The Rome Grand Finale
Besides going to Galleria Borghese, I had no grand plans for today. There were many other things I wanted to see but I wasn’t sure how much energy or enthusiasm I’d have, nor where the day would take me after the gallery, so I played it by ear and it couldn’t have turned out any better! For a planner like myself, it was nice to have a less structured day. And since my reservation for the Galleria Borghese wasn’t until 11 am, I even slept in!
Galleria Borghese and the surrounding three-square-mile park belonged to the wealthy Borghese family – it was their weekend/summer villa outside the city. The art inside the Galleria was commissioned specifically for these spaces, and it includes world-class Baroque sculptures by Bernini and others, as well as paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael. Upon Antonella’s (my AirBnB host’s) recommendation, I walked to the Villa. It took about 30 minutes and I enjoyed some picturesque Roman streets along the way. Once inside the park, I enjoyed the shade and the lack of tourists. The mandatory reservation system at this museum keeps the number of visitors to a manageable size, so the Galleria wasn’t too crowded, either. I opted for the guided tour in English, which was just 1.5 EUR more than the audioguide. I was most impressed by two Bernini sculptures – The Rape of Proserpina, and Apollo and Daphne.
The Rape of Proserpina depicts the abduction of Proserpina by the God of the Underworld Pluto. Although done in marble, this sculpture is alive with motion and emotion – the texture of the skin, the flying ropes of hair, the tears of Proserpina all contribute to the drama of the scene. Proserpina throws her arms out to escape just as Pluto seizes her around her waist and thigh – the pressure of his hand on her leg carved out beautifully in the marble. Once you circle the sculpture. a whole new perspective opens up, and you see a three-headed dog behind the two. Bernini was only 23/24 years old when he carved this.
Apollo and Daphne was by far my favorite. Apollo, made stupid by one of Cupid’s arrows, chases after Daphne, who wants nothing to do with him. As he seizes her, she begins to turn into a tree, and the sculpture has magically captured the metamorphosis. There are leaves sprouting out of her hands, her toes are turning into branches, and a tree trunk is enveloping her legs. Once again, when you see the sculpture from another angle, a completely different view exists. From the back, you can’t even see Daphne any more – only Apollo and a tree. There is so much movement in this sculpture – Apollo’s sheet blowing in the wind, one of his legs stretched out mid-run, Daphne’s hands up in the sky – this sculpture is more air than stone! The ceiling in this room pays homage to the sculpture by depicting the same scene.
In another room, there are a few Caravaggio paintings, as well as a sculpture of Canova depicting Paolina Borghese as Venus. Paolina is reclining on a pillowed couch holding an apple, which is what identifies her as Venus – the winner of the Golden Apple of discord. You may know the Greek myth where Venus (Aphrodite in Greek mythology) wins a beauty contest by promising Paris that he could marry Helen of Troy – this is what started the Trojan war. At any rate, back to the sculpture… You likely can’t see this in the picture I took but in person, the sculpture is very life-like – Paolina’s skin and hair and gaze are so soft, it’s hard to imagine this is, again, marble, and you can see the wrinkles her weight creates in the pillowed couch she is sitting on.
Not only is the art it his gallery amazing, but the frescoes and interior design enhance each masterpiece. Also, on display in the Gallery were dresses by Italian designer Azzedine Alaia, in an exhibit called “Couture/Sculpture”. The dresses displayed were chosen with purpose so as to interact with the sculptures and paintings they were displayed with. It was quite an interesting concept, and the fashionista in me personally enjoyed it.
I experienced so much awe and wonder while touring this gallery that the 90-minute tour felt like all day. Alas, I was done at about 1 pm and I decided to stroll through the park to Pincian Hill, which overlooks Piazza del Poppolo. The view was wonderful; I could see St. Peter’s and the Vatican in the background.
From there, I enjoyed a nice walk with great city views to the top of the Spanish steps – I had previously only seen them from the bottom.
I went down the stairs to the Bernini fountain in the piazza, then veered into one of the side streets for lunch at Antica Enoteca – another Rick Steves recommendation. I dined outside, of course, and enjoyed great people-watching while drinking a beer and waiting for my linguine with shrimp and calamari to arrive.
After this simple but delicious lunch, I went to Piazza Navona (yes, for the third time) to peek inside Sant’Agnese in Agone. I will not get tired of seeing this square and Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain in the middle – I couldn’t help but snap more photos.
