When we woke on the first day of 2013 the smell of gunpowder from fireworks was still in the air, heck, some folks were still setting them off! Nancy wanted to spend her day on one of those hop on hop off buses so we found out where she could catch one and she set off. Paolo and I decided to head across the Tiber and over to Trastevere, an area of Rome we had never visited.
While Rome entices with its extraordinary monuments, Trastevere, one of its many distinct neighborhoods, captures the traveler's heart. Trastevere, which translates literally to "across the Tiber," was once considered the outskirts of Rome. Allowed to develop its own flavor and now part of il centro storico, it's the perfect place to glimpse a bit of the old world while still enjoying the lifestyle of today's Romans.
Often described as Bohemian, homes bedecked with flower boxes and clinging ivy intertwine with coffee bars, restaurants, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. Buildings in terracotta, maize, and wine cast a glow, like a daylong sunset. From the cobblestone streets to the overhanging laundry lines, senses are pleasantly awakened with every step.
Soon we arrived at Trastevere’s focal square the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere which is a prime people-watching spot. By day it’s full of mums and dads with strollers, chatting locals and guidebook-toting tourists; by night it’s the domain of foreign students, young Romans, and out-of-towners, all out for a good time. The fountain in the centre of the square is of Roman origin and was restored by Carlo Fontana in 1692.
Flanking the piazza is the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, the first to host a public mass, and to be dedicated to the Virgin. The church itself is surrounded in myths and tradition. It is said that thirty-eight years before the birth of Christ, a substance purported to be oil, spurted from the ground of an ancient Roman site, originally called Taberna Meritoria, stretching down to the Tevere. However, at the time it remained an unexplained sign.
Later, after the birth of Christ, it was interpreted to have been a sign foretelling Christ's coming. Pope Callisto I thus decided to have the church built on this ancient site, and to this day, a step leading to the Presbytery marks the spot where the "oil" was said to have appeared.
In the fourth century, Pope Julius I developed the church, giving it the form of a Basilica. At the time, of pope Gregory IV, the invasion from the Saracens seemed imminent and the church was enlarged to accommodate and protect bodies of the early Christians salvaged from the Catacombs. Again, in the Twelfth Century, the church was rebuilt by Innocent II using materials from the Roman Baths of Caracalla.
From that time on, structural changes continued intermittently until the Seventeen Hundreds. Some of these changes, such as the portico and modifications to the façade, were effected by the architect Carlo Fontana. The few elements remained from the original church include a strip of paving dating back to the Third Century, and the Romanic bell tower, at the top of which is a mosaic of the Madonna and child dating from the Sixteen Hundreds.
The interior of the church was stunning. We lucked out with our timing since we arrived right at the end of a service it was well-lit! As we were leaving the church was being closed and when the lights went off those glittering mosaics went dark - it reminded me of the difference inside San Marco in Venice when the lights were turned on!
Our next stop was San Francesco in Ripa. Rebuilt in the 1680s, this church took the place of a 13th-century one that held now-lost frescoes by Pietro Cavallino chronicling the life of St Francis of Assisi. The saint stayed in the adjoining convent when he visited Rome in 1229: apparently if you ask the sacristan, he may show you the cell where St Francis lived and the rock on which he placed his head to sleep. An orange tree in the garden was supposedly planted by the saint, ever in harmony with nature.
Nowadays, though, most visitors stop here to see a 1674 sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini of the Beata Ludovica Albertoni, a Franciscan nun of noble origins who is shown in a dramatic, sexually ambiguous Baroque ecstasy with a few plaster putti heads thrown in years later for effect.
We continued on our walk until we reached the Church of Saint Cecilia. The church and convent of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome was built over the home of St. Cecilia, an upper-class woman who owned a house on this site and was martyred in the 3rd century. Her body was found in 1599 as it was when she was buried, complete with deep axe cuts in her neck; a statue under the altar depicts the way it was found. Excavations of Cecilia's Roman house can be toured underneath the church.
Santa Cecilia is a basilica church with no transept and a north tower. It is oriented west, in accordance with Roman tradition. The entire brick exterior of the 9th-century building survives intact, but most if it is difficult to see because of later additions.
Entrance is through a small courtyard to the east, whose fountain incorporates a Roman cantharus urn. The portico or narthex includes a 13th-century architrave and various inscriptions and architectural fragments.
Inside, there is a nave with side aisles and several side chapels. Some of the original architecture has been disguised by 19th-century renovations, the most dramatic (and unfortunate) of which is enclosing the original columns within piers. The choir at the west end is raised, with a crypt containing Cecilia's tomb beneath.
A side chapel at the back/east of the right/north aisle is part of the 9th-century church. The only chapel included in the original basilica, it was built above the bathhouse in which Cecilia traditionally suffered. More chapels were added to the same aisle later, including a Chapel of the Relics in the 15th century.
Notable artworks in the church include The Last Judgment by Pietro Cavallini (c. 1293) and a baldachino by Arnolfo di Cambio over the altar (late 1200s).
The nuns were shutting up for their New year's lunch so we headed back across the Isola Tiberina to the Ghetto.
Our first stop was the Teatro di Marcello. The area around the Teatro di Marcello was developed during the reign of Caesar and completed by Augustus between the years 13 and 11 BC. Augustus dedicated the theatre to Marcellus, the son of his sister Octavia.
The theater underwent many changes over the years, beginning in the middle ages when it was transformed into a fortress. In the 16th century the Savelli family turned it into a palazzo with the aid of the architect Baldassarre Peruzzi. The remains of this palazzo can still be seen above the old arches.
From 1926 until 1929 the ancient theater was excavated. The two visible tiers of arches were probably topped by a row of Corinthian pilasters. This part of the building contained the rows of seats, whereas the stage, which was completely destroyed, backed onto the river.
The temple of Bellona was built in 296 BC and had six columns on one side and eleven on the longer sides with a staircase leading up to the platform.
The even older temple of Apollo, which was built in 431 BC, underwent many restorations until C. Sosio created the final version with two lateral staircases. The three white marble Corinthian columns were restored in 1940.
Nearby the ruins we saw a sign commemorating the events of October 16, 1943 - the date Germans search through streets and homes of the Ghetto for Jews. 477 Jews would be given sanctuary in Vatican City. 4,000 Jews would find sanctuary in other Rome monasteries. Only 1,015 of Rome's 6,730 Jews would be taken that morning by the Germans. Of those, only 16 would survive the war.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the walk and pondering we decided to stop for lunch before heading back to the apartment. The restaurant we went to - Giggetto - is one that I found by smell alone. Later I discovered that it was listed in my Rome food apps and is a favourite of many slowtravelers.
Since I haven't posted many food shots for awhile . . .
. . . and now for some budino for dessert . . .