This is my fourth trip to Rome (fifth, if you count the time I was here as a dumb-ass 21 year old), and I have seen all the usual suspect sites multiple times. The thrill is still there when I’m with the group, because I get to see them again for the first time through the eyes of folks who are just now experiencing all this mind-blowing coolness, but on the weekends when I’m roaming around I crave new experiences. I don’t think that this is an unusual desire. I mean no disrespect, but this city has so much going on that I feel the need to expand my horizons fairly dramatically.
Luckily I have a long-time crush on the crazy folk at Atlas Obscura, and so in addition to trying to see a couple of new things on my own I am also working on their list. What I’ve seen so far looks like this:
- The Quartiere Coppede. Venetian palazzi and Florentine towers are interspersed with playful takes on Greek and Roman classic frescoes, with all kinds of Art Nouveau touches as well. There were spider mosaics, a fountain that featured frogs and was covered in moss, sedges, and reeds, multiple odd options of faces staring at me from various walls, and oh yeah a few embassies (I saw the Swedish and Moroccan for sure). The area was quiet and slow-paced, which made it a nice change from the rest of Rome right outside its walls.
- Villa Torlonia. The entire estate is preserved by the city, but I especially loved the stained glass of the castle (I guess it used to be known as the Swiss Hut). I was not allowed to take pictures of it, but there are wonderful pictures all over the web. I especially loved all the owls…they never sleep and guard the place.
- Sorry to all you mice and our cat who almost got killed by an owl, but I have always thoughts they are incredible critters, and clearly Sr. Torloni shared my love.
- The Galleria Sciarra. I could only peer in because it was locked, but holy cow this is a cool art nouveau gallery within a stone’s throw of the Trevi Fountain. The clean lines and sense of everyday whimsy contrasted nicely with the intensity of Bernini’s sculpture. This is art meant to enhance the joy of daily life rather than overwhelm us in a Grand Canyon-fashion.
- The Jesuit Church of Saint Ignatius. I never associate Jesuits with having a sense of humor, but this trompe l’oeil done as a replacement for a dome that no longer fit in the budget at the time the church was being built made me chuckle gently to myself multiple times. I especially liked how it burst with movement and activity (and of course a little bit of judgment on a couple of folks – can’t stray too far)…again, no photos, mostly because I don’t think they would have come out, but there are excellent pictures on the intertoobz.
As is probably obvious the theme here is whimsy and fun. Rome’s architecture in my mind is always designed to invoke power: the Republic, the emperors, the Church, and then all the folks who came after and had to deal with the legacy of all that history. I don’t think that institutionalized take fits with the daily attitudes or lived experience of Romans, perhaps, but official Rome is designed to intimidate. I mostly enjoyed these other places because they were more concerned with poking gentle fun at the city, its inhabitants, and those of us goofy enough to check them out.