Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Villa Altieri - "one of the most prestigious" 17th-century villas in Rome - hiding in plain sight

 Villa Altieri is one of those "Rome the Second Time" places in the middle of Rome rarely visited by the individual, and only occasionally by groups. Last year we encountered it only because we were interested in an exhibit featuring artists' responses to the Resistance in World War II (more about that in a later post). We had no idea of the place to which we were heading. What we found was a magnificently restored building, the kind of restoration for which few can match the Italians, and the layers of Rome that consistently surprise and delight us. At viale Manzoni 47, it's just steps from the Manzoni Metro A stop , on the edge of the Esquilino quartiere.

Above, the monumental entrance to Villa Altieri. Today one enters on the ground floor, beneath these grand staircases.

The palazzo is a 17th-century building. Pope Clement X (1670-76) was an Altieri, giving the family money to build this villa on top of an earlier structure.

The main hall of the ground floor of Villa Altieri has exposed "scavi" - excavations - from the earlier villa and from Roman times.

A collection of antique statues and other works is well-displayed in the various rooms. It's described as a small museum for the "prestigious" collection of the families that owned the property. Through the glass floor (a little disorienting when one first walks on it) one can see the "ancient" cobbled floors of the prior villa and the "archaeological stratifications" discovered in the restoration work.

That's me, focused  on the art exhibit. You can see the glass floor beneath my feet and some of the statuary in the hall.

A little of everything - the glass floors with
ruins below, a statue from the museum's
collection, a view out to the gardens, such
as they remain, and, center right, a painting
of Antonio Gramsci from the
 Resistance exhibition.

The city of Rome acquired the villa in 1975 and began restoring it in 2010. It's now the city's headquarters for "Culture and Historical Memory," with an archive open to the public that includes the Library of the Metropolitan City with the Historical Archive, the Study Center for literary research, linguistic and philological Pio Rajna , with the Dante Historical Library. (I'm using the site's English translation - links provided). 

The "museum" supposedly has visiting hours, but the website is woefully out of date. I suggest going when there is an event or exhibit and one can be more sure of it being open and accessible.

Facebook may provide the most up-to-date information on opening days and times. Specifically "Amici di Villa Altieri" here. It shows current events and exhibits. (Don't be misled by the Palazzo Altieri elsewhere in Rome or the Villa Altieri hotel in Albano.) 

On the other hand, the villa is so accessible, you can try simply stopping by. It's a lovely site, quintessentially Roman, with surprises from many eras.

A print - with description - from the Stanford collection here:
Description of a bas relief with Mithras, here:

(Part Two of Villa Altieri - the exhibition of Resistance art- will be the subject of a subsequent post.)

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Photo in Search of a Caption


Possible captions for this 2018 photo:


      Nun Fun

      Nuns Just Gotta Have Fun

      High Five for the Tall Girl

      Guy in the Blue Shirt 


Friday, March 1, 2024

The Hunt for Paolo Portoghese's 1960 Modernist Capolavoro: Now the Jordanian Embassy in Rome (and going to the dogs)


This gorgeous and unusual building is one of the capolavori (masterworks) of renowned Italian starchitect Paolo Portoghese.

We went in search of it last year after Bill had read an article in La Repubblica in which Portoghese had, as the paper put it, given his "J'accuse" to the degradation of modern architecture, an architecture of which he was a leading proponent. As the famed architect put it, "L'architettura moderna lasciata in balia di vandali e degrado" - "Modern architecture has been left to the mercy of vandals and decay." His prime example was his own work, now the Jordanian Embassy in Rome.

The article ran on April 26 and Bill had us out 4 days later in the Piazza Bologna/Nomentana area searching for the building, about which we knew little, not even the address nor what it looked like. After a few false starts (taking photos of buildings with barely a modern touch, thinking they might be the one), we discovered this magnificent structure tucked into an ordinary neighborhood, not too far from one of Rome the Second Time's 15 itineraries in our 2009 book. (Too bad we missed it then!)

Tucked into a street of ordinary palazzi

We also missed Portoghese's passing only one month later, on May 30, 2023, at age 91. So consider this post an homage to him, whose buildings we've admired, among them the famous Rome mosque, which we wrote about 15 years ago, in the first year of this blog.

For security purposes, understandably, 
the embassy doesn't let one get close to
the building.
This gives you some sense of the difficulty
in seeing the whole building.

The palazzo - we now know - was built for a contractor's grandson in 1960, named Casa Papanice, and eventually passed into the hands of the Jordanian Embassy in Rome (whose shields you can see on the building exterior), which has kept it closed to the public, even walled off to the public, and, as Portoghese lamented, in a state of disrepair.

Another glimpse - but you have to
know to look.

