Roma and its territory

23 Dec 2005 - Church of S. Agostino closed to public
The church of Sant'Agostino in Campo Marzio, near Piazza Navona, was closed yesterday afternoon as a precautionary measure after a piece of plaster fell from the ceiling over the main altar. The fifteenth-century church is on the itinerary of many visitors to Rome, not only for its perfect Renaissance architecture but because of the important artworks it contains, which include the Madonna di Loreto (also known as Madonna dei Pellegrini) by Caravaggio and a fresco depicting the Prophet Isaiah by Raphael.

13 Dec 2005 - Domus Aurea closed for two years
Unusually heavy rain during the last few weeks has worsened the already difficult situation on the Oppian Hill. Water has infiltrated the ruins of the Baths of Trajan, percolating down to Nero's "Golden House" beneath. There is a risk that pieces of plaster or masonry could fall on visitors and emergency work needs to be undertaken immediately to prevent damage to the precious frescoes, which inspired famous Renaissance painters. From today, the excavations will be closed to the public.

There are also infiltration problems on the Palatine, where a wall collapsed on November 4, at the Baths of Caracalla and at the Colosseum. Cuts in funds allotted to the Ministry of the Heritage have meant that essential maintenance has had to be postponed indefinitely, putting Italy's priceless sites at risk.

27 Nov 2005 - Tiber monitored to prevent flooding
The river Tiber has reached its highest level for 25 years, three meters above the riverside walkways. Piazzale Clodio, in the Prati district, was flooded yesterday, though not directly by the river: drains were unable to cope with the exceptional amount of rainwater.

The last time the Tiber inundated the streets of Rome was in the disastrous flood of 1870. As a result, the government of the day initiated the enormous task of widening the river bed and building the high embankments, completed some years later. A dam built more recently at Castel Giubileo, just north of Rome, makes another flood still less likely now.

23 Dec 2005 - Courtyard of Capitoline Museums opened
The courtyard that divides Palazzo dei Conservatori from Villa Caffarelli has been given a new glass roof and now houses the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback which used to stand in the centre of Piazza Campidoglio. (The original was replaced by a copy on the square some years ago, in order to protect it from the elements.) The glass-fronted niche in Palazzo Nuovo in which it was previously displayed will be occupied by a bronze horse attributed to the Greek sculptor Phidias, recovered from the Tiber river at the beginning of the 20th century.

The pedestal for the sculpture, designed by Michelangelo, remains on Capitol Square. The statue now stands on a massive modern basement, which has been criticized by some visitors. The courtyard also contains other Roman artworks: a larger-than-life gilded statue of Hercules and fragments of a colossal statue of Constantine, formerly in the Hall of the Horatii and Curiatii.

There have been other changes at the museums, too. About eighty of the sculptures that were for some years housed in the Centrale Montemartini, while the Capitoline Museums were being restored, have been brought back and are now on display in the newly reopened halls surrounding the courtyard. They include the so-called Esquiline Venus, a Kneeling Amazon from the Horti Sallustiani and two beautiful vases depicting the nuptials of Helen and Paris, from the Horti Tauriani.

05 Jan 2006 - Tiber floods site of ancient river port
The dig in progress in Testaccio to excavate the remains of the Roman river port has been flooded for the second time in less than a year. The roof of one of the ancient warehouses has fallen in and a layer of silt 40-50 cm deep has been deposited throughout the area. Nevertheless, the archeologist responsible for the dig is optimistic that the site will soon be made accessible to the public.

The port consisted of a long quay on the left bank of the river, just downstream of the present-day Ponte Sublicio, with a series of warehouses linked by a cryptoporticus. Goods arriving from overseas at the sea ports of Ostia and Portus were brought upriver by barge and offloaded here at the Emporium, Rome's main wholesale distribution center. The port was operative from the 3rd century B.C. until the 5th century A.D.

Domus Aurea
After the fire that devastated Rome in AD64, Emperor Nero built a fantastic 300-room palace for himself. It is known as Domus Aurea, which is Latin for "Golden House".

