Sunday, 13 April 2014

Moon rock, Michelangelo & Matisse

The Vatican Museums are full of priceless art works , including a statue, 'The Belvedere Apollo',  that was part of the original collection.

However, there are lesser known treasures to be found too. Here are five of my favourites.

Since a hammer attack in 1972, the original Pieta by Michelangelo in St Peter's Basilica has been behind glass. This copy in the Vatican Museums gives you an opportunity to get up close & personal to an incredibly emotive sculpture.
We move from the Renaissance to the 20th century which is represented by the fragments of moon rock displayed along side the Papal flag. The rocks were collected on the  historic Apollo 11 mission, when man first landed on the moon, & gifted to the Vatican. The Papal flag had also accompanied that same moon mission.
In the Gallery of Tapestries scenes from the life of Jesus are depicted, based on drawings by pupils of Raphael. In the Resurrection tapestry Jesus's eyes follow you as you move along the gallery. Spooky.....but also a brilliant example of 'moving perspective'.

My final two treasures are to be found in the Modern Art section of the museums. People usually race through these galleries to get to the Sistine Chapel. I must admit that we have been guilty of this too but last year we took advantage of the Friday night 'Vatican under the Stars' openings and made a point of spending longer in this area.


The  Matisse Room was opened in 2011 to display the life size drawings of the stained glass windows that adorn Matisse's Chapel of our Lady of the Rosary in Vence on the French Riviera. The drawings were donated by Matisse's son. Pierre.
Finally we come to Francis Bacon's 'Pope Innocent X'. This is one of 45 variants of the Velázquez painting that the artist completed. . Both artist's interpretations of the subject lead you to think that you would not like to find yourself brought before this particular pope! 
The original Velázquez can be found in the Galleria Dora Pamphilj - yet another source of little known treasures.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Eat like a Local

Five different ways in which we have enjoyed Roman cuisine.

For hands on experience there is nothing better than a cooking class. Chef Andrea Consoli runs Cooking Classes in Rome from his restaurant in Trastevere. Not only do you prepare (and eat!) a four course lunch but Andrea shares his knowledge of local cuisine and ingredients. Andrea works on the '0 kilometre' principal resulting in all the food  in his kitchen coming from the Lazio area.

Be warned - making fresh pasta is addictive! I can guarantee that this is something you will repeat back at home.

From this........ this!

At the end of the meal Andrea discusses the wines that have been paired with each course. Three out of the four wines we sampled were from the Lazio area - the fourth  from Amalfi.

Recipes and wine suggestions are e-mailed after the class. We found pasta paddles in the Campo Fiori market which made a fitting souvenir!
If you are lucky enough to be in Rome from mid June - September, you can enjoy another Roman experience - that of Lungo Il Tevere where cocktail bars and restaurants pop up all along the river.
The most romantic spot is at the tip of Tiber Island, right underneath the Ponte Rotto.  Bacco al Tevere, the pop up restaurant of Umbrian chef Salvatore Denaro has had prime position there for the past couple of years. Delicious food in a magical setting.

Last year the Michelin starred Rome restaurant Guida Ballerino also 'popped up' on Tiber Island with a choice of a sit down restaurant or take out stand. 
 To enjoy lunch like a Roman and learn a lot about wine as part of the experience then I recommend a 'Wine and Cheese Lunch' organised by VinoRoma. These take place on Mondays and Fridays in a tasting room in the Monti area of Rome. As well as generous platters of prosciutto, salami and cheeses you also get to taste four very different Italian wines.
 If you are lucky you may get a peek in to the cellar.
If you would prefer to eat al fresco then why not pick up a picnic and head in to one of Rome's green spaces? Our favourite are the Borghese Gardens and the perfect picnic can be found at GINA Not only do you get a hamper filled with delicious food (and wine if you so choose) but also the use of a picnic rug.
All that is left for you to decide is which picture perfect spot you should choose to enjoy your feast. Maybe by the lake.........
 ........Some other secluded spot
Finally, the best way to eat like a local is to have a meal in their own home. Fortunately, thanks to Home Food we can all enjoy this experience with the Cesarine who invite us to share a meal with them.
Our Cesarina, Marissa, created a traditional Roman feast which we enjoyed whilst watching the sunset sky from the balcony of a modern apartment block in the suburbs of Rome.

A classic appetizer of hot and crispy vegetables - Misto di Vedure fritte are served first.
Pasta alla Gricia follows
Then Marissa's favourite,  Vitello alla fornara con cicoria - veal with chicory, served with Broccoli all'agro di limone - broccoli and lemon.

The wine served is from the family vineyards in the Castello Romani.
The meal ends with crema fatta in casa - a chocolate cream and ciambelline all'anice - sweet aniseed biscuits.
Finally a picture of Marissa and her daughter who truly did make sure that we ate like locals!


