Monday, January 20, 2014

Roam around Rome-Part III; "Hidden Rome;" inside the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere

An "insiders" view of Rome from its historic neighborhoods to ancient ruins

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

ROME, Italy--The Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and the Plaza Navona are all at the top of the list of tourist attractions for anyone visiting "the Eternal City." Beneath their magnificent facades lie centuries of history and hidden treasures, some visible to the naked eye, others only revealed by exploring deep beneath the surface of Rome's cobbled streets.

Such was the experience of an Educational Tour 2013 organized and sponsored by Promoroma, the special Agency of the Chamber of Commere of Rome, and conducted by their consultants, Roam around Rome, vacations made to measure.  Long walks through Rome's labyrinth of streets and alleyways revealed its rich tapestry of history and culture. Tour guides Pier Paolo Meschini and Antonio Rinaldini expertly peeled away layers of history to expose the truth behind legends and the facts behind many widely accepted truths.

The Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinita dei Monti), the widest staircase in all of Europe. was actually built with French money. The diplomat Etienne Gueffier bequethed funds in 1723-1725 to build the steps on the slope between the Spanish Embassy and the Trinita dei Monti church, which was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France and the Holy See in the Palazzo Monaldeschi below. If you look carefully at the scultural details, you'll see the well-known Fleur-de-Lys, symbol of the French Bourbon court.

Cameras and photography were not allowed at our next stop, but it best illustrated the fact of an historic facade concealing a vital part of Roman history, which was only revealed upon excavation beneath superficial ground.

After the Palazzo Valentini was commissioned to be built in 1585 by then Cardinal Michele Bonelli, a nephew of Pope Pius V, the building was later partially demolished and rebuilt. During the course of all of these restructurings, a treasure was discovered; the archeological remains of adjoining ancient Roman houses.  A team of historians, archaeologists and architects, all working for the Roman Provincial Administration researched and then restored the excavations, which are now on public display. Walking through the darkened passageways and peering through the glass floor of the "Domus Romane," one can see the grandeur of Roman life in the remains of the home's subterranean chambers.  The house was divided between the main living area, the gardens and the servants quarters. Underground passageways led to the famed "roman baths" which were a lbyrinth of steam rooms, fueled by underground geysers and streams, large bathing areas with cabanas and lounges, game rooms, replete with the remnants of ancient game pieces and gaming boards and private chambers where whispered plots and assignations took place. The darkened spaces all came vividly to life through the stories narrated by the guides. Elaborate inlaid tile floors and wall carvings gave a clear indication of the grandious surroundings that once gleamed brightly so many thousands of years ago. Roman life was luxurious and sophisticated.  Every member of the Roman elite lived like Donald Trump!  The nobility of the time enjoyed pleasures, not unlike those taken for granted today; hot and cold running water, indoor "plumbing, sumptuous baths rivaling anything made by Kohler, walls lined with beautiful artwork, kitchens that turned out lavish gourmet meals and myriad entertainments provided by their slaves. Colorful drawings and friezes along the walls revealed a continuous story line that was viewed at leisure by frequenters of the baths. They could be looked upon as the first "movies."

The Trastevere, in the heart of the city, is the home of poets and artisans. It now is the epicenter of the city's nightlife,with restaurants, cafes and quirky boutiques. The area has a dcidedly Bohemian air, not unlike New York's Greenwich Village. A favored destination for night-lifers because of its bars and clubs, it is also the locale for many important monuments from the past, including the Monte dei Cocci, an articial mound dating back to the ancient Romans, who used to dump their broken pieces of pottery onto a gathering pile of earthenware that now looks like a hill.

Dominating the main square in the Trastevere is the ornate church, the Basilica of Our Lady, Santa Maria. The inscription on the episcopal throne states that it is the first church dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. That fact remains in dispute, but what is indisputable is that it is the oldest Christian church in the city,

The Tiber River is the main watercourse of the city of Rome, and its demarcation line. Numerous famous bridges traverse its rushing waters and divide the city into its many historic districts. Among the most fabled is the Jewish Ghetto. Established first by Pope Paul IV between 1555 and 1559, it cramped several thousand people behind its walls, contributing to the oppression of the Jews during the Italian Renaissance. Later, in 1492, it became a refuge for Jews who emmigrated by the thousands to escape torture and execution during the reigh of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. It was Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) who enlarged the ghetto and defined its current boundary along the banks of the Tiber River.

A grim reminder of the Holocaust is embodied in a plaque on the doorway of an apartment building at the mouth of the ghetto, which marks the capture and subsequent liquidation of scores of children who were wrested from the ghetto and hauled away to the concentration camps.