Nero took great interest in every detail of the project. His architects designed a dome that was the first use of a dome in a building other than a temple dedicated to the gods. It was similar to that used in the Pantheon. It is also known that this palace provided early evidence of the use of concrete in its construction.

Frescos covered with grotesques covered every surface of the palace. But after Nero's death, much of the Golden House was built over by the construction of the Baths of Titus. Within 40 years, the site was completely obliterated, buried beneath new construction, but paradoxically this ensured that the painted "grotesques" would survive; the sand worked as well as Pompeii's volcanic dust to preserve them from dampness. So they survived for many centuries.

At the end of the 15th century, the grotesques were uncovered, and their effect on Renaissance artists was instant and profound. You can see them in Raphael's decoration for the loggias in the Vatican. The white walls, delicate swags and bands of frieze-framed reserves containing figures or landscapes have returned at intervals ever since, notably in late 18th century Neoclassicism, making Fabullus one of the most influential painter in the history of art.

At the time of the discovery, in which a young Roman inadvertently fell through a cleft in the Aventine hillside, he found himself in a strange grotta filled with painted figures. Soon the young artists of Rome were having themselves let down on boards knotted to ropes to see for themselves. The frescos that were uncovered then have faded to pale gray stains on the plaster now, but the effect of these freshly-rediscovered grottesche decorations was electrifying in the early Renaissance, which was just arriving in Rome,

When Pinturriccio, Raphael and Michelangelo crawled underground and were let down shafts to study them, carving their names on the walls to let the world know they had been there, the paintings were a revelation of the true world of antiquity.

The original paintings were done by Fabullus, the only painter of antiquity whose work we can definitely identify. He most likely drew on a style long established in Roman times, perhaps as far back as 100 BC. Is this the origin of the word, "fabulous"?

Fresco technique, working on damp plaster, demands a speedy and sure touch: Fabullus and his studio covered a huge area.

Pliny, in his Natural History, recounts how Fabullus went for only a few hours each day to the Golden House, to work while the light was right. The swiftness of Fabullus's execution gives a wonderful unity to his compositions and shows an astonishing delicacy of design.

Grotesque is the art of decorative patterns full of volutes, ribbons, masks and other surreal, abstract and semifigural motifs of intricate design. From the 1530's through the mid-18th century, these were produced in the form of engravings or etchings.

Borrowed patterns first appeared in the paintings of Pinturicchio and the frescoes of Filippo Lippi. When Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to decorate the loggia in the Vatican in 1518-1519, the painter working under his direction borrowed patterns from Nero's "grotto". After that the art of the "grotesque" took off like wildfire.

Artists all over Europe wanted to know what others were doing, particularly in Italy. Agostino Veneziano, who worked in Raphael's circle, was among the first, if not the first, to sense the potential demand for affordable patterns of the latest fashions.

In the early 1530's, he completed a set of 20 engravings based partly on the Loggia patterns and partly on their original source, the "grotesques" in Nero's palace.

In a typical plate, ribbons pass through a device suggestive of a lampshade. A couple of tritons crawl on the sides, their foliate tails raised, with a peevish frown in their eyes. Linear and spindly, full of endless volutes inhabited by tiny beings, from chubby little winged fellows known as putti to goat-legged satyrs with grinning oldish faces, the compositions conjure up a world of mild fantasy that captured the imagination of the French. These motifs crept into every form of decorative art, wallpaper, textiles, paneling and marquetry. Its distant influence can still be recognized in the Louis XVI creations and their Adamsesque counterparts in Britain.

But this was the mere beginning of the art of the surreal, taken to yet another form in Flanders. In 1555 an artist called Cornelis Floris designed 18 sheets with human faces made up from vegetal elements, some highly stylized, others still recognizable as leaves and fruits, which were engraved by Frans Juys in Antwerp.

In Genoa, Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted mad portraits in which the busts and heads are made of turnips, carrots, fruits and every possible contribution from the vegetal reign.

