August 23 - Visiting Rome's Treasure Houses of Art
The temperature in Italy this past week has been unusually high and a heat wave warning has been issued. Visitors in some of the hill towns report they get some relief from a light breeze, but here in Rome it’s brutal. People gather around fountains to fill their water bottles, which many dump on their head. Others sit in the shade of cafes even if it means they pay a premium for bottled water. We, however, felt fortunate because today was the day to visit one of Rome’s most delightful spots: The Borghese Gallery.
In the 17th century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese created a place to showcase art. He was particularly interested in ancient, Renaissance and contemporary art as well as sculptures. Today you can visit this amazing collection located in the villa where he lived. Only 350 visitors are permitted in the museum every two hours. Reservations are a must and when we arrived for our 11:00 appointment, a sign had already been posted saying no more time slots were available that day. We were quite concerned when it appeared that our online reservation had not gone through as we thought, but the receptionist recognized our disappointment and granted us tickets. Following our Rick Steves’ guided tour, we passed effortlessly from room to room to admire the staggering collection of paintings and statues. Most impressive to me was a statue of David, and another of Apollo and Daphne, both by Bernini. They featured delicately carved leaves that looked almost real. Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte as Venus statue had been polished by the sculptor to perfection so that the marble mattress and cushion she was sitting on looked as soft as cotton and silk.
Outside the gallery are lush gardens with shaded gravel paths. Visitors amused themselves with what looked like antique open air cars operated by pedaling. Walking back into the city we discovered an underground pedestrian passageway that wound its way under the city streets and miraculously popped out at the Spanish steps where a huge crowd huddled in a shaded spot for a picnic.
On our way back to the hotel we came upon two churches, which contain world-class art including paintings by Caravaggio from the early 17th century. One of them, the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi had an exquisite painting, “The Calling of St. Mathew.” It’s fascinating that sometimes you’ll see churches that aren’t remarkable on the outside, but inside are art treasures.
Once the sun set we visited Piazza Navarone and watched artists paint portraits of tourists, and street entertainers enchant the crowds. Back at our hotel we had a farewell to Rome glass of wine on the rooftop garden of our hotel, Albergo Senato. With the Victor Emmanuel Monument lit up like a birthday cake in one direction, and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica illuminated in front of us, we agreed that Rome is a place we will always remember and hope to return to again and again.
Tomorrow we’re off to Dublin!