a walking tour of roma / rome pt. 3

On my first full day in Rome (the day after the events of my Sampietrini post, if you’ve been following along), the girls in my apartment rose, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, and trekked uphill to our new campus for the first time. Our morning was full of meetings and paperwork, but we had a brief lull in the afternoon to grab lunch and wander.

At the instructions of Karina—the foodie of our apartment—we found ourselves in Pizzeria da Simone, stumbling our way through ordering take-away pizza. What we received was unexpected: rather than triangular slices, this pizzeria folded rectangular strips of pizza in half, sandwich-like, then wrapped them for easy carrying + consuming. At the time, this seemed incredibly novel, but I would quickly learn that many pizzerias around Rome served pizza to-go like this.

Pizzeria da Simone’s masterful pizza-sandwich (just don’t call it that in front of a proper Italian).

Pizza in hand, we meandered down to a park across the street from our school. The air smelled clean and just the slightest bit spiced. The scent reminded me of the myrtle trees which populate the banks of southern Oregon’s Chetco River. I would later learn that this park was called Villa Sciarra and that a walking route to school cut through its shaded expanse, but for this moment, I was content to simply lean against the low stone wall and finish off my (delicious) pizza.

To our left, one of Rome’s many aqueduct-fed water fountains burbled away. We took turns filling our water bottles or, for those who didn’t have them, dipping our heads under the constant flow of fresh water. Then we began to walk through the park, marvelling at the different world we’d found ourselves in. We seemed to be far away from the rush of Roman traffic and bustle; any road noise was masked by the wall surrounding the park and the soft buffer of the tall trees.

The top of Villa Sciarra overlooks the neighborhood of Monteverde.

After our lunch break, we re-assembled with the members of our program for a walking tour of the city. Because our school sits atop Colle di Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill), the first part of our walk was downhill. We experienced the dazzling panoramic view of the city from Terrazza del Gianicolo (Janiculum Terrace) which no photos can do justice to. On the terrazza sat Il Fontanone dell’Acqua Paola, an enormous stone fountain built in the 1600s and fed by the same aqueduct we’d drank from earlier that day. From there we descended further, crossing the River Tiber into the city center.

Il Fontanone proved to be too massive to fit within the frame of a photo. This is the upper section of the fountain.
One of many bridges spanning the River Tiber.

After this point, the tour became a blur of names and dates and locations. We wove through the central streets of Rome until our feet ached. Hopeful that I would retain at least some of what I was learning, I snapped dozens of photos, looking every bit the American tourist. Below are some highlights.

Campo de’ Fiori is home to one of Rome’s daily produce markets, and we arrived just as the vendors were packing up their wares. This statue of Giordano Bruno looms over the square. It sits atop the spot where Bruno was burned at the stake by the Church in 1600 for heresy.
This is the Palazzo del Cancelleria, one of several extraterritorial properties of the Holy See scattered about the city. When we crossed the threshold into this building, our guide informed us that we were no longer on Roman soil—we were now under the jurisdiction of Vatican City.
Piazza Navona is famous for the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by esteemed Italian artist Bernini. On each of the four corners of the fountain sits a river god—one for each of the four continents that the Italians knew. This is the god of the Ganges River in Asia, holding an oar to represent the navigability of his river. The other rivers are the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, and the Río de la Plata in America.
The Baroque church Sant’Agnese in Agone overlooks Piazza Navona, where the young Saint Agnes was martyred in 304 AD.
Nostra Signora del Sacra Cuore (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) sits opposite Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona. While it is certainly less famous than Sant’Agnese, I enjoyed the simple austerity of it.

And thenof coursewe arrived at the Pantheon. It’s situated in the hub of Rome’s already-bustling city center, surrounded by narrow roads packed with restaurants, leather vendors, caffes, hole-in-the wall shops selling tourist baubles, and gelaterias (we visited Gelateria della Palma, which just about changed my life). Emerging from this crush of city-life into the square where the Pantheon loomed was breathtakingit wasn’t there, and then suddenly it was.

The Pantheon is the most well-preserved ancient Roman temple, dating back to the 2nd century AD. Pantheon means “all the gods”, and what we know of the ancient building certainly confirms that this building was some sort of place of worship to all the gods, and yet, shockingly, little documentation of what actually took place within the monumental structure exists. In any case, the Pantheon was claimed by the Church in 609 AD. Pope Boniface IV placed 28 cartloads of martyr’s relics beneath the high altar, consecrating the space and renaming it Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres (Basilica of Saint Mary and the Martyrs). Most of the pagan statues and decorations have been lost, but the interior retains its marble ornamentation.
The concrete ceiling of the Pantheon is an architectural wonder (keep in mind that it was constructed in the 2nd century AD). The oculus in the middle is open, letting in small amounts of water when it rains, but also allowing the passage of the sun to move along the interior walls.

The Pantheon is a strange place. While it’s technically a church, and therefore requires visitors to be silent like any other church in Rome, it’s also a packed tourist destination. At on point, my friends and I forgot ourselves, laughing a little too noisily and earning a harsh “SHH” from one of the guards.

When we left the Pantheon, the sun had begun to set. The buildings surrounding us blocked any view of it, but the sky was growing dimmer and the streets darker. We made our way to our final stopthe iconic Fontana di Trevi, aka the Trevi Fountain. When we arrived, the sky was black, and the lights along the base of the massive fountain made it look even more looming and dramatic than its daylight appearance.

There’s not much to do with a fountain besides admire it andif one’s feeling particularly romanticthrow a coin into its waters. We snapped obligatory pictures and then, feeling a satisfied sort of weary, walked the long way back to our apartment. The night was cool but not cold, and we got a bit turned aroundgoing in a circle around Piazza Venezia at least oncebut we weren’t too concerned. Our laughter carried us home.

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