Simply visit any of the dozen upon dozen churches in Old Rome. These masterpieces of architecture are 300-700 years old and inside each one you will find paintings and sculpture from the masters throughout history. The best part is each of the churches are free to enter, just dress appropriately!
Since we spent all day in the Colosseum area exploring ancient Rome (last blog), we spent our last full day in Rome walking through Old Rome, which is where all the medieval and renaissance sights are. As I stated in a previous blog, we were staying just north of Vatican City and so headed east over the Tiber River via the Margherita bridge on a day walking in the city. We had a rough idea of things we wanted to see, but there was no rush and who knew what we would find on the way.
Piazza del Popolo is one of the most impressive squares in all of Rome and sits just inside the old city walls. Historically this was the north entrance into the city and the current plaza layout was designed in 1811. The plaza gets its name from the Santa Maria del Popolo church built in 1472 in the northwest corner of the plaza next to the city gate (this is also a scene from the movie Angels & Demons and I will write a blog about it later). The entire plaza centers around the Egyptian obelisk made in the 13th century BC which was brought to Rome in 10BC. Of course, in true Roman style a fountain was built around it (In Rome you will find sculpted fountains everywhere as they were used as a way to get drinking water to the citizens).
We were walking towards the Mausoleum of Augustus, which was being renovated and is closed. From there we stumbled into the Church of St Ambrogio (1612) and sat in awe. This is one of those churches that lie in the middle of a neighborhood and is not mentioned in any guides or maps. If it was in any other city it would be the highlight of the city! (check out yesterday’s photo of the day)
Our next stop was the Spanish Steps, which Melek was very excited to show me and I have seen in countless movies. The name comes from the fact that the Spanish Embassy was at the top of the stairs in the 17th century. Nowadays, it is a popular tourist square, but unlike in the movies you will be yelled at by the police if you try and have lunch here. My favorite part was the boat fountain built in 1627 by Bernini’s father. This was to remember a boat that floated into the square when the river flooded before the high banks were built.
Melek was so insistent that we had to visit Trevi Fountain, which she called the fountain of Love. Legend states if you toss a coin in you will fall in love. Well I have to admit I was expecting a simple little wishing well type of place. Boy was I wrong! This is one of the biggest fountains in Rome and was completed in 1762 when it was built again Poli Palace. The fountain is the ending of an aquaduct bringing fresh water into Old Rome. There is a reason it is so popular….it is absolutely gorgeous!!!!
The next stop on our day long stroll of Old Rome was Santa Maria della Vittoria since it was featured in the movie Angels & Demons, but I will write about it when I talk about the movie and all its locations later. The reason I mention it now is that by going there we stumbled into Repubblica Plaza and found the Santa Maria Degli Angeli church. From the outside this church looked small and unassuming as the entrance is only a concaved brick wall. Well, as they say, looks can be deceiving. Turns out this church, designed by Michelangelo in 1562, was built in the old Roman Baths and the façade is part of that structure. Once you go inside you will be blown away at the size and beauty of the place. We were most intrigued with the meridian line (think sun dial, but as a long line) built into the church in 1702 in order to measure the year accurately. Science and religion coming together, I love it!
I am going to take a break right here and let us catch our breath, because we are only halfway through the day. Come back on Thursday and I will finish my story about Old Rome.