Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella (or Chiesa Nuova)When a Roman lady was to be praised for her patience and submissiveness, one would say that she had “water in her mouth”. The origins of the phrase come from none other than a Saint, St.Philip Neri who often forewarned the women who would go to him. Indeed in his famous sermons, he would say: “when you’re about to lose your temper or you’re about to give your husband a cutting reply or you hear him coming home late at night, take a sip of water and hold it in your mouth!”

A collection of the Saint’s sermons and proverbs still exists. Despite being a Florentine by birth he soon acquired the sharpness of the Roman humor to the extent that ‘his’ church became very fashionable. Not only was he the favourite of the higher classes but he was also the idol of the poor and sick people whom he always managed to comfort and help.

The Chiesa Nuova (the new church) in Corso Vittorio Emanuele was built on his initiative. Its real name is Church of  Santa Maria in Vallicella but its current name is to do with the fact that a new church was built over an existing ancient chapel. Saint Philip obtained this site from Pope Gregory XIII for the Friars of the order of the Oratory which he founded and work by Giovanni Matteo began at the end of the XVth Century.

The rooms which had been home to St. Philip may still be visited. The Oratory Palace is annexed to the church and was designed by Francesco Borromini, today it holds the Vallicelliana Library which has been one of Rome’s most magnificent libraries over the last four centuries.

Open every day from 07.30 to 12.00 and 16.30 to 19.15.

Entrance is free.

Pasquino StatuePasquino was a tailor by trade but he was better known for his wicked tongue which really spared no one especially the powerful and the authorities. Although people laughed at his cutting remarks and often asked his opinion on this or that matter, they were also careful not to get on the wrong side of him. They feared his sarcasm and popularity.

After he died (circa in 1500) his home was demolished and a statue that until then had been three-quarters interred was later put on a pedestal and placed at the corner of the street where Pasquino’s house had been. Someone, who obviously wished to follow in the tailor’s footsteps, or should we say ‘tongue’ steps.. began writing notes criticising the authorities or making fun of public figures or lashing out against corruption etc, and placing them on the front of the pedestal for all to read.

The statue, now named Pasquino, became well known all over Rome and the notes became known as “Pasquinate” (Pasquino-type quipps).It became so fashionable to slander against the powers that be, that the authorities had to put a stop to it. A meeting decided that the statue was to be pulled down and thrown into the Tiber. However before giving orders to proceed, the Pope wished to ask the opinion of an expert to be chosen amongst writers. This person advised the Pope against such an action pointing out that it would only increase the need to write satire and to criticize given the sheer pleasure it gave the people. The Pope ‘saw the light’ and Pasquino was there to stay.

Stay he did for centuries to come! Indeed as late as the 18th century the “Pasquinate” still ran riot. Indeed, during Pope Benedict XIII papacy, a document was found in the Vatican’s printing works that went something like this: “Whoever, without distinction, clergy included, should write defamatory remarks characterising the well known “Pasquinate”, even should these be truthful and well informed, will be condemned to death, his estate confiscated and his name will be forever disgraced”.

That is just how worried the authorities became at the actions of Pasquino’s followers, the tailor with a wicked tongue!

The story goes that while Raphael was painting his Frescos in Villa Farnesina, he became so jealous of his work not to allow anyone near it. Michelangelo also lived in Rome at the time and as we know, no love was lost between the two painters. Michelangelo was really dying to see his rival’s work but couldn’t think of a way into the building.

One day he decided to dress up as a merchant and off he went to the Farnesina with his goods for sale. Once he arrived he got into the part and sat on the ground beginning to barter with his customers. Suddenly he got his chance to elude security and he was in.

He entered the room where Raphael was working fortunately finding nobody. Michelangelo was therefore able to take a long look at his rival’s work undisturbed. After a while he picked up one of the charcoals and drew a beautiful head on one of the walls and promptly fled conscious of risking death for his actions.

Shortly later, Raphael returned and as he went up the scaffold with his brush and palette he noticed something quite extraordinary. He saw a head on his painting, so real to seem alive and he immediately recognized Michelangelo’s hand. Instead of reproaching the custodians or at least ask how someone could possibly have entered the room, he said nothing and understanding the value of his rival’s work made sure no one touched it.

Well, you can see that drawing still today in the Villa Farnesina. It is a charcoal and you’ll be able to find it in the “Loggia di Galatea” room. Unmistakingly a Michelangelo! Quite a visiting card wouldn’t you say?

