Capri: this glittery paradise of the Mediterranean

The road to Capri is blue and salty. I start the journey from the charming town of Amalfi and I’m being told it takes about 2 hours to reach the island. Being the boating fanatic that I am, 2 hours seems a bit short for me to admire the rugged landscape while gently being rocked by the friendly water. There is no other way to reach the island except by sea although there are several options for every pocket: by ferry, book a tour with transportation included, rent a private boat with a skipper or sail by yourself.

As the wind messes up my hair and I taste the salty drops of water that land on my lips, I am excited to finally see for myself the famous island that was the decor of so many legendary movies! The image of Brigitte Bardot and those cute capri pants comes quickly to my mind and I can’t help but smile with content.

Positano greets us half way through our journey. The cliffside village is just waking up, stretching its shoulders into the bright morning sun. I promise myself I will visit it upon my return. 

As we navigate along the coastline, there’s quite alot of traffic. For a brief moment, the cliffs remind me of the Norwegian fjords.

Situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Capri is an Italian island off the southern coast in the Gulf of Naples, near Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Famed for its landscape, upscale hotels and shopping (from designer fashion to limoncello and beautifully handcrafted leather sandals), the island opens up to me like a small paradise. When we reach our destination, Marina Grande (Big Harbor), it feels as if the trip lasted only 5 minutes. The brightly colored boats are welcoming us neatly lined up in the marina. We dock and I look a bit around: not much to do in the harbor: a few souvenir shops and the cable car booth. The way to the city center is one very steep ride up (260 meters) and, as I’m mellowed by the sun, I decide to take the cable car up and come down by foot.

In less than 3 minutes the cable car takes me to the Piazzetta. This has always been the island’s center of life. In the past, it served as a market place where fish and vegetables were sold until 1938 when the young islander Raffaele Vuotto placed a few tables outside his bar in the Piazzetta. From that moment on, the square became a fashionable meeting place for both locals and visitors.

Overlooking the sea, a larger than life Carole Feuerman sculpture dominates the square. It is called “Survival of Serena” and the inscription is telling me its story: the sculpture is part of Carole’s swimming series based on her childhood beach excursions in Long Island, where she observed the patterns formed y water on her skin and how harmonious seemed the act of a body dipping into and out of the water. Carole sees water as an enduring symbol for life: water cleanses and purifies; water touches all people, animals and things; water connects one land to another; water moistens and revives.

The island is quite rich in history: in the middle ages it was ravaged by pirates and in the 1800’s it was fought for by the French and British who took turns to occupy it. During the later half of the 19th century, Capri became a popular resort for European artists, writers and other celebrities.

The views are breathtaking and I feel so much peace wandering on the narrow and sometimes steep streets trying to soak in the island’s beauty as much as I can. Close to the center, the Gardens of Augustus are comprised of a series of panoramic flower-decked terraces overlooking on one side the Faraglioni (the tree spurs of rocks that rise up from the sea in the picture above) and on the other the Bay of Marina Piccola and Via Krupp (the winding road that you can see in the picture below). The story of Via Krupp says that in the early 20th century, German industrialist Krupp commissioned the engineer Emilio Mayerto to design and build a pathway which would link Marina Piccola, where he habitually moored his yacht each summer, with the area surrounding the Gardens of Augustus. To scale the roughly 100 meter drop, the engineer cut a series of hairpin bends into the rock, set so close together that they appear almost to overlap. Sadly, the road was closed due to a danger of rocks falling otherwise I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to reach Marina Piccola via such an iconic route! 

There are no cars on the streets of Capri, only pedestrians admiring the beautiful views and stopping for a bite to eat at the numerous restaurants on the island. 

To be quite honest, I have never tasted a lemonade as good as the one made on Amalfi coast so I stop to grab one with every chance I get. Besides the rich, perfumed flavor I am also hoping to boost my immune system by giving it an overdose of vitamin C.
The Charterhouse of St. Giacomo built in 1371 is the oldest historic building on the island and hosts a high school and the Diefenbach Museum. During summer, it functions as a venue for concerts and cultural events.

The white of the houses, the blue of the sea and the sky are so soothing for my eyes, that I cannot stop taking pictures.