Friday, 7 March 2014

Daughters of Rome

On this Festa delle Donne I would like to remember Felice della Rovere. Felice was the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Della Rovere , the future Pope Julius II. From this inauspicious beginning she went on to become one of the most powerful women of the Italian Renaissance.
She married in to the powerful Orsini family and ran a grain export business that made her one of the wealthiest women in Rome. This reserved and understated woman performed heroic feats for her children to preserve their inheritance.
She would have witnessed Michelangelo and Raphael working in the Vatican. Indeed both of these giants of the Renaissance immortalised Felice in their work.
Raphael depicted Felice in 'The Mass of Bolsena' in the Stanza di Eliodoro.

She is seen here in the dark dress, looking lovingly towards her father who is celebrating mass.
Michelangelo based his sculpture of Rachel, on Julius II's tomb in the church of St Pietro in Vincoli, on Felice.

If you would like to know more about this remarkable women I can recommend reading 'The Pope's Daughter' by Caroline P Murphy.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Seeing is Believing

Rome is full of amazing sights but it also has a fair share of optical illusions too. Here are five that need to be seen to be believed.

This fabulous view of St Peter's Dome is taken from Via Piccolomini (you can reach here after taking a stroll through the lovely Villa Doria Pamphili park). What is amazing about seeing the dome from this perspective is that the closer you get , the smaller the dome appears.

St Peter's square has an optical illusion too.
Designed by Bernini, the colonnades must have appeared to pilgrims as open arms welcoming them in to the most important basilica in the Christian world.

 If you stand on  one of the two circles of stone set between the fountains and the obelisk the columns will appear as a single line.

The church of St Ignazio  can be found in the delightful piazza of the same name which resembles a theatrical set.
More theatre inside the church where all isn't as it seems. That splendid dome isn't a dome at all but a trompe l'oeil ceiling frescoed by Andrea Pozzi.
The delightful Villa Farnesina , across the river in Trastevere , was built for Agostino Chigi,  a wealthy banker.The main salon, the Loggia of Psyche was designed to bring the gardens indoors. The  huge arches are now glassed in but originally guests would have found themselves in a loggia opening directly on to the garden.
In the main living room of the  villa, Salone delle Prospettive, we catch glimpses of Trastevere and the Borgo  between porphyry columns. Not real glimpses of course but yet another example of trompe l'oeil.

 Perhaps the most famous optical illusion in Rome is that found in Palazzo Spada. Borromini used false perspective to create a corridor that appears four times longer than it really is.


Friday, 31 January 2014

Palazzo Massimo Treasures

Palazzo Massimo can be found near Termini Station at Largo di Villa Peretti. It makes a refreshing change from the major sights as it is never mobbed by tourists and yet it contains many treasures just waiting to be discovered.Here are five of my favourites.

The statue of Emperor Augustus as Pontifex Maximus shows Augustus as head of the Roman priesthood. A rather good looking guy I think!

'The Boxer' may not be as handsome as Augustus but this bronze figure is strangely moving in its realism. The wounds that have been inflicted during many a match are easy to see as you move around the statue.

The bronze fittings from the Ships of Nemi give an indication of how splendid these ships must have been. Built by Emperor Caligula in the first century AD, they were believed to have been used as huge floating pleasure palaces. The figurehead of Medusa is quite scary!


This beautiful pavement mosaic of Dionysus demonstrates how wealthy Romans decorated their homes, as do the frescoes that also can be seen here. Indeed my fifth and absolute favourite treasure in this amazing museum are the frescoes from the garden room of the Prima Porta Villa. They are displayed in such a way that you feel that you could be in the actual villa which was a favourite retreat of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. The frescoes themselves contain more than two dozen kinds of birds and over twenty botanical species. Best of all it is quite likely that you will have this treasure all to yourself.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Animal Magic

Traditionally animals are blessed on the Festa di Sant'Antonio Abate (17th January)
Here are five of my favourite animals in Rome.

Piazza Mattei is a delightful area of Rome made all the more special by the fountain in the middle of this tiny square. The turtles, attributed to Bernini, are a later addition to this charming fountain.

One of my absolute favourite museums in Rome is Palazzo Massimo & it is here we find an exquisite depiction of a horse in mosaic.

This is no ordinary horse but a horse belonging to the charioteer. who is also pictured here. Both horse & owner would have achieved unimaginable fame as contestants in  chariot races of the third century AD.

Another tiny piazza also holds a surprise animal at the centre. Piazza della Minerva is the home of an obelisk mounted upon the back of a statue of an elephant designed by Bernini.

On to yet another piazza that holds a  positive menagerie of animals but I have chosen one in particular. Who would have thought that you could find an armadillo in Piazza Navona!

Actually this is Bernini's idea of what an armadillo would look like and it can be found in the Fountain of the Four Rivers where it represents the Americas. Other animal sculptures to be found in the fountain are a lion (Africa) and a snake (Asia).
Finally we come to what is possibly the most well known animal in Rome - the She Wolf, who played a major part in the story of the founding of the city. It is said that she suckled the twin boys Romulus & Remus. Romulus went on to establish a settlement on the Palatine Hill which became the city of Rome.

This beautiful Etruscan work of art dates from the 5th century BC and can be found in the Capitoline Museums. The twins were added in the 16th century.