When in Rome, the Colosseum, the Forum and St Peter’s are the most popular sights on a tour. However, there are other, less busy but no less interesting attractions that every intrepid traveller should make an effort to visit. After I fell in love on my first visit to Rome, I returned once again, to the Eternal City, determined to ferret out some of my own special sights in Rome.
Our first stop is the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, to peep through the gates that lead to the headquarters of the Priory of the Knights of Malta. The walk takes us past beautiful, terracotta coloured villas with lemon trees in their yards and tall gates. We reach the square, surrounded by a church and drenched in sunlight. The dome of St Peter’s is visible through the keyhole – perfectly framed by dark green hedges. It’s utterly charming and unexpected and beautiful.
Basillica St Clements
Next, I stop for chocolate gelato on our way to the Basillica St Clements – its dome wondrously tiled and mosaiced, a stone church from the 12th century beneath its floor, and further down; a pagan Mithraic temple. It’s musty and dank and a little mysterious – there is the sound of running water from a hidden underground aqueduct, and an altar and seats still standing in the ritual banquet room.
Italy seduces, with sunlight and ice cream and al dente pasta drenched in delicious sauces; with crusty pizza and warm buongiornos ciao ragazzis. I am a happy accomplice, playing along with la dolce vita and taking note of that famous Italian grace. The next day is warm and we spend the hours in the sun at Villa Borghese; filled to bursting with families and tourists and buskers and dog walkers and lovers and old men playing chess and the heady scent of cherry blossoms.
Santa Maria della Vittoria
I finally make it to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, to see Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa. The statue is beautiful, cold and a little surreal. Her eyes are closed and her mouth slightly open. A beautiful “lambent” angel stands at her side. The description of her experience borders on the erotic; her expression a delicate balance between pain and pleasure.
St Peter’s Square, at night
I cross Piazza San Pietro close to midnight. The lamps are a dull yellow, and the saints on the roof are lit in white. The basillica is a soft blue, and the light reflects off the cobblestones. The tourists are gone, and its just the music of the fountains and my quiet footfalls on centuries of history. The square is nothing at all like in the hours of day, when lines stretch out in each direction and there are people everywhere. In the late hours of the night, St Peter’s is even more lovely, shrouded in mystery and silence.