14 Sep 2010
Lesser-known sites, Part 2
If you want to see how the Roman elite lived, you must go to the Palazzo-Galleria Doria Pamphilj (pronounced Pamphili). It is close to Monument Vittorio Emmanuele II on Via del Corso just off Piazza Venezia. It is the largest palazzo in Rome (ambling toward Piazza della Minerva from via del Corso makes you realize how big this palazzo is) and the most important privately owned art gallery in Italy. It has been owned and inhabited by the same family since the 17th century (the family still lives there). Due to an obscure law from the 17th century, the palazzo and the art cannot be sold, so it has stayed intact since then. (Photo taken from the Galleria Doria Pamphilj website)
Once you cross the portal of the palazzo, it’s like entering into complete peace. The insane traffic is muted almost to nothing and the sun shines onto a cortile sporting a gracious fountain surrounded by a tranquil garden. The high windows of the two floors above look down serenely onto the greenery.
The palazzo showcases painted ceilings with trompe l’oeil and frescoes, sculptures from antiquity to the 18th century, paintings, furniture, mirrors, curtains, chandeliers, wall coverings (often velvet or silk). The family has not only opened the major rooms, which were used for audiences with dignitaries around the world, but also the smaller, more intimate rooms where the family used to live up to the 19th century. The mix of styles reminds us that the Doria Pamphilj actually lived in the palazzo, prayed in its chapel (housing the sepulchres of two saints), rested in the library, had servants dress them in the dressing room before they danced at the ball in the chandelier-studded ballroom.
The palazzo contains four galleries, three of which are most impressing. The first one contains works by Tintoretto, Titian, Raphael and Veronese, as well as Caravaggio’s Flight into Egypt. Gallery two has the largest collection of Flemish artists in Italy, including several Brueghel, including a series of four paintings relating, in incredible details, the four elements (air, fire, earth and water). The third gallery is the mirror gallery, containing dozens of huge (over 10 feet) guilded mirror interspersed with antique statuary. It also contains a masterpiece of Diego Velasquez portraying pope Innocent X.
It’s all well and good to visit palazzos and churches, but it’s also fun to be outside. On Sundays, you can go to Rome’s most famous flea market in Trastevere, at Porta Portese, which has over 2 kilometers (1 mile) of vendors selling kitsch, clothes, antiques, toys, books, and lots of junk, too. It’s open from 06:30 to 1pm and is usually packed with people. Bring lots of cash because credit cards are not accepted. It’s a high energy, busy market. Don’t buy the first thing you see—it’s abet you’ll see the same thing several times and maybe at a lower price. It’s a blast to watch women going through mounds of clothing selling for 1€) or vendors yelling “Prego, prego! Un Euro!” to call people to their stalls. If you speak some Italian, there are wonderful cookbooks for 3€. If you’re taking the bus, beware that it will be packed. You don’t know the meaning of sardines until you’ve hopped on a bus or the metro in the morning. When you think there can’t be any more room, ten more people squeeze in.
If you’re into open-air markets, there are two that are very cool. The market at Campo dei Fiori is fairly central and sells vegetables, spices, and flowers. Around the piazzas are stores for pasta, meat, fish, and formaggii (cheese) as well as wine. The one at Piazza San Cosimo in Trastevere is smaller but more intimate and has fewer tourists. Because of the lack of papparazzi everywhere, it has a more genuine feel and you’ll mostly hear Italian spoken there. Women market there every day. At San Cosimo there is also a store with specialty foods, including organic dry food. The markets are open from 07:30-1pm every day.
While you’re in Trastevere at the market, you might want to visit Santa Maria in Trastevere, a rare medieval church, smaller than others but no less beautiful. Legend has it that a fountain of oil spurted on the site of the church and pope Calixtus built the Taberna Meritoria on this spot in 217AD. There has been a church on this spot since. This particular church was built in the 12th century by Innocent II, who used materials from the baths of Caracalla. Twenty-two columns lead to the altar and the incredible mosaics of the domed apse, which are adorned in gold and designed in a Byzantine style. A side chapel, the Altemps, contains a Byzantine representation of the Virgin Mary, the oldest in existence.
The atmosphere in the church is reverential, amplified by the Gregorian chants piped into the sound system.
The exterior facade has a beautiful mosaic representing the Virgin Mary enthroned, with statues of saints in front of her, as if they were guarding her from harm. They have stood there since the 17th century.
This church is well worth the visit and, if you decide to walk from it from the Via de Trastevere, you’ll also get a taste of the neighbourhood, which has a different tone and level of energy than Rome itself.