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Trip Report Two days in Rome

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We've just returned from a two-night stay in Rome, and I thought I'd post a brief report.

I already described the guest house where we stayed in another post, in answer to a question.

You can see more details about the guest house in that post:

The main purpose of our trip was to renew my American passport, and to get some documents notarized, which took up most of one whole day, because they only do passports in the morning, and only notarize documents in the afternoon, and the only day they do both is on a Thursday.

We arrived by train at around noon on a Wednesday, and went straight to our guest house. Termini station is still under construction, but you can already get an idea of its metamorphoses into a shopping mall with train service. There used to be a very nice waiting room alongside track 1, but it's been turned into a Frecce Gold-members-only club room. We have only Tin-member Frecce status, so that leaves us out. There is a waiting room for disabled people next to it, and I wondered how old we would have to be to get admitted there.

There are three levels of shops and restaurants, and there are abundant tables on the second level around the restaurants. On the day we were heading home, a railway employee suggested we wait for our train there. We had no trouble finding a table, and keeping it for about an hour, but I don't know if that would work on a weekend in August.

On arrival, we went straight to our room, met the key-holder, and then went out to get lunch at one of the three restaurants on the street. It was overpriced and they tried to charge us for "pane e coperto" in spite of the fact that we hadn't eaten any bread and that it's been illegal in the Lazio region to charge for coperto for at least five years. The waiter removed the charge when I protested, embarrassing my husband, but maintained that "every" restaurant charges for coperto. The truth is that none of the other places where we ate in the next two days charged us for coperto. The meal was only so-so, and I don't remember the name of the restaurant.

That evening and on the following evening, we ate at La Scala, which is on the stairs leading up from Via Vittorio Veneto. There we had a much better meal, at a lower price, and with no spurious charges.

Our other lunches were quick affairs, at a little place near the embassy and at the train station on the way home.

On the afternoon of our arrival day, we visited the Barberini Gallery, which has recently been partially closed for several years due to restructuring. This is a great museum, near Trevi Fountain, which doesn't get many visitors. It focuses on art, mostly Italian, and mostly paintings, from late medieval to early modern times. It has some very fine masterpieces, including several Caravaggios, including his famous La Fornarina and Judith and Holofernes.

There's also a room with a splendid ceiling fresco, the Triumph of Divine Providence, by Pietro da Cortona. The last time I saw this, the Gallery had padded benches in the center of the room, on which you could lie down to appreciate the fresco. Now they have only wooden benches around the edge of the room, and you have to move around a lot, and get a stiff neck, to see all of it.

While we were admiring the ceiling, someone came over to tell us the the Sala dei Marmi (Hall of the marble) would be opened for five minutes and that this was a big chance to see it. This room has a number of marble statues that are normally not shown. One was a veiled woman, with what appears to be a very realistic and apparently transparent veil across her face, through which you can see her eyes. There is a similar statue, the Veiled Christ, which I've seen in Naples, but it's very famous and I couldn't get very near it. If my memory of the Veiled Christ is reliable, this veiled woman is much more skillfully executed. I spent almost all my five minutes in the room trying to figure out how it was done. Then another museum employee arrived to scold the person who had let us in, and we had to leave.

The Barberini Gallery, like many national museums in Italy, is not very well administered. The palazzo is a labyrinth of small exhibition rooms, and there isn't even a brochure with a floor plan to help you find things. There are signs on the walls, mostly in Italian and English, but some were all about the artist, while others were all about the painting, and some a little of both. The lighting also often leaves something to be desired.

There are two grand staircases leading up to the main floor of the palazzo. One is by Borromeo, and the other by his great rival Bernini. €10, still a great bargain, and it includes admission to the Corsini Gallery in Trastevere, another great museum, smaller than the Barberini Gallery. Previously, you could buy separate tickets to the two museums or you could save a little by buying a joint ticket. The joint ticket is good for 10 days.