Rusting walls

The use of rounded, cantilevered, balconies against vertical striped and molded walls is highly distinctive, and the colored tiles playful. 

Speaking of playful, we also didn't realize the palazzo (before the Jordanians) was featured in several films, including the unfortunately named 1970 "Pizza Triangle" (better in Italian - Dramma della gelosia or the alternative title, Jealousy, Italian Style) by Ettore Scola and starring Monica Vitti, Marcello Mastroianni, and Giancarlo Giannini. A still from the film accompanied the 2023 La Repubblica article.

And, as usual, we found a spot for coffee nearby - at the very friendly "Chill Out Cafe" on viale XXI Aprile, Just steps from via Nomentana.

As long as you are on viale XXI Aprile, walk a few steps and across the street to the immense Fascist-era housing block Palazzo Federici (by Mario De Renzi, 1931-37), where director Scola filmed one of his own masterworks, 1977's Una giornata particolare,with Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, set completely in that apartment block on the day in 1938 when Hitler visited Rome. (Film still below.)


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Vehicles of Rome

"Thelma Senza Luise"  Combination of a car and a scooter. By LAC 68, Nomentana station. 

While scurrying from one Rome "destination" to another, it's easy to miss the cool stuff that's all around you: the beautifully designed manhole covers, a wall of graffiti that celebrates a neighborhood's politics and local hero, the tiny dogs that Romans favor, the woman who's feeding cats, trees trimmed so thoroughly you're sure they'll never grow back, one unbelievable mound of garbage after another. 

And the vehicles. Romans--and the tourists they sometimes revile--get around the Eternal City in a variety of (for the observer, anyway) entertaining ways. Here are a few we've seen over the years:

A very long delivery bicycle, 2016

Now there's a load. 2013

For transporting children. Via del Corso. 

For transporting tired dogs

This guy's delivering for Frutteria Aloise. The vehicle is a weird one--a scooter of sorts
with a wide platform, small wheels, and no seat (and no helmet required). 2017.

And here's a delivery guy taking his bicycle up from the Metro.

Looks like a waiter transporting garbage, but I'm open to other interpretations. 2015

Sicily. Man delivering melons in a crate. Photos of Toto and (apparently) JFK. 2016. 

        Delivery, and delivery vehicles, are important enough that there are paintings of the them.

via Quatro Venti, 2016

2016. Neo-futurism. Not in a gallery. 

The mail has to be delivered, too, and in Rome it's usually by scooter, rather than truck. 

Woman delivering the mail. San Paolo, Rome, 2016.

Rome is a dense city and many of the streets are narrow. So there are lots of small vehicles.

Small yellow car. Dianne at right. 2016.

Bill, wondering if it's safe to drive. 2010. Looks the door is made of canvas.

The Ape is a common delivery vehicle, especially in rural areas. 3 wheels.


Big guy with small bike. 2016.

Unlike Los Angeles and other American cities, Rome has not yet been populated by food trucks. However, all kinds of items, from clothing to batteries, are sold out of cars and small trucks. 

Mondo Arancina. A 3-wheeler. The drawing on the side depicts an historic battle. 

Ladies' garments. 2016. 

Small delivery boy, 2016. Life is hard.

Common sight: Woman with grocery shopping cart. 2016.

Scooters and motorcycles are common in Rome, to say the least. There are about 1 million of them. Less common is a fallen scooter or motorcycle. This one is unusual, in that there's a note on it, written by a passer-by, that says who did it and gives the license number of the offending owner's vehicle. 


Tourists relaxing on their Segways, the Quirinale, 2016.

A rental scooter. This one is a 3-wheeler (two in front). Safer, but not safe. 

A scary sight: tourists on red rental scooters, crossing the Ponte Sublicio, 2018. 

Rome's latest transport scourge is the E-scooter. 

Guy with dog collecting iron with cart in Pigneto. You can't do that with an e-scooter.

Delivery guy on E-scooter

E-scooters. Helmets were not required; they may be now.

(and from Dianne - if you haven't had enough, try searching for "scooter" in RST, and you'll see more than 150 posts; trucks, more than 50 - for a start)

Sunday, January 21, 2024

36 Hours around Campo de' Fiori

This is the second of two posts that evolved from a friend's request for suggestions of what to do around Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori. As we noted in the first post on Piazza Navona, she was clear that she and her companion would be in Rome only 3 days, had seen the big sights and did not want to go back to those this time, and they did not want to do much walking. 

We put our heads together, created a list and a map for her, and enjoyed the exercise enough that we made it into 2 blog posts. Here's the second, on the Campo - expanding into the ghetto proper (the numbering starts with 19 - since the other numbers were used on Piazza Navona).