Opening times: Monday to Saturday 09.00 – 13.00
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays
Open on the second Sunday of the month

Pons FabriciusAsk a Roman where the Ponte Fabricio (aka Pons Fabricius) is and you’ll probably get a blank look but ask for “Il Ponte dei Quattro Capi” (Four Heads Bridge..) and you’ll probably be given detailed directions ..well…almost!

When Felice Peretti first occupied his Papal throne in 1585 with the name of Sixtus V, he governed the Church for five years and, in as many years, he built five roads, five fountains, five bridges and at the time of his death left five million in the Vatican’s coffers. Perhaps 5 was his lucky number!!

No prizes for guessing which was one of the five bridges…The Four Heads Bridge already existed of course but he had it restored. Legend has it that he appointed four very capable architects for the job. However, the four of them didn’t get along at all and soon got involved in vicious quarreling that even came down to death threats. This made quite a scandal and the whole of Rome was talking about the quarrelsome foursome until such time that word of it reached the Pope himself.

Once the work had been completed the Pontiff congratulated them on their excellent work but because of their deplorable unchristian behavior hardly befitting their station in life, he had them beheaded on the very bridge…nice chap!

Since the Pope obviously had a sense for justice, recognizing the fact that the four had after all done a very good job he had a statue sculptured in their honor. The twist to the story is that since the four had spent their time quarreling, they were to be chiseled out of the same stone, together, in united eternity!

Turtle FountainOnce upon a time, a Duke belonging to the Mattei family gambled his worldly goods away including his beautiful residence in Rome. The story soon went round like wildfire and also reached the notice of his future father in law who didn’t hesitate to send his messengers round to say that he would never grant his daughter’s hand to such an unsuitable and unreliable pretender: the marriage was off!

The Duke didn’t take this too kindly and was determined to show the father of his future spouse how a member of the highly noble Mattei family that had fallen in disrepute due to ill fortune and wagging tongues, was still and always a gentleman. He was going to show him how, in the lapse of one night that it took him to lose everything, he would be capable of creating something quite exceptional as if by a miracle!

So it was to be, from one evening to the next morning he produced just in front of his palazzo the magnificent fountain of the Tortoises. The Duke immediately summoned fiancé and father in law for lunch and suddenly opening one of the windows said to them: “there, look at what an unsuitable and unreliable pretender is capable of.” Father and daughter were flabbergasted at the sight of that precious work of art to the point that the father declared the marriage back on!

In order to commemorate that day of sweet revenge, the Duke decided to have the window from which they had all looked out of walled-in so that no one else could ever do the same. Well, that walled-in window still exists and you’ll be able to admire it on the main facade of Palazzo Mattei… hopefully after marveling at the wonderful fountain!

Church of Santa Maria of the AracoeliLegend has it that the statue of the life-size Infant Jesus is the work of Angels who carved it out of an olive tree from the Garden of Gethsemane while other versions have it sculptured by a Saint.

The Romans hold this statue of baby Jesus very much at heart and many go and visit the Church of Santa Maria of the Aracoeli to see it in place in the manger of the crib at Christmas time.

The reason for this added devotion lies in the fact that the statue is thought to have great powers to heal the sick and resurrect the dead. The belief stems from a legend that recounts how a very sick lady whom the Infant Jesus of the Aracoeli had already assisted, wanted the statue for herself. Having tricked the monks who kept it to bring it to her house, she switched it the next day with an exact replica which she gave the unsuspecting monks. That evening there was a very loud baniging on the monastery’s door and when the custodians opened the door almost certain to see a giant before them, they were astounded to see a small child in tears. It wasn’t until one of the monks picked him up to comfort him that they saw that he was THEIR Baby Child.

From that day forward the faith in that little statue grew tremendously to the extent that the people wanted it to be taken to visit the sick and dying. To this end a carriage complete with page and driver was put at the ready by Prince Torlonia. When during the Republican revolts of 1848 a lot of things went destroyed or burned, also the stables of the Pope went to ruin. In order to save one of the Pope’s most beautiful carriages, one of the Republicans decided to put it to use in serving the Holy Infant. And so it was to be.

Every year from Christmas to January 5th, the famous “sermons for the children” take place in honor of the Holy Image. According to the belief of the people, just before a miracle is granted, the lips of the Infant Jesus turn purple whereas, if nothing else can be done they turn pale.

