The Centre: make an early...
The Centre: make an early start with breakfast on Piazza del Popolo at a veritable Roman´ institution, meeting-place of the city´s brighter spirits, the Café Rosati (and come back for an evening aperitif). Its terrace is a perfect vantage point of admiring the gracefully curving piazza as an exemplary piece of open-air urban theater, designed in 1816 by Giusseppe Valadier.
On the north side, the austere Santa María del Popolo is important for Raphael´s Chigi Chapel, exquisite frescoes by Pinturicchio and, above all, two profoundly disturbing early 17th century paintings by Caravaggio, the Conversation of St. paul and Crucifixion of St. Peter, in the Cerasi Chapel left of the choir.
Next to the curch, an arched gateway marks what was the entrance to ancient Rome along the Via Flaminia, leading from Rimini on the Adriatic Coast.
The obelisk in the centre, datin from Egyp of Ramses II, was brounght here from the Circus Maximus and re-erected by Pope Sixtus V in 1589. Rounding off the south side are the twin Baroque churches, Santa Maria del Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesano, completed by the 17th century masters, Gianlorenzo Bernini and Carlo Fontana.
Above the piazza to the east, the Pincio gardens offer a magical view of the city, specially at sunset. The Pincio promenade lined with pine tree and open.air restaurants takes you past the Villa Medici , home of french artist visiting on national scolarships, to the 16th century French church, Trinitá dei Monti.
Its twin belfries loom over the Spanish Steps , eternal hangout of guitar playing youths, lovers and pedlars of trinkets and flowers. The pleasant daze induced on the three-tiered travertine staircase, festooned in spring with pink azaleas. The house at the bottom of the steps has been preserved as a museum. Named after a palace used as Spanish Embassy, the steps and the Piazza di Spagna are the heart of the city´s mostfashionable shopping area, leading over to the Via del Corso.
The piazza´s 17th century boatshaped marble fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia , is by the great Bernini´s father, The venerable Babington´s Tea Rooms are a relic of the days when Romans called the piazza the “english ghetto”.
More quintessenttially Roman, on nearby Via Condotti, is the city´s oldest coffee house, the 18th century Caffe Greco , popular, as you´ll see from pictures, busts and autographs, with Goethe, Byron, Baudelaire, Liszt, Gogol and Fellini.
The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) : most people are content just to toss in a coin over their shoulders, causing daily fights between street urchings and the municipality for the considerable revenues in high season.
On one of the seven hills of ancient Rome, is the Palazzo del Quirinale , once residence to Popes fleeing the malarial swamps of the Vatican down by the Tiber, housed of King of Italy after 1870, and is now the presidential palace.
You couldn´t miss Piazza Venezia is a fine example of severe but elegant early renaissance architecture, now containinga museum of medieval and renaissance arms, furniture an sculpture. Mussolini had his office there.
The church of the Gesú , severe and relatively discreet on its own square west of the Piazza Venezia, was a major element in the Jesuits Counter Reformation campaing. Begun as their roman headquarters in 1568, its open ground plan was the model for the congregational churches that were to regain popular support from the protestant. Perhaps, inevitabily, the church´s richest, almost overwhelming ornament is the altar of St. Ignatius Loyola , covering the tomb of the Jesuits founderwitna a profution of lapiz lazuli.
The Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda) is the best preserved monument of ancient Rome and rivals the Colosseum in its combination of quiet elegance and sheer massive power.
Pause now at a café in that serenest of city squares, the Piazza Navona . Nowhere in Rome is the spectacle of Italian street life more pleasantly indulged, thanks to an inspired collaboration of Romans genius across the ages. In the centre, Bernini´s Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Fiume) celebrates the great rivers of the Americas (Rio de la Plata), Europe (Danube), Asia (Ganges), and Africa (Nile).
The boisterous fruit and vegetable market on the Campo di Fiori gives way in the afternoons to political meetings, admonished by the statue of philosopher Giordano Bruno.
Only with a special appointment can you visit the glorious Palazzo Farnese , built by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Michelangelo and Giacomo Della Porta, now the french Embassy.
Narrow streets south-east of the Campo di Fiori take you to Jewish Ghetto near the ruins of the ancient Roman Theater of Marcellus, architectural model for the Colosseum.