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                                                             10 Essential Experiences in The Eternal City

Appollodorus of Damascus 2nd Century AD
Via Novembre 4 Rome
Think of the Rockefeller Centre and place it in Ancient Rome. This is one of the oldest shopping malls of them all. The markets are one of Rome’s best preserved ancient sites. Indeed, you can see many of the shops still intact. It is easy to imagine people buying and selling, gossiping, conspiring and enjoying themselves over the six floors of retail space.
In the Trajan Markets you can easily envision life in Ancient Rome. Unexpected alleys and stairways draw you deeper into the space. The fact that the markets are largely free of tourists, heightens the experience. Eerie, yet totally relatable, this is a must see.

The Church of Santa Prassede
Via Santa Prassede 9A.
Be engulfed by the stunning mostly gold 9th Century AD mosaics depicting Christ, the saints and other bible passages. The Chapel of Saint Zeno is exceptionally fine. Inside, you are surrounded by dazzling, radiant mosaics which have an almost hallucinatory impact. Rarely visited and untroubled by braying tourist guides, this is the place to appreciate the craftsmanship of Rome’s mosaic masters.

Bernini 1670
Via del Quirinale 29
Simply Rome’s most beautiful church and that is really saying something. Designed by the Baroque master Bernini around a simple oval plan, the church uplifts the spirit and delights the eye with its attention to detail. Take note of the sculptural figures surrounding the upper levels. They look down upon each visitor with curiosity and wonder. A stucco St Andrew rises on the atrium level with the heavenly ghost awaiting him in the latern base. A luminous Holy Dove appears in the latern ceiling. Light pours into the church from above. This is a stunning and humane example of the Roman Baroque.
Be sure to visit the Shrine room of St Stanislas via a back door of the church. I won’t reveal it’s contents but it is one of Rome’s most unexpected discoveries. Ask the church warden for permission and directions.
This church is a favourite place to be married in Rome and you only need to visit once to understand why. Bernini loved this building and used to visit it often in his old age, simply to enjoy its beauty. Please don’t deny yourself the opportunity to do the same.

Bernini 1624
Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5
Continue to be astounded by Bernini’s genius at the Galleria Borghese. It is hard to believe that this representation of Daphne transforming into a tree to protect her from amorous Apollo is really made of marble. Daphne’s fingertips and hair seem to dissolve into leaves before your very eyes. The sculpture feels alive. Standing before this work makes you feel a sense of wonder that usually only belongs to childhood. Behold and be amazed.


1st Century BC
Museo Nazionale Romano in Palazzo Massimo al Terme
Largo di Villa Peretti oppostite The Baths of Diocletian
A visit to this uncrowded but fascinating museum will allow you to view a tour of the frescoes of the controversial Empress Livia’s garden room from her villa at Prima Porta. The frescoes feature plants, fruit trees, flowers and shrubs with a sky like background of light blue, giving the visitor a feeling of luxurious abundance.
The room itself was subterranean and windowless, yet the frescoes give the illusion of a refreshingly cool retreat. The Emperor Augustus and his wife could relax with family and friends during the searing heat of summer and on a hot day in Rome; you too could experience the cooling, uplifting effects of this extraordinary space. Don’t forget to visit the museum shop, it is full of unusual gifts that are surprisingly high quality.

This neighbourhood near St Peters is surrounded by forty foot walls built in 850 AD by Pope Leo VII. Originally populated by the first pilgrims to visit the site of St Peters martyrdom at Nero’s circus, it is now a vibrant district full of cafes, restaurants and shops selling religious ephemera. Mussolini almost destroyed this district and it is still easy to overlook this area when approaching via the parade route. Enter via the wall behind Palazzo Torlonia to watch the street life on Borgo Pio. This is where Pope Benedict XIV lived for over 20 years. You can still see many of the higher prelates dashing about. Buy a coffee, or take a cool drink from one of the three Aqua fountains that line the street and reflect on your visit to St Peters and the Vatican museums. You are in one of Rome’s holiest and most historic neighbourhoods.

The Janiculum
Grab a drink at a café or bar and from your vantage point above the city, watch the sky over Rome transform from the lightest blue to rich orange then deepest red. The city appears close enough to touch. You can spot everything. The unmistakeable dome of the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel monument, the Colosseum, the rooftops of the Trastevere and even the saints on the top of San Giovanni in Laterno . The Tiber sparkles, golden in the evening light and the smell of Cyprus is all around. A perfect way to end your stay in Rome.

St Luigi dei Francesi
Via Santa Giovanna d’Arco
Rome is a city of the Baroque and the finest Baroque pictorial master was Caravaggio. To view three of his greatest works in situ, step into this unassuming church nestled between Piazza Navona and the Piazza della Rotonda and drop a few coins in the light meter before the Contarelli Chapel.
Suddenly the paintings come to life. Out of the shadows, emerge a very handsome Jesus, a bewildered tax collector, a disinterested young guy counting money and two slightly stunned young blades. This is religious art at it’s most human and understandable. The Martyrdom of St Matthew directly opposite in the Chapel is full of energy, shock and fury. Search out the rough looking fellow in the monk’s habit. He is running away but he cannot help looking back at the carnage. Fear and disgust play on his features. Remember him. This is a self portrait of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Murderer, sword fighter, night stalking humanist, genius. His work represents an authentic and timeless Rome. The faces of his subjects are faces you can see today throughout the streets and piazzas. To understand the Baroque and how it shaped the city you are visiting, get to know him. You won’t regret it.

To get a sense of one of Rome’s oldest neighbourhoods and its inhabitants, meander along the Via della Lungaretta. It may look like an alley but a walk down this street will take you past some of Trastevere’s most important sites. It also entices you to explore it’s side streets and squares. Stop, stare and have a bite to eat. This medieval artery will reveal itself to you in a very personal way.

Piazza della Rotonda
As soon as the heavens open, head to the Pantheon. You are not seeing things. It really is a cylinder of misty water falling slowly through the oculus to the floor below. The feeling of calm and well being it induces is a perfect antidote to a stressful day of sight seeing. If it is snowing, the wonder and rarity of this experience cannot be measured. Move heaven and earth to see it.

Attributions: Fire in the Borgo. 1514-1517. Raphael. Vatican Museum.Rome.
Detail: Matrydom of St Matthew. 1599-1600. Caravaggio. St Luigi dei Frari. Rome.
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