Lonely Planet guide books writes up a short walking tour that pays homage to Roman Holiday, the film that won Audrey her fame and Oscar. While I didn’t do the whole route and didn’t pray at each site, it was a manageable walk for a sunny day.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is about 10 minute walk from my pensione, on the banks of the Tiber. It’s a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, built in 128 AD. Converted to a fortress in the 6th century. Of more interest to me is the Ponte (bridge) d’Angelo also built by Hadrian. Bernini and his students created the angels which decorate the bridge.
I diverted from the walk here and crossed toward the center of old Rome to the Piazza Navona, where there are 2 fountains--one to Neptune, the other depicting the 4 great rivers--Ganges, Nile, Danube and Plate … another Bernini creation. Lively, full of art vendors of varying quality, stilted mimes in gilded costumes, bubble blowing salesmen, music, pigeons and surrounded by the Chiesa di Sant=Agnese in Agone and the Palazzo Pamphili.
On to find the Pantheon, I turned the wrong way and wound through narrow streets, flanked by buildings of 4 stories or more, until I came to a street with a name I could find on the map … Victor Emmanuel, large boulevard (maybe one of those circular roads?). Anyway I followed it for a while, surprised at the moderate traffic, clean streets, rooftop gardens, ease of walking. I came to the “Sacred Site” which is a hole in the ground uncovering just that, …. And cats. The cats stay in the dig because they’re fed by the city. Adds to the attraction.
Going left across V.E. I found the Pantheon, partly by following groups of what could only be tourists enmasse … again not what I expected. Attributed again to Hadrian in 120 AD who built it over Marcus Agrippa’s 27 BC temple. Hadrian’s round outer walls are visible and strong, but the front façade is what astounds. 16 Corinthian columns support the pediment; inside the dome (“the largest masonry vault every built”==I guess St. Peter’s is built of something else). Light comes in through the oculus at the apex which is a 9 meter opening in the dome. Here’s where a tour guide might have come in handy, but the quality of light and the circle of light it threw on the wall of the dome was spectacular, even without knowing anything about it.
I went in search of a WC at this point. There were a couple of ladies on segways labeled “tourist angels” and one told me that I needed to go back to the Piazza Navona and would there find a toilet. Though I’d circled for 30 minutes or more to find the Pantheon, P.N. was very close and I found a clean, free restroom once I remembered what WC meant. Walked back toward Pantheon and had lunch at one of the side street cafes. Touristy, but delicious and efficient … strozzopezi (curled pasta) with some tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes and fresh greens and parmesano shaved on top; a glass of vino tinto .. Yum… 10 euros.
Creature comforts taken care of, I moved on to the Piazza della Minerva, Bernini’s Elefantino sculpture, (a cute elephant with a mischievous eye and an obelisk on his back) and the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, full of wonderful stained glass windows currently throwing colored light about the church, and frescos. Most moving to me was the chapel of the annunciation with frescos by Filippino Lippi..
Outside again I headed for the Trevi Fountain, also on the Roman Holiday walk and of course Anita Ekberg’s favorite bathing place. Tourist concentration increased as I approached, and through a narrow street marched hordes. Arriving was like being at Sea World with a gallery of onlookers already seated. The fountain is indeed stunningly beautiful--bright white, with blue pools of water around it. But forget throwing 3 coins into it and wishing; or experiencing existential angst or romance … this is more of a circus atmosphere … Juliet of the Spirits perhaps, not La Dolce Vita. I sat for a couple of minutes …these crowds are not obnoxious, somehow sweet, everyone really enjoying the idea as well as the fact that they are sitting or standing near the Trevi Fountain.
Continuing on to the Spanish Steps, up a gentle hill (not planned but this way I walked DOWN the steps, not up) past delicious looking sandwich shops (artistically put together cheese, olive and meats displayed in windows). No gelato yet, however. Reached what I assumed to be the top of the steps, although it was hard to tell, and there they were, full of people again, mostly resting, hanging out, as if in a park. At the bottom of the steps, I too rested, and then headed back to where I thought I could cross the Tiber again to my pensione. Did so easily and quickly.
Finally stopped for gelato about a ½ block from ‘home’. All I can say is that gelato in the States is not gelato. This is a food group, or should be. Met some Americans also enjoying the experience and we exclaimed over the creaminess, flavor, and total fullness of the perfect food