Thee art of the absurd with its logical links born of a nightmare was now entrenched. It was a genre of its own, unrelated to the original grotesque as such, partly inspired by the speculations of every kind, especially scientific and philosophical, that preoccupied the Renaissance mind.

The term "grotesque" entered our language with the discovery of certain unusual images in the underground passages of the baths of Titus and the ruins of Nero's Golden Palace. Excavation of the ruins of the palace occurred around 1480. The works, once exposed to light, faded over time, but fortunately the 18th century French engraver Ponce created copies that show us something of what they looked like.

The designs on the walls and ceilings, both "al fresco" and "al stucco" typically offered images of beasts fused with animal bodies and birdlike wings, a fish's tail, human forms that fuse with leaflike patterns weaving plant life, masklike human heads, and various mythological figures including centaurs, fauns and satyrs. These images were used as borders framing white space or identifiable human figures and landscape done in classical style. They were strange and absurd, suggesting an otherness in preposterous form and effecting the viewer in the feelings of fascination, amusement, even uneasiness.

When visiting Rome, stop to take a tour at Domus Aurea. Look it up on the web at:

Lost no more: an Etruscan Rebirth
The Romans owed more than they ever admitted to their accomplished predecessors and former enemies on the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans. They were known as Rasenna, and Tusci or Etrusci by Romans, whose historians generally ignored or belittled them.

It has been left to the archaeologists and art historians to part some of the veils of time obscuring Etruscan culture and to restore these enigmatic people to their proper place in pre-Roman history.

No one knows when the Etruscans came to Italy or where they came from. They spoke a language unlike any other known European tongue, one hard to read and surviving mostly as limited tomb inscriptions.

The Etruscans were a conduit for the introduction of Greek culture and its pantheon of gods to the Romans. The Etruscans developed a version of the Greek alphabet, a step that influenced Roman letters and thereby northern Europe's. They built the first cities in Italy, when the hills of Rome stood barren of promise, and their influence shows up in later Roman works of architecture and engineering.

Etruscan customs and traditions have been seen as an intriguing amalgam of those of others, possibly people from Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and particularly the Greeks. Aristotle wrote of a trade alliance signed by the Etruscans and Carthaginians.

The Etruscan presence in Italy was manifest in the sixth and fifth centuries, their domain extended well beyond its center in Tuscany. From the Tiber in the South to the Arno River in the north, Etruscan power and culture held sway. At times, their reach stretched to the Po River Valley and the Adriatic Sea and as far south as Pompeii.

In their earlier investigations, archaeologists drew most of their knowledge from Etruscan tombs, where the elite were accompanied into the afterlife with all the amenities of the living. Tomb interiors apparently resembled Etruscan homes, with stately furniture, beds, clothes and jewels, dinnerware and walls painted with scenes of banqueting, horse racing and divinities.

Primarily from tomb art, archaeologists have concluded that women had a fairly high status in Etruscan society, at least in contrast to Greeks and early Romans. Paintings showed women enjoying the food and dancing at feasts and reclining with their men. They also pictured them driving their own chariots. Inscriptions revealed that women could own or inherit real estate, and sometimes they ran businesses like pottery workshops.

Dr.Larissa Bonfante, a classics professor at New York University, said that unlike the Romans, Etruscan women had names of their own. The daughters of the Roman king Servius Tullius, for example, were both know only as Tullia. But Etruscans, both men and women, hand long before developed a three-name system: a given name followed by their father's family name and their mother's.

Among other grave goods, archaeologists have found several artifacts reflecting the Etruscan practice of divination, determining the wishes of the gods and prophesying the future through expert examination of organs of sacrificed animals. A sheep's liver was often represented in bronze, with engraved lines marking off regions controlled by certain gods.

For all the Etruscans' arts and agriculture, their fine metalworking and commerce, Etruscan power and grip on the Italian peninsula began to decline in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Their society, unfortunately, was static, didn't change with the times.

