Following a morning of meetings, my work was kind enough to let me have the afternoon off to explore Rome further. Luckily I had just the place in mind – the Quirinale, an area that eluded me on my last visit to Rome. But first, I had to go past this gorgeous fountain in the Borghese Gardens – it had such an unusual mixture of sculpted and natural styles, I had to share it with you all.
Making my way slowly down the Via del Babuino, I stopped far too often to admire its picturesque alleyways….
…as well as these randomly placed penguins on the window ledge!
The Via del Babuino led me towards the Spanish Steps, a name which always puzzled me. Why call them the Spanish Steps when they are in Rome?
At first I was left even more confused when a co-worker told me they were designed by an Italian architect and financed by a French diplomat. It all became clear though when she then explained the steps were intended to link the French Trinita de Monti church at the summit of the hill with the Spanish square at the bottom, so-called because the triangular-shaped square was located next to the Spanish Embassy of the Holy See, and the territory immediately surrounding their building was considered Spanish territory ‘back in the day’.
Halfway through the walk I decided to take a slight detour, to explore the Barberini Palace.
The property was home to Marco Barberini, who would one day become Pope Urban VIII, and his family in the 17th century AD. Today it houses an impressive collection of ‘ancient art’ (oil paintings to you and me), but if you are short on cash then the building and its gardens alone are worth a wander.
A bee motif borders many of the walls in the Palace, and it turns out that is because three bees are on the coat of arms of the Barberini family. Looking through various history books and websites online, I couldn’t bee-lieve the amount of puns historians and critics contemporary during the Barberini’s time made between their family name, bees and the word ‘barbarian’, in relation to the family’s supposed nepotism when Pope Urban VIII reigned. It turns out I’m not the only sucker for a bad pun! Take a look if you are interested, at the very least it will make you see Italian Renaissance politics or papal history in a new light!
Unsurprisingly, artwork and architectural gems cover every nook and cranny of Rome, so a statue at a traffic light should come at no surprise. But considering there was one for every corner of the crossroads, and their general grand state, they did make me stop and look twice.
Finally, and with much delay, I made it to the Quirinale Palace. One of three official residences of the President of the Italian Republic, the complex sits on the highest hill in Rome and provides an excellent vantage point for panoramic views of the capital.
Only a short distance away on the Via del Nazionale is Diocletian’s Baths. Once the largest public baths complex in Rome, the frigidarium, or large cold pools, was converted into the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri by Pius IV and dedicated to all known and unknown Christian martyrs.
The sheer size and scale of the room, which was only one part of the public baths complex, is staggering in terms of the ancient world – it could easily accommodate 3,000 people! Even with the additions of marble, paintings and altars when it was refurbished into a church, it is large enough for everyone to feel like they have their own space to worship in peace.
If you head towards the back of the church and through the photography exhibition of its history, there is a sweet little courtyard at the back where it is possible to look at some of the unsurfaced walls of the complex.
Keep an eye out for a large and slightly menacing looking statue out the back as well!
After seeing Diocletian’s Baths and the Quirinale, I still had a few hours left. Which meant one thing – to slog all the way down to the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel II towards the Vatican for two reasons. I mean, no trip to Rome is complete without a peek at it, right?
St Peter’s Square is one of the favourite places in the world. Regardless of your religious affiliation, the entrance towards the square and Basilica, with the long street of obelisks lining either side, is dramatic and humming with energy enough to excite anyone. Just sitting along the side pillars, and appreciating the view with countless others, is an excellent way to while the afternoon and escape the midday heat.
The other reason I enjoy coming here? Just around the corner is my favourite ice cream place in Rome, the Old Bridge Gelateria. Head towards the side entrance to the Vatican Museum, and you will most likely find a queue on the other side of the street, it is that good.
When I first came to Rome someone told me that the best way to tell if a gelateria was good was to look at its pistachio ice cream – the more brown and muddy-looking, the better. The Old Bridge’s pistachio flavour is a delicious murky colour, and arguably their best flavour.
Do you have any food recommendations for Rome? Let’s hear them!