On my second to last day in Rome I had the wonderfully good fortune to be able to spend it with a friend of mine who owns a travel business in this historic city. Oana is the owner of Italia Pretiosa who specializes in unique Italian Art Treasures and Tours.
As an expert in Italian art and the artists who created these magical works over the centuries I was in for a treat as Oana has access to a unique and behind the scenes view of the art that adorns the many churches, and private galleries of this amazing city through her network.
We had agreed to meet at the Colosseum metro station at 11:00 am and after catching my early morning train from Frascati it was an easy stroll from the Roma Termini (main train station). Although, if I had wanted I could have just as easily caught the metro for the two stops been the locations, but because it was another gorgeous blue sky day so why not walk. 🙂
We arrived at exactly the same time, and even though it was a Friday it was extremely busy with all of the tourists clamoring to get to the Colosseum and adjacent Forum through this main access point.
As we walked away from the Colosseum and past the Forum Oana pointed out the point from which all distances were measured within the Roman empire, effectively mile 0 in ancient times. Today it’s just a simple marble pillar that tourists just walk by with no further thought or knowledge of, but in ancient times this was the epicenter from which all roads led to and from Rome. Such a great little tidbit to get started!
We continued walking along Via dei Fori Imperiali towards Piazza Venezia. From an historical perspective Piazza Venezia plays a significant part in modern Italian history as this was where Benito Mussolini had his residence. The balcony that over looks the Piazza is the very same from which he often gave his speeches to the massed crowds, and to be honest it was just a tad eerie even though it was 70 plus years ago, if you look at newsreel footage from the day not much has changed.
The other imposing building built on the Piazza is the Altare della Patria (Alter of the Fatherland) and the home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The best thing about having a local art historian as your private tour guide is not only do you get the access, background and insights but you also get the lesser known facts and stories that add color to your adventure. I was in heaven!
Next up were a series of churches that gave me a new appreciation for the various schools of art over the centuries from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo to Caravaggio and beyond. Oana’s deep knowledge of both the artists and the their works of art displayed in these churches really made for a unforgettable experience, particularly as she filled in a lot of the gaps in terms of the day to day life of the artist, their motivations and the comings and goings of their lives…yes, even a few juicy and scandalous pieces. Nice! 😉
Before I knew it it was already 2:00 pm and so Oana called a friend of hers who owned a restaurant nearby and we dropped by for an impromptu lunch at Moderna (Vicolo dei Chiodaroli 16) near Campo de ‘Fiori. This chic and fashionable restaurant was amazing, the food delicious and although not packed it was clear that this is a place where locals like to congregate and slowly enjoy a meal with friends – the Italian way!
After a fabulous lunch I literally rolled out of Moderna toward our next stop which was about a 20 min walk…thank goodness! Our destination was the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (St Ignatius of Loyola).
Oana made a quick call as we approached the church and no sooner were we inside than she introduced me to Father Vasile Tofana who greeted her warmly. The back story was that Oana and Father Vasile had grown up together in the same village and had been lifelong friends and so she had arranged for him to give me a truly behind the scenes view of the church.
Now to add the ambiance of our visit there was a large choir singing hymns at the front of the church.
Many people know this church as the one without the dome… As the story goes, the builders ran out of money before they could finish the dome and so painted what for all intention purposes looks like a real dome when you view it from the floor…you had to look hard to tell the difference and again another fine piece of art unto itself.
Father Vasile then led us back in behind what everyone gets to see so he could gathered a handful of large keys, yeah you know the kind…the ones that might expect to see in a castle or perhaps a building first opened in 1551.
From here he provided us with a unforgettable two hour tour of the entire building from top to bottom, including a host of private chapels and a visit to the “dome” which was fascinating because when you get up to this level you’re able to look down onto the visitors far below and across the “flat dome” into the dusty rafters. 🙂
However, the “pièce de résistance” was our climb to the roof using a narrow circular staircase. Once on top the views were incredible, although you wouldn’t want to be afraid of heights as there were no handrails or barriers – just the roof and you.
Sometime after the churches construction the Jesuit priests decided to acquire a telescope so that they could watch the ever changing constellations and stars and so they mounted it on the roof of the church. This continued up until the early 1930’s when Mussolini decided to confiscate them (there were two telescopes by this time) because he believed that the priests were using the telescopes to spy on behalf of foreign powers.
Today the telescope mounts remain on the roof, albeit missing the actual telescopes. Therefore, the roof is rarely visited, and so felt very privileged to be able to get a chance to experience it. So what does a photographer do when its almost sunset over looking the rooftops of Rome… Today’s cover shot for starters!
After this amazing visit with Father Vasile my senses were totally overloaded, but Oana had one more treat for me as we made our way to the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Chiesa where she showed me the hidden Michelangelo. This incredible sculpture is in plain sight, but yet few notice the name plate at the bottom and so often just walk by. Wow! I was blown away – just awesome…
If you’re considering going to Rome and have an appreciation of art, I would love to connect you with Oana.
This weeks blog marks the final one in my Italian series from this past visit. Stay tuned for more adventures next week – until then.