How Many Caravaggio’s Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Caravaggio, San Giovanni Battista, Galleria BorgheseSan Giovanni Battista (1609-1610 ca.), Caravaggio, Galleria Borghese, Rome

I am not sure there is an exact answer to this question.  Art being what it is there are always new discoveries and works that for years have been debated as being attributable to one artist or another.  However if we take Wikipedia as our authority the answer is 27.  Two of these are in private collections leaving 25 to be visited.

There are many many more of Caravaggio’s works in Italy proper including Cremona, Florence, Genoa, Messina, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Prato, Syracuse and Vatican City.   Additionally many of the worlds renown museums have a Caravaggio within their collections.

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all twenty five paintings by Caravaggio but I have certainly made an effort to see many of them.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of Caravaggio’s works is one of the best.  There are many adjectives to describe his work as well as the painter himself.  Neither Caravaggio or his paintings are polite but both are intensely moving and leave you thinking.

Many times on visits to Rome I think about something I am interested in: Bernini statues, oblesiks, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I set off to see as many of them as I can.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Be adventurous and create your own walking tour!!

Capers – One of My Favorite Ingredients

Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City, 2013Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City Walls, 2013

I suppose I never gave much though to where capers came from except to say off the shelf of my local Italian Grocer.   In the back of my mind I thought in some way they were related to olives and must be cultivated in the same way.  Well, I have certainly been learning a lot on this trip to Rome!

The discoveries that await you in Rome are multi-layered to say the least.  On a recent walk around the walls of Vatican City I was amazed to discover that one of my favorite ingredients for cooking, capers, grows willy-nilly in the cracks and crevices of just about every surface in this city.  Just look up as you walk pass by a stone wall, under an arch, or as you visit some of the most famous landmarks in the Eternal City.  You will undoubtedly see a caper plant.  All these wild capers are not looked upon with favor as they wreak havoc on the surfaces in which they grow, however I certainly find them intriguing!

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Cinecittá – “The City of Cinema”

Cinecitta', Set of HBO Series Rome, 2013Set of HBO Series Rome, Cinecittá, Rome, 2013

A short Metro ride (Linea A) from the center of Rome brings you to the legendary Cinecittá Studios, literally “The City of Cinema”.   Founded in 1927 and inaugurated by Benito Mussolini the studios are the birthplace of thousands of films including more than 50 Academy Award winners such as Roman Holiday (1953), Ben-Hur (1959),  La Dolce Vita (1960) ,Cleopatra (1963), Gladiator (2000), Gangs of New York (2002), and well known series such as HBO’s Rome (2005-2007).   The entire complex comprises an area south of Rome larger than Vatican City.

Since its founding Cinecittá has been home to well known directors such as Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Francis Ford Copolla, Martin Scorsese, and Roberto Benigni.

Stage 5, Cinecitta', Rome, 2013Famous Stage 5, Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

The tour of the studio is both self guided and then in small groups with an english speaking staff member who will take you to the back lot.   I recommend scheduling 3 hours to enjoy the exhibitions, the back lot tour, and the book shop.  You are encouraged to take pictures and the guides are happy to answer your questions.   A very special “off the beaten path” glimpse of the Italian movie and television industry!!

Statue from Movie Gladiator, Cinecitta', Rome 2013Prop from Academy Award winning film Gladiator (2002), Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

The Vatican Gardens, An Urban Oasis – Rome

Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013 Upper Terrace, Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013

Balancing the desire to visit “must see sights” and to relax can be hard at times.  Especially if you have a limited number of days in Rome.  Visiting the Giordini Vaticani will allow you to do both in spectacular style!  The views from the “backyard” of St. Peters along the upper terraces of the garden are nothing short of breathtaking.  Open daily except Wednesdays and Sundays, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  The guided tour, in small groups of 20 to 25, which lasts approximately two hours winds leisurely through the lush gardens, fountains, statuary, and architectural gems of Vatican City.  The tour guides are friendly and knowledgable and provide you with a historical overview of this special place.

Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013 Stone Pines Along the Northern Walls, Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013

The Vatican Gardens have been a place of quiet and meditation for the popes since 1279 when Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace.

Within the walls of Vatican City these urban gardens and parks cover more than half of the 109 total acres of Vatican territory to the South and Northeast. The papal heliport, Radio Vatican, and the Vatican Train Station (no longer used) are just a few of the interesting buildings you will see.

