From the Pantheon to Piazza Navona, a walk in Rome

August 29, 2017

They say, “All roads lead to Rome.” Once in Italy, you will agree with that statement. You could spend a year in the city of the Conquerors of the Mediterranean Sea and never see it all. I think I have spent about that much time there over the last several years. I always go back for more.

Rome is an open-air museum where you need your walking shoes to see the most magnificent art and architecture. One path I enjoy traversing, one that the Hop on-Hop off Buses cannot accommodate, is in the heart of the city. Begin at or near the ancient structure often called “The Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World,” the Pantheon.

The magnificent architecture of the Pantheon was designed by an unknown genius and constructed between A.D. 118 to 125. It was built over the ruins of the original Pantheon of Marcus Agrippa. The Catholic Church preserved the Pantheon after destroying the shrines to the Roman Gods and replacing them with Christian saints. Within the new church are buried the likes of Italian kings and the brilliant painter, Raphael.

The sheer size of the columns will stop you in your tracks, day or night.

Upon entering the oversized, double doors the wonder of harmony in design competes with the stream of light entering through the oculus at the center of the dome.

The splendor of this structure cannot be overemphasized.

This remarkable building is open to the public at no cost. The Fountain of the Pantheon cools the piazza while bars surround it.

Don’t miss it.

Adjacent to the Pantheon is the Church of Maria Sopra Minerva. Admire the fanciful Bernini sculpture of the elephant carrying an obelisk on its back before entering the church itself.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was constructed as were most Christian Churches over pagan places of worship. This spot held a temple dedicated to the Egyptian Goddess, Isis, a maternal god of life and rebirth. Now it is known for its hallowed atmosphere, and traditional, gothic construction, complete with a plethora of intersecting arches.

The brilliantly colored Renaissance frescos by Filipino Lippi,

And Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of Cristo della Minerva, or Christ the Redeemer, which stands modestly next to the pulpit are, for me, the highlights of this experience.

Note:  The Christians at some point added a large, gold leaf for propriety. Bless their hearts.

You could spend hours wandering in both churches and the piazze, squares. Stop for a refreshing drink or gelato and take in your surroundings before continuing your walk to another spectacular locale away from the Hop on-Hop Off bus route, Piazza Navona.

At the very center of Piazza Navona proudly stands the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini. Each great river (the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio De La Plata) captures the character of its people. Travelers and locals alike flock to this central fountain. Bernini’s genius shines through here as elsewhere in the City of Rome.

Facing the Fountain of the Four Rivers is the Baroque Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.  Bernini’s arch rival, Borromini, designed the façade. Some tour guides will tell you that the people portrayed on Bernini’s fountain all look away from the church because of the genius of Bernini and his rivalry with Borromini. Yet, the Church began construction two years after the construction of the fountain. What do you think is the truth here?

Piazza Navona was the original location of the Stadium of Domitian, built in the 1st Century A.D. and was used as an arena for sports and festivals. There possibly were even flotillas with warring fleets in this flooded arena which was greater in size than the Colosseum. During the Renaissance and beyond it became a gathering place of the locals.

Two other fountains north and south of Bernini’s masterpiece also depict the talent of other sculptors. Giacomo della Porta created the Fontana del Moro, or Fountain of the Moor (which was embellished by the addition of a Moor with Dolphins by Bernini)

as well as the Fountain of Neptune (also later embellished with a Neptune statue by Antonio Della Bitta).

More detail.

These fountains are alone worth the walk. However, this gathering place of the past is now a circus of activity today. You will see fledgling artists hawking their wares, musicians busking for tips and street artists like the one below performing for you.

Expensive restaurants encircle this rectangular piazza. They are fantastic for food, wine and people-watching. But be prepared to pay 5-star prices for the ambiance.

There are so many other locations you could add to this walk. The market is close by. The Spanish Steps are not really that far. Could I suggest you take this advice? When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Piano, piano. Take it slowly, with an abundance of patience while living in the moment. You can see the Spanish Steps another time. The market usually closes by 1pm. Do it another day. Grab an Aperol Spritz and enjoy being among the people of Rome.  If you do not see it all (which you won’t), it just means that Rome, the Eternal City, will call you home to her once again.

In the meantime, enjoy the sweet life, la dolce vita. Let me know how I can help.

Ciao for now.

Ciao for now!

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