When I saw Rome for the first time, it was December, a little before New Year’s Eve. The cold wind cut into my hands and every morning I was greeted by a strong odour of soup rising from the kitchen of the religious college where I was staying. In the morning, one mixed one’s café au lait with a spoon and there were no biscuits, but large slices of bread to dunk. Simple and Spartan, in a city that has nothing Spartan to it now.
Rome, in fact, is the prominence of the Coliseum, which in spite of its age (it dates back to the first century A.C.) reinvents itself every day and continually gains new life. If you have not yet had the exciting experience of traveling through the under ground Rome, it is time to schedule another trip. Not everyone knows that this is the best-preserved part of the amphitheatre, where you can still see the marble surfaces, the places where the gladiators prepared for battle and the lift system with which animals entered the arena.
Rome is so much more; it is the dazzling white of the Altar of the Fatherland in the pomp of Piazza Venezia, it is the Campidoglio hill that, with the minute elegance of Michelangelo’s drawing and the hubris of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, seems always ready to remember the glory of its distant past.
Rome historic centre fascinates and excites thousands of tourists who, every day, flock like pilgrims to the place of worship to soak up all the history of an eternal city.
Around every corner of the city hides a small treasure to discover: whichever street you choose, I can assure you that you will eventually find yourself at the Pantheon, a small, classic temple where Italy’s rulers rest.
From there, let your intuition guide you between buildings and churches and almost without realizing it, you will marvel in front of the Trevi Fountain; turn in a Quirinal direction, once a luxurious Papal residence where – almost by chance – Trajan’s Column presides over the life flowing through the chaotic city. Finally, imagine yourself a rich patrician strolling along the Imperial Forums: temples and columns – the oldest forum, Caesar’s Forum, dates from 46 A.C. – surviving time, populations and invaders that left their indelible mark.
Next, explore the Coliseum. Many visitors think that after a trip inside this historical landmark they have seen everything. You might continue toward the Trevi Fountain and after the customary photographs and tossed coins, believe that there is nothing left to see. What a mistake! You may as well just accept that in Rome you will never stop discovering new things. Right behind the famous Coliseum, you find one of the best-kept secrets of the city.
We are in the Monti quarter, where Rome gives the best of itself: a step away from the chatter of tourists and flash of cameras, everything is steeped in the real life of an era. Small jewels hidden among the shops – Tina Sondergaard and her 1905s magic, the showrooms of alternative designers and trattorias where you eat a succulent roast chicken with your hands. Here you can find the Church of the Madonna dei Monti, a creation of the eighteenth-century architect Giacomo della Porta, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vincoli and the Moses of Michelangelo.
Among its hidden secrets, mark the Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo, atop the Celio, one of the tallest of the legendary hills of Rome. The name offers a hint of what you find in this basilica: a round space where you will see frescoes of majestic beauty, visible on all sides from the centre of the church.
When you get to via Labicana, and pass through San Clemente square, you will find the basilica named after the saint. Don’t limit yourself to admiring what you see on the surface: the complex is located over old buildings, the oldest dating back to the first century A.C., only uncovered in 1857.
These marvels may seem to be off the beaten track, but in reality they are saved for connoisseurs, those who aren’t content with a postcard but seek out the true flavour of the Eternal City, a city that eternally surprises and excites.
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