As with all the places I visit, I ask myself the question: “Could you ever live here?” 

Can you guess my answer? Before leaving, I take another good look at the scenery: this is the image that will forever be embedded into my memory whenever I’ll think about Capri. 

Back on the boat, we have to be careful while exiting the marina as the waters are crowded, mostly by one-day tourists. Positano welcomes us again, half way to Amalfi. It lures me and, as promised, I stop for a quick bite.
The village is extremely crowed and hot in August this is why I recommend visiting it off season. 

I have blogged about Positano here therefore in this post I will only leave you with a couple of images in the hope that they will stir your interest to hop on a plane and see it for yourselves. 

On the way back to Amalfi, we can see some of the hundreds fires that swept the coast this summer. Supposedly they were started by the Italian mafia.  I am fascinated to watch a skillful heli pilot getting water from the sea and pouring it onto the fire. 

Just a few minutes more and we’re docking in Amalfi which I can call home during my stay in Italy. As always, I hope this post has helped you choose Capri as your next traveling destination. Drop me a note in case you need more traveling tips and I’ll be happy to help.

Have a blessed day!

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A Roman Holiday: The Roman Forum

Set aside a day to visit the Roman Forum and get a glimpse into a civilization long gone, one that made the object of so many poems, novels, history books and movies. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, the Forum has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world and in all history. And no wonder why! At one point in time, the city of Rome was the largest in the world and the Roman Empire was amongst the most powerful forces in the world of its time. At its peek under Trajan, it covered 5 million square kilometers. It held sway over an estimated 70 million people which at that time represented 21% of the world’s entire population!

The Imperial Forum (Foro Romano) are a series of monumental public squares constructed in Rome over a period of one and a half centuries, between 46BC and 113AD. I recommend buying the tickets in advance and making sure to get the “skip the line” kind to avoid wasting your time and waiting in long queues. There are also combo tickets that include the visit to Colosseum.

You can access the archaeological site via the Foro Traiano (Trajan Forum), situated near the Via dei Fori avenue. 

For centuries, the Forum was the center of day-to-day life in Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections, the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, gladiatorial fights and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city’s great men. 

Many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located on or near the Forum. This includes the kingdom’s earliest shrines and temples such as the ancient former royal residence, the Regia and the Temple of Vesta as well as the surrounding complex of the Vestal Virgins, all of which were rebuilt after the rise of imperial Rome.

Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting millions sightseers every year. Below: the ruins of the Saturn Temple. 

My tour started with a visit of the prison cell where the apostles Peter and Paul were incarcerated: the Memertine Prison (or Tullianum), an underground small and humid space that nowadays turned into a Christian worship place with the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami built on top of it. 

The Arch of Septimius Severus guards the entrance into the forum. It was built to commemorate the Parthian victories of the Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta.

The Arch of TItus was constructed in AD 82 by the Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus’s victories, including the siege of Jerusalem. The arch has provided the general model for many triumphal arches erected since the 16th century—perhaps most famously it is the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

An avid reader of the Bible, I was particularly impressed by the Basilica of Maxentius pictured below. In ancient Rome, a basilica was a building with a large central open space and served a variety of functions, including a combination of a court-house, council chamber and meeting hall. Presumably this is where the apostle Paul was brought to plea his case during his trial in Rome. 

In the far end, the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater ever built, stretches it’s concrete shoulders into the sun. 

Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the building could host between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was used for gladiatorial combats and public spectacles such as animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby that was named after the Colossus of Rhodes. 

Inside, the rigidly stratified nature of the Roman society can be clearly observed: each level of the building was dedicated to a specific social cast. The poorer casts were seated on the upper levels while the richer, noble class occupied the low level seats. The names of some senators can still be seen carved into the stonework, presumably reserving areas for their use. The Emperor and the Vestal Virgins had special boxes close to the arena for best views.

The arena itself was approximately 80m by 50m and it comprised a wooden floor covered by sand, covering an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning “underground“). This is still clearly visible even in the pictures above and below and it consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals; larger hinged platforms called hegmata provided access for elephants and the like. Animals and performers were brought through the tunnel from nearby stables. Separate tunnels were provided for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins to permit them to enter and exit the Colosseum without needing to pass through the crowds.

