When in Rome

A few days ago, the NYT published a very critical article about Rome and her many problems, starting with the dirt. I will not deny something that is obvious. When I cross the city in bike, two words come out from my mouth quite often: “che schifo” (what a filfth). Rome is more a cynical step-mother than a caring one; she is a little bit mignotta, or like Anna Magnani in “Mamma Roma”, insulting you while laughing and singing.

This is a city of contrasts, where the “che schifo” can be followed with the blink of an eye by a “oh che bello!”. A couple of days ago, at 7.30 in the morning, all the backstage doors of the “Teatro dell’Opera” were open because they were moving the set to Caracalla’s for the summer season and we had to stop the bike while some pieces of the stage were loaded in a truck. I turned my head and I saw this:

While the workers and technicians were moving and fixing the stage, the whole theatre was lit. I opened my mouth and gasped like a red fish out of water. I felt absolutely happy during those two minutes. Coming back home that afternoon I thought to write about my favourite spots of the city.

I advice friends who want to visit Rome to come if they can between end January and early February. It is not the best time of the year if you’re looking for warm weather or clear blue skies, but it’s the only low season period in a town invaded by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The ideal months to visit the city in the best weather conditions are May or October, but get ready to feel a little bit like a sheep on a flock. Or maybe don’t; my favourite spots are usually the less crowded ones. My intention is to write several posts about them but most probably this will be the first and only post on the matter.

The Caravaggios

Rome is the city where you can see some of the best known Caravaggio paintings for free. Three of them are in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, France’s National Church in Rome. Fortunately the Spanish consulate is at only five minutes walk, therefore everytime I have to make some bureaucratic paperwork I carry with me a few coins (for the lighting), and I can watch this:

Michelangelo Caravaggio 040.jpg
Michelangelo Caravaggio 040” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Or this:

Michelangelo Caravaggio 047.jpg
Michelangelo Caravaggio 047” by Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Another two are in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (St. Peter’s Crucifixion and the stunning St. Paul’s conversion):

Caravaggio-The Conversion on the Way to Damascus.jpg
Caravaggio-The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by CaravaggioWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

And in the church of Sant Agostino, the “Madonna dei Pellegrini”, or Pilgrim’s Madonna. In the same church where is buried the famous courtesan Fiammetta Michaelis, lover of Cesare Borgia. Roma mignotta, saints and sinners, virgins and whores

Michelangelo Caravaggio 001.jpg
Michelangelo Caravaggio 001” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.





7 thoughts on “When in Rome

  1. Oh I love this first of (a series of) posts. Please, please continue, Barsine, because I am still hoping to bring my daughter, the ancient history enthusiast, to Rome with me. And any tips would be much appreciated. Such as which time of year to come. I never would have thought of January/February, but your recommendation makes sense!
    As for the Opera House – *gasp* indeed!!! That is magnificent. I’d love to see those paintings, too (even though I have seen a Caravaggio live before – in Dublin’s National Gallery.)

    1. Thank you so much, guylty! Oh, you must stay tuned then, the next post is the ideal for an ancient history enthusiast!
      I always appreciate tips from the locals when I visit a new city; for instance in London I’d have ignored Southwark Cathedral if it wasn’t for my friend’s boyfriend.
      One morning in late January we drive by the Vatican’s Museums gate… And there was nobody making the cue.. In the Vatican Museum! We were tempted to park the car and take the day off but hubby and I are too responsible, (un)fortunately. Moreover some years ago the tourist that came to Rome early February found themselves with something extraordinary:

      The view of the theatre has been indeed the most magical unexpected moment in the city.

  2. oh Thanks so much for the post on Rome! It is the city that ever escapes me, had plans to go almost 3 times and had to back down, but i will get there! Very grateful for any tips 🙂 And i totally see why Jan/Feb would make sense, coming from London i soooo concur 😉 Having never been to the city yet it would be so difficult to choose what to see the firs time.. Caravaggio would definitely be on the list! And hopefully Rome opera house too, but i may leave that for another visit 🙂 I would have to be Ponte and Castel Sant’ Angelo and Palazzo Farnese for me 😉

    1. Who knows why do you want to visit Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo. 🙂 Regarding “when to visit” Rome, in 2016 neither January or February will be mass-tourists-free, as the pope has proclaimed an extraordinary Jubilee starting on November 2015…
      The amazing view of the theatre has awaken in me the wish to see it inside. I’ve checked 2015-16 season and I think I’ll go to see in February “Il barbiere di Siviglia”; prices of top gallery are affordable (re-runs from 20 € to 50 €), but I’m afraid that those are the seats with more subscribers and it won’t be easy to get a ticket.

      1. sadly i don;’t think i’ll make it to Rome next year as other things here will need to take priority but fingers crossed the year after. In any case the Vatican is not on my first to do list either, it will need a visit on its own sometime in the future 😉 But things like that of course affect Rome as a whole 🙂 Those prices for Barbiere sound good, it is one of my favourite operas 🙂 What i would suggest from experience is: find out the day and time of the day when the tickets come on sale and make sure you are online at that exact time, create and account with the opera house and so on and you are in with a good chance to get a ticket. Opera fans are very eager so they tend to book very early, best to be on time 🙂

  3. The opera house–unbelievable. Che bello indeed. When I was there, I did not encounter the filth. Or maybe I only remember the beauties. My favorite Caravaggio is the Deposition of Christ, the one in the Vatican. I saw it in a traveling exhibit and it caused my mouth to drop open. Thanks so much for this post! I am looking forward to more on the Eternal City. And yes, I wish I could visit in a less crowded time. I’ve never been able to get close to the Trevi Fountain because it is always so packed with people.

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