Italianate Garden, Vatican Garden, Rome 2013Italianate Garden, Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013

After your tour you may visit the Vatican Museums or you may want to avoid the crowds in the “front of the house” and continue to relax along the streets of rione Prati.    One of my favorite places to have a panino is DUECENTOGRADI “200 Degrees”.  Located a short five minute walk from the entrance to the Vatican Museums at Piazza Risorgimento, 3.

Under The Tuscan Sun – Enjoying a Vineyard Tour

Castello di Tignano, Tuscany, 2009Harvested grapes prior to pressing hanging in a beautiful stone building at “Il Poggione” near Castello di Tignano, Tuscany, 2009

Several years ago a dear friend Phyllis and her husband Stu met me, Joe, and Joe’s parents for an espresso in the town of Tavarnelle val di Pesa in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. After relaxing and catching up we accepted their generous invitation to visit a friend Riccardo Casamonti and his vineyard.   The drive through the countryside was a photographer’s dream with spectacular vistas in every direction.   I am sure I asked Stu to stop the car on no less than 10 occasions so I could take a photo.

The small vineyard, “Il Poggione”, is located very near the Castello di Tignano in the town of Barberino Val d’Elsa in the Chianti Region south of Florence.  Riccardo produces 1,200 botles of wine annually and only on the best vintages such as 2006.  Among the wines produced is a wonderful Vin Santo, “holy wine”, a style of Italian dessert wine.  Traditional in Tuscany, these wines are often made from wite grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia.  Riccardo couldn’t have been more welcoming as he showed us around the farm allowing us to experience wine making from harvest to press to tasting!!

After spending the better part of the day at the vineyard we enjoyed a spectacular lunch of amazing seafood at La Trattoria del Pesce in the nearby town of Bargino.    Truly one of the most memorable days in Italy over the years and a reminder to take advantage of wonderful opportunities when they land at your doorstep.   Phyllis and Stu we will be forever grateful for this amazing experience – Mille Grazie!!  David, Joe, Barbara and Richard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARiccardo Casamonti, “Il Poggione” Vineyard, Tuscany, 2009

Il Poggione Vineyard, Tuscany, 2009Pressing and fermenting the grapes, “Il Poggione” Vineyard, Tuscany 2009

Celebrating Italian Holidays – Ferragosto

Emperor Augustus, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome 2013Emperor Augustus, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome, 2013

Assumption Day on 15th August is when all Italy, or so it seems, stops work to celebrate.

What Italians are actually celebrating on that day is actually quite interesting because the festival has elements of both the ancient and Christian worlds.

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), which is a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus  in 18 BC.  The present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti, “Festivals or Holidays of the Emperor Augustus”.

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose during Fascism. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organized hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations, and via the setting up of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, which were available at discounted prices.  The initiative gave the opportunity to less well-off citizens to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to the 13th, 14th and 15th August, and comprised two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 km, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 km.   For many families, it was only during these trips that they saw the sea, mountains, and Italy’s many artistic marvels for the first time. Moreover, since the trips did not include food, the connected tradition of the packed lunch arose.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven. Before the Church came into existence, however, this holiday also included honoring of gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening, during the time of the Roman Empire.

Churches and Crypts

There are more than 900 churches in Rome most Catholic but not all.  Of these, there are four major basilicas in the city which fall under the direct supervision of the Pope – Basilica of St. John Lateran (Also the seat of the Bishop of Rome) Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Basilica of Saint Paul, and St. Peter’s. Visiting any one of these many churches will provide you with a crash course in history, architecture and art.   Some of my favorites are listed below with a short rationale of why.  You could live your entire life in Rome and not visit all of these remarkable structures. If you find yourself walking past a church and the doors are open I encourage you to go inside – you never know what you will discover.  Everything from Bernini sculptures to Caravaggio paintings to some interesting relics are housed within these houses of worship.

Crypt of Balbi – you can see in detail the layers of Roman civilization from the earliest days through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  It is like one big layer cake that you get to walk through and actually see and touch the layers.  Also very near to the Largo Argentina where Caesar is reputed to have been assassinated.

Santa Cecilia in Trestevere – Somewhat out of the way this church was built over the upper class home of it’s namesake.  Be sure to tour the excavations under the church.

