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!!

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.

Recommended Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am always looking for books about Italy that help me to understand the complex history and culture.  This short book, easily read in a day, is such a narrative.  Given to me by a friend and fellow Italophile, Vicki, who shares my love of all things Italian.

If you are planning a trip to Florence I would encourage reading this book before you arrive.

“David Leavitt brings the wonders and mysteries of Florence alive, illuminating why it is, and always has been, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.”

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Chiesa Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura

Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome, 2012Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome, 2012Catacombs near Sant'Agnese fuori le MuraMausoleo di Santa Constanza near Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura, Rome, 2012

I enjoy escaping the hustle and bustle of the historic center of Rome from time to time.  It is always an adventure and an opportunity to explore new neighborhoods.   One of my favorite off the beaten path excursions is to a “complex” in the Trieste district – Chiesa Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura. Literally translated “Saint Agnes outside the walls”.

The complex includes an ancient church dedicated to the martyr Saint Agnes, located at Via Nomentana, 349, a funeary monument to Constantina – daughter of  Emperor Constantine, catacombs, and the ancient remains of a monastery.

The history that accompanies these structures is high drama in the best tradition.  Roman nobility converting to christianity, martyrdom, miracles, poetry, and layers upon layers of art and architecture.

Easily accessible by Metro (S. Agnese Annibaliano Station).  Take the MEB1 from downtown Rome towards Conca D’Oro.  When you exit the station look eastward and you will see a hill with trees and an ancient wall.  Head in this direction.

Day Tripping – Rome to Arezzo

Ancient Forest, Camaldoli, Apennienes, TuscanyAncient Forest in the Tuscan Apennines, home of the Sacro Ermo , Camaldoli, Italy, 2012

Arezzo located in Tuscany in central Italy is about 190 km to the northeast of Rome near both Siena and Florence.

Several ways to get to Arezzo.  Take the train from Roma Termini station or rent a car and drive (recommended). Depending on the specific train It takes between 1 hr 15 min and 2 hr 33 min. The Eurostar is fastest and most expensive (29.50 euro); the regional trains are slower, but cheaper (11.70 euro).  By car take the A1 Autostrada and expect to spend 2 to 3 hours depending on traffic.

Described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (Etruscan capitals), Arezzo (Aritim in Etruscan) is believed to have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities.  The historical center is easily walked and many will recognize the Piazza Grande from the movie, A Beautiful Life.

We were fortunate to stay with friends who are living in Arezzo and spent an entire day outside of the city driving the back roads to two places that I highly recommend visiting if you can, The ancient hill town of Poppi and the Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli (Sacro Ermo).  Both places are incredibly beautiful!!

Poppi offers amazing vistas from the Castello dei Conti Guidi.  You can climb the bell tower if you don’t mind heights and if you time your climb to the hour you get an extra surprise.  Additionally the the ancient library contains incredible printed volumes.

The hermitage and monastery founded about 1012 by Saint Romuald, a Benedictine monk,  is situated in the National Park of the Forests of the Casentino in Tuscany and is accessible by walking (recommended – 4 km total) or car.  Make sure you visit the old pharmacy – originally a laboratory where monks studied and worked with medicinal herbs.  You can still buy a variety of herbal remedies.

Driving through the hills of Tuscany is an amazing experience for the senses!  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.   Buon Viaggio!

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.

Playing Cards The Italian Way – Scopa and Briscola

Playing Cards, Rome, 2008Playing Cards, Rome, 2008

Looking back through my travel journals I realized that one of the most often enjoyed activities were the many card games played with our family and friends.  The two most popular games being Scopa and Briscola.  Joe’s father Richard taught me how to play both games which he learned from his father who grew up in Sicily.

While Scopa and Briscola have different rules they both utilize the same deck of 40 cards, beautifully illustrated, which are divided into four suits. As all things in Italy there is variation of the four suits depending on the area of the country.  The southern cards: Neapolitan, Piacentine, Triestine, and Sicilian are divided into Coppe (Cups), Ori or Denari (Golds or Coins), Spade (Swords) and Bastoni (Clubs), while  the northern cards: Piemontesi, Milanesi and Toscane use the French suits, Cuori (Hearts), Quadri (Diamonds, literally “Squares”), Fiori (Flowers) and Picche (Spades, literally “Pikes”).  The designs have evolved over the centuries and one of my favorite books which illustrates this evolution is Passione collezionismo Carte Do Gioco by Frederique Crestin-Billet.  Throughout my travels I would look for antique, unusual, or highly decorated decks of cards.  This can quickly become an obsession.

While we often played cards late in the afternoon before dinner, in our apartment or hotel, we sometimes played cards at one of the local cafes.   If I could suggest one tip for getting to know locals this would be it – break out a deck of cards.

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!!

Day Tripping – Rome to Tivoli

Villa d'este Fall 2013Large Fountain, Villa d’Este, Tivoli, 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 train from Roma Termini Station to Tivoli, located about 30 km to the northeast from downtown Rome, takes about 45 minutes. As the train pulls out of the station and moves into the country you see parts of the city you normally wouldn’t experience and finally as you climb the gently curving hills toward Tivoli you can look forward to beautiful vistas including some waterfalls.

Among Tivoli’s many treasures are Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa).  Both exceptional in what they have to offer.  If you have to choose, Villa d’Este, would be my choice for the exquisite fountains, vistas, and greenery. (NOTE: Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana are closed on Mondays)

Upon arriving at the Tivoli Train station walk downhill on  Viale Giuseppe Mazzini.  When you arrive at the traffic circle, round the circle to your right, and stop at Il Ciocco for an espresso. From the back of the bar you can look down upon Villa Gregoriana.  From here you can follow the signs to Villa d’Este and enjoy your walk up into this ancient town.