Today, the Jewish Ghetto is a lively place, filled with street vendors, sidewalk musicians, vibrant cafes and restaurants renowned for their fusion of Italian and Jewish cuisine. The sights, sounds and smells of the Jewish Ghetto tantalize and delight, inviting endless exploration and degustation. An afternoon lunch that lasted for nearly three hours, caused our group to miss out on visiting a whole list of  historic sites on our itinerary. Nontheless, the lunch, with its fusion of Jewish and home-style Italian specialties, was one of the most memorable in recent memory. The gustatory rewards made up for the lapse in scheduling. What better way to experience the history and culture of a place than by imbibing its wine and cuisine!
 The famed Spanish Steps with the Trinita del Monti church at the top of the stairs
 At the ruins of Ancient Rome

 A denizen of the bridge at the Tiber River
 Insdide the Jewish Ghetto




The Tiber River and one of its many bridges

 African street merchants at the gateway to the Jewish Ghetto
 The faces of the Trastevere

 A wedding at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

The wedding gets underway at Basilica di Santa Maria

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Roam around Rome ll-the city of "La Dolce Vita" (The Sweet Life) where the word "romance" was born

Rome: the city of love, immortalized in film, song and art

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

ROME--There is no more powerful romantic image in the annals of film history than a single scene in the romantic drama "La Dolce Vita" by director and writer Federico Fellini. In the film, the sexually charged Swedish-American actress Sylvia (played by a ravishing Anita Ekberg), seduces a star-hungry Italian journalist Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) by leading him through the back alleys of Rome after a wild orgiastic party, only to coax him into wading and cavorting with her in the Trevi Fountain in the wee hours just before dawn. (In real life, according to the producers, the scene took a week to film in the dead of winter when the water was ice cold. Mastroianni reluctantly consented to film the scene only after Fellini provided him with a wet suit to wear under his suit.  Ekberg, although a superstar in both Europe and America, bore no complaint and stayed in the water for hours during the filming, clad only in her evening gown.)  It is a captivating and enduring image of love carried forth with reckless abandon and it won the film critical acclaim worldwide, garnering millions in theatrical tickets sales in the U.S.-perhaps the most widely viewed foreign film of its time, and garnering four Oscar nominations. It ultimately won  the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for a Black and White Film at the 34th Academy Awards in 1962.

The Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) is a focal point of Roam around Rome, vacations made to measure, conducted by founders Pier Paolo Meschini and Antonio Rinaldini. The affable tour guides use their combined love for their native city and their extensive insider knowledge of the personal "stories behind the monuments" that make theirs one of the most intimate and memorable travel experiences, elevating the act of sightseeing to a new, and heightened level. Roam around Rome are consultants to Promoroma, a special agency of the Chamber of Commere of Rome, organizers and sponsors of the Educational Tour of Rome 2013.

The story behind the Trevi Fountain is rife with myth and fact that reads as such. Designed by the Roman architect Nicola Salvi, the fountain took more than 30 years to construct. In fact, Salvi died before its completion and it was left to the designer Giuseppe Pannini to finish the fountain in 1762, making some alterations to the orginal design, but keeping its central themes; a mixture of classical and allegorical figures and combinations of a palatial facade with what appeared to be natural rock formationscomplete with fissures gushing forth water like natural waterfalls and geysers. It is a dramatic piece which, ironically, seems to grow organically from an attached apartment building. It is a rather curius, yet dramatic juxtaposition in the heart of this bustling city.  Legend has it that a tourist must throw coins n the fountain to ensure a return trip to Rome.

The Trevi Fountain and its legend were the also the inspiration for the 1954 Academy Award-winning romantic comedy film "Three Coins in The Fountain."  The film won two Academy Awards at the 27th Academy Awards in 1955 for Best Cinematography and Best Song (Three Coins in the Fountain,  and was nominated for Best Picture.

This Baroque inspired fantasy that is Trevi Fountain is massive, both in physical size and design and structural scope. When one visually compares it to its locale, at the foot of a busy intersection of streets filled with designer shops and cafes and the Piazza di Trevi, a neighborhood square, it appears almost too large for the space it occupies!

This is but one of the visual contradictions among the historic treasures to be explored in the course of a day with Roam around Rome. The Trevi Fountain and its romantic history is but one of the behind-the-scenes gems revealed by Pier Paolo Meschini and Antonio Rinaldini in a delightful afternoon of exploring Rome on foot, perhaps the best way to take in the myriad sights and sounds of this Eternal City.
 At the Trevi Fountain

 Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg cavort in the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita

 Vatican City as seen from Caffarelli Terrace
Below: On the famed Spanish Steps