The Rome portion of this trip was meant to be a fairly heavy dose of art and architecture. Other than ancient Rome, I organized the sites we intended to visit around physical areas of the city but also on three Baroque era artists, the architect Borromini, the architect and sculptor Bernini and the painter Caravaggio, although, of course, along the way we will see work by Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo (not three of the mutant ninja turtles).
We started this day by going to the Palazzo Barberini [Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13, open Tues-Sat 8:30-7:30pm;Sun 9-1pm, admission: €5], the palatial home of a rich, powerful and famous family which had a member become pope during the counter reformation era when Saint Peter’s (San Pietro) was being built and had a very good eye for art and thus, art patronage and collecting. It houses part of the Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica, a rather deceptive name since the art is largely baroque, not ancient (antica).
[BTW, for those with history, especially art history degrees, please forgive any errors I make in describing things we saw. While I’m interested in art history and have taken a few courses, I’m lawyer with philosophy and political science degrees, so throw me a bone here, okay?]
The two most famous of the paintings there are Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, and Raphael’s Fornarina. There are a number of El Greco paintings, Titian’s Venus and Adonis, which I admire. There are also a number of busts by Bernini of members of the Barberini family and a few of his paintings including his David, and in the central salon, the ceiling is decorated by Pietro da Cortona with the visual panegyric of the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power to glorify the Barberini family. Kindly, they provide a large divan to lie back upon and view the ceiling at leisure.
After the Barberini, we shop a bit and then have a quick lunch at a restaurant near Piazza Augustus Imperatore. We each order a pasta dish and of course, a bottle of vino rosso, a Brunello, of course. Then, Scott and Robin separate from me to do some shopping and we agree to meet back in front of the Palazzo later.
In the afternoon, we looked at three churches.
Santa Maria della Vittoria, [Via XX Settembre 17, open Mon-Sun 7-noon, 3:30-7 p.m.] We planned to arrive at this church after 3:30 because we want to go inside to see
Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa, a piece of theatre as much as it is a piece of sculpture. Check out our photo.
Only two short blocks away is San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, [Via del Quirinale, 23, open Mon-Sat 10-1, 3-6 p.m.; Sun noon-1, 3-6p.m.], a church designed by Borromini, who was Bernini’s chief rival as an architect. The church also gets called San Carlino because it is so tiny. The design of the church and its dome plays with curved lines in remarkable way to create shadows forming a sense of animation and not mere decoration.
On the same block is Sant Andrea al Quirinale, [Via del Quirinale 29, open Wed-Mon 8-noon, 4-7 p.m.] designed by Bernini. It is interesting to compare the two interior domes. Both are an unusual oval shape but distinctly different.
To return to our hotel, I looked at the map and thought we could make a short cut through a large garden called Giardino Quirinale. When we get to the entryway for the gardens, which are walled, there are armed guards standing there. Hmmm, I think, maybe we can’t go this way. Stupid me, it turns out the gardens are attached to the buildings which house the President of Italy. When we walk around to the piazza in the front, we can see a huge line of people waiting to go inside. So we take a longer route and stop to buy some wine along the way so that we can have a sip before we head back out for dinner.
Dinner is at Trattoria [Via del Pozzo delle Cornacchie ph: 39 06/6830 1427]. Our reservation is at 8:00 and when we arrive, no one else is there, in fact, the staff seem slightly surprised by our arrival. The place starts to fill up around 9:00 with a number of younger diners who look like they’re staying all night.
The restaurant has modern decor, an open kitchen in the back and modern Sicilian cuisine. Like more formal high end dining places in North America, they bring us a plate of amuse bouche and an extensive array of breads. The grissini was particularly thin and crispy.
We start to order wine, but the waiter tells us to order our food and then he’ll help select the wine. I order the chef’s mixed hors d’oeuvres which consist of bean soup, fried rice ball with cheese, fried legumes, caponata, and Sicilian ham and cheese sandwich. The guys order pasta norma and pasta with tuna. For secondi, filet of beef with stuffed pumpkin flowers, meatballs and Sicilian roast beef. None of the dishes are quite what you would expect from the names. The food all has a unique twist. We have a Sicilian red wine which is somewhat lighter in body than Tuscan reds but darker in taste. It’s called Nero D’Avola which is the name of the grape and the wine. Can’t recall the producer. For dolci, we have cannoli, almond parfait and lemon gelato with strawberries and blackberries. This is the only place where I manage to eat every bite of three courses.
It was great food, great atmosphere – very lively once other diners arrived – and the cost was quite reasonable especially because the Sicilian wines are not expensive.
We leave Trattoria and go to look at the Pantheon at night. The Piazza in front is a buzz with people sitting outside eating or sightseeing. Scott decides to take a different route away from the Pantheon and we see a sign indicating we are coming to a bridge to cross the Tiber river. This is obviously the wrong way back to the hotel. We have to examine our maps, turn 90 degrees and head in the right direction. So much for the man compass!