Baroque Rome

Buongiorno! It’s another beautiful sunny morning in the city of Rome! No reason not to smile and not to be happy about life – La vita è bella! The mission for the day was to discover more modern sides of Rome. But we started off with something fundamentally ancient. We couldn’t help it as the location of our hotel got us face to face with ancient times. I said “Buongiorno!” to the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument as we were walking past it on our way to the Pantheon, a legendary building dating back to over two thousand years ago. We got a bit lost on our way to it and stumbled across what we were planning to see a bit later – the magnificent Piazza Navona. I instantly recognized it as well! It was one of the most beautiful piazzas I’d seen so far! In ancient times it used to be a racetrack and it was huge!
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I did a little research about the architect Bernini and the way he transformed Rome into what it is today adding a strong touch of Baroque and he really excelled at making this place a perfect public space. I’ve got a huge love of fountains and the magic transcending them. The most famous Four Rivers Fountain, the classic Baroque, was stunning and its noises made me feel I was in an actual river! Another marvellous Egyptian obelisk… There is so much to take in! It was like a dream I didn’t want to wake up from! That was Baroque was all about! Transcending people into a dream!
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According to the map, we were just close to the Pantheon but we didn’t seem to find it. We were circling around a maze of splendid churches surrounding it when finally here it was – low-key and fragile from the back. That was where you didn’t have to imagine too much – it was there standing in front of your eyes! Sometimes the past is more than a pile of rubble and can make the past tangible enough to be believed! The Pantheon was a perfect example of that. We knew the main gem was inside and we had a visit to the Borghese Gallery booked two hours later so we only had a quick look around the neighbourhood. It was touristy but there was an amazing chaotic vibe. See you soon, Pantheon!
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We headed to the famous Spanish steps. On our way we walked by the imposing Column of Mark Aurelius in Piazza Colona.
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What we were about to see was staggering enough to sweep us off our feet. Those were the pricetags in the famous boutiques in Via dei Condotti.
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We didn’t feel we were the only people who couldn’t afford to splash out on any of these outrageously fashionable items! Who even wears those? It was amusing to catch a glimpse of items for a privileged few. Is this paradise? Spending everything on a bag? Well, to me it would be more than everything! High-end shopping is similar to a museum experience for me. Well, there is no reason not to smile! I’m here in Rome and my ticket bought me more than money can buy! And I felt like singing “Felicità, felicità!”
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Up at the end of the street we could see the famous Spanish steps with the church Trinita dei Monti at the top. There is the Spanish embassy near here, hence the name. To be honest, that was my first disappointment here in Rome.
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I’d been imagining I would see an extraordinary set of steps with blooming flowers of both sides, the imposing church at the top and the fountain at the bottom. In fact, there were no flowers, the façade of the church was under reconstruction and so was the fountain. So only the steps were there. It felt more like a construction site and I felt a bit intrusive coming here as if I caught someone in the middle of something and should excuse myself and leave.
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Was that me a while before with emotinal tears coming to my eyes as I was watching a Rome documentary showing a beautiful crowd of people hanging around here at night eating their gelatos or sharing glances (or kisses)? Well, I shouldn’t have felt this way! But you can’t help it – the thoughts of the future can be way more vibrant than real life! But can you really live this real life with no thoughts of the past and the future? They will come creeping in! And what about the view? Yes, it was gorgeous as we got up the stairs! The palm trees, beautiful houses! I felt a bit of Spain in the middle of Rome! It’s like some tension building up in the air waiting to climax – that’s what I was feeling till the moment some Asian man approached me with a rose! No, it wasn’t a romantic gesture at all! That’s a little trick they play on you in major Italian cities. They come up to you and put a rose in your face. You have to keep saying “No, thanks!” quite a lot before they leave you alone. Others were trying to get us to buy some souvenir toys… We were aware of that but that was the first time we had been mobbed by these conmen.Keats and Shelley must have got another impression of the place. There was their memorial house close by. That was the house where Keats spent his last days.
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So it wasn’t a place to hang around long and it was time for us to go all the way to the Borghese Gallery that seemed to be only accessible on foot.
This unique gallery is set in Rome’s third largest public park – Villa Borghese. We walked past the places like Villa Medici and enjoyed magnificent views of the Dome till we reached this vast green space. It’s a perfect place to escape the city (not that we were up for that but locals probably would be).
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It’s an English style park and there was a little something just around every corner. My sister has a fascination for parks and she seemed to be enjoying being here even more than anything else we’d seen so far. Just lying on the grass pensively looking at the sky or enjoying a leisurely read… That wasn’t our plan for the day! It took us a while before we felt we were reaching the gallery.
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It was scorchingly hot but it felt a bit more bearable here. The gallery building wasn’t large. It boasts a large private collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Reservations can only be made well in advance and two hours is all you get here. It all made it feel like we were paying a private visit to the cardinal himself to be kindly shown his extraordinary art collection.
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We waited in a queue to get our tickets and at 1 p.m. sharp our tour began. Soaking up art has to be an essential ingredient of a trip and that had been our first time doing it on our own in an art gallery. I need a lot of art classes to feel comfortable around such an impressive collection but at the end of the day, you learn as you go along. That was me learning. For me it’s more about emotions art stirrs in me. Whenever I feel this sultry warmth filling up this space between me and a piece of art, I know this is not going to ever let go. I’m enchanted, fascinated, mystified – you name it! But sometimes in order to help this connection along, you need to have an informed understanding of what you’re exposed to so it’s not just about how you feel. The rational part of us fuels our emotions and so they get the better of us and that’s that sultry warmth caused by a combination of knowing and feeling. There were a lot of exquisite paintings by especially by Caravaggio. But the absolute hightlight of the gallery for me was the sculpture by the famous Bernini whose masterpieces we marvelled at earlier that day in Piazza Navona. The statue “Apollo and Daphne” showing him losing his mind as she is running away from him and her fingertips are turning into leaves. A moment made into minutes I stood there feeling it blasting into particles of light I could feel right over to my fingertips. What a beautiful escape! A pleasure that might seem to be right at your fingertips but so hard to gratify. I was just dumbfounded!
