My advice to you – don’t go to Rome … unless you are a lover of history, art, culture, architecture, design, and of course, food. Rome is chaotic, crowded, and a little crazy, but overflowing with incredible sights and experiences. This was our second visit to Rome, and we still feel like we have barely scratched the surface of what there is to do and see there. We stayed for 4 days, then met up with our sons and had a bit over a week in southern Italy.
We found a great little hotel, called G55 Design Hotel. It’s very small (only about 7 rooms) but located in the historic centre a very short walk from most of the big attractions (and an easy bus or tram ride to everything else). It is in an old building, and the entrance is very easy to miss, but the decor inside is clean and modern with some very quirky artworks. The breakfast (served in the room) was excellent. One warning – although there is a lift, it doesn’t go to the ground floor, so there are some steepish stairs you need to negotiate. Highly recommended.
EXPLORING THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
We arrived early in the morning, parked our bags at the hotel and headed out for a walk, with no fixed agenda. Since we “did” the big sights on our last visit (The Forum, the Colosseum, the Vatican) our plan this time was to really just enjoy the city itself, wander somewhat aimlessly and see what we find. You don’t have to go far in Rome before you find baroque sculptures, fountains, charming piazzas or ancient ruins!
200 metres from our hotel we came to Largo Argentina, the site of a complex of temples dating from the days of the Roman Republic. Sunken below the modern street level, it is in the middle of a busy road junction. I suspect you would find Roman ruins pretty much anywhere you dig in Rome! Apparently there’s a community of cats which are protected and fed which live among the ruins.
THERE’S SOMETHING AROUND EVERY CORNER
We were headed in the general direction of Piazza Navona, on the way passing some interesting and unusual churches. Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a Dominican church, so named because it was built on top of (“sopra”) the ruins of a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis, but erroneously ascribed to Minerva. It is the only remaining Gothic church in Rome. We passed the Pantheon – the best preserved of all the buildings of ancient Rome – but we’ll visit more fully another day. The church of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola was built in 1650, and boasts spectacular trompe l’oeil ceilings and elaborate stucco reliefs. It contains an impressive crib (nativity scene) which started in the 18th century, and is added to in an on-going tradition. The church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, with its distinctive twisted spiral lantern, designed by Francesco Borromini. This site was formerly the University of Rome from the 1400s till 1935.
We came around a corner and were amazed to see a wall of Roman columns forming part of a much newer building. This is the thing about Rome. There is so much history here that much of it has been incorporated into the fabric of the city and doesn’t rate a mention in most of the travel guides. Coming from a country where the built environment is so young, I find this quite mind-blowing.
The Temple of Hadrian was built in the 2nd century, and was dedicated to the deified emperor in the year 145. One surviving wall and colonnade was incorporated into a papal palace in the 17th century, a building which now houses the Italian Stock Exchange. If stones could talk … In fact the Piazza adjacent to Hadrian’s Temple is called Piazza di Pietra.
Don’t worry – I won’t share pics of every meal we ate on this trip (although they were all good), but some meals were particularly outstanding, and this was one of them. We found a recommended restaurant in walking distance of the hotel, and ventured forth. La Ciambella Wine Bar with Kitchen is a non-touristy small place with an excellent menu, great service and everything we ate was delicious. We decided to try their tasting menu, which was an excellent decision. And this being Rome, the restaurant is in a building which lies on top of the ruins of the Terme di Agrippa, the first public baths in ancient Rome. We had walked past the street earlier and noticed some old walls embedded into the streetscape – these are also parts of the what’s left of the Baths.
What happened to Piazza Navona?
If you were paying attention, you’ll remember I mentioned that we were heading for Piazza Navona, yet I have not included any photos from there. There so much to see & do there (and we didn’t do it all) that I decided it deserved a post all on its own (and you’ll find that HERE). Meanwhile, here are some random snapshots of our wanderings in Rome. It’s just a delight to walk the streets and enjoy the essence of Rome.