A hatred of war and the ubiquitous tourist menu don’t seem obvious bedfellows, but in a city as famed for its it cuisine as Rome, bad food should be taken very seriously. There are plenty of restaurants in Rome where the food won’t make your tastebuds sing, but with a constant supply of unsuspecting tourists to keep them in business. Luckily, there are also plenty that serve exquisite food.
I spotted this sign in the streets near our apartment in central Rome, a fascinating area where every corner turned seems to reveal more secrets. Walking through the cobbled streets we found our way to the incredible Pantheon, the city’s only ancient Roman temple to make it (almost) whole into the 21st century. A testament to Roman architectural ingenuity it has been in use for around 2,000 years.
Framed by the lovely Piazza della Rotonda, with its impressive Fontana del Pantheon, a fountain topped with an Egyptian obelisk, the Pantheon exudes antiquity. Once inside you can see the genius of the architects, this is a building of perfect proportions. The big hole in the roof acting like a giant spotlight. Not only that though, the Roman’s built the Pantheon’s dome using concrete…concrete!
A few short steps from the Pantheon is one of the glories of Christian Rome, the simply stunning Church of Saint Ignazio di Loyola. Not that you’d notice from the exterior of the building, which is similar to dozens of other churches in this town of churches. Step inside though and the splendour of Saint Ignazio’s reveals a ceiling that is almost beyond belief – and I’ve seen the Sistine Chapel.
The extraordinary frescoes painted by artist, architect and Jesuit brother, Andrea Pozzo, are not to be missed if you’re visiting Rome. It’s the sort of ceiling that will give you a sore neck from looking upwards, a sort of reverse ‘Text Neck‘.
Leaving the delights of church ceilings behind, we made our way through the warren of narrow streets and piazzas that make up this area. It’s a wonderful place just to roam, with every step seeming to expose another layer of history. There always seems to be a grand mansion, historic church or ancient Roman structure to attract your attention.
It’s remarkable how, even in a city as busy and noisy as Rome, you can often find yourself alone and in near silence in some of these back streets. They offer a respite from the busy main streets and homicidal drivers.
Finally we found our way to the grand Piazza Navona. The ornate fountains, baroque mansions and the imposing Church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore belie the square’s violent and sordid history, when it was ancient Rome’s Stadium of Domitian.
The Stadium saw gladiator contests, was home to brothels and was also where the Christian martyr St Agnes was put to death. After the Barbarian destruction of Rome it became an impoverished neighbourhood, before being paved over and turned into a market. Wandering amongst the street artists, hawkers and hoards of tourists, you’d be hard pressed to imagine its history today.