I wasn’t expecting it, but seeing this place where many martyrs gave up their lives for Christ was a very emotional journey for me.

The House of Augustus (Casa di Augusto) was initially the residence of emperors and later served as residence and offices for high dignitaries of the empire. Excavations continue on the three-story building; floor mosaics in the courtyard and several rooms have been uncovered while conservation efforts are bringing extensive wall paintings back to life. Here more than in any other place in the Palatine you’ll get a sense of what life was like for these privileged Romans.

Pictured below, the Stadium of Domitian commissioned by the Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus was used almost entirely for athletic contests. 

In the valley between the Palatine and Aventine Hills lies a long, grassy public park: Circus Maximus, an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. This is where the famous scene in the film Ben Hur was shot. The stadium is 621m long and 118m wide and could host 250,000 spectators. The chariots raced around the central spina on top of which stood a row of eggs. At each turn, an egg was removed to indicate the number of laps raced. Nowadays, the park is a popular meeting place and concerts are held here in the summer. 

On top of the Palatine Hill, take your time to walk the tree-shaded park of terraces, lawns, flowerbeds, pavilions, and fountains designed for social occasions and admire the beautiful views they offer over the Roman Forum. The alluring combination of some of Rome’s most imposing remains framed by trees, with views over the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, and other Roman landmarks makes this a popular tourist attraction especially for those tired of the crowds below (guilty!) 

When you walk through the impressive ruins of these palaces, temples, and public buildings constructed under Augustus and his successors, you are walking through the history of the Roman Empire.

Below the Arch of Constantine beautifully lit by the mid-day sun rays. 

When the weather is pleasant, the Colosseum is one very popular meeting spot with many tourists and young people hanging out and enjoying the sunset while watching the building slowly turning its lights on, a sure sign that the giant is now ready to go to sleep. 

I hope through my blog post I was able to take you onto a time travel journey and I stirred your interest to find out more about the ancient Rome, possibly by visiting it yourself!

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  • […] Below you can see a view of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the ruins of what use to be a flourishing city that sprang songs out of many poets hearts. You can view more details and read my thoughts about it here.  […]ReplyCancel

A Roman Holiday: Rome By Day

I have to admit: it wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to visit Rome. I guess I always considered this city too close to home to actually put the effort into planning a vacation there; it was the kind of city you could visit anytime over the weekend.  And to be honest with you, I didn’t really plan it in 2017 either, I just took my time to discover the city’s charm by walking its streets everyday for 7 days. Seriously, for an entire week I decided I would only walk the city to get to know it as a local. I have traveled in many countries in Africa or South America where it is not safe to walk so I have learned to appreciate the beauty of pedestrian tourism and take advantage of it whenever I can.

My first impression was: it has a lot of fountains! As it turns out, Rome holds the record of having over 2000 fountains, more than any other city in the world! It owes this to the Romans who built the aqueducts to supply water to the Imperial household, baths and owners of private villas. Each of the major fountains was connected to two different aqueducts, in case one was shut down for service. Call me impressed!

Located in the Piazza Barberini, this fountain is a masterpiece of Baroque sculpture representing Triton, half-man and half-fish, blowing his horn to calm the waters. It was created based on a text by the Roman poet Ovid in the Metamorphoses.No matter how many tropical countries I have visited so far, there’s something in the Romanian side of me that makes me so happy to see citruses growing up on the side of the street. I guess my happiness has its roots from when I was little during the communist era and I only saw oranges at Christmas time. Regardless of the reason, I can tell you I was really happy walking down this street which is right next to Roma Termini, the train station. 

While strolling the streets of Rome, don’t just walk by the fountains: take the time to learn about their history. The one below is called Fontana dell’Acqua Felice (The Fountain of Happy Water) or the Fountain of Moses due to the fact that it depicts Moses in the center, while Aaron and Joshua are flanking him. A tip: bottled water in Rome can be quite expensive if you buy it from street sellers. Some fountains have water that is safe to drink and fresh so you might want to hold on to a refillable bottle while trotting the streets: save some money and save the earth as well by not buying too much plastic. You’re welcome! 🙂 

I was curious to see the Fountain of the Naiads past which Gregory Peck drives Audrey Hepburn on his Vespa during their famous Roman Holiday movie. I found it in the center of Piazza della Republica and it’s quite astonishing as you can see below. 

