Taking in il Centro Storico, our self guided tour of art and architecture in the historic centre

This day was largely a tour of churches. We start at Sant’Agostino, [Piazza Sant’Agostino, open 7:45 – noon, 4-7:30] where we see Raphael’s Isaiah fresco, and Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto. Not many tourists are at this church.

Barely a block away, we go to San Luigi dei Francesi, [Via S. Giovanna d’Arco, open Fri-Wed 8-12:30,3:30-7pm;Thurs 8-12:30pm] where we look at Caravaggio’s three paintings of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel. These were the paintings which made Caravaggio’s reputation in Rome.

Again, our photos don’t do them justice. There are considerably more tourists here and we encounter the box requiring a feeding of coins to keep the lights shining on the paintings. The rest of the church is quite impressive also.

We return to the Pantheon, [Piazza della Rotonda, open Mon – Sat 8:30 – 7:30pm; Sun 9 – 6pm] to see it by day and go inside. They have some helpful signs describing the origins of the building and its development — the current structure was built under Hadrian (the guy with the wall in Great Britain named after him) — and some explaining some of the other works such as Raphael’s tomb.

We walk around the corner to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, [Piazza del Minerva, open Mon -Sun 8-7pm]. This is one of the few Gothic churches in Roma. Outside in the Piazza is Bernini’s Elephant with an obelisk perched on its back, the Pulcin della Minerva. The elephant looks kind of odd. The inscription on the base reads something to the effect that it takes a robust intelligence to uphold solid wisdom.

Inside is Michelangelo’s Christ bearing the Cross which you can walk right up to and touch, unlike his Pietá in St. Peter’s.

From there, it is a few blocks to Piazza Navona. It’s about noon, so we throw down anchor at a bar or entoteca directly in front of Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. The fountain, unfortunately, is undergoing restoration, so has scaffolding and boards all around it and you can only see parts and not the whole.

However, it’s an excellent spot to view the Borromini designed church, Sant’Agnese in Agone and the della Porta fountains, Fontana del Nettuno and Fontana del Moro.

The little food spot is called Tucci. We have a caprese salad and pasta. Food is not great but okay for a big tourist site area and the bottle of Chianti washes it all down nicely. Scott tried a glass of house red — not so good. Except for the more expensive places, Trattoria and La Terrazza, we did not find house wines to be very good. Of course, this was in contrast to some fabulous bottled wines we were drinking.

As we eat lunch, the piazza gets steadily busier and guys selling illegal knockoffs start setting up their tables or blankets. People start hanging around waiting for us to leave our table.

Robin haggles with a guy for a pair of “Versace” sunglasses for Allie and then we wander around the Bernini fountain for a better look. Scott pokes his head into a number of shops looking for rings.

We head towards Galleria Doria Pamphilj, [Via del Collegio Romano 2, open Fri-Wed 10-5pm, admission €8]. Along the way, we continue to check out shops. There are surprises like a lone Roman column and an excavated block of ruins, which my map describes as Area Sacra. We find an art poster shop to buy t-shirts for the girls.

We walk past Il Gesu, the Jesuit church, which would be worth looking into, but it is closed and I can’t find a sign saying when it will next be open.


The Galleria Doria Pamphilj entrance is hard to find. It is not facing Via Vittorio Emanuele but requires going around the buildings into a small piazza. This is one of the poorest organized galleries we’ve ever been to. There’s a small sign over a doorway, but when we enter, it is not clear where the collection is and there’s no signs. We go up a wide flight of marble steps and see further on that there’s a small desk where we pay admission. There are no guide books available and we get handed a collection of photocopied pages covered in plastic covers. It’s in Italian, but you can figure out the artist and name of the works even if you can’t (and we can’t) follow some of the descriptions. The floor plan goes all over the place and you have to back track to find things. Paintings are hung right to the ceiling, which was the style back in Renaissance and post eras, but it is very difficult to see things on the upper rows since the ceilings are so high.

We see Bernini’s Innocent X bust which is in the same room as Velazquez’s Innocent X painting, a very interesting contrast. Notable also are Titian’s Salome, Caravaggio’s Mary Magdelene, St John the Baptist, and Flight into Egypt.

We leave looking for a menswear store called Davide Cenci. We don’t find it but stumble across the Column of Marcus Aurelius and find ourselves on Via del Corso, where we do more shopping.

We separate from Robin, who wants to buy something for Katie, and head to Gina, which Petulia had recommended, but it’s closed. Instead, we go to Enoteca Antica, [Via della Croce 76B, Rome, tel: 06-6790896]. We have stopped at this enoteca at least 4 times to buy wine, so on an evening when we wanted something lighter, this seemed like a good spot for dinner. The salads were all very fresh and tasty. By this time, I’m in love with the rucola, smaller than what you see here but much more flavour and so crisp. We each had a pizza, more rucola with mozzarella and fresh tomato (another vegetable which is so much better everywhere we ate than anywhere you can find it in Calgary), capricciola and a margherita with anchovies and fresh tomato. Another bottle of Brunello. We don’t order dessert but the waitress brings us a tiramisu to share. An inexpensive and tasty meal.

We buy more wine before we leave, including another Veuve Cliquot for Scott’s birthday cheers tomorrow and one to take with us to Venice. We walk around the area at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, buy some gelato and head back to the hotel for some more wine and more bridge playing.

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