The Forum, from the Capitoline Hill

The Forum, from the Capitoline Hill
Too many photos to choose from, but it's always nice to see the Foro Romano!

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Photo-Essay on My Recent To Bellissima Roma I

For some time now, I seem to have run out of steam on my blog.. Not intentionally, but for a number of reasons, ranging from good to bad to silly. I'll try to remedy that by sharing with you four days, just over a month ago, in one of my favorite cities on earth - Rome!

Brief Sidebar on my alter ego: I left Dottore Gianni at home for this trip. He's not quite the fellow he used to be, tires easily and is frequently tiresome, even irritating. For example he has taken to spewing Italian curse words, and while that sort of behavior may not be all that bad in our humble abode, on the road, especially in I locked him in the apartment and flew away. Finita la commedia!

I trained to the Eternal City from a soggy, soggy Pisa on 3 October, arriving about midday. I had reserved a room at the Hotel Sonia, across from the Opera di Roma, a great location very near Termini rail station, with Via Nazionale and Piazza della Repubblica only a block or two away. I received a bit of a jolt when I was ushered very politely to another place, the Hotel Opera, on the same square. There was no indication of why and I was a bit too surprised to ask. My room was ready for me, which is always a relief, but it is perhaps the tiniest hotel room I have EVER stayed in, but other than that it was every bit of what I desire in a hotel room - a place to sleep after long days of exploring whatever place I happen to have landed. 
My tiny room at Hotel Opera

My likewise minuscule bathroom

The view was restricted, but for Central Rome, not a bad one 

True to form I did not dally in my room. It was a rather pretty day in Rome, and even though this was my sixth or seventh visit I was eager to re-acquaint myself with it. I also had a very important appointment to keep, and did not want to be late. 
Ancient Roman baths at Piazza Repubblica
I bought a Roma pass from a nearby kiosk in the Piazza della Repubblica and began my exploration by descending into Rome's Metro, which conveniently offers a station at that busy square. The Metro is useful only for a few select spots, but very quick and convenient if you want or need to get to them. I seldom wait more than two or three minutes for a train to arrive, and once on, distances are covered more quickly and smoothly than in any form of transport above ground. 

I reached my destination, Piazza di Spagna, in minutes, and headed out the exit leading to Rome's beautiful central park, the Villa Borghese, where as usual for me I proceeded almost instantly to get completely lost.

One of the many beautiful areas in the Villa Borghese
I DID pass by some lovely sights, but every time I came upon a sign with an arrow pointing to my destination I found it not, instead at the next signpost finding it not listed at all, or pointing in the direction from which I'd come. My appointment was still nearly two hours away, but instead of taking the smart option: giving up my struggle and hailing a
A typical view - yes, that's St Peter's in the distance,
from the area above Piazza di Spagna
taxi, I kept walking around in circles, getting angrier and more frustrated at each wrong turn. Finally, after about an hour of this nonsense, I found my way back to the area above the Piazza di Spagna known as the Pincio and, after stopping briefly to take photos of the breathtaking views of the city,  walked briskly AROUND the huge park to my goal: The Museo Borhese!

I was exhausted by the time I arrived, only 15 minutes away from the timed entry - 3 pm - of my visit. The leisurely lunch I'd planned before entering was obviously a no-go, but even though I was starving I was more starved for the art I'd encounter in this beautiful building, built for the wealthy Borghese family.

The beautify Museo Borghese
I had been only once before, on my second visit to Rome. That would have been in January 1997, after my "fiasco in Firenze," not to be included here, but certainly worth a blog post. At the time the Museo, aka the Galleria Borghese was nearly completely shut down for major renovation. The only area open was the ground level, but that alone more than satisfied me, as it was packed with sculptures by GianLorenzo Bernini, the 17th century genius who not only sculpted, but also designed fountains, entire churches, even the famous colonnade at St Peter's, as well as much of its interior.  

For some reason ro other, even though I have been to Rome I think seven times now (but who's counting?) I never made it back to this museum - until now. In 1997 I walked right in. This trip I had to book in advance for a timed visit. A nuisance? Yes, but probably a necessary one. If you're thinking of going, don't let the red tape stop you, as it is an extraordinary building with a wonderful collection of paintings and even finer sculpture.

Once I was allowed in (3 pm to 6 pm) I was led up a set of stairs into the picture gallery. Stunning collection!

Leda and the Swan - a copy of a lost,
or deliberately destroyed, painting by Leonardo
da Vinci 

Botticelli's Madonna & Child

Raphael's Portrait of a Man

Titian, Sacred and Profane love

Bellini's Madonna and Child
Caravaggio's David
I shot many pics of the paintings, including one I seem to have lost, a beauty by Leonardo (not a mere copy such as the Leda painting above). None of these had I seen on my first visit, and because of the renovation at the time I saw little of the decoration in the palazzo.