Right across from it, stands tall the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (the Church of St Mary of Angels and Martyrs), dedicated to all Christian martyrs, known and unknown. It is built on a wing of the former Diocletian Baths but seeing how I was more curious about the worldly aspects of the Romans life, I didn’t visit the church. Instead, I walked briskly towards the baths. If you wish to do the same, just go around the corner of the basilica and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of the baths. 

Thermae Diocletiani or the public Baths of Diocletian is quite a huge place (120,000 square meters!) and contained hot and cold baths, a sauna and a library. It was build using Christian slaves and it could easily accommodate 3,000 people at the same time. There’s a lot more to read about it here if you’re interested. Right near the entrance you can see some tomb stones of Roman soldiers and it was fascinating for me to read their inscriptions. 

Inside, the baths are quite luxurious and I can only imagine what the atmosphere must have been like back in the days. A not so fun fact: while the baths were enjoyed by almost every Roman, there were those who criticized them. The water was not renewed often and the remains of oil, dirt or even excrement were kept warm, providing a milieu for bacteria. The emperor Marcus Aurelius complained about the dirtiness. Aulus Cornelius Celsus, while commending its therapeutic virtues, warns not to go with a fresh wound, because of the risk of gangrene. The objections of the philosopher Seneca were instead about the associated noise that interrupted his work when he resided above a bath.

The bathtubs are made of marble, adorned with various motifs and are quite spacious.  

There is also a museum inside which features, among other artifacts, the first known Christian inscriptions. Those date back from the days when Christians were persecuted and in order to communicate and recognize each other as believers, they were using symbols such as a fish, a shepherd or a dove.  The inscriptions pictured below are funerary. 

Back on the streets of Rome, the surprises never stop. It is virtually impossible to walk without bumping on a piece of history. Whether it’s a house with amazing architecture or a fountain that dates back from the ancient centuries, Rome keeps you constantly in awe. 

Heading to the Colosseum and the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum, one first has to walk passed the Trajan Forum. This forum was built on the order of the emperor Trajan with the spoils of war from the conquest of Dacia, the ancient Romania. As a Romanian proud of my origins, I was particularly impressed to see Trajan Column (pictured below) which was erected to commemorate Trajan’s victory over Decebal, the Dacian king. 

In the vicinity, stands tall an impressive construction: Altare della Patria (the Altar of the Fatherland) also known as the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. This is the largest monument in Rome and it’s quite controversial since for its construction, a large area of the Capitoline Hill with a Medieval neighborhood were destroyed. The monument itself is often regarded as conspicuous, pompous and too large.

The monument holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame, buried under the statue of goddess Roma after World War I.

Maybe it was the beautiful light playing hide and seek with the clouds or it was the fact that I befriended a seagull that was very proud to be Italian but I quite liked the monument and I stuck around to photograph it for a bit. 

Here you can see the monument square and the Trajan Column in the far right. 

Whenever you get a chance to get a glimpse of the Rome’s rooftops, don’t hesitate. The city doesn’t have loads of skyscrapers but it has many hills (7 to be more precise!) which offer a spectacular view of the blue sky, the reddish houses and the green trees. 

Below you can see a view of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the ruins of what use to be a flourishing city that sprang songs out of many poets hearts. You can view more details and read my thoughts about it here

Another landmark that is a must see in Rome is Piazza del Poppolo (The People’s Square). The piazza lies inside the northern gate in the Aurelian Walls, once the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome, now called the Porta del Popolo (People’s Gate). This was the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum (modern-day Rimini) and the most important route to the north. At the same time, before the age of railroads, it was the traveler’s first view of Rome upon arrival. In the center of the square stands the Egyptian obelisk of Seti I that was brought to Rome in the year 10 B.C. Sadly, for centuries the Piazza del Popolo was a place for public executions, the last of which took place in 1826. 

It does have beautiful statues and fountains that you can admire: here Neptune with his trident between two dolphins …

…or Rome between the Tiber and the Aniene on the east side, with goddess Roma armed with lance and helmet, having in front the she-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus.

