First stop: Castel Sant’Angelo
The voyage begins early, when the pilgrim crosses the Tiber and finds himself before the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel): the mausoleum for Emperor Adrian has resisted time and been part of Roman history for 2000 years, first a prison and fortress, then a sumptuous Renaissance mansion.
Built in distant 123 A.C, destiny has reserved an exceptional endurance for it. While so many other Roman monuments were destroyed or used to create new edifices, the Castle has remained whole, thanks to a series of transformations that did not disfigure it – on the contrary – left us a truly unique testimony. The cylindrical plan of the castle is very special, protected by massive retaining walls, where you can admire the statue of the Archangel Michael, who from his perch seems to survey all of splendid Rome.
Second stop: Via della Conciliazione and Saint Peter’s Square
Blessed by the ten Bernini statues that protect Ponte Sant’Angelo, the traveller curiously passes over the long Via della Conciliazione (Road of the Conciliation), among the imposing building that tell the history of the Vatican. This road has a very recent history: It was in fact built between 1936 and 1950. Although it took various projects to build a route to the Vatican, the narrow little lanes and the cluster of buildings in the Rione Borgo (the 14th historic district of Rome) have survived the centuries and the blows of architects. At the bottom, you see silhouette of the elegant and sumptuous Saint Peter’s Basilica, the heart of Christianity that welcomes and comforts.
The history of the Eternal city is summed up in the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, which you get to by following an earthen street through a Roman necropolis located under the floor of the Vatican Caves, where the previous Popes lie (among them, Pope John Paul II).
The creator of the great Baroque choreography that fascinates anyone lucky enough to visit the City was Bernini, who designed the grand colonnade on three columns with an oval shape, to symbolize the strength of faith that unites and illuminates believers and those who, instead, still find themselves in the dark.
Third stop: the Basilica
The pilgrim, stunned by so much elegance, timidly climbs the stairs and, in silence, enters the church: here the dominating features are the 17th-century Baldacchino, also by Bernini, that imposingly frames the Saint’s tomb, and the beautiful Pietà by Michelangelo that summarises in one look all of the suffering of humanity. Up high, the great cupola dominates: In only 323 steps you arrive on the roof of Rome.
In a splendid Basilica like Saint Peter’s, it isn’t easy to stand out amid so much glory: paintings, decorations, imposing columns, vaulted arches and much more. The Baldacchino nevertheless manages to shine in the middle of this abundance. Imposing, grand, richly and minutely decorated, with vivid and contrasting colours, here is the majestic Baldacchino right under the cupola, where its importance has appropriate space.
Fourth stop: the Vatican Museums
Almost without realizing it, the traveller finds himself in front of the entrance to the Vatican Museums, a mandatory stop for lovers of art and culture. In respectful silence, he observes Raphael’s frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura where, in the School of Athens, Plato and Aristotle speak of wise and learned matters, while in the Sistine Chapel he lifts his gaze to admire Genesis painted on the front and reflects on the transience of life before the great Last Judgement, where the figure of Christ the Judge reigns, illuminated by his own light.
Fifth stop: dinner is served!
After having nourished the spirit, it is time to think about the stomach, too: the traveller finds himself in the Prati quarter, in the trattoria Giggi. The owner is a movie star, boasting small roles in 13 films directed by important directors like Fellini and Risi. After hanging up his clapper board, he has dedicated himself body and soul to his restaurant, where he offers bucatini alla amatriciana and a typical Roman frittata of potatoes and onions, strictly without eggs.
Don’t stop to wonder who the pilgrim is: Pack your bags and start your journey.