Saturday, 30 November 2013

Busy Bees


Bees can be seen all over Rome as they are the heraldic symbol of the Barberini family - the family that produced Pope Urban VIII. Bees represent wisdom but they weren't the first symbol of the Barberini family , who have their roots in Florence - originally it was a horsefly!  Once elected pope, Urban VIII set about commissioning artists who were to turn the Eternal City in to a Baroque showcase. The monuments that were created inevitably included a reference to the 'Barberini Bees'
We start our bee quest at Palazzo Barberini, the Barberini family palace. Since 1949 the Palazzo has belonged to the Italian State and now forms part of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica. There are many treasures to be seen but our ultimate destination is the Great Hall and the ceiling fresco by Cortona. 'The Triumph of Divine Providence' includes a flight of bees soaring through the heavens.

From the Palazzo walk down to Piazza Barberini where you will see the Tritone Fountain, designed by Bernini. This fountain has recently been restored which should make spotting the bees a little easier!


Across the piazza, at the corner of Via Veneto, is one of my favourite Bernini fountains, the Fountain of the Bees. Here the bees appear to have paused to take a drink from the open scallop shell.

If you look down Via Veneto , a short way down on the right hand side you will see the church of Santa Maria della Concezione. This is better known for the Capuchin cemetery, which has become a major tourist attraction, but the church itself was built for a  Barberini Cardinal. Cardinal Antonio Barberini, a Capuchin friar, was the elder brother of Pope Urban VIII.
Retrace your steps across the piazza to the metro station. Take the metro to Ottaviano. We are heading to St Peter's Basilica but first you may like a coffee fix at Sciascia. It is easy to find - just head down Viale Giulio Cesare and take the third road on the right , Via Fabbio Massimo. Sciascia can be found at number 80A.
Refreshed, make your way to St Peters. From our bee searching point of view we need to start at Bernini's glorious baldacchino - the canopy over the main altar. Bronze taken from the Pantheon was used by Bernini in creating the baldacchino which led to the famous saying 'What the Barbarians did not do, the Barberini did. Obviously Pope Urban VIII felt no shame in robbing a monument that had stood for over 1600 years.
If you look closely at the ornate columns you will see the heraldic bees among the foliage.
Yet more bees are to be found on the plinths that support the columns. This time the bees form part of the pope's coat of arms. Look carefully above the heraldic crest and you may see a woman's face. Legend says that Pope Urban VIII commissioned the baldacchino as a thanksgiving for his favourite niece surviving childbirth. The faces are supposed to show expressions of pain during labour but on the last pedestal on the right a baby with a smiling face appears.
More bees can be seen on the tomb of Pope Urban VIII. This can be found on the right hand side of the Altar of the Chair or Cathedra right at the back of the basilica. The tomb was designed by Bernini.
 Time for lunch. My recommendation is Sorpasso, Via Properzio 31. Head to Via del Borgo from St Peters Square and turn left on to Via Ombrellari, cross Piazza Capponi and you will find yourself in Via Properzio. Sorpasso serves delicious pasta dishes as well as platters of house cured charcuterie.
After lunch make your way back to Ottaviano and take the metro back to Barberini. This time follow the signs to the Trevi Fountain.
The original fountain was erected in 1453 and restored by Pope Urban VIII in the seventeenth century. The restoration was paid for by a tax on wine. Sadly there are no Barberini bees to be seen as the fountain in its present form was completed by the architect Nicholas Salvi, chosen by Pope Clement XII.
However we can taste some delicious honey ice cream very close by. Take Via dei Lavatore from the fountain and turn left on Via della Panetteria. Gelateria San Crispino is on the right hand side. Their signature ice cream is made with corbezzolo, a bitter honey from Sardinia.
Retrace your steps to the fountain & follow the signs to the Pantheon.
Peek in to the porch to see where the bronze cladding was removed for the baldacchino  that we saw in St Peters.
Walk along the right hand side of the Pantheon to Piazza Sant'Eustachio & take Via der Staderari to Sant Ivo alla Sapienza. The architect of this striking church was Borromini, who was recommended to Pope Urban VIII by Bernini. It is said that the ground plan was derived from the outline of the heraldic Barberini bee and that the spiral dome was inspired by the shape of a bee sting.
The exterior has yet more examples of the Barberini bees set in stone.
This brings our bee seeking itinerary to a close but it is by no means an exhaustive list. if you wish to explore further, there is a bee stained glass window in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, bee frescoed walls in the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums and bee adorned vestments in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Bee happy!

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