Right behind this statue there is a small hill, Pincio, that has a nice park on top offering beautiful vistas and a chance for some refreshments. The park leads the way to Villa Medici and the Spanish Steps, two other attractions that you can’t miss when in Rome. If you visit during summertime, make sure you wear a sun hat and proper clothing as walking in the strong sun for a day can “bless” you with severe sun burns. The streets are calm and almost dormant under the strong afternoon sun. Some are empty as well: just the way I like them! 

As you could have seen by now, Rome is filled with fabulous squares. Piazza Cavour is another one of them. The main building here is the Palace of Justice, featuring late Renaissance and Baroque architectural style.

In the middle of the square and facing the palace, there is a statue of Cavour, the man thought to be the mastermind behind the unification of Italy.  Of course there is a fountain here as well and I was so glad to have found it: in the scorching afternoon heat, these fountains are a blessing because next to them the temperature drops approximately five degrees Celsius! 

Keep on walking past the Palace of Justice and you will soon find yourself in the proximity of the Castel Sant’Angelo.  Known also as the Hadrian’s Tomb, the Castel Sant’Angelo is a fortress located on the right bank of the river Tiber, just a short distance from the Vatican City. The construction of the building began in the year 135 under the direction of the Emperor Hadrian, who intended to use it as mausoleum for himself and his family. Shortly after it was finished, it became a military building. 

Like any respectable castle, Sant’Angelo has its own legend. It seems that in the year 590, while a great epidemic of plague devastated the city, the Pope Gregory I had a vision of Saint Michael the Archangel on top of the castle, announcing the end of the epidemic. In memory of the apparition, the building was crowned with a statue of an angel.  The castle offers a beautiful vista over it’s famous bridge and the Vatican. The bridge reminded me of Charles Bridge in Prague as it is flanked by statues as well. Because it is quite beautiful, there are many tourists and guys selling various stuff so taking a good photograph of it might test your patience. 

Inside the castle there are some splendid decorated rooms but my heart was set on the views it offered. 

After the visit, you may want to relax at the restaurant on top of the building over a cup of true Italian coffee. 

As any respectable tourist, I went to the Vatican (a few times in fact!) and you can read about my visit here.

Don’t leave Rome without visiting the Spanish Steps, a great example of the Roman baroque style. This is a beautiful place to just sit down and enjoy the atmosphere and views of the Eternal City. The steps are a wide irregular gathering place consisting of 138 steps placed in a mix of curves, straight flights, vistas and terraces. They connect the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinita dei Monti, with its beautiful twin tower church dominating the skyline. Plenty of fashion stores for all pockets sizes can be found on the streets surrounding the steps.

A fun fact on how the steps became so famous: their unique design and elegance has made it a popular place for artists, painters and poets who were inspired by the place (even the poet Keats lived and died here). The artists’ presence attracted many beautiful women to the area, in the hope that they would be taken as models. This in turn, attracted rich Romans and travelers. After a short time, the steps were crowded with people of all kinds of backgrounds. The tradition of the Spanish Steps being a meeting place has lived on ever since.

Right next to Trinita dei Monti lies the Villa dei Medici with its beautiful views and rich history. You can read a short post about it here

Keep on strolling the streets of the Eternal City and get back to the heart of it to discover its many treasures. 

Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) is the largest baroque fountain in the city and is often viewed as the symbol of Rome. It wasn’t always like this, but Federico Fellini’s movies La Dolce Vita and Three Coins in a Fountain have made it so famous that it is now literally impossible to see it without crowds of people tossing coins or taking selfies. In the center of the fountain stands Oceanus and in the niches flanking him, Abundance spills water from her urn and Salubrity holds a cup from which a snake drinks. Above, bas reliefs illustrate the Roman origin of the aqueducts.

There is an art to coins throwing: it seems they are meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder as it was shown in the 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain movie. Fact: an estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated US $1.5 million was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain although it is illegal to do so. 

Head west via the narrow streets to reach the Pantheon and while doing so, enjoy watching the houses and their beautiful gardens.