San Luigi dei Francesi – Near the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon this church houses three spectacular Caraviaggio paintings, among which include the Calling of Saint Matthew, one of his most powerful works.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva – The only gothic church in Rome.  I recommend visiting late in the afternoon when the setting sun is directly in front of the entrance.  Before entering, take your picture in front of the famous Bernini  baby elephant carrying an obelisk. Among the many notable works of art inside is a wonderful sculpture by Michelangelo, a muscular Christ Bearing the Cross.

via Churches and Crypts.

Weekend Markets – Rome

Market at top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, 2012
Market at top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, 2012

It took me a few trips to Rome to finally take advantage of the many weekend markets.  Partially because these markets don’t occur in the same place and you have to know the schedule to take advantage of them.  I have listed some of my favorites and by no means are these all of the markets.  I encourage you to share any markets that you have found and enjoy.  Spending a weekend morning wandering the many stalls is one of my favorite activities.  Getting to and from the markets is also a wonderful way to discover new rione of Rome.  A special thanks to my friend at the American Embassy in Rome who guided me to many of these incredible markets!!

Ponte Milvio Market – 1st Sunday of every month.  Located just next to the Ponte Milvio Bridge north of the city.  Accessible by taxi or the # 2 tram from Piazza del Popolo.  This is one of my favorite markets not only due to its location along the river and near the bridge but for the wide array of antiques, old prints, rugs, jewelry, silver, glass, linens, and objet d’art.

Porta Portese Market – Every sunday.  Located next to the old gate Porta Portese in Trestevere this market is HUGE and gets very crowded.  If you are looking for kitchen items, new and used clothing, dvd’s, small electronics, shoes, and knick knacks then you will love this hodge podge of vendors.

Verdi Market – 4th Sunday of every month.  Located near the Borghese Gardens.  This market is not to terribly large and has some very good quality antiques, linens, furniture, rugs, prints, books, housewares, ceramics, silver, and jewelry.   I highly recommend going if you can.

Borghetto Flamino Market – Every Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.  This market charges a nominal entry fee of 1.60 euros.  Antiques, vintage clothing, handcrafted items, vintage signs – postcards – jewelry, unusual items.

Day Tripping – Rome to Florence

View of Duomo from San Miniato
View of Duomo from San Miniato al Monte, Florence, 2012

There are many day trips to nearby towns and cities that you can take from Rome.  Florence, Frascati, Tivoli, and Ostia Antica are among some of my favorites.  Taking the high speed Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) or Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) from Roma Termini Station to Firenze located just under 300 km to the northwest from downtown Rome, takes 90 minutes.  Italy’s high speed trains are a great way to travel, comfortable and ultra modern,   maximizing your time.

Among Florence’s many treasures are Michelangelo’s David, Brunelleschi’s Duomo, and Masaccio’s frescoes of Adam and Eve. Depending on how much time and energy you have it is possible to see all three.  I recommend buying tickets to the Galleria dell’Accademia (David) and the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (Adam and Eve frescoes) in advance to avoid long lines and wasting valuable time.

View of San Miniato From Boboli Gardens, Florence, 2013
View of San Miniato al Monte From Boboli Gardens, Florence, 2013

One of my favorite itineraries for a day in Florence includes arriving at Santa Maria Novella Station and taking a taxi up to San Miniato al Monte for an incredible view of the city. From the basilica walk the short distance to Piazzale Michaelangelo for another incredible view of the Tuscan valley.  From the piazzale look for the stair case at the northwest corner and wind your way down the footpath past the Giardino delle Rose, a hidden gem, to the old city gate at Piazzetta San Miniato.  From this point you can wander toward Ponte alle Grazie and cross the bridge from the oltrarno, “beyond the Arno”, quarter of the city into the historic center of the city toward Santa Crocce.   This is about a two and one half hour walk of incredible vista’s which allows you to avoid large crowds and plenty of time to visit some of the major attractions.  As you wander this particularly beautiful corner of Firenze stop to enjoy a caffe, browse some of the incredible shops, and take as many pictures as you can. You will remember this city for the rest of your life!!

Room with a View, Friends on Their Terrace, Florence, 2013
Room with a View, Friends on Their Terrace, Florence, 2013

How Many Obelisks Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome 2012My favorite obelisk is located in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva near the Pantheon

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all thirteen obelisks (8 ancient egyptian and 5 ancient roman) – Rome harbors the most obelisks in the world.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of the obelisks is one of the best.

Many times throughout my stay in Rome I would think about something that I was interested in: Bernini statues, Caravaggio paintings, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I would set off to see as many of them as I could.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Create your own walking tour!!