Around the first century A.D., the philosopher Seneca had an explanation for the Etruscans' inability to take charge of themselves and change. "This is the difference between us Romans and the Etruscans," Seneca wrote. "We believe that lightening is caused by clouds colliding, whereas they believe that clouds collide in order to create lightning. Since they attribute everything to gods, they are led to believe not that events have a meaning because they have happened, but that they happen in order to express a meaning."

From it art down to its pottery, experts say, there is strong evidence that the Etruscan culture was inflexible in the face of population growth, trade setbacks and threats from expansive neighbors.

Even after they were subjugated and then annexed by the Roman Republic by the first century B. C., the Etruscans and their influence almost entirely disappeared. They were assimilated. They lost their language to Latin and yet their legacy has endured in surprising ways, beyond any part they had in spreading the Greek alphabet.

Etruscan achievements in engineering lie behind Roman aqueducts and basilicas. The tombs of the emperors Augustus and Hadrian deliberately imitated Etruscan ones from seven centuries before. The artists of the Renaissance also built upon Etruscan foundations, as seen in the palaces of Florence, the sculpture of Pisa and the painting of Siena. Painting frescoes on wet plaster had been an Etruscan talent.

It has also been noted that as late as the fifth century A. D., priests familiar with Etruscan religion were called in to offer an explanation perhaps through a reading of sheep entrails, for the sack of Rome at the hands of barbarians.

Even more recently, Etruscan influence surfaced in disturbing form. One of their symbols of ruling power, a bundle of rods know as the fasces, had been adopted by Romans and was then unforgettably revived by Mussolini and the Fascists of modern history.

This information comes from a New York Times article dated April 15, 2003 written by John Noble Wilford

Day Trips
Day Trip Number one Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica boasts the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world, as well as a beautifully preserved fortress and a borgo with history spanning from the fourth to the 15th century.

Situated four miles from the Fiumicino airport, it is accessible by car, bus, or by train via Rome.

On arrival in this small town, you'll be welcomed by the imposing view of the Rocca di Giulio II. The fortress was built during the papacy of Giulio II and served as a major defense point for the city of Rome--it was strategically situated on a bend of the river Tiber. A walk around the borgo, away from the cars and the chaos, is a good way to start your tour of town. And the fortress itself is worth a visit, giving you a feeling for what life as a soldier must have been like back in those days.

In 1557, the river changed its course and the fortress lost its importance. It was used for a while as a prison, but soon ceased to have any appeal to rulers and enemies alike. The small town and surroundings went into decay and became marsh.

In the 19th century, a small group of farmers from Romagna was called in by the Pope to drain the area. Today's town is the result of the hard work of those 500 men.

Although still uncertain, the origins of Ostia have been traced back to the 7th century B.C.
The ruins are so well preserved that the amphitheater still stages shows from opera to Roman tragedy and Shakespeare (in Italian).

You can spend hours marveling at the mosaics, thermal baths, and imposing structures of the temples. It costs €5 to take a look around the ruins, with concessions for pensioners and students. You can get back to Rome easily, too, by train, car, or ferry.

Thanks to International Living.

Dining at Lake Bracciano
On our way to meet our new puppy, Sofia, a few years ago, we stopped to eat pranzo at a restaurant and pizzeria on the shore of Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. It is called La Caletta, and has both an indoor and outdoor restaurant, plus a large patch of grass and a little beach and beach lockers. They encourage people to come at 10:30 am and bring their suits so they can lounge around and swim before pranzo. We did not do that, but will definitely come back.

We ate a tasty lunch. The restaurant specializes in fish, so we both ate grilled seafood platters, consisting of whole Spigola (which is the size of a trout), a piece of calamari, a prawn and a tiny lobster. First I had caprese and Roy had a seafood antipasto. We hardly ever drink white wine at lunch, but drank a half carafe of their house wine, which was served very cold and had a little spritz. It was a perfect accompaniment to the seafood.

We will definitely come back and recommend it.

TABLE OF CONTENTS                               CONTACT US.