Today was meant to be a lay day as another 34 degrees was forecast but Ann was dragged once more into the tourist maelstrom of summer in Rome to see yet another church or two and a gallery. It was Saturday so the morning trains were far less crowded but the evening trains…let’s just say we had to let one go through to the keeper and get on the following one!
I quote here from Luigi Barzani’s book “The Italians” published in 1964 but even more true in 2015: “There are sultry days in July and August when the cities, emptied by the natives, are almost completely taken over by the swarms of dusty and perspiring foreigners. During the siesta hour, when even the carriage horses sleep under their straw hats, the restless tourists finally slow down. They bivouac everywhere. They recline on park benches, kerbstones, the stone brims of fountains or ancient ruins. They place their heads over their crossed arms on cafe tables for a siesta among the empty bottles, the dirty napkins and the recently purchased souvenirs. They then really look like a tired and bedraggled army after a fatiguing battle, who have occupied a city abandoned by their fleeing enemy. They have conquered. The place is theirs.” He goes on for five pages about us tourists but it is unfortunately all true in mid-summer in Rome when the temperature climbs over the 35.
Today we had three goals…The Church of St Maria del Popolo..a mature and dignified Renaissance lady church at the edge of the bustling Piazza del Popolo. It is finely endowed church which includes the “Chigi” chapel for which Raphael had some direction of the mosaics and, most popularly a tiny Paul chapel which includes Caravaggio’s amazing “Conversion of St Paul” which has entranced me ever since I went to St Paul’s in Warragul and always wanted a statue of Paul fallen from his horse in front of the School! We never quite made it but I have been moved to see a picture in the flesh that has spoken to me so much from Art history. Even the horse in the painting appears to be quite moved with what was happening. I think personally that Caravaggio is the painter for the C21st! I did not take a photo but the picture is easy to find.
We then strolled down the Via del Corso which is a long straight shopping drag looking a mile down the road to the Piazza Venezia and veered off to see the Pantheon, an extraordinary Roman survivor with the most massive columns now also a place of worship. The vast dome which Michelangelo used as a model for St Peter’s is open at the top and there are holes in the marble floor for water to escape when it rains!
We enjoyed a long lunch just outside the tourist trap around the Trevi Fountain (closed for repairs) and finally located the Barberini Palace and garden, well hidden, which now houses Italy’s national art collection. Many outstanding paintings and works are here and especially again Raphael’s “The Fornarina”, apparently the woman who was his muse and had his heart throughout his life, one Marghereta Luti, daughter of a fornari, a bread maker. Also of course, Caravaggio, “Narcissus” and a painting which yearns, by Vouet of the Penitent Magdalene. The Palace itself was the magnificent residence of the family of C17th Pope Urban V111 who did so much to beautify and encourage artistic excellence throughout Rome and its churches, encouraging the architects Maderno, Bernini and Borromini to great deeds of derring-do!
We leave Rome tomorrow regretful not of leaving the heat but of leaving a city which has never been far from the heart of Western civilization, art and architecture.