Friday, February 29, 2008

Rome 3 (West), where the best squares and magnificent views are to be had

If you ask me where my favorite place in Rome is, it would have to be the western part. No doubt. Of course, I loved the ruins in the south but in this area there is not a single café terrace to sit back, relax, and watch the world go by. Well what can I do, I am a fervent disciple of these café terraces. I just love them! I love it more when they are located in raging and bustling squares. Oh, just fun!
Okay, I am not bashful to put this up and I hope this picture won’t classify my blog as porn, lol. At any rate there seems to be a massive obsession in Italy about the male’s testicles? The statues are not enough, they have to mass print and produce them on boxer shorts, and mind you, even on kitchen aprons too. I was torn at the idea of buying this as a souvenir for the Dutchman but he’ll probably come back to me and say he isn’t macho and I’m just wasting my money?
Many travel books and forums often harp about them as THE must-be-avoided-places aka THE tourist traps, because a few meters away on the corner of the street, food and drinks will be sold at half the price on the menu. Okay, fine. We all know that the guest here pays for the prime location where 50% of the value of the tab goes to the ambience, seriously. I guess I am one of those stupid tourists that has a weak spot for these. I fall for these tourist traps because I literally search for a table to sit in these places.

Now, with that said, in this entry we will be talking a lot about beautiful and lively piazzas, plazas, squares, or in Dutch, plein(en). All of them are unique and matchless, but of course I have my own favorite. In the later part, we will also touch base on the magnificent views of Rome from the top!

Piazza Campo di Fiori (in English it means ‘field of flowers’)


Campo di Fiori with the statue of the heretical monk, Giordano Bruno who was gagged, tied naked to a pole, and burned at stake in this square in Feb 1600. This is what happens to those who go against the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.
This piazza is quite different from the customary city squares in Rome because this particular square hosts a market daily except on Sundays. On Sunday, the best place to go to is the Porta Portese (flea) market at the back of Trastevere, which I didn’t get to visit because I was somewhere else on a Sunday morning – attending 2 masses (ha-ha, I know quite a feat, unbelievable!), but I will talk about this on my Rome (East) entry.


An old woman checking out the vegetables and stacks of herbs!


A stall selling a variety of produce. And what is that on the basket? Purple witlof? Trevigiano? (what is this in English?)


Lemons in a basket, free tasting with the vendors and pomodori secchi (sun dried tomatoes)

Cocktail Bar Campo de Fiori 38 - a nice cafe restaurant in the sidelines of the piazza with views to the market.


Markets always excite me. I don’t know why? Maybe it’s the colours, the smell, the people, or perhaps because of the high energy the place vibrates. I can’t point a finger at this really but every time I am in a busy market, it always thrills me like I am back as a little girl having her first Barbie doll. There’s just something marvelous about markets and just being there.

As well as I am far from being a connoisseur, although I’d like to think I am, ha-ha, but I did my usual mandatory market inspection. I am a curious cat and curious cats always get their prize. I bought some herbs mix for pasta – arrabiata, puttanesca, and carbonara (the Dutchman loves his pasta), and also pomodori secchi, sun dried tomatoes, great for salads.

Piazza Navona (just a few blocks from Campo di Fiori)

Piazza Navona was once a horse racing track that’s why it’s laid out in a very peculiar rectangular-oblong shape. It’s one of the beautiful and bouncing piazzas in Rome with the typical Mediterranean earth toned buildings flanking on the sides. The imposing Sant’ Agnese in Agone church in the middle that looks like a state building or a palace can’t also be missed.

There are 2 important fountains in this piazza and both were designed by Bernini, the Fiumi and Moro fountains. I like the Moro more than the Fiumi, but as mentioned in my first entry of Rome (North), my favorite fountain in Rome, which also is a Bernini work, is the Barcaccia fountain in Piazza di Spagna by the Spanish Steps.


Piazza Navona on a bright beautiful sunny day with many artists displaying their wares for sale. On the next foto is Fiumi fountain.

Me in the center of the piazza and that is the Moro fountain, another Bernini creation.

What I also love about Piazza Navona are the paintings for sale scattered randomly in the square. The whole display exudes not only a sublime and very artistic tempting ambiance, but also of life. The colors of the paintings brought life to Piazza Navona. Just fabulous.

I am obviously bitten by the place, so naturally I went searching for a café to sit down. Well, I am here to report that in Piazza Navona, I had one expensive ordinary glass of white wine. €8, for an ordinary glass of white wine.


