May 14, 2009
When you are in Rome, you’re forced to make some hard decisions. For example suppose that you’re at the Fontana di Trevi and that you want to go to Piazza Navona. Well, there are several routes, each one with incredible things to see. And, because of constraints on both time and energy, when you choose one route you’re missing all the things on the other available routes. On the other hand, the what-to-see lists provide the essential highlights, but there’re plenty of attractions that are not mentioned in the guides. So let’s face it: it takes more than a lifetime to get to know Rome. I’d say that 3-4 days is the very minimum to see the top 5 Roman essentials: St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Fontana di Trevi and the Piazza Navona (visiting the Pantheon in between). But I’d recommend to everyone staying in Rome for at least 5-6 days. Actually, I always tell my friends to stay in Rome for at least a week. That way, you can leave one day to visit the surroundings of Rome. Again, you have a lot of alternatives: I castelli di Roma, the Etruscan ruins, il lido di Roma (the Roman shore) … but I have two suggestions about what to see in the surroundings of Rome: Tivoli and Ostia Antica.
First, I have a lot of friends who complain about not having had enough time to go to Pompeii when they were visiting Italy – usually people visit Rome, Florence and Venice on their first trip to Italy, leaving Naples for a second visit. Although Naples and Pompeii are not that far from Rome, they’re not that close either. If you don’t have enough time to go to Pompeii, then Ostia Antica is the perfect substitute. Ostia Antica is the ancient harbor of Rome, and now a huge archeological site. Getting there is pretty simple since Ostia Antica is easily reachable by taking the Roman subway! Ostia Antica is full of ruins from imperial times, so there you can have that feeling of experiencing life in an ancient city. There you can visit the old theater, the forum, some nice houses, the public bathrooms, the market and old restaurants. One thing you don’t find in Pompeii is the ruins of insulae: the apartment buildings of ancient Rome. You’ll be impressed with how huge and tall they were. Since Ostia was abandoned, mainly because of several attacks by pirates, and not covered by lava and ashes as Pompeii was, the remaining wall frescoes are scarce and far from being as impressive as the ones in the Pompeii area. However, in Ostia Antica you can find really nice mosaic floors. Finally, one thing to think about … if Ostia Antica was the ancient harbor of Rome, then where is the sea? (Ostica Antica now lies about 2 miles from the sea.)
Another very interesting place to visit not far from Rome is Tivoli. There you have two attractions, each one being a perfect example of the lifestyle of the rich and famous of two different eras. On one side of the town of Tivoli, you find the Villa Adriana. Hadrian’s Villa was the retreat home of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who wanted to escape all of the gossiping, intrigues and troubles of the capital’s Palatine Hill and its court. The Villa was composed of more than 30 buildings, including various palaces, theaters, thermae (individual spas), libraries and temples. In one word, the Villa provided tutti i confort (every comfort) an emperor needed. Everything in the Villa was inspired by the emperor’s numerous travels around the known world, especially to Egypt and Greece. These destinations in a way reflect Hadrian’s passion for the Greek youth Antinous, who mysteriously died by drowning in the Nile. Hadrian deified his beloved Antinous after Antinous’ tragic death: one of the most recent excavations at Hadrian’s Villa was a Temple dedicated to Antinous. Hadrian, a devoted Hellenophile, loved all expressions of art and he was involved in the design and construction of the Villa. In fact, we don’t know the names of the architects who worked with Hadrian, because he was the head of the whole project. This is why the great complexity that the Villa exhibits also reflects the complexity of Hadrian’s mind.
On the other side of Tivoli, you find the Villa d’Este. The Villa was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, son of the infamous Lucrezia Borgia (and therefore grandson of the fearsome Pope Alexander VI, il Papa Borgia), after receiving the property and the title of governor of Tivoli for life. Both were a gift from Pope Julius III returning the favor of the cardinal d’Este’s voting for Julius III as the future Pope. The villa is a magnificent example of an Italian renaissance mansion and gardens. The frescoes decorating the walls and ceiling inside the villa are exquisitely regal. Decorative renaissance frescoes combine the new techniques developed in that period with elements from ancient Roman frescoes, which were re-discovered by that time when artists visited the recently excavated Domus Aurea (the golden house of Nero). The gardens are exceptional. Because the house is advantageously located on top of a hill , its gardens enjoy a glorious theatrical layout filled with fabulous fountains. The famous Cento Fontane (one hundred fountains – which can be spotted in the banquet scene of Ben-Hur) and the Rometta (the little Rome fountain, which displays a miniature version of how Rome looked at that time) are just two of the most illustrious fountains in the villa. In fact, it is hard to count all of the fountains: Europa, del Bicchierone, del Pegaso, dei Draghi, dell’Ovato, di Proserpina, della Civetta, dell’Organo, di Nettuno, etc. The splendorous gardens from Villa d’Este with their charming fountains and spectacular giochi d’acqua were the inspiration of several gardens not only in Italy, but also all around Europe.
The tower of Pisa was almost entirely made from building material coming from the ruins of Ostia Antica.
Lots of the marble and statues displayed in the Villa d’Este came from Hadrian’s Villa.