A Traveller Not A Tourist In Rome

Roman soldiers from anneharrison.com.au

What To Do In Rome When You Feel You’ve Done Everything

Rome can be overwhelming. It can be daunting, chaotic and exhausting. It is also amazing. It’s easy to find list of the ten best things to do – but if you a need a break, or need to escape the tourists and the crowds, here are some suggestions.

Need A Place to Sleep – Try Staying in A Convent

Once the heavy wooden door closed, I stood surrounded by silence. Flying anywhere from Australia takes a long time, and after a night and a day and a night I was exhausted. Eventually I emerged from that metal cocoon into the chaos of Rome. Tired and befuddled, I was soon in a taxi, with the driver careening down tiny streets where footpaths were more a suggestion than reality.

Double-parking on the wrong side of the road, the taxi dropped me on the Via Sistine. The convent was just a short walk from the top of the Spanish Steps. Once inside, the world became peaceful. Large wooden doors shut out the chaos of the street, and I stood in the quiet of a marble foyer.

 

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The convent chapel

 

Convents and monasteries have offered hospitality for centuries, usually with a more realistic price tag than nearby hotels. Italy especially offers a plethora of choices. The vast majority accept guests of both sexes, married or single, of any denomination – although some still pose a nightly curfew.

Simplicity does not imply austerity. Religious houses are often to be found in Renaissance palaces, walled towns or hidden amongst lavender fields or surrounded by vineyards. Some are equivalent to five star hotels. Many hide artistic treasures; a painting by Rubens, or walls adorned by Fra Angelico. Each has its own character, such as the monastery Convento Sant’Agostino in San Gimigiano which refused entry to HRH The Prince of Wales because he arrived after closing time. (Although probably apocryphal, the story alone makes the place worth a detour.)

A simple Google search will bring up sites specialising in such accommodation. In Rome, I stayed at Le Soure di Lourdes, a few minutes from the Spanish Steps. My room overlooked a cloister, and of a morning the singing of the nuns in their private chapel woke me in time for breakfast, before I headed out to explore Rome

Drink like the Romans – from a Nasoni

 

Although taken for granted by the Ancient Romans, during Medieval and Renaissance times even the wealthy had limited access to fresh water. (In 98 AD the Roman Consul was named as Guardian of the city’s water supply, with aqueducts brought some 140 million litres of water a day to the city.) After the invading barbarians cut the city’s water supply, the aqueducts were not restored for centuries.

In the 16th C beveratore were built throughout the city to supply drinking water to the populace, and these can still be seen all over Rome. Water spills from multiple nozzles (usually decorated with grotesque animal heads) and into a basin. This is often a sarcophagus, bath or even a tomb scavenged from the ancient city, for successive generations of Romans built on the ruins of those who came before. The size of the basin allowed horses to drink from them, thus giving the fountains their name: beveratore comes from the Latin to drink.

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Water, water everywhere in Rome

Modernisation coupled with the need to supply a rapidly growing population prompted a new style of water supply in the 1870s. (Even then, few houses had running water.) Originally with 3 nozzles, the water fountain was streamlined to a simple iron pipe with a single nozzle. This design gave rise to the fountains name: nasoni, or fountains of the big nose.

Only three original 3-nosed nasoni remain in Rome. One (with a nozzle missing) is in the Piazza della Rotonda, the other at the foot of the Via delle Tre-Cannelle – the aptly named Street of Three Nozzles. The third (no longer functional) nasoni is in the Via di San Teodoro, not far from the Forum.

In contrast, some 2500 still-functional single-spouted nasoni can be found all over Rome, often marked by the queue of locals waiting patiently to fill their water bottles. (Many prefer the taste to the water piped to their houses.) Each fountain is stamped with the initials SPQR – Senatus Populous Romanus (Senate and People of Rome). The water courses some 130km of aqueduct from a reservoir in Peschiera. When the spout is blocked, water arcs out of a small hole on the upper side of the spout, perfect for drinking. Even in summer the water is icy-cold.

Unlike the beveratore, the nasoni have no basin – they were built for the people of Rome, not for their horses.

 

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Remnants of Imperial Rome

A Monument To The Triumph of Imperial Rome: the Ara Pacis Augustae

 

Walking towards the Tiber one evening, I turned a corner to find a glass-enclosed monument drenched in spotlights. Rome does that to you; tiny streets weave around centuries-old buildings, then open onto others dating back over a millennia. I had left the Renaissance city, skipped the Middle Ages, and now stood in Ancient Rome.