The ceilings alone...

are startling...

and dramatic.
Each of the ceilings above features a popular 17th century device: "trompe-l'oeil" which translates more or less to "fool the eye." There are examples that date back to Classical times, but the term was invented during the Baroque era to describe paintings that are created to, for a moment at least, trick the observer into thinking that they are three-dimensional. The middle painting above is particularly good at this. Some of the figures seem to be falling out of the sky!

As dazzling as the paintings (on canvas and on ceilings) are, the most important section of the museum is downstairs, in the sculpture galleries. And of the sculptors, Bernini takes pride of place. In fact he is featured upstairs as well:

Paintings by and of Bernini
One of his self portraits - her certainly
didn't idealize himself

There are even a few of his smaller sculptures upstairs, notably the bust of Scipione Borghese, who built the Villa Borghese and was a great patron of the arts:

But it is downstairs that some of Bernini's greatest works reside. 

The first gallery I entered featured the Rape of Proserpina

The sculpture manages to command one's focus despite the lavish decoration of the room.

A closer look
Next, in a smaller room, I found the sculptor's Aeneas Carrying Anchises and Ascanio from Troy.

My two favorite Berninis are placed in different rooms, indeed each of his large sculptures is given its own room, accompanied by other works by his contemporaries and by ancient Greek and Roman artists.

The first, at least in the order I chose to visit the galleries, was the tremendously active, muscular David, in the act of hurling the stone that would kill Goliath. Three views below:

How different it is from Donatello's much earlier sculpted work, and also from the great David of Michelangelo, in which the subject is also powerful, but calmly awaiting his chance. Bernini moves away from the Classical look of Michelangelo's work into  twistings and turnings, action sculpture style of the Baroque.

As active, possibly even more so, can be seen in my second favorite, Apollo and Dafne. 

Bernini captures the pair just as the god has caught up with poor Dafne in order to have his way with her. Even as he reaches for her she is, saved, transformed - or metamorphosed (the story comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses) - into a tree.

Well, I hadn't intended for this post to become an art history lecture. But I'll keep all of the above in, as if nothing else it shows how much I like the Museo Borghese and how mad I am about Bernini.

Once outside, after making the acquaintance of a headless ancient Roman orator:

"Friends, Romans, countrymen..."

"What is he saying?" 

"Beats me! He used to be a pretty good speaker, 
but now I think he's lost his head"


 I took an easy walk back towards my hotel, as opposed to the mad rush I had to make to get to my appointed time at the gallery. It was a beautiful afternoon, as you see,

I love the pines of Rome, near the
Villa Borghese, and not far from the Via Veneto
so I decided to stroll down one of Rome's most famous streets, the Via Veneto. 

This beautiful curving, treelined and unusually wide street is too rich for my blood. I can't afford the posh hotels, note most of the eateries along it, but I always enjoy the walk (downhill more so than up), because of its natural charm, 

Ancient wall near the start of the Via Veneto, Borghese Gardens behind it

but also because one of my favorite film directors, Federico Fellini, made it famous. 

The film that put it on the map, La Dolce Vita, was one of the first foreign and avant-garde films I ever saw, taken to the Circle Theatres in DC by the older brother of a high school friend, who somehow got the idea that I was "hip" - I watched, confused most of the time, but knowing I was seeing something awesome. I have viewed it several times since, and I must confess that much of it still confuses me, but I've also discovered that confusion is not a bad thing, necessarily, and must be expected when watching Fellini. Anyway, the city has remembered Fellini and has thanked him!

A curving on the Via Veneto, at a posh hotel and its eatery

Another posh hotel along the Via Veneto

the US Embassy, one of the most attractive of our embassies I've seen, on the Via Veneto
At the bottom of the Via Veneto is the Piazza Barberini, where I planned to take the Metro back to my hotel. I remembered that there were a few places still on the Via Veneto, just before the Piazza, where I might get affordable food. I was hustled at one of them, so went to the next one instead. I can't stand when restaurant staff try to get you into their eatery! 

Another reason I chose the second, Ciao Bella by name, was its glassed-in outdoor seating area. The Piazza Barberini can be a pretty boisterous place, and I thought it would be fairly quiet. I was right. 

I ordered a decent red wine and a rather tasty salad. 

Unfortunately the main course, and still another reason I chose this particular place, lasagna with artichokes, did not live up to its yummy name. 

In fact it looked and tasted more like Cream of Wheat than anything else. Ah well, it filled me up.

I was as tired by this time as I was hungry, but before I left the Piazza Barberini I had to make a short visit to its Tritone Fountain, created by - guess who? Bernini!

A good way to end my first day in Rome.