When in Rome: Final Days, Part 1 of 2

View from Janiculum Hill

We settled on a new strategy for our final two days in Rome. We were again “based” in Trastevere. This time our plan was to explore only more-or-less immediate neighborhoods in an effort to minimize time spent in the logistics of finding our way around. The strategy worked better than we had any right to expect. With a minimum of time spent getting lost, we discovered a trove of Roman treasures most of which would likely not have made it to a short-term visitor “must see” list.

Janiculum Hill

Fontana dell’Acqua Paola

We climbed Janiculum Hill to the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. Had I better recall of movies I’ve seen, I would have remembered not only the fountain, but also the vast views over Rome. Here’s a bit of the back story of the fountain:

Fontana dell’Acqua Paola

Pope Paul V decided to rebuild and extend the ruined Acqua Traiana aqueduct built by the Emperor Trajan in order to create a source of clean drinking water for the residents of the Janiculum Hill, who were forced to take their water from brackish springs or from the polluted Tiber. He raised funds for his project in part by imposing a tax upon wine, which caused complaints among some residents. The funding from this tax and other sources allowed him to purchase the rights to the water of a spring near Lake Bracciano, not far from Rome, as the source for the fountain.

The fountain was designed by Giovanni Fontana, whose brother had worked on the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, and Flaminio Ponzio. They used white marble from the nearby ruins of the Roman Temple of Minerva in the Forum of Nerva, and constructed a massive gateway of five arches for the arrival of the water. At the top of the fountain are the papal tiara and keys, above the Borghese family coat of arms of an eagle and a dragon, supported by angels. The inscription praises Pope Paul in poetic terms for bringing water to the residents of the district. . . .

In 1690 Carlo Fontana designed an additional semicircular pool for the water which overflowed from the marble basins. Marble posts were put in place to keep coachmen from watering their animals in the fountain, but the pool was tempting to many local residents, who bathed in the water. An ordinance was issued in 1707 forbidding residents to bathe in the fountain. [cite]

Il Mausoleo Ossario Gianicolense

Further on, we stopped at Il Mausoleo Ossario Gianicolense. A plaque at the site explains

1849 was one of the crucial years of the Risorgimento, that historical movement that led to the formation of a united, free, and independent Italy. At Rome the papal regime collapsed in the face of popular uprisings . . . and the Pope fled to Gaeta. . . .

The Powers that were then dominant in Europe, governed by absolutist and conservative rulers, at once moved their armies to restore the temporal power of the Pope. To defend the Republic, young men from all over Italy and Europe flocked to Rome. Garibaldi led his volunteers to its defence.

A French army landed at Civitavecchia and set out straight along the Aurelian road to attack Rome. The sector that was most exposed to the French attack was centred on the Janiculum Hill . . . .

Driven back a first time on 30 April, the French attacked again on 3 June, with forces greatly outnumbering those of the defenders. Rome was encircled and besieged. Despite the enormous imbalance between the sizes of the two opposing forces, which held out no hopes for victory, the Republic resisted for the whole month of June . . .

Baudelaire graffiti

On our way back down the hill, we spotted a bit of literati-graffiti befitting the high complement of university students in the area. [cite] The quote is from Baudelaire’s “Enivrez-vous.”

It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.” [cite]

A memorable eating experience nearby included trying to order a caprese sandwich from a stand. (It was delicious.) Foreign students must be regulars there, for the ones I encountered clearly knew where to stand and how to order, which I could not figure out. For my ignorance, I was treated with complete disdain by the fellow behind the counter (reminiscent of a well-known Seinfeld character). Ultimately, probably just to get rid of me, he bruskly pointed a finger toward the place I needed to stand.

Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere apse

The same day we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, right around the corner from our hotel. (I pause here to give our quarters, the Hotel Santa Maria, a wildly enthusiastic thumbs-up recommendation.) The Basilica is said to be “the first Christian place of worship in Rome.” [cite]

Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere façade

The greater part of the structure now dates from 1140, after a rebuilding by Innocent II, a pope from Trastevere. . . . the church’s mosaics . . . are among the city’s most impressive: those on the cornice were completed a century or so after the rebuilding . . . [cite]

Cappella Altemps, Pasquale Cati, Council of Trent (1588)

Frescoes, particularly this one—which put in mind Andrea Pacanowski’s Roma that we’d seen in Spoleto—also caught my eye.

The fresco, by Pasquale Cati, depicts the Council of Trent (1545-63).

Cati, Council of Trent (detail)

Long after the closing of the Council of Trent its importance was underscored in a didactic and journalistic fresco painted as part of an otherwise elegant and classicising decorative program for a chapel in Santa Maria in Trastevere for one of Rome’s leading churchmen, Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps. Participants in the Council session are spread row upon row across the top of the composition, their faces directed forward or turned in profile as if to record as completely and accurately as possible the individual members. At the lower right of this pictorial chronicle of the event, however, allegorical personifications of the virtues crown a figure representing the Roman Church with a papal tiara. A globe at the lower left shows Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia. Thus the Church appears not only victorious, but extending far beyond Europe, where Protestantism had recently made such dramatic inroads. [cite]

How interesting, too, that the staid bunch at the back are men, and the colorful, animated group, above all the figure in white wearing the papal tiara, are women. Here’s an interesting speculation on all of that.

I have to wonder whether Garibaldi ever happened to see this fresco, and if so, what he might have thought. I can’t think he would have approved. (Here, p. 82, as a clue into those times, is a little on the Vatican Council of 1869, the first general council of the church’s bishops since the Council of Trent.)

Fontana di Piazza Santa Maria

Fontana di Piazza Santa Maria

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at yet another of Rome’s many fountains, Fontana di Piazza Santa Maria. While the fountain is considered perhaps the oldest in Rome, its current incarnation probably bears little imprint of the original—not even its placement.

Fontana di Piazza Santa Maria detail

In 1659 the fountain was connected to the Acqua Paola aqueduct and remodeled again by Bernini. Bernini replaced the octagonal basin, moved the fountain from its original place in front of the church to a new location in the center of the square, and added sculpted seashells around the basin. At the end of the 17th century, the architect Carlo Fontana replaced Bernini’s seashells with his own sculpted seashells.

The fountain was completely rebuilt in 1873, following the design of Bernini and Fontana, but using less expensive materials. In that occasion, the main pool was rebuilt with bardiglio marble and an imposing S.P.Q.R. sign has been placed on the external side of the shells. It was rebuilt once again in 1930. The last maintenance has been made in 1984. [cite]

Near the hotel, we also spotted the perfect place for our final Rome sojourn dinner, Pasta e vino come na vorta osteria.

Palazzo Spada

The next day, along with a visit to a fresco-filled villa and a palazzo that will be the subject of the next and last Rome sojourn post, we ventured to the Palazzo Spada, about a ten minute walk from our hotel.

Fontana delle Mammelle, Piazza Capo di Ferro

En route we happened on yet another Roman Fountain, Fontana delle Mammelle, the current iteration of which may be based on a design by Francesco Borromini.

Palazzo Spada, Borromini’s Perspective

The Palazzo itself is famous for Borromini’s Perspective:

Palazzo Spada, Borromini’s Perspective

Borromini . . . created the masterpiece of forced perspective optical illusion in the arcaded courtyard, in which diminishing rows of columns and a rising floor create the visual illusion of a gallery 37 meters long (it is 8 meters) with a lifesize sculpture at the end of the vista, in daylight beyond: the sculpture is 60 cm high. Borromini was aided in his perspective trick by a mathematician. [cite]

Part of the guard’s job is to walk along the columns to demonstrate the optical illusion to visitors several hours a day.

