The wonders of Rome told by Alberto Angela
The Eternal City’s art treasures and secrets
“At a time of emergency, our strength lies in our deepest roots. It’s been like fighting a war with all the past generations ideally by our side”. Alberto Angela reflects upon the effects of the health crisis we are going through. And Rome is, undoubtedly, the city symbolizing our 3,000 years of civilization: ancient and contemporary, always worth rediscovering.
Truly passionate about Rome, Alberto Angela - paleontologist, scientific popularizer, writer and journalist - has hosted many TV programs and written a number of books devoted to Rome including: Una giornata nell’antica Roma. Vita quotidiana, segreti, curiosità; Impero. Viaggio nell’impero di Roma seguendo una moneta; Amore e sesso nell’antica Roma; Viaggio nella Cappella Sistina; San Pietro: Segreti e meraviglie in un racconto lungo duemila anni.
The wonders of Rome are so many that a few days are not enough to see them all. But if you have the chance to stay longer, you will enjoy an aesthetic experience that engages both the sight and the soul. And if you go beyond the picture-postcard surface of the city’s churches, domes and buildings, you will discover Rome’s hidden treasures, as Alberto Angela showed the audience of the RAI1 TV program “Le meraviglie. Roma il quarto giorno” (The Wonders. Rome the Fourth Day). For instance, what is beyond the famous Piazza di Spagna steps?
“The Convent of Trinità dei Monti, purchased by King Charles VIII’s French Ambassador, features a magnificent refectory entirely painted by Andrea Pozzo with the trompe l’oeil technique, depicting The Wedding Feast at Cana. Saint Francesco di Paola was painted along the full length of the corridor by using the anamorphosis technique: as the viewer moves, the human figure expands into a landscape representing the Strait of Messina and the Calabrian Coast, which refers to the miracle attributed to the Saint. This corridor was completely whitewashed during one of the many plague and cholera epidemics that occurred in the 17th century, as lime was believed to have sterilization properties. These art treasures resurfaced as soon as the whitewash was removed”.
Looking up to the sky is one of the ways to discover Rome’s secrets: its light, Madonnas painted on old buildings and many other wonders….
“In addition to its many domes, Rome can boast the highest number of obelisks in the world: 13. Not to mention the towers: the oldest one, at Trajan’s Market, is the Tower of the Militia from which Emperor Nero is said to have watched Rome burn to the ground. And also Torre Argentina, Tor Sanguigna, behind Piazza Navona, Torre del Grillo Onofrio, best known because of the film Il marchese del Grillo, played by Alberto Sordi. The Monkey Tower at Campo Marzio is so called because legend has it that the monkey living with the family brought a baby up to the top, with the risk of him falling down the tower but, thanks to the father’s prayers to the Virgin Mary, the baby was brought back home safe and sound”.
As Goethe wrote: “Only in Rome it is possible to understand Rome”. By crossing the Tiber river and its bridges, one realizes how crucial water is to the city.
“With its 11 ancient aqueducts, Rome has over 2,000 fountains, the most famous of which is Bernini’s Trevi Fountain, known for the coin-throwing ritual into it and built by using the city’s wine tax funds. The Fountain of the Four Rivers on Piazza Navona, the Fountain of Moses, the Barcaccia Fountain, the Fountain of the Naiads, the Turtle Fountain, with the turtles added later by Bernini” .
Rome features examples of truly unique architectural styles, such as: “In Villa Torlonia’s Park, along Via Nomentana, Prince Giovanni Torlonia’s Casina delle Civette which, following major restoration works, now houses the Art-Nouveau window museum. Palazzo Zuccari, on Via Gregoriana, designed by the painter by the same name who squandered all his inheritance to build it. The front gate is in the shape of a huge mouth opening onto amazing interiors: very contemporary looking, an avant-garde architectural style filled with light and glass. The building houses a bookshop specializing in art history and which D’Annunzio chose as the home of the leading character of his novel Il Piacere. Palazzo Spada, on Piazza Farnese, features a 16th -century facade and a beautiful courtyard, where one can admire Borromini’s famous false perspective: a colonnade designed so that, seen from the point where the visitor first becomes aware of it, it seems that it opens onto a garden with a maze and a statue at the end. It is actually an optical illusion, a play of perspective.
Rome is truly, as Lord Byron wrote, “ a city of the soul”, or as Alberto Angela writes in his book A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome, “a city that has been constantly expanding for generations. Every emperor added new buildings and monuments to it, constantly changing the city’s face. At times, instead, its face changed due to the very frequent fires. Rome’s constant transformation continued for centuries, making it a beautiful open-air art and architecture museum”.
“That is why, especially in this recovery period, it is important to support our heritage, the fruit of the genius of all the generations that preceded us and left us with monuments and masterworks of art, and with many values which are at the core of our culture”. Alberto Angela told us about his latest project “Cleopatra, donna e regina”(Cleopatra, Woman and Queen), the first podcast in 12 episodes available on Audible from June 8: “No historical figure could be more adaptable to the use of such a modern and versatile tool as podcast. I was able to experiment with a new language to communicate culture and history”.