Cross Via del Corso and in 5 minutes you reach the Pantheon, a former Roman temple dedicated to every god, nowadays a catholic church and a place of burial for two Italian kings and Raphael, the renowned Renaissance painter and architect. 

The interior of the dome was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. A circular opening in the center of the dome, called oculus and the entry door are the only natural sources of light in the interior. Throughout the day, the light from the oculus moves around this space in a reverse sundial effect. It also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. During storms, a drainage system below the floor handles the rain that falls through. 

I randomly walked in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle located near Vittoriano and it did not disappoint me. The Baroque interior is beautifully adorned. There are two Papal tombs transferred from the Old St Peter’s: that of Pius II and Pius III. The artwork in the Sanctuary and its vault depicting the life and martyrdom of St Andrew is impressive. 

Even during random walks on the streets it is impossible to not bump into a piece of history like this small temple below.

There were two churches that really impressed me in Rome: St Peter Basilica in Vatican and Santa Maria Maggiore located in the eastern side of the city, close to the Termini Station and Piazza della Republica. This papal church is one of the four ancient major churches and the largest Marian church in Rome. According to the legend, Mary the mother of Christ appeared in a dream to Pope Liberius in the year 356 and told him to build a church in this place where a miracle would take place. The next day, news of a strange snowfall on Esquiline Hill was announced to the Pope and he hurried to the top of the hill to sketch in the snow the design of the new church. 

The present church was constructed nearly a century later and the interior still bears the original mosaics in the nave depicting Moses leading his people out of Egypt and the Egyptians being drowned as they tried to follow them across the Red Sea. The church was decorated with the first gold brought from the Americas. Beautiful and really-really disturbing at the same time if you think about how that gold was obtained.

Eating out is always a feast in Rome. Via Vittorio Veneto, colloquially called Via Veneto, is one of the most famous, elegant and expensive streets in Rome. It is named after the Battle of Vittorio Veneto (1918), a decisive Italian victory of World War I. It is filled with haute cuisine restaurants so definitely try them out but at the same time don’t overlook the nice intimate cafe cuisine in the numerous restaurants situated in the Fontana di Trevi neighborhood.  

Now that you have seen Rome most important landmarks by day, make sure to see how they look like by night as well. You can do so by reading this blog post.

I hope this mini guide has given you just the upsurge you needed to spend a few days in Rome. I would love to hear your impressions upon your return!


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  • […] If you’re not keeping up regularly with my blog posts, you might want to read the one in which I describe a bit of Rome by day; it will give you more information about the landmarks pictured in this post and you can find it here. […]ReplyCancel

A Roman Holiday: Villa Dei Medici

If you follow my blog posts regularly, you must know by now that most of my travels have as starting point a book I have read. Setting my eyes on Villa Medici wasn’t by accident: I had heard, studied and seen movies about this family ever since I was a child. My grandmother was a bit of a history buff and besides the history lessons, she passed on to us juicy information from the books she read, including information regarding the well known rivalry between the Medici and the Borgia families. Growing up, I took everything she told us ad literam and was even up for confrontations with my teachers; sadly now I know that in history, with every bit of truth there is a bit of legend as well.

Still, that didn’t prevent me to visit their mansion, on the contrary, I was looking forward to it! The villa is located on top of the Pincian Hill next to Trinità dei Monti, very close to the Spanish Steps. To reach it, you have to cross a beautiful park.

Inside the park there are a couple of gorgeous buildings.

The Villa Medici, founded by Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, has housed the French Academy in Rome since 1803. In ancient times, the site of the Villa Medici was part of the gardens of Lucullus, which passed it into the hands of the Imperial family through Messalina, who was murdered in the villa. Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius and was a very beautiful, powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity (and .. yes: I read about her as well when I was a teenager 🙂 . She allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot in the year 48AD. 

Before being acquired, the villa had long been abandoned to viticulture but after renovation, it became at once the first among Medici properties in Rome, intended to give concrete expression to the ascendancy of the Medici among Italian princes and assert their permanent presence in Rome. Under the Cardinal’s insistence, Roman bas-reliefs and statues were incorporated into the villa’s design. As a result the facades of the Villa Medici became a virtual open-air museum. A series of grand gardens recalled the botanical gardens created at Pisa and at Florence by the Cardinal’s father Cosimo I de Medici and sheltered plantations of pines, cypresses and oaks.

