right hand side you will see steps that take you onto Via Cavour. Cross the road and walk up the steps on the other side of the road which will bring you to San Pietro in Vincoli (re opens at 3.00pm) where you can view Michelangelo's figure of Moses on the tomb of Pope Julius II. The statue has recently been cleaned and given new LED lighting that replicates the changing light of day.

The statue of Moses was intended to be one of more than 40 sculptures on the tomb. Michelangelo spent months in Tuscany, searching the Carrara quarries for perfect blocks of marble, only to arrive with them in Rome to find the project cancelled and the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling a priority. One of the reasons Michelangelo agreed to paint the ceiling was that he could continue to carve the tomb, albeit at half the size of the artists original vision. The troubles that the unfinished monument cost Michelangelo caused him to refer to it as 'the tragedy of the tomb'. Pope Julius would no doubt have echoed his words if he could have seen the effigy of himself, designed by Boscoli, which surmounts the work.

After your visit take Via Eudossiana, cross Lgo. della Polveriera then right onto Via delle Terme di Tito which will bring you to this iconic sight.

Pick up a taxi to take you to your final destination, Palazzo Farnese.

As Pope Paul III, Alessandro Farnese greatly enlarged his family palazzo using the greatest artists of the age, including Michelangelo who designed the cornice and central loggia window above the entrance as well as the upper storey of the great courtyard. 
Palazzo Farnese is now the French Embassy and is closed to the public but tours in English are available on Wednesdays at 5.00pm. These tours need to be booked in advance at 
The tour also includes the magnificent frescoes by Annibale Carracci.
Back in the piazza take time to admire the fountains created from great baths of Egyptian granite from the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, topped with stone Farnese lilies.

Take the road to the right hand side of Palazzo Farnese which will bring you on to Via Giulia. This street was named after Pope Julius II who planned it to be the most important avenue in Rome. It connects the Vatican to Ponte Sisto and includes a vine covered arch, designed by Michelangelo as a private walkway to connect Palazzo Farnese with Villa Farnese across the river. The project was never finished.

This concludes your visit to Michelangelo's Rome. As you gaze at the dome on your final evening why not start planning a trip to Florence, where more great works from the master await.