Art & architecture

Today is your day,
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose
You’re on your own, and you know what you know"

-- Dr. Seuss from Oh, The Places You'll Go

Sadly, it was time to wrap up Roma. Five days flew by and now Mom & I were trying to squeeze every attraction into one last day. After our complimentary breakfast (courtesy of Royal Marcella Hotel), Mom & I made a pit stop at the gelateria recommended and near by our hotel. I ordered "Cassata" although I had no clue what was in it since the young woman spoke broken English with a thick Italian accent. It ended up being one of my favorite flavors of gelato that I tried because it was similar to a sweet cream base with chocolate chips and different, fruit gummies. The dessert really hit the spot in the midday heat!

Afterward, Mom & I strolled hopped on the bus (we were more familiar with the route now) and departed at Piazza Venezia. What was great about this short ride was that the bus weaved around tight corners, then opened up to – in my opinion – the most beautiful, polished landmark in Roma: Altare della Patria a.k.a. Altar of the Fatherland. As host of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, mammoth Italian flags flapped in the Mediterranean breeze. This was the epitome of a monument with its clean lines, crisp white color and spacious composition. It reminded me of an overzealous wedding cake, with tier stacked upon tier stacked upon another layer of marble. Despite its parallel and perpendicular lines, my eye was constantly being pulled upward. For example, the charioteers on the roof had wings extended and the angels lofted on pedestals.

Starstruck from the Altare della Patria, Mom & I strolled along Corso Vittorio Emanuele. One side of the street lead to the eclectic markets at Campo di Fiori and the other to Piazza Navona. We opted to see both!

It was late afternoon (~14:00) when we arrived at Campo di Fiori but a lot of the kiosks were closed or in the process of closing. At first we wondered if we accidentally stumbled upon a tourist area, because the marketplace consisted of the same shops that we had seen throughout Roma that sold chintzy scarves, souvenirs, bags, leather goods, and sandals. Mom – who had been quite eager to see the markets with their supposed variety of local foods and goods -- was quite underwhelmed.

So, we crossed over Corso Vittorio Emanuele into Piazza Navona a.k.a. square of the big ship. It was the site of the element water in Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons and furthermore, the novel/concept that sparked my recent tattoo.

The plaza was not as large or open as Piazza del Popolo. Instead it resembled a narrow oval and was completely encircled by buildings and with a single church that towered above the cityscape to our left. We were welcomed by a smaller, single story fountain at south side the Fontana del Moro a.k.a .Moors’ fountain which had four triton sculptures and a Moor wrestling a dolphin. Opposite the piazza on the north end was another fountain, similar in size: Fontana del Nettuno a.k.a. Neptune’s fountain.

Yet, nothing stood as superior as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi a.k.a. the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the middle of the plaza. Like all the previous fountains, there was an Egyptian obelisk as the centerpiece. However, there were two features that set it apart from all the other fountains I had seen so far thus, making it my favorite. First, there was a dove with an olive branch in its mouth atop the obelisk (unlike the usual crosses or spheres). Second, the obelisk was actually mounted on the statue. Gianlorenzo Bernini had to put more thought into the design of this fountain as opposed to the others where it seemed like the obelisk was placed first, with all other ornaments added around it.
As jazz music played in the background, I inspected the fountain more closely and was still impressed. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was definitely my favorite! I liked that it stood alone & could be looked through. I did not expect a free form rock to jut upward between the four main supports. I enjoyed the various animals around the structure – like a serpent, horse & lion just to name a few -- and their symbolism. Although Bernini built the monument with stiff travertine marble it exuded movement as seen in the palm tree bending from wind and the horse galloping out toward the crowd. He also carved different levels of the rock faces which gave it more depth. All in all, the fountain was simply planned and built thoughtfully.

Not far from Piazza Navona was the famed Piazza della Rotonda -- again with a fountain in the square and an obelisk topped with a cross.
A somber mood (for me, it was out of respect) permeated the interior. Mom & I stepped through the portico with eyes drawn upward. Our eyes moved in unison from the vastness of the round building to the oculus letting in bright, summer light. Once again, Roman design proved supreme as the Pantheon a.k.a. the temple for all the gods continues to hold the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
Mom & I visited each of the recesses within the Pantheon. Clearly, the most popular one displayed the tomb of Raphael (and two lesser known kings). Yet we spent the most time examining the area by adyton where Mom pointed out a major difference. This was the only recess in the monument with embossed figures inlaid in the marble floor. Again, I remembered author Dan Brown [in Angels & Demons] referenced the Pantheon and how the large, decorated tiles could be removed and lead underground to a crypt. At the time I read the novel I thought the description was fictitious and to heighten the spookiness of the scene. Now memory and reality merged and the truth was directly in front of our faces!
En route to the most famous fountain in Roma -- although not the most beautiful in my opinion – Mom & I passed quite a few palazzos. We arrived at the piazza to visitors overwhelming the Fontana di Trevi (derived from "tre vie" a.k.a. "three roads") so much so that it was difficult to see the lower levels even from atop the steps of the church caddy-corner to the site. Visitors also overwhelmed most of the shaded sections of the road and the seating areas – like the church steps. Still, the fontana’s faรงade consumed most of the piazza so everyone was appeased although getting an individual photo proved nearly impossible.
As Mom & I headed in the general direction of the Royal Marcella Hotel we walked alongside a tall-walled building with bars over the windows. The soft yellow color toned down its steadfast appearance. Minding our own business we passed two police officers chatting at the gate of the only break in the wall. It was like a double-take moment one sees in cartoons. Mom & I both glimpsed to our left and continued walking, and about five feet past the opening we both stopped, looked at each other cock-eyed, and inquired "Did you just see that?" We had both been captivated by the aesthetic beauty of the scene. I was too elitist to backtrack but Mom turned around for this eloquent photograph of a guard (who later saluted her) wearing pastel yellow and protecting the [backside of the] Palazzo del Quirnale a.k.a. Presidential Palace.
As suggested by the Italian, there were four small, dingy fountains recessed into each corner at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirnale. Although I was wrong, I thought the images depicted the four seasons. Along some other block was a triptych fountain.
A hop, skip, and a jump away was another well-known roundabout in Roma: Piazza della Repubblica. Although not as breathtaking as Piazza Venezia, this square’s towering, semi-circular design demanded respect as well. The ground-level windows consisted of gigantic, tall panes. I also liked the Fontana delle Naiadi a.k.a. Fountain of the Naiads because it was the only fountain I had seen in Roma with upward flowing water. In fact, the spray from the fish’s mouth would change with the wind direction and often created a faint rainbow.
Famished, our final stop in Roma was for dinner. Mom & I both ordered meals but ended up eating a little bit of both plates. We feasted on homestyle lasagna and Quattro formaggio a.k.a. four cheese pizza. Apparently, the ristorante did not stock to-go boxes so Mom’s request was appeased with a piece of aluminum foil. No problem! Oddly, the waiter took both pieces of pizza from the table and only wrapped one of the two in the foil. We were so flummoxed that we chuckled and discussed possible scenarios… did the server not get dinner so he devoured the other piece? Why did he assume we only wanted to keep half of the leftovers? Was the other piece not worthy? Perhaps one fell on the floor. Was it customary to only take home half of a meal? Mom & I did not reach a logical conclusion but did add the misadventure to our mental list of European oddities.

Ciao a.k.a. Goodbye Eternal City!