Piazza della Rotunda (my favorite)

A few blocks away from Piazza Navona you can find another treasure hidden in the maze of dark cobble stoned alleys edged with tall old grubby looking buildings but oozing a distinct esthetic charming aura, the Piazza della Rotunda – my favorite piazza in all of Rome!


Piazza della Rotunda with the obelisk fountain and the Pantheon -from Greek meaning ‘Temple of all the gods’ was built in the 1st century by Hadrianus, and said that earlier structure was built by Agrippa in 27-30 B.C. which was later destroyed in 80 A.D.

What makes this piazza special? (I just found out today that this is also Dutch mother’s favorite piazza in Roma.)

Well, firstly, there’s the celebrated and impressive Pantheon that serves as the focal point of the place. Secondly, you have the pretty, trendy, and inviting café terraces bordering around the periphery of the piazza. Thirdly, it is a small square and because this is a popular area, the place is visited by so many people that it generates a lot of activity, a lot of spirit, which I like.

The Pantheon which means, ‘to every god’ is a Roman temple built in 126 A.D. upon orders by Marcus Agrippa.

The facade of the imposing Pantheon and the interior of this magnificent dome structure.

Caprese in Piazza della Rotunda - the salt & pepper and the extra virgin olive oil have yet to arrive, so while waiting, I am obligated to take this foto ;-)

I havent had lunch so grabbed the best seat in the piazza, right in front of the Pantheon and ordered caprese and some Italian dry white wine. Lovely day, lovely place, lovely food, it was just lovely to sit there for a while.

Castel Sant'Angelo (great views to Rome and Tiber)

For the finale, another great place to sit back, relax, throw away your cares, and most importantly, have awesome breathtaking views of Rome, and this is the cherry topping for this entry by the way, is the circular shaped Castel Sant’ Angelo across the Tiber River (this castle is very near to the Vatican City, which will have its own entry later).


Castel Sant’ Angelo was built in 130 A.D. by Hadrianus and was finished by Antoninus Pius in 139 A.D. The castle with the beautiful bridge sits on the western part of Rome along Tevere. On the topmost of the castle is the bronze statue of Michael the archangel.

Left foto is St. Paul's Loggia. Middle foto, Alexander’s staircase built through the midway section of the castle acts a drawbridge which can be removed when there are attackers. Right foto is the bronze statue of Arcangel Michael.


Canonballs in the inner courtyard of the castle. And a view down to the most beautiful bridge in Rome. When I was there, there was a movie crew filming at the foot of the bridge.

This castle hide a very rich and tumultuous past, a past that made this ancient edifice versatile just like the Colosseum. It evolved throughout the times, centuries, with every occupant, serving the purpose brought down upon her. Here are her main historical highlights: housed Hadrianus’ mausoleum, was once part of the Aurelian wall, served as fortress and prison base during the Middle Ages, and was also a residence of the pope for a time.

So much history the walls of this castle speaks! Yes it does, that is if you listen carefully, and only to those, I believe, who chooses to listen too ;-)


View down to the Vittorio Emmanuel Bridge and the Tiber River. Next foto is the skyline of Rome.


Castel Sant’ Angelo, now a monument flies the Italian flag is facing the Tevere (Tiber River) and the epicenter of Rome.

More pictures can be found here: Rome (West), Italy

The entrance fee to the castle is €7. The access hall is an interesting one as when you enter it from the foyer, you are lead and literally thrown into a narrow winding path with stone-clad walls that leads upwards to Alexander’s stairs, a wooden staircase, more like a ramp, that connects midway to the upper part of the castle, and which could be removed when there is an invasion making it impossible for attackers to reach the top. Upon reaching the upper part of this wooden ramp, you get out to an inner courtyard where from there you can step outside into the castle’s open-air corridors that offers fantastic rooftop views of the city.

There is also a bar on top of the castle which is quite romantic. In some of the quarters there are exhibitions going on – of paintings, of sculptures, of different media art such as film and sound compositions.

One can spend hours here, just sitting on the ramparts watching the city. Best time to come here is at dusk when the blue skies metamorphose into a fiery red, orange, and yellow mixture and a few minutes later slowly turning into midnight black with tiny dots of lights speckled across the evening skyline. They say Rome is the eternal city but I see her as a clever, experienced, feisty, resistant, and beautiful woman that aged gracefully and regally.


Travel Period: February 2008
Destination: Rome, Italy

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