You might say it was a risk entrusting me to plan our trip to Rome (and then on to Venice). I had been to Venice for one day, and Rome never – and Therese had visited Venice many times and Rome at least twice. Luckily, I did have an inspiration for our visit to Rome. Several years ago, when Therese’s mom Eileen visited us in New York City at Thanksgiving, we took her to an exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum that displayed drawings sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini made in preparation for public fountains he installed in Rome. Seeing those drawings made me want to visit Rome and see the fountains Bernini created.
A guidebook I purchased, namely the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Rome (Amazon link) had some excellent ideas for self-guided walking tours (always a favorite of mine), including one for a walk around “Bernini’s Rome” – just what I was looking for, and I determined we should spend a day on this walking tour. Our Wednesday in Rome was that day.
In my view the walk started at the top and coasted from there. Which is to say that our first stop was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria – the one in-door venue we would visit that day, where Bernini’s celebrated sculpture “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” is installed in one of the chapels.
The sculpture itself is justly famous – the folds of the saint’s fabric, the intense expression (and body position) of the saint, and the odd cupid-like angel (complete with arrow) all create a piece of art that has made more than one religious person’s jaw drop over the years, I am sure. I love the theatrical setting, with the two galleries of old men gawking at the saint’s very private moment – just bizarre.
I do think that the notoriety of that sculpture overshadows another wonderful sculpture installed in this church, that of “The Dream of Joseph” by Domenico Guidi. Very much worth spending some time on, in my view.
A short walk found us somewhere we had already been – at Piazza Barberini, where we had started our bus ride on the first day in Rome. Here Therese was decidedly underwhelmed – why would we waste our time on something we had already seen, just because it was on the tour? Aha, I explained, while we had seen the Fontana del Tritone already, we had not focused on its neighbor just across the piazza, the delightful Fontana delle Api.
Just a couple blocks from Piazza Barberini is one of the more curious intersections in the city, where the four corners of the city block contain Le Quattro Fontane, four fountains created around the theme of bodies of water.
It is difficult to appreciate these fountains and their sculptures, since cars are constantly driving through this busy intersection. Therese wondered aloud why they don’t make this corner into a pedestrian-only zone.
Just a few blocks down the Via del Quirinale was the first of several obelisks/columns combined with a fountain we would see that day, the Fontana dei Dioscuri.
The plaza in which this fountain resides has a winding road around it that descends rapidly – when you get to the end of it, you are right near, you guessed it, the Trevi Fountain. I did my best to avoid it, but since it was along our route, we spent a minute peeking at it. The mass of humanity trying to get close to it was utterly ridiculous.
I did stop for just a second to get one photo of it – and then we were off to our lunch stop, Pane a Salame.
Nothing terribly fancy here – just fabulous fresh-baked crusty bread and excellent cured meats, just like the name suggests. And it is a hold-in-the-wall sort of place, so you might have to wait a minute for a table, but we thought it was worth it (we didn’t personally have to wait more than a minute).
Our next stop sculpture-wise was at the Column of Marcus Aurelius. I know this column has tons of amazing stone carving all over it, but we didn’t get close enough to see those. There was some sort of protest going on nearby, so I just snapped a pic from across the street and moved on.
We next visited the piazza in front of the Pantheon, a Roman temple converted to a church. The Fontana del Pantheon has some lovely dolphins, but it also looks like it could use a good scrubbing. At this point I was starting to feel a bit weary – I had come down with a cold the day before, and the effects were feeling their worst that day.
We decided to abandon the Bernini tour for a bit and just follow our noses. Just a block or so from the Pantheon was a paper store, Il Papiro, where Therese bought a lovely portfolio and I got a book with covers decorated with Florentine print. Therese thought it might be the very same store she had visited on a trip to Rome when she was a teenager, but it wasn’t. From there we walked a little further and ran into a neighborhood that seemed to be where the French culture in Rome resides, highlighted by the Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi.
As Therese always says, the harder you work, the luckier you get. This church has a chapel decorated with paintings by Caravaggio. I enjoyed these paintings much more than the ones we had seen at the Borghese Gallery the day before.
From there we walked a little further, searching out another art store that might be the one Therese remembered. Before arriving there, we passed the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, with the curious Elephant and Obelisk next to it.
Just on the next corner was the store, Ditta G. Poggi. This one turned out not to be the one Therese remembered either. Oh well!
By now Therese could tell that I needed a break. She hunted for vegan desserts in the area, and found a very interesting place called Bibliothé. It is a kind of Ayurvedic center that apparently has classes in one room, while the second room is a cafe. We had a spiced tea that seemed to restore me quite a bit, and the vegan lemon tart I ate was very yummy, infused with a flavor I couldn’t quite identify.
Leaving there, I felt much better, at least for a while. It was just a few blocks to our last fountain of the day, in Piazza Navona. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is one of Bernini’s most famous, and a second fountain in the piazza, the Fontana del Moro, has a central figure contributed by Bernini as well.
But for Therese, the main joy of being here was that this was a place where she had been with her family – her parents, brother and grandmother – in 1974. I did my best, looking at a photo from then, to take a new photo from the same vantage point. A police barrier and some unknowing tourists got in our way a bit, but this is what I came up with:
The more I explored Rome, the more I discovered how true the idea that, while a big city, everything seems to be pretty close together in Rome. Case in point: just to the south of Piazza Navona was the little street we had explored two days earlier where we had amazing sorbetto at Frigidarium. There were also a couple of intriguing restaurants there, and we decided to visit one of them for dinner on this night: Mastro Ciccia.
The food here was just good – not amazing, but it offered sustenance and some good taste. I had two courses – first, some shrimp with pasta, then grilled squid and sauteed broccoli rabe. A nice end to a long day of walking and exploring. And I had gotten what inspired me to want to visit Rome several years earlier – to get to know the Bernini fountains that give Rome so much of its beauty.