We just returned from 10 glorious days in Rome, rediscovering all we love about the city, and visiting some wonderful new museums and charming restaurants. We wanted to share our favorites.
- Ostia Antica – written up in my last review of Rome, but really is a must see. Plan a day trip, with guide (we used Context Travel, contexttravel.com), to view this large archaeological site that was the location of the harbor city of ancient Rome. Below, hidden in a grotto, is the statue of Mithra, the Persian god that is known as the “the Pagan Christ” due to the numerous similarities between the two faiths’ doctrines and traditions (son of god, born of a virgin mother on Christmas Eve, 12 apostles, turned water to wine…).
- Palazzo Massimo – Largo Villa Peretti, 2 – Our favorite museum in Rome. This is one of four of The National Roman Museum’s branches, and your ticket gives you admission to the other three sites: the Terme di Diocleziano, Palazzo Altemps and the Crypta Balbi. This palace has an abundance of classical art with the best preserved Roman frescoes in the world. The ground and 1st floors are devoted to sculpture with some amazingpieces such as the Pugile (Boxer), a 2nd-century-BC Greek bronze (see below), the lithe 2nd-century-BC Sleeping Hermaphrodite and the Discus Thrower. But the 2nd floor houses the highlight of the museum, the brightly colored fresco’s. Particularly beautiful are the frescoes from Villa Livia, one of the homes of Augustus’ wife. These cover an entire room and depict a garden full of a wild roses, pomegranates, irises and chamomile under a deep-blue sky. The 2nd floor also features some striking mosaics and rare inlay work.
- Ara Pacis Museum – opened in the spring of 2006, designed by Richard Meier. The “Alter of Peace” is housed here and was built to celebrate the return of Augustus in 13 BC from his campaigns in Spain and Gaul. The marble structure is a masterpiece of Roman sculpture and portraiture. Senators, officials and the Imperial family are depicted on the wall reliefs of the monument in an animated procession. We were told that it has been subject to much controversy and criticism as the “Altar of Peace” was used (paradoxically) for sacrifices. It is a majestic work of Roman art and architecture that had been lost to civilization for centuries.
- Terme di Diocleziano (Baths of Diocletian) – Viale Enrico de Nicola, 79 – the largest and most impressive of the public baths in ancient Rome (able to handle 3000 people at one time!). They were commissioned by Emperor Maximian in 298 AD in honor of his co-emperor Diocletian. They were built of brick that was faced on the inside with marble and on the outside with white stucco imitating blocks of white marble. The baths remained in use until the barbarians cut off the aqueducts which supplied water to Rome, during the siege of Rome in 537 AD.
- Basilica of Santa Maria – Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore, 42, – located in the Trastevere district of Rome, and one of the oldest churches known known for its Roman mosaics and gilded ceiling.
- Villa Farnesina – Via della Lungara, 230 – a Renaissance suburban villa in the Trastevere part of Rome. The villa is a gorgeously frescoed private Renaissance belonging to a famous banker in Rome. He had excellent taste in artists and hired the Raphael, Sodoma, and Peruzzi to decorate the interior of his villa.
- Church San Luigi dei Francesi – Piazza di S. Luigi de’ Francesi – Church of St. Louis of the French is a Roman Catholic church not far from Piazza Navona. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France. But the real reason to visit are the Caravaggio’s! There are three, and the Calling of Saint Matthew is said to be his most powerful work. The other two, St. Matthew and the Angel and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew are also on permanent display. Seeing such a renowned work in a church you might otherwise have easily overlooked is proof that Rome really is a living museum.
Castel Sant’Angelo – Lungotevere Castello, 50 – The Mausoleum of Hadrian is a towering cylindrical building that was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family and later became the papal fortress. Fasinating in itself, but climb to the top and get one of the great panaramic views of the city.
- Il Convivio dei Troiani – Vicolo dei soldati, 31 – Michelin 1 Star, with wonderful food but a but staid. I would stick to the more casual eateries on my list. But I must say we enjoyed every bite, especially the “faux” caviar, raspberry macaroon filled with pate, and the pasta with wild boar ragu, orange peal and grated dark chocolate (below).
- Trattoria Da Enzo – Via dei Vascellari, 29 – was one of our favorite places (had lunch there twice). This tiny (10 tables), reasonable, casual, no reservation trattoria had the most delicious carcio (Roman artichoke) and traditional pastas (Cacio e Pepe below) we had. But there is loads more on the menu, all home made and DELICIOUS! If you want to dine there in the evening be prepared for long lines.
- La Ciambella – dell’Arco della Ciambella, 20 – we ate here 3 times! Wine bar/restaurant that serves creative takes on traditional and non-traditional Roman food. The atmosphere is cozy, furnished like an old country house, with an open kitchen for great watching. Everyone is friendly and on our second and third visit we got warmly greeted by the owner and waves from the chef, making us feel like regulars. They serve the best Negroni ever, aged in two different barrels (wine and whiskey), served over an ice cube that is a frozen Negroni. Unmatched, and I will remember sipping it for a long time. You must have the stuffed rabbit, sliced thin like Carpaccio with black olives and crispy potatoes.
- Trattoria Monti – Via di S. Vito, 13 – this tiny, contemporary trattoria is one I want to keep going back to. It just works, from the friendly service, the contemporary decor and food, and the sense of being a regular. It is run by two young brothers with food being prepared by mom. The homemade pasta with wild boar ragu (below) was light and delicious, as was the suckling pig and stuffed rabbit. This wonderful place is wildly popular so book well in advance.
- Armondo Al Pantheon – Salita dei Crescenzi, 31 – three generations of Gargiolis have transformed this small family business into a Roman landmark known for its soulful execution of the classic roman favorites. The small dining room has been a favorite with Romans since the day it opened. So book early so you too can join them eating plates of pajata, amatriciana and saltimboca.
Restaurants I want to try (per June NYT article).
- Zia Rosetta
- Testaccio’s Taverna Volpetti
- Piatto Romano
- La Panella bakery
- Pro Loco
Book a trip this year to Rome and enjoy all the wonders this city offers. Ciao!