Things have been slightly quieter here the past week, and I apologise for not giving you your regular updates – but I do have an excuse that you might like! I spent last week on a slightly impromptu trip to Rome for my work, the British School at Rome. While I spent much of the week in front of the computer, I managed to sneak out in the evenings for wanders around the city and early morning runs in the Borghese Gardens. It was the first time I had ever visited the gardens, and around every bush and turn, there seemed to be some folly or statue peeking back at me.
Like everything else in Rome, the Borghese Gardens were grand, colourful and filled with history – it’s no wonder my runs were so short, I kept stopping to take photos of everything! In fact, I enjoyed the Borghese Gardens so much I decided to bring my morning run to you.
But first, a quick word about my work, the British School at Rome. It’s an institution dedicated towards the research, art and culture of Italy throughout all periods of time, and for such a small organisation it produces an abundance of interesting work. If you are looking to fully immerse yourself in Italian culture, then you can choose no better place to stay – you’ll be rubbing shoulders with academics, artists and enthusiasts alike, and the BSR hosts regular free events such as talks and exhibitions for residents and the general public alike. Anyway, back to running!
Re-enact that famous Rocky scene on the steps leading to the Borghese Gardens opposite the National Gallery of Modern Art, which has a great outdoor bar for afternoon drinks. Fountains and a statue of a thoughtful Cervantes flank each side, but take the road left towards the ivory arch.
On the left hand side, there’s a good chance you will want to stop and admire the Temple to Asclepius on its own little island in the lake. Asclepius was the god of medicine in Greek religion and mythology, but was gradually incorporated into the Roman pantheon of gods as Greek doctors immigrated to Rome to work. The temple itself was built in 1786 by Antonio and Mario Asprucci after apparently being inspired by the Stourhead Gardens in Wiltshire. There is a boat hire stall if you wish to get a closer look, and reportedly a wooden pier too, but a park bench and sunrise was good enough for me. Of course, if you are not interested in breathtaking scenery, Roman history or garden follies, then avert your eyes and run ahead.
But there is no avoiding this frankly bizarre monument to George Byron of two burly men bedecked in grape vines tussling over a headless infant as bunny fountains appear forever uninterested in the entire spectacle.
Continuing over the roundabout and straight on the Viale delle Magnolie, this precariously perched building sits on a slight cliff overlooking a main road.
Turn right on the Viale dell Orologio and you will past more quintessential Italian buildings that manage to make disrepair look romantic and bohemian, but the main attraction is the ‘water clock’. Designed by the priest Father Giovanni Battista Embriaco in 1873, the clock contains four quadrants, with water below constantly using momentum to power the pendulum, and two other quadrants powering the ringer by constantly filling up two bowls. The design is based on the ancient Roman concept of hydrochronometers, clocks powered by water that were reputedly more reliable than hourglasses.
Statues are liberally distributed around the Borghese Gardens, celebrating figures in Italian culture as well as internationally famous historic people. In fact, this is true of the street names as well – there’s even a George Washington street in the Borghese Gardens! To see this particular statue, turn left after the water clock and continue to follow the path around for one of the best views of Rome.
One of the most surprising discoveries I made on my first trip to Rome was the amount of graffiti on the buildings – something which they never show on television. While I still think much of the random scrawls of names and jargon on the side of old buildings is senseless and destructive, the old romantic side of me held a small flame of appreciation for this.
Continuing on the path, follow it around, past the Casina Valadier restaurant, where the red carpet and location should probably give you a good idea of how much a meal there costs.
Follow the path past the Viale degli Ippocastani, which is the scientific name for the horse chestnut trees that line the street. I think. My horticulture knowledge leaves much to be desired, so if there are any green thumbs among you readers that know better, speak up!
As you follow the Viale delle Magnolie back towards the roundabout, this gorgeous, lush purple-hued bush should be on your left-hand side on the Viale Fiorello La Guardia. Continue straight over the roundabout.
One of the unique aspects of the Borghese Gardens is the elaborate fountains dotted around that provide free drinking water for runners. Not only does it eliminate the hassle of carrying a bottle of water, but in how many places can you drink straight from a gargoyle’s mouth?
If you are thinking that the building shrouded behind the trees is what you think it is, then you are correct. The Borghese Gardens has its own Shakespeare’s Globe!
Run towards the end of the road, where the Temple to Antoninus and his wife the empress Faustina awaits. Turn left on the T-junction and follow the main road, the Via dell Viale Giulia, as it goes around the Largo Pablo Picasso.
The road will take you to the entrance to the Borghese Gardens and the National Gallery of Modern Art, where statues on its roof await to crown you with laurels for choosing to go for a run on holiday, you champion.