4 May 2015

Rome: a walk from Piazza della Repubblica to Piazza Venezia

Way back in March we went to Rome for the day although we didn't get there until midday when most museums, churches, art galleries and shops close for the afternoon. Nevertheless, I had planned a fairly short circular walk after we'd had some lunch as there's always something of interest to see along the way without going into buildings.

You may remember the Piazza della Repubblica which I wrote about last October. On that occasion the water had been turned off on the huge structure in the middle called the Fountain of the Naiads.

Fast forward to March and I was pleased to see this grand water feature was partly functioning. It's worth waiting for a lull in the traffic that circulates around it to walk over and take a closer look.

The Fountain of the Acqua Pia as it was once called was connected to the Acqua Marcia aqueduct. Originally there were four lions in stonework surrounding it, but in 1901 they were replaced by the sculptures of naiads. The nymph of the lakes is recognisable by the swan she holds, the nymph of the rivers is stretched out on a monster of the rivers, the nymph of the oceans is riding a sea horse and the nymph of the underground waters leans over another mysterious creature. When they were installed there was a furore because of the way these female figures were perceived as sporting with the sea creatures, but to my eye the sculptor, Mario Rutelli, has created pieces that give the impression of drama and movement and must look wonderful when the water is fully functioning and is gushing forth, especially when the piazza is illuminated in the evenings.

In the centre is the sculpture of Glaucus who was a character in classical Greek mythology and the Roman poet, Ovid, also wrote about him. The story goes that he was a human fisherman who saw some strange herb which he ate and felt drawn to diving into the sea where he was changed into a merman. In the bronze sculpture of Glaucus in the Piazza della Repubblica fountain he's wrestling with a sea creature.

A photo of my husband and daughter from when we lived in Rome in the late 1960s just on the outskirts of the historic centre near Porta Maggiore.

Piazza della Repubblica is at the summit of the Viminal Hill not far from the main station.  It was formerly called Piazza dell'Esedra as the 19th century porticoed buildings around the piazza stand on the foundations of a collonaded semi-circular seating area in the huge complex of the Roman Baths of the Emperor Diocletian.

We headed back across the piazza in search of a place to have lunch before walking down a main street, Via Nazionale

In these grand porticoes there have always been shops, offices, a department of the university. More recently a luxury hotel, the Boscolo Exedra, has taken over one wing of the piazza buildings.

Once there was a large McDonalds outlet here which I would pop into for the welcome cool air- conditioned facilities and get a drink before catching a train back home, but now it has moved into a smaller fast-food restaurant just around the corner. There's also a Metro station in the piazza which takes you directly to other districts of the city or you could browse around the nearby permanent stalls shaded by trees selling second-hand books and old prints and there are plenty of eating places to suit everyone.

However, we started our walk along Via Nazionale, which is a direct route down hill to many of the well-known sites of interest, although by then the sky was overcast and I was soon glad that I brought my umbrella! From a photographer's point of view the photos are rather 'muddy' in colour due to the poor light and need to shelter from the showers.  However, I hope you get the impression that there are places of interest in this area of the city that are sometimes overlooked.

For example, this is the church of St. Paul's Within the Walls, which is the American Episcopal Church in Rome. There are many Anglican Parishes in Europe and the Mediterranean offering services in English and St. Paul's within the Walls is one of them and we have worshipped here when we've been up in Rome as it's conveniently near the railway station.  It's also a beautiful building having been built in 1873 following the designs of George Edmund Street.  Mosaics were designed by the famous pre-Raphaelite, artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and the tiling of the interior walls were created for St. Paul's by William Morris. The mosaics on the facade and on the interior of the back of the church were designed by George Breck who was at one time the director of the American Academy in Rome. The church is also a venue for concerts and in the crypt there's a community and refugee centre.

The Archangel Michael by Burne-Jones: a detail from the mosaic in the apse (taken from the front of an old service sheet).

There was a wedding just about to take place as we arrived and it wasn't possible to enter the church, but the courtyard outside is an oasis of peace that you might not notice unless you went inside the gates.

Around the rose window there are four angelic creatures. They symbolize the four Evangelists, the angel of St. Matthew, the lion of St. Mark, the ox of St. Luke and the eagle of St. John.

Continuing on down the Via Nazionale we could see the Trajan Market and beyond that the unmistakable white marble outline of The Vittoriale in Piazza Venezia.

The Vittoriale, officially known as the Altar of the Nation or Monumento Vittorio Emanuele and unofficially as 'the wedding cake', was built to celebrate the unification of Rome and commemorate the king, Vittorio Emanele II.

In this area is the Trajan Forum and Column.
The Column of Trajan was erected in 113 AD in honour of Emperor Trajan and commemorates Trajan's victories in Dacia (Romania).  It's 42 meters tall; exactly the height of the hill that stood on the site which had been levelled to create an open space for the construction of the Trajan forum. There are 29 pieces of white marble and a band of carved reliefs winds around the column depicting the story of Trajan's campaigns. The reliefs would originally have been partly gilded. A statue of an eagle topped the column and then a 20 ft statue of the Emperor replaced it.  His ashes and those of his wife were placed in the base.  In 1587 the statue of Trajan was replaced by one of St. Peter.

We've reached the half way point of the walk so I shall continue next time.  The gardens of the Qurinale Palace are close by and also get overlooked as a place to rest.  The above is another fountain fashioned as a small grotto.