Thursday, 18 September 2014


The Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace is a celebration of the peace & prosperity bought to the Roman Empire by Emperor Augustus. It was dedicated in 9BC after taking four years to complete. Fragments were reassembled in the 1930's to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus's inauguration as Emperor.
Here are five reasons I love the Ara Pacis.

1 The Setting
Controversial I know but my first reason is the Richard Meier designed structure that surrounds the Ara Pacis - the first modern architectural project to be built in the city centre since World War II. I love the democratic nature of this travertine & glass building - the altar is visible to all, whether you visit the museum or not. It is particularly magnificent at night.

I also love that you can see the Res Gestae on the exterior wall - the achievements of the Divine Augustus as written by the Emperor himself, a superstar autobiography of the day! This originally came from a precinct wall created by Mussolini and was re-used by Meier.

2. The Location
The Ara Pacis originally stood in what is now Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucinda and was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial. On Augustus's birthday the shadow from the sundial fell upon the altar. The sundial now stands in Piazza Montecitorio. A model showing the original site, and its relationship to the Tomb of Augustus, can be seen in the Ara Pacis Museum.

3. The Puzzle
The monument itself is a bit of a puzzle - it has an entrance and an exit but only one set of stairs. Theories are that it was based on an ancient Greek design or that it makes reference to the Temple of Janus (the two headed God) in the Roman Forum. The doors of the Temple of Janus were open in times of war and closed in periods of peace. The doors were closed three times in Augustus's reign as Emperor.
4. The Decoration
The monument is faced with beautiful Luna marble which would have been quarried in Carrara. The decorations of the interior appear to replicate the original wooden altar which was consecrated on 4th July in the year 13BC. The beautiful garlanded swags hang from the skulls of sacrificial bulls .
The procession depicted on the exterior walls is like a home movie from Ancient Rome with almost life size portraits of Augustus's family, including son-in-law Marcus Agrippa.

The small boy in non-Roman costume is believed to be a 'hostage guest' being educated in Rome.
On the back of the altar is a depiction of Lucius & Gaius - Augustus's grandchildren and planned successors. The veiled figure is believed to be their mother, Julia, Augustus's daughter. Both children died young.
Amongst all the acanthus leaves and mythical beasts there is also the simplicity of the egg and dart motif.
The dazzling brightness of the marble is impressive but in its day the altar would have shone with vibrant hues. If you were lucky enough to be in Rome in August/September you may have seen the digital light show that replicated those very colours.
5. The Tribute
I guess I am not the only one who loves the Ara Pacis. Woody Allen used it in his homage to the Eternal City - 'To Rome With Love'. Apparently he wanted to combine images of  historic areas alongside a modern architectural look. He chose the Ara Pacis as a setting for a fashion show. A white catwalk was created and the models were dressed in white with white wigs to complement the surroundings.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Forum for the Fainthearted

OK so you have 'done' the Colosseum, had enough of ruins but you don't want to waste your Forum/Palatine part of the ticket. I feel your pain, hence this post which could also be titled 'Forum Lite'. It is a walk through the Forum picking out highlights. You never know it might inspire you to return  for a more in depth visit on future trips to the Eternal City.

Arch of Titus
A good place to start as it is pretty close to the Colosseum. This triumphal arch celebrates the crushing of a rebellion in Judea by Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian. You can see the Jewish Menorah being paraded as captured treasure on the inside of the arch.

Via Sacra
This main route through the Forum will have seen many triumphal processions. They always started with the captured gold and other treasures, followed by exotic animals, then prisoners and finally the conquering hero.

Temple of Julius Caesar
Caesar was cremated on this spot. He was very popular with the ordinary people of Rome because of his military victories but not so popular with the Senate. The warning of his impending murder 'Beware the Ides of March' was uttered in this very Forum.

Temple of Saturn
The Via Sacra leads to this, the oldest temple in the Forum, and  where the captured treasure from conquered lands was stored.


Basilica Julia
The steps of this law court contain gaming boards that were used to fill in time between cases.

Temple of Vesta
Rome's most sacred spot where the Vestal Virgins tended the sacred flame. As long as the flame burned Rome would stand.

The Vestal Virgins were young girls, before the age of 10, chosen from noble families. They served for 30 years and were esteemed members of society. They sat close  to the Emperor during the games at the Colosseum and had the power to grant prisoners freedom.
They lived in the House of the Vestal Virgins

Arch of Septimus Severus
This triumphal arch was built to celebrate Emperor Septimus Severus' victory in Partha (modern day Iran)
Over the carvings on the arch there was an inscription with gleaming bronze letters, but the bronze has been stolen away, and only the nail holes and grooves for the letters are still there. That is enough for us to read the inscription, and also for us to see where Septimus Severus' son Caracalla, when he became emperor and killed his brother Geta, had his brothers name scratched out of the inscription. Check it out on the third line from the bottom.

