The plan was to spend two days in Rome and today we would visit the northern classical part of the city and the areas that are predominantly Renaissance and Baroque and it was approaching midday as we started at the Piazza della Republica where I spotted the Hotel Massimo d’Azeglio. Massimo d’Azeglio (b. 24th October 1798) was an Italian politician who made an early contribution to the unification of Italy, the 150th anniversary of which was being celebrated in Rome this year (2011). It stood out to me because Massimo d’Azeglio helped me pass my history degree exams because I wrote my thesis about him and his part in the Risorgimento.
We could see the huge Victor Emmanuel monument now but before we reached it we took a turning left that took us past the Quirinale Palace built by the Popes on one of the original of Rome’s seven hills, previously the home of the Italian Monarchy and now the official residence of the President of Italy and to our first site-seeing destination, the famous Trevi Fountain.
There was no need for a map to find it, we just followed all of the people, because this has to be one of the busiest places in Rome with the huge fountain almost completely filling the tiny Piazza with people crammed in and shuffling through as they squeeze slowly past the crowds. Thirty-five years ago, on my first visit, people were still allowed to sit on the monument and cool their feet off in the water but that has been stopped now. There is a tradition of throwing three coins in the fountain guarantees that you will return one day to Rome. These days’ tourists with a desire to return to the Eternal City deposit an average of €3,000 a day in the fountain and this is collected up every night and is used to fund social projects for the poor of the city. That’s probably why people aren’t allowed to paddle in it anymore!
Next we made our way now to the most famous and most crowded of all Rome squares, the Piazza di Spagna, shaped like a bow tie and surrounded by tall, elegant shuttered houses painted in pastel shades of ochre, cream and russet red and in the centre a fountain shaped as a leaking, sunken boat at the foot of the famous Spanish Steps that were swarming with people making their way to the top and back under the shade of cheap parasols sold on the streets by the illegal traders.
To the right we saw the house, now a museum, where the English poet John Keats lived and died and to the left the Babington Tea Rooms which was opened in 1896 by two Englishwomen who spotted a market for homesick British tourists with a yearning for a traditional afternoon tea and a pot of Earl Grey. We turned our back on this and walked along Via Condotti, which is Rome’s most exclusive and most expensive shopping streets where the major designers have their shops and where prices were way beyond our budget!
At the Via del Corso we turned left and walked back towards the Victor Emmanuel Monument at it southern end but turned off half way down and in a matter of minutes passed through hundreds of years of history, first through Piazza Colona and the column of Marcus Aurelius, then skirting past the Italian Parliament building, the Palazzo di Montecitorio, and after that the Temple of Hadrian with its huge columns which is now the façade of the Italian stock exchange.
We visited the Pantheon, which is one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings, originally built as a pagan temple but later converted into a Christian Church and is the burial place of the ex kings of Italy and other important Italians like the artist Raphael. Next it was the Baroque Piazza Navona in the blistering heat of the afternoon as the temperature reached well into the thirties and it was all becoming a bit tiring and overwhelming so we found somewhere to rest before tackling the walk to St Peter’s and the Vatican.