Near the Ponte Cavour stands one of the most significant monuments of Ancient Rome. Commissioned by the Senate in 13 BCE, the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustus’ Peace) it is a three-dimensional record of 4th July, 43 BCE, when Augustus was given a triumphal entrance into Rome after his victorious campaigns in Gaul and Spain. The victories brought much needed peace not only to Rome but also to the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, I have no photos good enough to share – this journey dates back to the pre-digital age. The monument comprises a giant altar surrounded by 4 panels, each covered in exquisite bas-relief. Many believe the exceptional quality points to Greek, not Roman, artists. On one panels Augustus can be seen leading the procession with his family and friends, all in hierarchical ranking. Even his young grandson Lucius is there, clinging to his mother’s skirts.

The first of these panels was not discovered until the 16th C; two others were later found in Paris and Florence. In 1938 the parts were finally pieced together.

Drenched in spot lights, at night the Ara Pacis Augustae is more than a ghost of days long gone; it’s a dramatic reminder of the power and cultural achievements of Imperial Rome.

 

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The Spanish Steps and Trinita de Monti

Renaissance Rome – Trinita de Monti – A Hidden Gem Atop The Spanish Steps

 

For centuries the Spanish Steps have been the meeting place of Rome. Despite their name, they were actually designed and built by the French in 1725, to link the French-built Trinita de Monti to the Piazza di Spagna (which until then was accessible only by a steep and uneven path.) From the 17th C the Piazza di Spagna was actually within Spanish territory, for the Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See resided here (foreigners who unwittingly crossed the border risked being dragooned into the Spanish Army).

The Trinita de Monti is a twin-towered Gothic church, built in 1495 by Charles VIII of France. In most guidebooks it barely rates a mention, yet the view from its terrace over the Holy City is almost unequalled. The day I arrived a bride and groom were just leaving to the accompaniment of peeling bells, the rose-coloured Baroque arches a beautiful backdrop to their photos.

 

An all-inspiring angel
An all-inspiring Roman angel

Although time and restoration have not dealt kindly to the church, it remains a fine example of gothic architecture. Amongst the Mannerist works inside are two paintings by Daniele da Volterra: a Deposition (which Poussin considered the world’s third greatest painting) and an Assumption. The influence of both Michelangelo and Raphael is apparent in both these works. In The Assumption, Michelangelo is the grey-bearded figure to the far right. (A pupil of Michelangelo, Volterra was later ‘asked’ by Pope Pius IV to paint clothes over the nude figures of the Sistine Chapel).

The Trinita de Monti opens onto the Spanish Steps. The perennial crowds cover the religious symbolism of the steps: the three flights represent the Trinity. At their bottom is the Fontana della Barcaccia, created by Pietro Bernini, (father of the more famous son). Due to the low water pressure of the supplying aqueduct, Pietro designed a half-sunken boat resting in a pool of water. The bees covering the fountain are the emblem of Pope Urban VIII, who commissioned the fountain (along with many works across the city). Despite the bees, the water here is reputedly the sweetest in Rome.

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The Fontana della Barcaccia

The Literary Traveller

H.V.Morton’s classic work A Traveller In Rome shows Rome through the eyes of a visitor who fell in love with the city and ended up staying. Every street, every corner, every building has a history which Morton enthusiastically narrates in an effortless style.

8 Thoughts on “A Traveller Not A Tourist In Rome

  1. smilecalm on July 10, 2016 at 3:29 am said:

    makes it look
    so beautifully
    tempting 🙂

  2. Good morning….what a wonderful post in which you have captured the essence of Rome…and I love the your images. Superb. Janet:)

    • anneharrison on July 12, 2016 at 9:09 pm said:

      Thank you Janet, you are most generous. I love discovering a place through walking, through eating, through unexpected discoveries, and most o all, through its history, of the place itself and the people who live there.

  3. I loved this post but then I have missed Rome since I left it in the mid-eighties after a blissful year and a half living and working there. You really capture the heart of the city which captured my heart all those years ago. I need to thank you for following my blog – I’m flattered and hope not to disappoint. I will make some more visits to yours and I rather think we will be a co-follow before too long. I wish you a joyous and contented day.

    • anneharrison on July 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm said:

      Living in Rome – I’m so jealous! Thank you for you kind words; your blog is definitely worth following.

  4. Rome is so resplendent with history, every nook teems with visions from the past! Our best memories of the city were entering little neighborhood churches to discover glorious paintings by Renaissance masters, oh-so-casually mentioned by the friendly priest or cleaning ladies. Your convent-stay sounds like a wonderful way to immerse oneself in the city’s less hectic side.

    • anneharrison on July 18, 2016 at 10:02 pm said:

      Thank you – as you say, there is so much hidden history, so much to find on every corner.

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