Who would have thought that such a whistle stop tour of the Forum would reveal  tales of murder, treasure, beautiful girls beyond reach and an ancient form of tiddlywinks!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

If I were Jamie Oliver.....

.......I would hot foot to Rome to experience some amazing food.

Start in the Monti area with breakfast at Urbana 47 - you won't be disappointed. A 0 kilometre policy ensures that your breakfast delights, whether they be Continental or American, are locally sourced. The décor is a joy - mismatched furniture in loft style rooms with a view of the kitchen. The super friendly staff are dressed in casual checked shirts - very 'Jamie'!
Urbana 47 also offers good value set lunch menu , brunch at the weekend, an aperitivo buffet & dinner.

Obviously Jamie you will be zipping around on a Vespa so it would be no problem to head to Via Meraluna where, at number 55, you will find Panella. The coffee served here is made from a specially selected blend of beans that is unique to Panella. Unusually the coffee machine is vertical - an Arduino coffee machine.

The  breads and pastries are made according to various recipes from all over Italy - the bread sculptures are delightful. The young Olivers will love these!

Back to the Monti area for lunch. Aromaticus (Via Urbana 134) is an organic garden store that serves light lunches from 1.00pm. Chef Luca  conjures up aromatic salads that can be enjoyed with a glass of  wine chosen by his sommelier partner, Francesca.

The décor of exposed brick and white painted furniture make for a relaxing environment in which to enjoy your meal alongside your fellow diners of suited businessmen & local 'ladies who lunch'

If you are craving carbohydrates rather than salad then head across the river to the Trionfale area where you can choose from one of two Gabrielle Bonci offerings - Pizzarium or Panificio Bonci. I am sure Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43) needs no introduction - to me their pizza al taglio is Rome on a plate......actually it is heaven on a plate. I love the simple potato & rosemary topping but there are many, many more to choose from.

At Panificio Bonci (Via Trionfale 34) pizza bianca (made with the same quality ingredients & long leavening as the Pizzarium dough) can be filled with Bernabei porchetta to create an instant snack.

As the sun creeps over the yardarm it is time for cocktails. Head to Pigneto where you will find CoSo (Via Braccia di Montone). The décor is quirky - bubble wrap coasters & the menu hidden in a jiffy bag - but the cocktails are deadly serious. For a true flavour of Rome try the Carbonara Sour - guinciale infused vodka, egg white & ground black pepper. My personal favourite is a Zot! - the CoSo version of an Old Fashioned. Massimo & Giorgia, the co-bartenders are formally of the Stravinsky Bar at the De Russie Hotel ( a fabulous place to rest your head by the way!)

Dinner beckons and where better than Marzapane (Via Velletri 35). The young Spanish chef, Alba Esteve is working magic here. The small dining space (only 20 covers) overlooks the open kitchen where you can see that magic before your very eyes. The staff are exceedingly friendly & knowledgeable and the food stunning. We enjoyed the €35 (yes really €35!!) tasting menu - amazing. Details & photos  of  what we ate can be found at the end of this post here.

Finally, Jamie, if you are visiting 'en famille' then make sure that you visit the Sunday  farmers market at Citta dell'Altra Economica , held in the former slaughterhouses of  the Testaccio district. The family atmosphere is such fun with the added bonus of organic produce to buy. Don't miss the fried olive snacks.
You never know you may even get to climb 'Bambu'!
Have fun!!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Seeing Stars

If we were in Rome this evening ,10th of August, we would be looking towards the heavens & wishing upon a shooting star. For tonight is La Notte delle Stella Cadenti or La Notte dei  Desideri which commemorates the Martyrdom of San Lorenzo on this day in 258 AD. The shooting stars seen on the same night were said to be his tears which are now suspended in space and fall to earth once a year.
Sadly, with light pollution it is extremely unlikely that a shooting star will be seen but here are other places to see stars in the city.

In the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva look upward to the glorious ceiling to see stars.
In the piazza outside the church stands the delightful elephant statue by Bernini.

If you look closely at the saddle cloth you will see a star.

This is the Chigi family symbol of six mountains and a star which can be seen all over the city including the entrance gate to Piazza del Popolo.

Yet another church where stars make an appearance are in Santa Maria degli Angeli. A meridian line passes through the church that is marked by a marble line in the floor. There are stars' names marked along the meridian at different points.

