Dwight Peck's personal website

A return to Italy after too long away

November 2022

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

We're not based in Europe anymore, and we've struggled through the covid-19 lockdowns like everyone else, so we haven't set foot in Italy since February 2019. Now we'll be making up for lost time with mad sightseeing, but missing the cats sorely all the while.

The Via Giulia 98 in central Rome

This is the 15th century Palazzo Donarelli, mostly condos now but with a comfy two-bedroom flat awaiting us for a two week stay. We've just been hauled in on SAS flights from Chicago, via Stockholm, to Rome Fiumicino -- the best we could arrange in the late summer when most airlines were canceling nearly everything, and not cheap -- and now we're getting settled in. It's 4 November 2022.

Google Maps© gives the lay of the land -- we're one block from the river, two blocks from the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II high street, two blocks from very good restaurants like the Polese and da Luigi, and three blocks from the Coop, with its inexhaustible supply of Moretti beer and all kinds of inexpensive red wine.

That's the foyer, suitably austere and old-looking.

A courtyard behind the wall in another part of the building, and . . .

. . . stairs (and an elevator) leading up to other apartments, but we're here on the ground floor.

That's our dining room, all very nicely appointed -- the kitchen and bathroom are a bit too small, but everything else is nearly perfect. We never met Catherine, our landlady, but she was very helpful over WhatsApp whenever we had a question or needed to find the circuit breaker board.

The living room or salon

Looking into the dining room

That's the second bedroom -- we're awaiting a visit from Joe and Teny in a few days.

And that's the master bedroom. The wifi is good.

But now it's time for dinner. Via Giulia by night.

There's no want of trattorie within easy walking distance.

The Via Giulia in the daylight. We're off for a nostalgic walk across the river to Trastevere ('trans Tiber').

Along the Lungotevere dei Sangallo, the through road on this side of the river, named after a family of important architects, especially military architects, of the early 16th century.

The Giuseppe Mazzini Bridge in the offing

From the Ponte Mazzini looking upriver, in the direction of the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo. Just across the bridge, we'll be passing the Carcere di Regina Coeli, an enormous prison, and bobbing down into the heart of the Trastevere neighborhood.

Here we go. That's part of the campus of John Cabot University on the left.

It's starting to look familiar now.

On the left, that's a stairway up towards the Janiculum neighborhood on the hill, where Kristin lived for more or less ten years some time ago, and on the right, that's the flat we stayed in in 2006, 4 Vicolo de Cedro, and welcomed some dinner guests coming down those stairs from a carpark above.

Strolling along the Vicolo de Cedro

Wandering round near the Piazza di Sant'Egido, and . . .

. . . passing the old Cinema Pasquino in the Piazza di Sant'Egidio, a popular theater that specialized in English-language films; Kristin visited nearly daily after work as a teacher in the area, as it featured a different film almost every day. Apparently it closed in the late 1990s, despite protests to reopen it, but now . . .

. . . it looks like it's done for.

This is the nearby Vicolo del Piede, leading directly to . . .

. . . the Via della Fonte d'Olio, and number 8 is the home of the 17th century Villa della Fonte, where we stayed for a long weekend back in 2010.

Further along the Via della Fonte d'Olio towards Santa Maria in Trastevere

Into the Piazza di Santa Maria, with . . .

. . . its famous fountain. It's likely the oldest fountain in Rome, originally from the 8th century, but it's been reworked several times, by Bramante in 1500, Rainaldi in 1604, Bernini in 1659, and completely rebuilt in 1873 and 1930 on the original design. The seashells motif was Bernini's idea.

Just time for a quick look-in at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere ('Grand Catholic church known for its 12th-century mosaics & lavish interior with 22 Roman columns'). There was an important church on this spot from the mid-4th century, but the present building was rebuilt in the 1140s. The narthex or vestibule in front is apparently from about 1700.

The 12th century mosaics high up on the façade depict an early representation of the 'Nursing Madonna' motif, shown with ten women carrying lamps.

Not only is this one of the earliest and most important churches in Rome, it can also boast a relic of St Apollonia's head and a bit of the 'Holy Sponge' from the Jesus Passion story (there's another piece of that in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, still another in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and that's just for Rome).

The fine mosaics in the apse are from the 13th century.

The Tiber Island from the Ponte Garibaldi -- we're taking the long way home.

Here's the Largo di Torre Argentina, ruins in the ancient Campus Martius that were uncovered in the 1920s and preserved as an archaeological site, soon to be fitted out to be viewed more closely Via walkways. It was evidently a sacred area, and four temples have been identified, the earliest dating from at least the 3rd century BC. The 18th century Teatro Argentina opera house was built over part of the site in 1731 and continues in operation; it's thought to have been built over the site of the assassination of Julius Caesar.