Incidentally, those who walk up the very many steps on their knees, praying fervently, will have a conspicuous win playing the Lotto.. everyone on their knees then …!!

Opening times: 09.00-12.30 and 14.30-17.30
Entrance is free.

Temple of Castor and PolluxDuring the early centuries of the Christian era, a dragon lived in the Roman Forum. His hideout was by the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The dragon killed anybody in the vicinity not by breathing fire as dragons do, but literally by gassing them to death with his … bad breath!!

His presence in the area had become a real calamity and the people requested that Pope Sylvester I intervene to free them of the monster once and for all. The Pope decided to personally confront the dragon and armed with just a piece of silk string, a holy cross and of course his unshakable faith, he went off to the ‘battle’ field.

As he neared the monster’s hideout, the Pope prayed the Virgin Mary out loud, the people who obeyed the Pope not to follow him stood terrified at the entrance to the Forum. The strength of his prayers overcame the dragon who was instantly paralysed and Sylvester I could then tie his limbs with the fragile string. The people were called in to finish the animal off.

The dragon’s massive body was apparently buried under the three columns of Castor & Pollux’s temple which are still visible today…no digging for dragons
please !!

Alchemical Door RomeThe treasure is exactly in the last possible place you would think possible: one of the busiest piazzas of the city where crowds of thousands can plainly see it.

At first glance, it is only a bit of writing on a plaque, but whoever is able to decipher it, will have discovered an absolute fortune. We are talking about THE recipe to manufacture gold and at today’s prices, you wouldn’t even need to produce that much!!

True, it has been waiting since 1680 to be deciphered or at least, as far as we know, nobody has owned up to solving the riddle. Legend has it that, one day, the Marquis of Palombara whose palazzo was then located right in the middle of a large park, was browsing through the pages of his ancient books when he came across an alchemists’ recipe for producing gold. As you would expect, he consulted all the experts and did everything he possibly could to decipher the signs that looked like a cross between chemistry and astrology, alas to no avail!

Since he wasn’t the ‘giving up’ type, he had the formulae engraved on a marble plaque and had it fitted to the outer walls of his parkland right by the entrance gates. “Who knows” he thought “perhaps a passerby may solve the formulae and gold will finally flow.”

Unfortunately no luck so far, but if you’d like to have a go at solving the formulae, the wall, the plaque and the gates are still there and all you need to do is go to the Gardens of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele…what’s keeping you..? Good Luck!

The PorterThere are many places in Rome that will remind us of Martin Luther and one of these is a small street near Via del Corso, where a fountain located on the side of a building, spurts water day and night out of a small barrel. A figure, dressed in a robe and a hat appears in the fountain scene, holding the barrel tight in his arms.

The subject has alas a broken nose, he’s missing part of his cheek and his mouth appears damaged, it is hence difficult to establish any resemblance to any specific character. This little matters because public credence has decided that the man in the fountain is Martin Luther portrayed as people imagined the typical German at the time: a little plump and rather partial to beer!

This is apparently the version for the more “cultured” but the “people” prefer another version to the legend: they believe the fountain is a monument to a poor water delivery man who lived in the Renaissance period and who ironically went through life incessantly…drunk!!

So after his death, in order that he could expiate his terrible vice, he was made to be content with drinking water to eternity.

The Roman people even passed on his name as a warning to future generations: Abondio Rizio (the Porter).

The Caffè Greco is in a road which represents the epitome of “designer” shopping: Via dei Condotti, but what is so special about the place? Well, it used to be home to the “bohemian” representatives of the Arts and Literature. People like Goethe, Wagner, Mendelson and Liszt, Thorwaldsen and lastly Anderson who even lived in the same building, used to frequent it. Going by his own memoirs, Giacomo Casanova began his ‘seducing’ career in this Caffè after being introduced to it by a no doubt unsuspecting curate.

Apparently, some 122 women contributed to his life-long reputation and what is even more amazing than his record, is that he remembered all of their names..

Despite various refurbishments over the years, the Caffè Greco has managed to preserve its cosy looks, its classic style with the red velvet sofas and marble round tables, the elongated rooms known as the “Omnibus.” Modern-day Casanovas may still be spotted here attempting to follow in the master’s footsteps… try it and see!