Note, Campo de’ Fiori and environs (the market – much more than flowers) is open only in the morning, Monday through Saturday).  

Campo de' Fiori, in clean-up phase (2015) 

19.      A statue of Giordano Bruno, the revolutionary monk burned at the stake in 1600, looms over the market in the middle of Campo de’ Fiori. We wrote about him here:'s story is the door to many facets of Italian history, politics, and religion, which may be one reason our post has a lengthy and interesting comment by a reader (with the handle "Believer"). Just after we published the post in 2009, Ingrid Rowland's fascinating book on Bruno came out.

20.      Wine bar L’Angolo Divino enoteca vineria, just a few steps off the Campo, has some food, and is considered one of the better wine bars (all our Roman friends like it). Web site in Italian:

21.      Caffè Peru is a nice (not so fancy) wine bar, known for its great 10 euro aperitivo  (lots to eat):  - via di Monserrato. The photo is from 2016.

22.      Palazzo Farnese was designed – or re-designed - by Michelangelo. You can’t go in; it's the well-guarded French Embassy, unless you can find a tour - which we did once. Still, it's definitely worth looking at. This is a lovely piazza (if there aren't too many security vehicles parked all around), with classic use of ancient Roman bathtubs as fountains, and the dramatic, enormous Michelangelo overhanging eaves on the palazzo. Have a drink in the bar that takes in the whole piazza, and enjoy the Renaissance cityscape. (And ask someone about the connection to the Farnesina across the Tevere.)

23.      Hungarian Academy on via Giulia –  -  is usually open 9-5 every weekday. It's one of the best of the foreign cultural academies, often with free, excellent art exhibits. Plus the academy occupies a Francesco Borromini structure built for the Falconieri family.

24.      Galleria Spada is a wonderful gallery that has another piece of Borrominiana - his “perspective” corridor. Open for tours (in English and French) daily except Tuesdays.

25.      Il Goccetto (trans. "the little drop") is our favorite wine bar – via dei Banchi Vecchi.

Il Goccetto. The clientele, as usual, spilling onto the sidewalk and street. Inside, a chalkboard lists all the wines available by the glass. 

26.      Turtle fountain - - Piazza Mattei. The turtles are by Gian Lorenzo Bernini - so you can get your fix of the Borromini/Bernini feud by hanging around this area. And, here's a romantic fable to add to the atmosphere (as if it needed anything). 

27.     Ghetto: The heart of it is this street, via di Portico d’Ottavia – look to Katie Parla for eating ideas – we’ve often gone to Giggetto at the end – because of ties to a friend of ours who lived upstairs. It bills itself as the server of the true Jewish artichoke (perhaps Dianne's favorite food of all time) since 1923. Incredible (and disturbing) free show in a tower right across from Giggetto - on concentration camps with Italian connections. This is the Museum of the Shoah, open Sunday through Friday, with shorter hours on Friday. The Synagogue is across the street and has tours – we’ve never been on one, but have been in the basement museum (hours change quite frequently with the seasons; basically open Sunday through Friday, with shorter hours on Friday) which is quite informative (we went for the first time last year). 

Below, one of the documents on display in the Synagogue museum, commemorating the establishment by the United Nations of the state of Israel. 

Good ruins at the end of the street – you’re almost at Campidoglio and you are at Teatro Marcello.

27A.     Pasticceria Boccione is open only in mornings – get there to get a piece of “Jewish pizza” – kind of like fruitcake -

Pasticceria Boccione 

28.      Al Pompiere restaurant. We haven’t been there in years, but we always liked it – totally interior -

Great Jewish artichokes- there and elsewhere in the ghetto – they won’t be in season, but the restaurants get them now from Africa and sell them in all seasons. If you're not a purist, try them! Carciofi alla giudia (not alla romana, though those are good too) [photo right].

29.     Largo di Torre Argentina – supposedly where Julius Caesar was killed. It has informative panels, and now you can walk in it. It has a cat sanctuary that is fun to visit, and you can "foster" a cat if you are going to be in Rome for more than a few days.

30.     Feltrinelli book store – an international one with paper products and gifts

And in the ghetto there’s lots of “spolia” – re-use of Roman ruins  - if you look up at buildings  -

Particularly in the area of Campo de’ Fiori and the ghetto, you will see some of these "stumbling blocks" if you look down - They commemorate the Jews who were deported and died in the Holocaust, with the small brass block outside the doorway of the residence where that person once lived. We stopped to look at one near Largo di Torre Argentina and a young man came out to tell us that  6 of his cousins died at the hands of the Nazis.
Campo de' Fiori at dawn, the statue of Giordano Bruno at center/right. Sometimes it's worth getting up early. Daybreak, June, 2015.