Rome has been a destination for visitors for centuries, but in the midst of all the glamour and bustle, it is possible to find quiet spots where the mind can wander.
While many tourists visit the colourful Campo del Fiori fresh food markets, just around the corner is the Palazzo Spada. Stepping into the grand rooms is like being in your own Rococo apartment (the Palazzo was once the home of “two wonderfully eccentric 17th century cardinals” according to the DK Guide). The gallery has paintings by Rubens and Durer. In the courtyard is a colonnade which seems much longer than it really is, due to false perspective.
Keats-Shelley Memorial House
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Grand Tour became the thing to do, the streets of Rome were full of aristocratic and arty travelers from Northern Europe. The English favoured the area around the Spanish Steps. The house where the romantic poet, John Keats, lived (and tragically died) is next to the steps, and is now a house museum open to the public, where you can indulge your overwrought literary side and learn more about Keats’ time in Rome.
Casa di Goethe
Germans on the Grand Tour stayed further along Rome’s main street close to the Piazza del Popolo. Writer and all-round Renaissance man Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived in an apartment above the Corso during his Grand Tour of Italy in 1786-1788. Wandering through the rooms, you can imagine life as an aristocratic traveler in the 1700s*. Also on display is Andy Warhol’s Goethe portrait, establishing Goethe’s reputation as an unexpected pop culture icon.
The tranquillity of the grounds of the Palazzo Barberini is a welcome respite from the crowds on the busy Via delle Quattro Fontane. Crossing the wide courtyard, you will find the entrance to the galleries up a staircase designed by the famous sculptor Bernini (of Piazza Navona fame). Look out for the breathtaking Caravaggio painting and the ornate ceiling of the Gran Salone. After taking in the art, the gardens behind the Palazzo are a pleasant place to stroll.**
Non-Catholic Cemetery and Piramide
Even in a city where two-thousand-year-old ruins stand in busy streets, the sight of a pyramid in the middle of a suburb still surprises. Rome’s only pyramid is the tomb of a wealthy Roman magistrate who died in 12BC. Alongside the pyramid is the Protestant (and Non-Catholic) Cemetery (established in 1738) where many famous visitors to Rome are buried, including Keats and Shelley. Do check the opening hours – I arrived too late and had to wander beneath the walls, proving that the journey is not always the destination! You can reach Piramide on the Blue Metro Line.
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*Casa di Goethe is the basis for Albert Price’s apartments in “The Alchemist of Rome”
**There is one painting you won’t find in the Palazzo Barberini, although it plays a major part in the sequel to “The Alchemist of Paris”. Read “The Alchemist of Rome” to find out which one!