Everyone knows that the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are both in Rome. These iconic landmarks are crowded every day and the selfie sticks are everywhere. The good news is that there are many other places to visit in Rome, some of which are open only once a month or once a year. These are the top places to visit in the Eternal City after you’ve exhausted the long lines.
If you think back to your college survey class, you might recall that there are two types of St. Peter’s Basilicas located on Vatican Hill. The Renaissance-inspired the creation of New St. Peter’s. It was initiated by Pope Julius II. Emperor Constantine, in the Fourth Century, commissioned the demolition of Old St. Peter’s to make way for the construction of the new basilica. It is situated on the original site of St. Peter’s grave, the “Trophy of Gaius,” and it lies within an ancient Roman cemetery. Constantine purchased all the burial rights and his builders removed the roofs from the family mausolea, then filled them with rubble. Excavations revealed the sealed tombs as they were 1,700 years ago in the 1930s and 1940s. Send an email to the Excavations Office if you are going to Rome immediately after you have booked your hotel and bought your plane tickets. It may take several months for them to respond.
Art lovers gather daily at the Farnese Palace’s front door hoping to see Annibale Carracci’s iconic frescoes. The current residence of the French Embassy is difficult to find. Tickets must be booked in advance and English tours are not available. However, it’s possible to take an Italian or French tour. Why would you bother to go to such a lot of trouble just for one palace? The answer is simple. The Farnese family was titans of the Renaissance. Michelangelo designed their new palace on Via Julia and advised them on how to purchase the best Antiquity finds. While the Farnese Hercules and Farnese Atlas are no longer displayed on the palace’s walls, their incredible collection is now located in Naples. Annibale Caracci is often ignored by art historians to allow them to spend more time on Caravaggio. However, the Bolognese artist was just the same. The palace’s two rooms are now illuminated by stunning frescoes that have been restored. Its architecture is also quite amazing.
Guido Reni is another name you won’t hear as often as in the 17th century. Reni was an Annibale Caracci pupil. He had his gambling addiction problems, but he was eventually commissioned to paint the ceiling for the Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s casino. This small entertainment pavilion is located in his new Palace on Monte Cavallo. The giant representation of Aurora, the goddess that dawns, leading Apollo, god of the sun across the sky, illustrated that a new day was upon us in Rome. It was not to be, as two families, the Pallavicinis and the Rospigliosi, became new owners. Visitors can go inside the building to view what Mark Twain called the depictions of the most beautiful Roman women on any of the eleven days of the calendar year. Email ahead to request permission to view the frescos of father Orazio or Artemisia Gentileschi, which are located in a nearby building.
Italy does not have the death penalty. However, public executions were performed in the middle city when the Pope ruled Rome. People would wait for the executioner (one family was involved) and cross the Tiber River bridge to follow him. They knew he was going to work. The Church showed compassion for the condemned prisoners and built a church southwest of the Forum for a confraternity that was dedicated to providing proper burials. Brothers would comfort the condemned, making them feel at ease, forgiving their guilt if they were guilty, and reminding them that John the Baptist was also executed unjustly if they were innocent. You can make arrangements to visit the oratory ahead of time, but it is currently open only one day per year.
The Via Veneto is a well-known street. However, few realize that these buildings were once part of the country villa of Ludovisi, the prominent patron of Caravaggio. It can be difficult to live in Italy as a wealthy family. The Ludovisi sold their villa’s grounds in the 19th century, leaving behind their small casino and their garden pavilion. This strange area was elevated above the busy streets of Rome. Two treasures are found inside: the stunning Aurora by Guercino and the one ceiling painting of Caravaggio that illustrates the Cardinal del Monte’s love for alchemy. The casino is still owned by the Boncampagni–Ludovisi Family. If you’re lucky, Prince Ludovisi’s American wife, along with her small white dog, will greet you and warmly welcome you to her home. To gain access, you will need to send a request by fax. If you are lucky, you might get a mysterious response that says: Come on Friday at 11:00 AM at the gates. You’ll need to bring cash; the cost is EUR20. Only Guercino and Caravaggio fans who are truly committed to the art of Caravaggio can apply.