Roma, Tivoli, and More
Trip Start Aug 19, 1992
73Trip End Aug 19, 2010
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Leaving our flat, we climbed up the Spanish Steps, to the Villa Medici, then into the gardens of the Villa Borghese. Our plan was to try to buy tickets to see the gallery tomorrow – but they had some cancellations, so we were able to enter right away. (Certainly pays to be an early bird.)
We started upstairs in the picture gallery. Some interesting portraits, but lots of religious works (especially pietas). The rooms were all elaborately decorated – trompe l’oeil marbled walls, cherubini, angels descending from heaven
On the ground floor, there were sculptures from Bernini and Correggio. Our favourite room was the Egyptian room – hieroglyphs, sphinxes, statues of pharaohs. There were also two remarkable marble sculptures: one of Daphne turning into a laurel tree as Apollo pursues here – each leaf was separate, and their hair and robes streamed out behind them. The most remarkable, we thought, we the full-body portrait of Pauline Bonaparte (sister of Napoleon, wife of Borghese) as Venus – nude and reclining on a divan. The folds of the cushion were extremely realistic, as were her draperies. Also, fab mosaics.
Upon exiting the gallery, we walked through the gardens, ending again at a villa/restaurant on the hill. I was in search of the famous fountain at the Villa Medici – the one that had been painted by Corot and allegedly contained a cannonball fired at the villa by Queen Christina of Sweden … as a joke. We did eventually find the fountain; but the ball in the centre resembles a cannonball not at all.
Descending the steps from the villa, we entered the Piazza del Popolo. From there, we walked back towards our flat
Since Marcella and the cleaner were in the flat – along with a man installing the Internet – and because we had a lot to see – we didn’t linger. Our next stop was the Pantheon – very impressive, particularly so since the dome dates back to ancient times. (What’s the oldest intact ceiling in the world? – I mean of a room that one is meant to visit; not like the Great Pyramids.)
From the Pantheon, we walked through more narrow streets to the exit of the Colosseum, where we were to meet a tour of the Palatine Hill at 15.00h. The Palatine has a lovely aspect, and the gardens of the Farnese family are quite nice. Most of the buildings from the Imperial age are in ruins – and the villas built by Renaissance families were apparently removed during excavations. The most impressive foundations are of the sunken gardens, where the emperor could ride in privacy, with a view out to the Circus Maximus
It had begun to rain by the time our tour ended, but not too hard. We walked through the Palatine, seeing various structures, then took a tour of the small Museum of the Palatine. (We were hoping to find a model of the hill under the Empire but found only a model of the huts from the age of Romulus.)
Descending from the Palatine, we wandered through the Forum, then up the Capitoline Hill, then back towards the Pantheon – searching for a place for coffees. Ended up at a café on the square before the Pantheon. Great view; expensive coffees.
Stopped at an Internet café (very busy) on our way home to print our vouchers for the visit to the Vatican on the 6th. Upon our return, rested, read, and showered. Then headed out to dinner. It had stopped raining but was still cold, so we dined inside. Food quite good tonight, as was the wine. Had lots of fun, chatting and laughing about all sorts of things. Had gelato before returning to the flat to plot the next day – and sleep!
The day dawned clear and bright – lovely
The Trevi Fountain is really very absurd. It sits in a very small piazza – really more of an opening between buildings where three roads come together. A giant figure of Neptune seems to burst out of the building, while, below him, two other figures wrestle with massive horses. It seems to epitomize baroque excess.
From the Trevi, we walked to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore – our first foray into Vatican Territory (oooh). The main basilica dates back to the 5th century CE, and the original mosaics are intact. Unfortunately, they are so high above the floor that it is impossible to see them much at all. Instead, we went around the outside, gaping at the very elaborate chapels and, beneath the altar, the golden and silver urn that supposedly contains a fragment of Jesus’ crib.
From the church, we went a few blocks to the train station
I drove; Paul navigated. We decided to take the slow road that went directly to Tivoli. This turned out to be a terrible mistake. Getting to the road was not difficult, as it left Rome right near the station … but traffic was very slow the entire way. And it went through long stretches of apartment blocks, then a series of car dealerships, then light industry, then heavy industry … trucks and busses everywhere … not very attractive at all.
But eventually, we arrived in the town of Tivoli. It was actually kind of fun driving through the mediaeval streets, and we had no trouble finding parking just off the main plaza.
After a quick lunch of pizza or kebabs (the kebabs were better than the pizza), we visited the Villa d’Este. The building itself is rather plain – it had originally been a convent. Currently, the rooms are all empty, though the murals remain. In some of the lower rooms, the floors are cut away, showing mosaic floors from Imperial times.
The gardens, however, are gorgeous. Descending from the hillside in a series of terraces, the main features of the garden are the many fountains. Three of the fountains receive three stars in our Michelin guide.
The first of these is a grotto, with a statue of the sibyl of Tivoli. One cannot go into the grotto, which is unfortunate, but it looks very cool in the "caves" … but it is still a lovely fountain, with a large pool at the base.
We then looked down the long avenue of small fountains, each a stream coming from an animal’s face in the wall of a terrace. The walk along the avenue must feel cool in the hot summers.
Still on the upper terraces, we paused before the Organ fountain. Now, it appears to be just an elaborate structure, with many flourishes and statues … but once, the falling water actually pushed air through organ pipes, while another mechanism operated the keyboard … hence, the organ fountain. Too bad it no longer functions.
From here, we descended to the lowest level of the gardens
The last spot – not really a fountain – had painted bronze birds. Water pushed through a mechanism created whistling bird sounds. Then, when a mechanical owl appears, the whistling stopped. Although the mechanism disappeared long ago, the sounds of the birds have been recreated. Unfortunately, the owl no longer moves, although the chirping of the birds does cease periodically.
From Tivoli, we drove just a few km to Hadrian’s Villa – the remains of a massive complex, originally constructed for Hadrian in the 2nd Century but visited by emperors for a couple of centuries after that.
The tour begins with a model of what the entire complex probably looked like – although only the central sections have been excavated. There were numerous baths, a few artificial ponds, a couple of piazzas, some large residential structures, two ampitheatres, a fake temple of Serapis, and the odd, circular Teatro Marittimo – a central building surrounded by a moat
Although most of the marble facing, ceilings, and floors of the buildings are missing, many of the inner brick structures remain. This certainly gives one the sense of the size of the various buildings. In a few places, the columns have been reconstructed of marble remains plus plaster filler. Fragments of the mosaic floor – or a few streaks of paint – remain here and there. The villa is extensive. We spent about an hour and a half roaming about ... and only about half of the remains have been excavated.
We returned, exhausted, to our car and decided to stop soon for coffee. Before we hit the main road, we found a café/gelateria. The cappuccinos were .85 euro – about one-quarter of what they cost in the heart of Rome. The gelato was also much cheaper. We sat outside and consumed that elixir of life.
Almost immediately after setting out, our sunny day clouded over, and we were hit by a downpour. I managed to get onto the main road … but it was terribly slow
We took the (packed) metro back to the Spanish Steps, then rested in our flat until almost 21.00h. Went out and wandered through the streets, looking for a place to eat that wasn’t a) so crowded that people were waiting for tables, and b) wasn’t a wine bar. Found a cute little café on a side street and had a very good meal. Kids talked about their memories of elementary school, and we laughed a lot. Closed the place down – then back home to read/write before we fall asleep.
Ah, great day!