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Another astonishing masterpiece was “The Rape of Proserpine” also by Bernini. This girl cannot turn into a tree and her sheer suffering resonates as you look into her tormented eyes…
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The masculinity was so vibrant and tense on the face of “David”, another jaw-dropping masterpiece…
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I think me and sculpture have a future together… After a final lingering look at “Apollo and Daphne” and resting our feet in one of magnificent halls, it was time for us to leave. The way that your visit is timed, makes the whole experience a bit strained but the sculptures certainly added something sublime to it… Without actually realizing it, we started babbling something out in English as we went down to the souvenir shop and I still have doubts as to whether it was us there or our identities were now blurred… We talked about the art of appreciation of art and it felt so amazing to be speaking English and feeling more integrated into the international melting pot. Is that me or someone I don’t really know writing this then…? No matter how we thought speaking English transformed our identities, somehow a man selling snacks in the park got the clue where we came from! Well, it’s all over our faces (even with sunglasses on them)…
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It was a long walk across the park and we rested our feet a bit more and we wanted to again and again. What I felt was a kind of tiredness I didn’t really want to recharge from, you want to keep going instead! That only happens while travelling, you think that if you pause, it will all go back to normal again – you and things you do every day… I wasn’t ready to stop, I wanted to hold onto this and that’s when we found ourselves on the Pincian Hill with sweepingly romantic views of Rome! A street performer was playing “Hotel California” by Eagles, a childhood throwback for me… Another movie-like scene when I felt like pausing and saying “No, that can’t be true, it’s just a film!”. It wasn’t, it was real!
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After a few days in Rome, I found myself being capable of distinguishing between different shades of romance (who was I turning into – another someone I don’t really know…?). An Asian guy who mistook me for an Italian and wanted to make my acquaintance after asking me to take a photo of him and his friend didn’t fit my extravagant painting of romance so I just smiled and said a simple no.
We were going down towards Piazza del Popolo (“People’s Square), a very famous public space, when we came across the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. There’s no visit to Italy without mentioning this Italian-born genuis. The museum is interactive and deals more with Da Vinci’s technical brilliance. There are replicas of different devices invented and developed by him and to me that was getting to know this significant aspect of his contribution that I had underestimated. There was also a short documentary on one of Da Vinci’s most mysterious work “The Last Supper”. I was just in the process of reading “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown so I was hugely interested in that as this book centers on this painting. That was insightful and good fun!
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When we exited the museum, we could size up Piazza del Popolo. It was just splendid! Another obelisk, fountains… A perfect movie set except that there was another conman trying to sell us roses as we were taking photos… Never mind him! There was a lot going on there – some street performers doing magical tricks, someone performing Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk – this actually made me feel emotional the way he performed it. There was some energy, what they now call “swag”, about it. I loved it and that helped me see what this square was all about!
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Now it was time for dinner and evening passegiata. We had a perfect place for this – the Via del Corso. It’s one of the main streets of central Rome lined with shops and restaurants. I knew it was supposed to feel special to walk it and it did! We popped into one of the cafes for our dinner. It was really busy so we were seated on the second floor.We were having a bellissima meal when I noticed another waiter who was serving an Asian girl who looked as if she was performing some magic food ritual involving boiled water and all he did was smile politely. He was just absolutely handsome and made me wish it was him who was serving us! Well, who was I turning into anyway? I had to remember about Russia and how things would be a lot more dreary there… OK, another lingering look at the waiter and we left… Just to hear the waiter who had served us humming the Russian anthem as we were going downstairs towards the exit! Well, the credit for this has to go to my sister as she was the one who noticed him do that as I was probably pondering over how my life would never be the same after I’d seen this waiter… She knew that would be something to mention here so a big thank you to her!
We knew the famous Trevi Fountain was under reconstruction while we were visiting so we weren’t going to get our taste of “La Dolce Vita” and couldn’t even contemplate jumping into that fountain like the volupterous Sylvia did in that legendary film by Federico Fellini. Some dreams aren’t meant to come true – there was just a massive construction site with tourists coming to hang around here probably on impulse. So there was no tossing a coin to go back and no Baroque marvel… But we were fine because now we had a lot more reasons to come back!
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The Vittorio Emanuele Monument didn’t fail to impress me again as I saw it at the end of the Via del Corso, it was magic at night! That has to be one of my top places in Rome!
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We heard more street performers as we headed along Via dei Imperiali all the way to the Colosseum that was still bustling. That night I got a close up!
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I admired the style of men walking by ever more as we went back to our hotel area and were about to experience something truly out of this world when we entered Santa Maria dei Monti church right across the road from our hotel. I could swear I was in a (horror) movie! What if they close the door and won’t notice us? Apart from that fear that was consuming me, that was genuinely spiritual! There seems to be no one around but the two of us. What a bliss! We safely got out and headed towards a popular meeting place in Monti – the Fountain of the Madonna dei Monti. There were youths hanging around and it was a really vibrant place and there was no one behaving disorderly, it was just young people spending time here surrounded by the ancient Rome. I loved it, it’s just so beautiful to feel young! After a daily portion of gelato, it was time for some shut eye. We had an early start the next day! More reflections and more fantasies… Bonne Nota!

Author: Olga

An English teacher and translator, a keen traveller

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