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  • Hidden Rome: Secrets of the City

    Posted on May 6th, 2009 admin No comments

    Any guidebook will help you navigate the city’s major sights, but there are a few hidden treasures that only those who live in Rome are privy to…

    Rome Through a Keyhole

    Parco Degli Aranci - Roma High up on the Aventine hill, just a minute’s walk from the beautiful Parco Degli Aranci, which features one of the most breathtaking views of Rome (see above), the keyhole can be difficult to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There is an ordinary-looking green door at the top of the hill -  if you go during high tourist season there are bound to be some tourists hanging around – and the keyhole itself is rather small, but you’ll get a perfectly-framed, unobstructed view of the cupola, or dome, of St. Peter’s basilica. For obvious reasons, the view is more impressive on clear days.

    Baccalà near Campo di Fiori

    baccala frittoAny visitor to Rome will discover early on that the local cuisine is exceptional. Pasta and pizza never disappoint, but there is a whole range of uniquely Roman dishes that you may not come across elsewhere. Among them is baccalà, a kind of salted cod that is covered in batter and deep-fried. Originally a Judeo-Roman dish, baccalà may sound like your average fish from a fish and chip shop, but the taste is a world apart. For the best baccalà in Rome, try Filetti di Baccalà near Campo di Fiori (Via dei Giubbonari). The fish always tastes fresh and the batter is crisped to perfection. For just 4.50 euros you can by one filetto (a fillet) to take away. They come steaming hot and wrapped in a paper cone just like at a traditional English fish and chip shop.

    The Protestant Cemetery

    A cemetery may be an unconventional place to voluntarily spend an afternoon, but the Protestant (or, more accurately, Pyramid of Cestius, Behind Keats' GraveProtestant Cemetery - Romenon-Catholic) cemetery in Rome is a surprisingly pleasant spot to escape from the noise and chaos of the city for a couple of hours. Backing onto the Pyramid of Cestius, the cemetery is the resting place of a number of notable foreign writers and artists, including John Keats, Percy Byshe Shelly (both of whom died in Italy) and the Beat poet Gregory Corso. It’s fascinating to walk around and read the numerous gravestones, many with famous names and a few with touching epitaphs, but primarily it’s just a nice peaceful place to relax or read a book when the sun’s shining and you’re unlikely to see many people around.

    Caravaggio in Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi

    caravaggioRome may have a number of notable art galleries, but the city’s best feature is its wealth of churches that is unrivalled by any other city. Many of the most unobtrusive-looking churches house paintings and frescoes from the great masters. The popular Galleria Borghese may have the largest number of Caravaggios in Rome, but what many visitors to the city don’t know is that the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi near the Pantheon houses a series of his paintings, located in the fifth chapel on the left, that tell the story of St. Matthew: “Vocazione”, “Il Martirio” and “San Matteo e l’angelo.” The church is currently being restored so the entire facade is covered in scaffolding, making it easy to miss in the big piazza. If it’s high-season, it is a good idea to go early in the morning because there may be a queue at the entrance.

    Gregorian Chant at Sant’Anselmo

    Gregorian Chant at Sant'Anselmo

    The Church of Sant’Anselmo All’Aventino in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta is attached to a monastery and college. Visible from most of Aventino and from across the river in Trastevere, it is worth a visit for the spectacular view of the city from the atrium and the impressive architecture. Every evening at 7.15 the monks gather in the church to perform a ritual Gregorian chant. Anyone can observe, but for the most part the audience consists of nuns and other clerics, some of whom join in with the chanting. The performance lasts about 45 minutes but there’s no obligation to stay to the end. A gift shop on the premises  sells products, ranging from beer to candles, produced by monks.

    Coffee at Sant’Eustachio

    caffe Sant'Eustachio - Roma

    Italian coffee is legendary worldwide, but to those in the know there are a select few brands that stand out from the rest. Perhaps the most prestigious of these is Sant’Eustachio coffee. More expensive than its famous counterpart, Tazza d’Oro, the coffee sold here is arguably among the best in the world. The coffee-makers are shielded by screens so that you can’t observe the baristas carry out the top-secret process, enhancing the impression of prestige. If you prefer your coffee bitter be sure to ask for it “non zuccherato” (without sugar) because the sugar tends to be pre-blended with the coffee. Their frappé al caffé, perfect on hot summer days, is the closest you’ll come to a frappuccino in Rome and definitely superior to the American version.

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