Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, February 24, 2014

In Rome, and Free: the Barberini Palace

Being a tourist in Rome can be expensive. Hotels and restaurants exact their toll, and the cost of admission for two at state museums can run about 30 Euro ($40).  So it's always nice to find places you can go--places both interesting and significant--without paying a dime.  One of those places is Palazzo Barberini.  It's conveniently located, just steps from the foot of via Veneto (and from Piazza Barberini), and important parts of it are accessible without paying for the museum (and numismatic society) it houses.

Up these stairs to the Secret Garden
The sloping site, which once housed a smaller palace, was acquired in 1625 by Maffeo Barberini, who became Pope Urban VIII in 1625.  In the years that followed, three great Roman architects worked on the design and construction of the new palace:  Carlo Maderno; Maderno's nephew, Francesco Borromini; and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Usually rivals, Borromini and Bernini actually worked together on the palace for a short period.
Be on the lookout for "bees"--the symbol of the Barberini family

Bernini's staircase

After taking in the facade, you can enter the building at its center.  To the left you'll see Bernini's lovely staircase and, to the right, one of Borromini's greatest achievements, an oval (helicoidal, actually--you'll have to look that up) staircase.

Borromini's staircase

In our view, it is Rome's most extraordinary staircase, rivaled only by the Luigi Moretti's modernist spiral masterpiece, hidden away at the back of the ex-GIL (youth center) in Trastevere--and also free.

Il Giardino Segreto

Climbing the gentle center stairs offers access to what is known as a "gardino segreto"--a secret garden, hidden from public view.  Like the staircases, the garden is accessible at no charge.

Weird stuff in the garden

Poke around.  There's some weird stuff in there.


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