The Sant’Agnese in Agone church is amazing. It was designed by Bernini’s student-turned-rival – Francesco Borromini. The most impressive sculpture inside was Saint Agnes on the Pyre by Ferrata, although I also enjoyed the dove in the oculus of the dome.
Being in this church reminded me I had not been inside the Santa Maria in Aracoeli Church, the one atop Capitoline Hill. It stands on the site where Emperor Augustus (supposedly) had a premonition about the coming of Mary and Christ standing on an “altar in the sky” (ara coeli).
I had read in my guidebook that there was a shortcut to that church from the top of Capitoline Hill, avoiding the huge flight of stairs in front of the church, and that you could also get right inside the Vittorio Emanuele monument from there, and ride the Rome in the Sky elevator. Wait, what, the Rome in the sky elevator? I had missed this last little bit when I first read the guidebook. I quickly flipped to the index to find “Rome in the Sky elevator”, and found another section where Rick Steves says the view from the roof of the Vittorio Emanuele monument is even better from the top of St. Peter’s. He also said the best time to go is late afternoon – and what do you know, it was about 5 pm at that time. I hesitated slightly when I saw the price of 7 EUR, but then remembered what the friend who lent me the Rick Steves book in the first place had said – if there is an option to go to the top of ANYTHING in Italy, take it! So there I was, atop the Vittorio Emanuele monument, on the terrace between the two chariots, enjoying the most amazing 360-degree view of Rome. Foro Romano and the Colosseo were sharing one side, Via del Corso to Piazza del Poppolo on another side with St Peter’s and the Vatican museum off to the side, even into Trastevere. It was absolutely breath-taking and a great way to cap off my last day in Rome.
I noticed from the top that there are smaller forums off to the other side of Foro Romano, along via Dei Fori Imperiali, which is the big boulevard that leads right to the Colosseo. I decided to take that route home, but first I had to come down from the elevator and exit the Vittoriano (as the Italians call this monument). Now this was the first time I’d seen this monument on foot – I had passed by it on the bus several times, but this was the first time I was able to take photos of it. It is gigantic and gleaming in white. Built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Italy’s unification in 1861 and its first king, it is really impressive. I read in my quidebook that some Italians consider this “a punch in the eye”, a modern monstrosity in a clumsy location next to precious antiquities, and I can see why.
At any rate, after snapping a few photos of it, I strolled down Via dei Fori Imperiali and got a decent look at some of the imperial forums that were built after the Roman forum. As Rome grew from a village to an empire, it outgrew the Roman forum, and other emperors built their own. I passed by Trajan’s forum with its distinctive tall column, as well as what was left from the forums of Augustus and Julius Ceaser.
I loved seeing the Colosseo up close again – seeing major attractions like this more than once is such a treat for me! It was a short walk home from there, but not before a stop at a gelateria on my street, recommended by Antonella. I am liking this food pattern I am settling into – small breakfast, hearty lunch to give me some energy for more sight-seeing, and gelato for dinner.
I had wanted to check out Trastevere, but I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy for it, plus I’d read it’s best at night, so I went home to grab a shower and relax for a little bit. I read about Trastevere in my guidebook and checked out the audio tour that came with the book to see where it started and how far that was from my AirBnB. I was tired, but then decided life’s too short to sit at home on my last night in Rome so I headed out to check the neighborhood across (tras) the Tiber river (tevere).
Trastevere is Rome’s most colorful neighborhood, although increasing tourism is driving up rents and driving out the source of so much color. This is where you can see people’s laundry hanging on a balcony (very typical in many places in Europe as space is limited and electricity is expensive, so no dryers) and young people on Vespas (or sometimes riding Vespas while they are parked, if you catch my drift – since young people live at home with parents well into adulthood, taking a date home is usually not an option). I followed the audio tour from the Isola Tiberina (the island of Tiber) across a bridge into the neighborhood, where I checked out some of the cute little alleys before strolling down some more lively streets all the day to the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It is one of Rome’s oldest church sites, having been built in the 4th century shortly after Christianity was legalized (by Constantine). The portico (the covered porch before the entrance) is decorated with stone lids from catacomb burial niches, and the 13th-century mosaic floor features intricate geometric shapes made from marble scavenged from Roman ruins.
To get home, I rode the tram for the first time. This made me happy – I love trying as many different transportation modes in a city as possible!
Ah, Roma, I really really like you! You are lively and loud and fancy and oh, oh so charming! I will leave her with many wonderful memories and lots of good food in my belly. Ciao, bella Roma!