Niccolò Tornioli, The Astronomers (1645, detail)

The Palazzo contains a small gallery of art, not likely a gallery many would go out of the way to see, but nonetheless containing several items of interest. Among them was Niccolò Tornioli’s The Astronomers (1645), about which there has been deep-dive scholarly interest in the form of “After Galileo: The Image of Science in Niccolò Tornioli’s Astronomers”  and “Niccolo Tornioli’s Astronomers: Art, Science, and Politics in Mid-Seventeenth-Century.”  The former article is behind a paywall; the latter isn’t available online, though its author notes at the link that the painting includes portraits of Aristotle, Copernicus, Ptolemy, and probably Galileo, which, if so, is quite a constellation in its own right.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Madonna nursing the Baby Jesus (1610-12)

The gallery also holds a rare sighting: a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. “In 1616, she was the first woman to be accepted into the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts.” [cite] Acceptance into the Academy was critically important to her freedom to work:

Hindered by 17th-century laws not applicable to male artists, women could not independently purchase art materials, sign contracts, or travel. Only admission to an art academy would quash these restrictions. Gentileschi . . . thereby enjoyed unprecedented autonomy. [cite]

It can come as little surprise to learn that Gentileschi

“suffered a scholarly neglect that is unthinkable for an artist of her caliber” (Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi, 3). Only now, in light of recent academic activity, has Gentileschi become recognized for her retelling of biblical stories from the perspective of a woman, such as her famous Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1612–13, which portrays the heroine Judith mercilessly decapitating the brutish Holofernes in order to save her people from tyranny, as well as her portrayal of Mary Magdalene in The Conversion of the Magdalene, 1615–16. [cite]

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Listening List

David Lang, I Lie (2012)

Lang wrote of the work:

I lie was commissioned by the California vocal ensemble Kitka . . . .

Kitka is an all woman group and it concentrates on music that comes out of the various folk traditions of Eastern Europe, so when they asked me to write a kind of ‘‘modern folk song’ it seemed natural to me to take the text of an old Yiddish song and give it new music. I chose this particular text because it has a darkly expectant feeling about it. It isn’t about being happy or sad or miserable or redeemed; rather, it is about waiting for happiness or sadness or misery or redemption. As is the case in many Yiddish songs, something as ordinary as a girl waiting for her lover can cast many darker, more deeply beautiful shadows. [cite]


Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links in the text. The photographs, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.

5 thoughts on “When in Rome: Final Days, Part 1 of 2

  1. David Nice

    I was going to bring up ‘La grande bellezza’, but then I saw you’d excerpted it and went back to the link… The little false-perspective passageway in the Palazzo Doria is one of my favourite spots in Rome (and the area around it is always explorable). It’s hard not to have a good time in Rome, but as you say, one must pick a zone and explore it thoroughly… If I’d known you were going to be in Trastevere, I’d have dug out the address of the little chocolate shop, which I hope is still there (the couple were very ancient when we visited). Happy memories of the time when we took over our friends’ apartment in Rome over four Christmases….Auguri!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: You did, in fact, alert us to a chocolate shop in the area, and we looked for it, but alas, the day we looked, it was closed. I can’t recall the name now, but I’m thinking it might have been the Valzani, on Via del Moro, which was only 2 minutes from where we stayed. Four Christmases in Rome sounds splendid, just the way to do it. I do wish we were not an ocean away!

  2. Diana Belchase

    Love your posts! I wish you had a contact link — I wanted to ask you to guest blog. If interested please contact me. Also, what kind of camera do you use? Your photos are amazing! So nice to see someone who loves all the same spots I do, including the Palermo Moderna.
    Buon Capodanno!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Hi, Diana: Thanks for the kind words! Guest blogging is a bit beyond my ken these days, but thank you for the invitation. I don’t have fancy camera gear, just a solid, small Canon (not sure, but I think maybe a PowerShot S120). All best wishes for the New Year, and thanks for stopping by.

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