Yesterday afternoon I was walking down a street in Rome, wondering, “What was the name of the second church I visited this morning?” A split second later a young man in front of me turned to his two companions and asked, “What was the name of that second bar we went to?” The place was different, but the problem was the same – sensory overload. There is so much to see in Rome that it is overwhelming. I go from site to site trying to see it all and soon it all begins to run together. I decided that to have a better experience of Rome I needed to limit my visits to the popular tourist spots each day and spend the rest of my time discovering the lesser known – or at least less crowded – neighborhoods of Rome. Rome is built around seven famous hills: the Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, Palatine and Capitoline Hills. In ancient times these seven hills were occupied by small settlements and not recognized as a single city. It was not until the residents of the seven hills began to participate in a series of religious games that the groups began to bond together, eventually draining the marshy valleys between them and turning them into the piazzas that became the City of Rome. Today, Roman life centers around these Piazzas, each similar in that they are a all broad expanses of space that open out from the end of narrow streets and alleyways, but each unique in design. Indeed one could spend a month in Rome, visiting a different piazza each day, and still not see them all.
I began with a visit to Piazza di Spagna, with its early Baroque fountain called La Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat). From the piazza the famous Spanish Steps climb a steep slope up to the Triniti dei Monti Church. I fought the crowds to get to the upper plaza, then wound my way up into Villa Borghese Park. Continue reading