Up in the corner is a small hole where, if you stand on each star's name at certain dates of the year, you can see the star through the hole as it passes over the meridian.
The huge bronze doors that lead in to San Giovanni in Laterano once stood at the entrance to the Curia in the Forum. It is amazing to think that these very doors were held open for Caesar & Cleopatra! However when they were moved a new frame needed to be added. Bernini decorated this frame with....yes, you have guessed correctly - stars.

Finally, where better to see stars than at an observatory. Rome has an observatory on Monte Mario which overlooks the city.


Unfortunately it isn't possible to visit at the moment as it is under restoration but the appropriately named Lo Zodiaco bar & restaurant has wonderful night time views over the city.

For those of you with a deeper pocket ,in the same area , is the three Michelin starred (tenuous link) La Pergola restaurant at the Cavalieri Hotel where Heinz Beck creates magic upon the plate.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Street Food

.....or Cibo di Strada in Italian, is ideal for snacks on the go wherever you are in Rome. Here are five of our favourites.

Filetti di Baccala, Largo dei Librari -This Roman institution has been serving battered, deep fried fillets of salt cod for years. You can eat here but we much prefer to take our hot, crispy pieces of fish to nearby Campo di Fiori  where we sit at the feet of Giordano Bruno and watch the world go by.

Supplizio, Via Banchi Vecchi 143 - There are suppli...and then there are suppli by chef Arcangelo Dandini. We first tried these fried balls of rice at L'Arcangelo, the aforementioned chef's restaurant in the Prati district. When we discovered he was opening Supplizio we just had to hurry there. You walk in to what looks like someone's sitting room complete with a leather Chesterfield sofa but then glance to the chalk board menu & relax as you see that all your favourite suppli are here.

Trapizzino, Via Giovanni Branca 88 - Trapizzino are little triangle pockets of pizza bianca filled with Roman classics such as polpettine (meatballs) and coda alla vacinara (tripe). They make an ideal snack to go but can also be enjoyed perched on a high stool overlooking the preparation area. The food is delicious but what makes this place exceptional are the super nice staff.

Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43 - 'Foodies' rave about Pizzarium and with good reason. This pizza al taglio (by the slice) is simply the best and is the food that I dream of when we return home from Rome. Choose a simple topping (potato & rosemary) or something more exotic (maybe truffle when in season), grab a beer or wine from the box and eat your feast at one of the benches inside or out.

Panificio Bonci, Via Triofanale 34/36 - Gabriele Bonci, owner of Pizzarium, also has a bakery in the same area. As well as selling amazing breads they also stock Bernabei porchetta - the ultimate porchetta! Combined with Bonci's pizza bianca this is a match made in heaven & the perfect food to go. Thanks go to Gina Tringali for introducing us to this quintessential Roman  Cibo di Strada.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Memories are made of this

Special moments happen when you least expect are five from our recent trip to Rome.

We expected Festa della Republicca on the 2nd of June to be special and it was. We witnessed the build up to the parade as we shopped for pastries early that morning. We took advantage of 'Open Doors' at the Italian Senate in the beautiful Palazzo Madama and we queued for the once a year opportunity to visit the gardens of the Quirinale Palace. What we didn't expect to see was Il passaggio delle Frecce tricolori  - the flypast. This hadn't taken place for the past couple of years for financial reasons so imagine our surprise when we heard the jets approaching then saw the smoke in the colours of the Italian flag - quite an emotional moment.

Our Scooteroma tour was a big tick on our 'bucket list'. The whole experience was amazing but one moment will stay in my memory forever. We were travelling along Via Casalina ,an ancient  Roman road that leaves Capua near Naples and enters Rome at Porta Maggiore. 
As we travelled along this road on an iconic red Vespa I realised that this road sums up Rome perfectly - the mode of transport is different but Romans have been travelling this road for at least 2000 years. Ancient and modern side by side - everything changes but everything stays the same.

Music evokes memories and whenever I hear 'Summertime' in the future I will be transported back to a summer evening in Campo di Fiori. An impromptu feast of baccala and prosecco was enjoyed in the shadow of Giordano Bruno, accompanied by a saxophonist playing the aforementioned Gershwin classic. Magic!!
As this was our eighth visit to Rome we adopted a leisurely pace. We had time to 'stop and smell the roses' - literally!

 Some of our happiest moments were spent sitting watching life passing by in various parks and gardens around the city. We particularly enjoyed seeing the dog walkers, even though it made us miss our 'girlies' back home.

 The final precious memory must go to the Pantheon. Each time I step inside this amazing building and look upwards to the oculus my heart misses a beat.

The moment that will linger in the memory from this trip was when we introduced our friends to the Pantheon and they obviously had the same reaction - breath-taking.
What was even more awe inspiring was the shower of rose petals fluttering down from the oculus on Pentecost Sunday.
Those self same petals have provided a lasting reminder of a memorable visit to this wonderful city.