Day 4 Roma - The Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese Gardens, Santa Maria degli Angeli & Santa Maria Maggiore

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April 24th 2015
Published: April 26th 2015
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This morning our first stop was Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, the Spanish Steps. There are 135 steps that climb the steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top. Once again we had the benefit of an early start and found the steps to be relatively deserted before 9.00am in the morning. I have to say that the steps were much bigger than I remembered them and at the moment they are adorned with potted azaleas and look fabulous. An (Italian?) woman asked me to take her photo and she said that she had never seen the steps with flowering plants on them before.

We climbed to the top and then returned to the bottom of the steps before making our way up the Pincian Hill again, but this time by way of one of the nearby streets that delivered us to the southern entrance to the gardens of the Villa Borghese. The gardens form the third largest public park in Rome and cover 80 hectares in the naturalistic English style and include a number of buildings, museums and landscape features including the 19th century 'Temple of Aesculapius'.

It was another beautiful day in Rome and it was lovely to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the gardens. The Piazza Napoleone I provided us with yet another panoramic overview of the city of Rome. On our last visit to Rome we don't remember being taken to any of the elevated locations that we have explored this time so it has given us a completely different perspective of the city.

We hadn't pre-purchased tickets to the Galleria Borghese housed in the Villa Borghese so we weren't able to visit the artworks that are housed there. A sign indicated that pre-sale tickets are currently booked out until the 4th of May! After a quick circuit of the outside of the villa, we bought our lunch at a sandwich truck and enjoyed our paninis in the park.

From the gardens we ventured back down into the city where we stumbled upon the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (The Basilica of St Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs). We entered from the back via Roman ruins that house some interpretative boards that explain that a Christian church was built inside the ruins of the fridgidarium (cold water) Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Republica. Until the middle of the 16th century the ruins dominated the Quirinal Hill. One of Michelangelo's last great works, between 1563 and 1564, was to adapt a section of the remaining structure to enclose a church. An absolutely incredible example of taking a ruin and making it into something useful and beautiful without completely erasing the site's history.

Nerd alert! We were particularly enthralled by the meridian line built at the beginning of the eighteenth century at the behest of Pope Clement XI who commissioned the astronomer, mathematician, archaeologist, historian and philosopher Francesco Bianchini to incorporate it within the basilica. Completed in 1702, the object made it possible to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation of the calendar and to predict Easter exactly. It also meant that Rome had a meridian line as important as the one Giovanni Domenico Cassini had recently built in Bologna's cathedral, San Petronio!! It pre-dates the gnomon of Saint-Sulpice in the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris (Dan Brown's 'Rose Line' in The DaVinci Code) by several decades.

Our next stop was the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore which became a Palace of the Popes after it was determined that the the Lateran Palace was no longer acceptable and before the papal residence was moved to the Palace of the Vatican in Vatican City. The present church was built over the pagan temple of Cybele and dates from the time of Pope Sixtus III in the fifth century. The strange thing about this church was that it seemed a bit back to front. It looked much more imposing from the back with numerous flights of white steps sweeping down behind it. The front entrance was quite unassuming in comparison.

We were going to return to the hotel via the Giardini del Quirinale, but it turns out that they are not open to the public. As fortune would have it, another tourist attempted to go into the gardens just ahead of us so we didn't have to embarrass ourselves by being turned away - we just sort of slunk away after seeing that she was being told to go away!

Footsore and thirsty we thought it high time to stop for gelato and a drink. We secured a table at a cafe advertising itself as a Gelateria. We were given a menu which indicated that we could not have gelato at a table, it was for take-away only. Go figure. Then we noticed that we couldn't just have a drink, we were obliged to order food if we were seated at a table AND there was a €3.00/head service charge. We got up and left ... much to the disgust of the snooty waiter. We crossed the street to a competing Gelateria and bought two cones to go for less than the service charge would have been at the other place! Closer to the hotel we stopped for drinks - a beer and a white wine - at a cafe that didn't mind serving drinks without food.

We spent a couple of hours in our room and then headed towards Trevi Fountain to find a place to eat. We have headed west every other night of our stay so decided to mix it up a bit and head east tonight! Another delicious meal; we have not been disappointed with the variety and quality of the food in Rome.

Steps for the day 24, 759 (16.86 km)

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27th April 2015

Great pics.
Absolutely loving your pic gallery and commentary. I was in Rome in 1966 [my honeymoon] so your photos are a happy reminder of those early days in my life. Thanks Tracey & Bernie.

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