The next day, we're off again for some funfilled aimless wandering.

At the end of the Via Giulia, this is the not terribly interesting Chiesa Parrocchiale di San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini, initiated by the Medici Pope Leo X in 1518 to serve Florentines in the city, with designs submitted by Raphael, Sansovino, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, among others, but the building was not carried out until the end of that century, and the façade was not finished until 1734. The site is important for us because this is where we can catch a bus and, with luck, a passing taxi.

Said taxi has dropped us off at the Borghetto Flaminio, a weekly street market on Sundays half a kilometer out the Via Flaminia to the north, where Kristin was meeting up with her friend Ewa to make further plans. That done, we've hobbled back along the Via Flaminia to the Piazza del Popolo, just inside the original Aurelian city walls.

The city gate, formerly the Porta Flaminia opening onto the great Roman road northward to Rimini, now called the Porta del Popolo, built for the Jubilee Year 1475 by the della Rovere pope, Sixtus IV.

Just inside the gate, this is the Parish Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo -- there are some great people represented in there, including Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Pinturicchio, and Bramante, so we were rushing for the front doors, but it turned out that, as it was Sunday, the credenti were in there pulling rank on us.

Here's the piazza, looking up eastward to the Pincian Hill and the gardens of the Villa Borghese.

The twin churches on the southern side, both devoted to the Saint Mary, both designed in the late 17th century by Carlo Rainaldi and one of them completed by Bernini and Carlo Fontana by 1679.

There's the Flaminian Obelisk, ripped off by the Romans in 10 BC, more than a millenium after it had been set up in Heliopolis by Ramesses II, and stuck up in the Circus Maximus but fallen over with the years, rediscovered in 1587, stuck back together and put here on the orders of Pope Sixtus V.

The Piazza del Popolo was laid out in its present form in the early 19th century -- serious people argue over whether the name derives from the 'Piazza of the People', which makes sense, or from Piazza of the Poplar Trees, of which there don't seem to be any.

This the elegant statue of St Ambrose, 4th century Bishop of Milan, in front of the back of the church of Sant'Ambrogio e San Carlo al Corso (dedicated to St Ambrose and St Charles Borromeo, built to honor the latter's canonization in 1610), on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore facing the Mausoleum. Ambrose is looking more dignified today than he was the last time we saw him (here).

More archaeology and site beautifying for the Emperor Augustus' mausoleum -- it's taking forever!

There's the stag's head atop the church of Sant'Eustachio, with a cross growing out of it. The legendary Eustace was a Roman military commander who ran into a white stag with a crucifix on its head while he was out hunting, so he converted to Christianity, unwisely perhaps because in 118 (we're told) he and his family got roasted alive in a bronze bull in the arena for their troubles (Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend [Penguin, 1998, pp. 236-42]). He became the patron saint of hunters and firefighters; his church was founded in the 8th century but this iteration of it comes from the 18th, though the bell tower is from the 12th.

The wonderful Piazza Navona, dominated by the Chiesa di S. Agnese in Agone, begun in 1652 and involving Borromini amongst other architects. The 12/13 year old Agnes, the 'virgin martyr', was said to have been murdered here during the Diocletian era, in AD 304, in what was then an open sports stadium.

That's the 250m length of the Piazza Navona. The descriptor of Agnes' church, 'in Agone', apparently does not refer to any agonies but rather to the 1st century stadium itself, where fans came to watch the agones or games in the 'Circus Agonalis'; it's said that the name 'in agone' morphed into 'in avone', and then declined over time to 'Navona'. The stadium itself was scavenged for building materials over the centuries.

That's Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (allegorical figures representing the Nile, Danube, Ganges, and Rio de la Plata) from 1651, surmounted by a copy of an Egyptian obelisk.

One can find explanations of the allegorical references, but most of them never seem to make very much sense to us.

Inside St Agnes' church -- they've got her head in here somewhere, but we haven't come upon it yet. But we did benefit in 2006 from a concert by the countertenor Mario Bassini and the Romabarocca Ensemble in the Sacristy of Borromini somewhere in the back.


A busker band on the Ponte Sisto

The view from the Ponte Sisto towards the Ponte Mazzini

We're back in Trastevere, on an errand . . .

. . . to take delivery of a big, fresh lasagna we've ordered for a small dinner party this evening.

Now back to the Donarelli.

Next up: A tour of the Castel Sant'Angelo (aka Hadrian's Mausoleum)

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 13 December 2022.

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