The next day, I was in and out of the Consulate in no time flat, so we had a lot of time to kill, including time for lunch before the afternoon appointment. I thought of going to the Corsini Gallery, since we already had the ticket, but there was a bus strike. Buses were running, but very irregularly and packed to the gills. We decided it was risky to go to Trastevere when we might have trouble getting back, maybe missing our afternoon appointment.

There are several interesting churches in the vicinity, within walking distance, so between lunch and church visits, we filled our time.

The first stop was to Santa Maria della Vittoria, which is famous for Bernini's statue of the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. The church is very ugly inside, a Baroque horror, and Bernini is not my favorite sculptor. My husband had never seen the statue, and, besides, we wanted to rest our feet and kill some time. Santa Teresa is having an extreme ecstasy, which has badly rumpled her clothing, and Bernini shows his skill in every fold of her garments. You can get the statue lit up by putting a coin in a box, which we did, because otherwise it's hard to make out the details. Later we watched a German tour guide give a long description of the statue without bothering to illuminate it. We didn't know if he was unaware of the possibility, or if he was just a cheapskate.

My husband observed that a different statue across from Santa Teresa was permanently illuminated and wondered why you had to pay to light up Santa Teresa. Oh, you innocent man! Who would pay to see that other statue?

I learned that the "vittoria" in the name of the church was the victory of the Catholic forces who defeated some Lutherans near Prague during the Thirty Years' War. It doesn't seem anything to crow about in these days of tolerance and ecumenism, and I was a bit put off by the fresco of armed troops over the altar.

After this, we went to San Bernardo alle Terme, which was originally a rotunda of the ancient Baths (Terme) of Diocletian. The interior of the church is also mostly in Baroque style, but a much more subdued and serene realization than that of Santa Maria della Vittoria. In ancient times, the rotunda was built in much the same style as the Pantheon, and it has the same type of cupola and the same oculus (opening in the dome to let in light). The oculus is now covered over. There are statues of saints in the niches around the wall, in Mannerist style.

Finally, we visited the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, one of my favorite churches in Rome. Thus was one of the main halls of the Diocletian baths, and was converted to a church using a design by Michelangelo. The interior is very harmonious. There is also a circular tower here with an oculus, which is now covered with a partially-stained glass lantern. You might miss it if you don't look up, because it's a small part of the large church; it's just inside the entrance door. This church has a history of support of music and the arts, and has a renowned organ and choir. They give a short organ concert between two of the morning masses, I think between the 10 AM and the 11:30 mass. There's a meridian line on the floor, which was used for many years to determine the official time of noon. The line is marked with the dates of the year, and light entering through a small hole high up on a wall falls on the line at the point of the current date exactly at noon. Until sometime in the 19th century, the bells of the church were rung at noon so that people could adjust their watches. Nowadays, a cannon fired from the Janiculum Hill marks the official time of noon.

By the way, the "Terme" of Diocletian gave the name to Termini station. Some people think the name means "terminus", but the neighborhood was called Termini long before there was a station there.

On Friday, we had an afternoon train to return home, so we went to an art exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale (the Presidential Palace). The Quirunale was originally the royal palace in Rome, and the Scuderie held armaments and a stable for the royal horses. The Scuderie has a history of superb art shows, but I had read not long ago that they were no longer going to be offered. I don't know if this show is an exception, or if they've been rethinking the idea. The show is called From Caravaggio to Bernini, the Italian 17th century in the Royal Collection of Spain, and exhibits many paintings from the Prado Museum in Madrid. Some of the works were collected or commissioned by the Spanish court; others are by Italian artists who worked in Spain; and still others are by Spanish artists who spent time in Italy and were influenced by art currents there. Many of the artists were influenced by Caravaggio, but there aren't many of his works in the show. Besides Caravaggio and Bernini, there are also works by Guido Reni, Guercino, Velasquez, and José de Ribera. It's a very well-done exhibit, and if you'll be in Rome before the 30th of July, it's well worth seeing, and I guarantee it won't have the crowds you would have to endure at the Vatican Museums.

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