Tuesday 7 Sep, 2010

Tour director favorite: A walk in Rome

Castel sant angelo

Here’s a good walk in Rome. You can do it either way round, the places tend not to move. It’s only 1½ miles as well.

Begin in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. With the church and square behind you, walk along via della Conciliazione. Not much to see along here, so keep turning around. Get an idea of the scale of St. Peter’s, how Bernini designed the colonnades at either side to represent arms embracing believers, along with the obelisk in the center as a sun dial. Finally, if the scale still doesn’t get you, look at the very top of the church, the small golden ball below the highest cross is a chapel, with capacity for 24 people.

At the end of the road, ahead of you and on the left, you will see the imposing egg-shaped structure of the Castel Sant’Angelo. Built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (130-139 A.D.), it also has been a prison and a papal residence. It was used by former popes who escaped there for protection in times of danger. There is a covered passageway that still connects Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican. If you know your Angels and Demons, then it will be familiar to you. Tickets are available to visit the museum inside; get to the top for some amazing views.

Cross the bridge over the Tiber in front of the castle (pictured above). The bridge is lined on either side with statues of angels in various poses—these were not part of the original bridge but were added during the 17th century. From the bridge, you can see just how high Rome has been built up from the antiquity (river level) to the present day to avoid flooding.


On the other side, turn left and then first right almost immediately onto the brilliantly named via di Panico. You get a feeling of a change of pace almost immediately—no traffic save the odd scooter, and you are into a network of wonderful cobbled streets. Very quickly, the street opens into a small square, turn left onto via dei Coronari. You will pass by snack bars and restaurants, if you want to take a small break. Walk along Coronari for about a third of a mile and it too opens up into a larger square, Piazza di Tor Sanguigna. As you enter the square, ahead of you on the corner of the block is the brown brick tower that gave the square its name (next to the AVC shop).

Walk past the tower, keeping it to your left, and take the first right onto via Agonale. Walk about 30 feet. Gasp. If you don’t, go back and do it again. Ahead of you is the beautiful Piazza Navona. Bernini’s masterpiece Fountain of the Four Rivers is overlooked by Borromini’s church of St. Agnes. The square is alive with street entertainers and artists, and the Tre Scalini (to the right of the fountain as you look at it) does astonishing Tartufo (dark truffle) Ice Cream, if you are feeling indulgent.

You could stop here. But there is something close by you really need to see. Exit Navona through a narrow street opposite St. Agnes’ church. At the next street, go left and take the first right, a narrow street called via del Salvatore (it has a pharmacy on the corner). Go straight ahead for about 2-3 minutes. You will almost bump into a McDonald’s, but that’s not it. Turn right into the square and enjoy the spectacular Pantheon. It’s amazing, a personal favorite. Take time to go inside.

A final treat. With the Pantheon behind you, exit the square from the opposite side going straight ahead (take the road on the right, not the one next to McDonald’s). You are now on via Maddalena. At the end, turn right onto via degli Uffici del Vicario. Walk along a short way and on your right you will find this. Astonishing. You won’t need my help anymore.

One final thing. This walk is superb at night with the monuments illuminated and the lively nature of Piazza Navona (but the Pantheon will be closed).

Photo: Sebastià Giralt via Flickr (CC license)