The Art in Travel: Roma

Each summer, Rome, an ancient city torn between its present and its past, is plagued by heat and tourists. Typical sightseeing endeavors include checking out the Roman Forum, the Jewish ghetto, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon, all of which suggest an appreciation for historic venues, but after multiple visits become a tad boring. Here are some of my favorite places around Rome that hopefully spice up the adventures dictated by your average guidebook.

Romastore 63

Across from the Tiber river is Trastevere, the suburb of Rome where the majority of natives live. Between the riverbanks is a small island, where there is a hospital as well as a hidden synagogue. A bit beyond lies Romastore 63 (Via della Lungaretta, 63 Roma RM) a gem of a perfume shop with its glittered walls and artfully designed window displays. The store remains a house of worship to all things scent: its merchandise includes the complete Robert Piguet and Eau d’Italie collections, as well as perfume sourced from Florence. Not a fragrance person? The sheer aesthetics of the store should be enough of a lure.

Giolitti

Not much more than a stone’s throw from the Pantheon, this gelato parlor is the oldest in Rome, being that it was founded in 1896. Walking in there on my recent trip gave me the impression that the store was engrained in the culture itself, with its very Italian system of ordering (pay first and then wait for your order to come) and the myriad flavors of surprisingly tasty ice cream offered.

The Galleria Borghese

Deep inside the majestic and beautiful Borghese Gardens lies the family’s eponymous museum, a jewel of a palazzo. Despite its eternal status as a classic Roman haunt and a haven for tourists, the collection makes for new experiences on each visit. Having gone once before five years ago, I returned again, still madly in love with the Bernini sculptures (think Apollo Chasing Daphne) that enchant the rooms of the museum’s lower levels. This time, however, I concentrated primarily on the wondrous ceiling frescoes, with their multi-dimensionality and epic scale. Not to my liking was the large body of derivative, sub-par work that while successfully highlighted the true gems of the collection also pointed to a disappointing vision for the museum as focusing on quantity over quality. It seems that the Borghese clan wanted every artwork that came their way: good, bad, or ugly (and there was plenty of that). Abundance in art was a luxury they could afford not to spare, nor did they spare any luxury in the creation of the Villa and its gardens. Solemnly waving “Arrivaderci” on one’s exit from the gardens are the tall Roman pines that line the grounds up toward the museum. Not unlike Monet’s poplars, the pines seem to whisper softly as they first come into view and then slowly fade from sight.

For more excitement, check out Museo Hebraica Roma, the Museum of Roman Jewry located next to the National Synagogue; the Campo del Fiore, or the fruit and vegetable morning market (best to go on Fridays); the Ecstasy of Santa Theresa sculpture by Bernini hidden in a local church; and finally, the MAXXI Modern Art Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid and a sight despised by locals, situated just on the outskirts of Rome.

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