Ferdinando de’ Medici had a studiolo, a retreat for study and contemplation, built to the north east of the garden above the Aurelian wall. Now these rooms look onto Borghese gardens but would then have had views over the Roman countryside.

Wandering through the gardens, you come across the place where Messalina was executed. This is what the historian Tacitus wrote: “Messalina, meanwhile, in the gardens of Lucullus, was struggling for life, and writing letters of entreaty, as she alternated between hope and fury”. Alas, she was killed due to her treason right about where the purple flowers are now.

The gardens are beautiful and offer an oasis of fresh and scented air during the hot summer days. 

A breathtaking view of the Eternal City can be admired from the villa’s terrace. 

Personally I love how the reddish color of the buildings bring life to the blue sky and the abundantly green trees.
Although the villa is closed for visitation in the evening, the view over the Rome rooftops can still be admired. I found it ever so peaceful to watch the night fall from there and listen to the pulse of the city slowly quiet down.

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A Roman Holiday: Rome by Night

I love the silent hour of night” said Anne Bronte and I second that. Many passionate photographers would nod affirmatively to that too with their tripod and photographic gear hanging heavy on their shoulder. But don’t discourage if you’re not into photography: night is the time when blissful dreams arise and the city reveals its charms in front of everybody, not just the photographers.

Luckily for you, with its Mediterranean climate, Rome is a pleasure to stroll at night all year round. During summertime, grab a huge gelato cone and start your tour. You might want to grab a hot cocoa if you’re strolling during winter time although I would pass hot cocoa for a yogurt and dark chocolate gelato anytime of the year 🙂

If you’re not keeping up regularly with my blog posts, you might want to read the one in which I describe a bit of Rome by day; it will give you more information about the landmarks pictured in this post and you can find it here.

Start your tour on the North-West side of the city, at the Ponte Umberto from where you can take a look at the impressive building of the Palace of Justice (Palazzo di Giustizzia). Located in the Prati district of Rome, this huge building is popularly called by Italians the “Palazzaccio” (the bad Palace) due to its unusually large size, astonishing decorations and long period of construction which created the suspicion of corruption. 

A short 5 minutes walk to the next Tiber bridge and you are in front of the Castel Sant’Angelo. Beautifully illuminated, the castle is just as crowded at night time as it is during the day particularly in summertime. To get a good photograph of it, you might need to get there after 10pm when the affluence of tourists cools down a bit and the street sellers retire home. Or you can attempt a long exposure picture but this can still be tricky as you can see below. 

Don’t miss the chance to get a glimpse of the gorgeous Vatican which can be seen from the Sant’Angelo bridge. 

Although closed for visitation, you can still walk around the surroundings of Vatican and soak in the serene view. Crowds of people will be here as well until late at night in the summertime but some good photographs can still be taken. I have dedicated an entire blog post to Vatican and you can read more about it here.

Return from the Vatican via Corso Vittorio Emanuele boulevard to find yourself in front of the Altare della Patria also known as the National Vittorio Emanuele Monument. This is a good 20-30 minutes walk but it’s a perfect time to have a good chat, enjoy some window shopping and admire the architecture. 

Once you’re done with admiring the impressive monument, you are only 15 minutess away from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Both landmarks are closed for visitation at night but don’t waste the chance to see them from the outside, basking in the silence and the moonlight. Here, the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine carefully watched over by a patrol car. 

I found the Arch of Titus to be particularly beautiful. Constructed in 82AD by the Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate his victories (including the siege of Jerusalem), the arch is undisturbed at night, peacefully watching over this alley. 

Take Via del Corso and head to the north part of the city to reach Piazza del Poppolo (the People Square). Here you can enjoy the view of the Egyptian obelisk and the gorgeously illuminated statues. Once you have visited them by day, it is a must to see them at dusk.

End your tour not before climbing the Pincio hill and soaking up the night view of the Eternal City with the Vatican profiling in the back. 

I hope you enjoyed this short post and it inspired you to go out and breath in the beauty of the Rome night life!

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