Piazzas and Palazzos: Art of Rome

By Saul Schwartz

One of the great things about Rome is, that not only its ancient history is everywhere you look. Its art is as well. On the piazzas, baroque sculptures crown trickling fountains. Roaring monuments attest to the potency of their patrons. Galleries show us ancient as well as modern art. Museums display centuries of decorative skills.

Rome is filled to the brim with all this wonderful art. Some are free for everyone to enjoy, others are secured behind ticket counters. But they’re all waiting for you to come admire them.

Follow Saul Schwartz on his continued quest as a first-time visitor to soak up the beauty of Rome in these iconic places.

Spanish Steps

This iconic wide staircase is divided into three landings. We walked up to the top of the hill, where we admired the view and peaked into the church of Trinita del Monti and saw the obelisk. Constructed in 1723-1725, the Spanish Steps are one of Europe’s widest staircases. There is no fee to sit here, but that’s about all you are allowed to do, since it’s been banned to eat and drink while sitting on the stairs.

The Piazza di Spagna and the Fountain of the Leaky Boat are at the bottom of the steps. The piazza contains the Spanish embassy to the Vatican which gives the steps its name.

Victor Emmanuel II Monument

Also known as the Altar of the Fatherland, the largest monument in Rome was built in honor of the first king of united Italy. Completed in 1935, the design features a very large equestrian statue of the king, fountains and Corinthian columns. The glaringly white marble monument has been criticized as conspicuous. Indeed, our tour guide said the locals use several nicknames for the monument, such as the wedding cake or the typewriter or the eighth hill of Rome!

We walked up to the roof of the monument to see unforgettable 360 degree views of central Rome. The monument also holds the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, surrounded by an eternal flame. The tomb is guarded 24/7 by sentinels. There is no fee to tour this monument, which is easily visible throughout central Rome.

Quirinale Palace

For centuries this building was home of the popes. Now the Quirinale is the official residence of the President. The palace served as a papal residence from 1574 to 1870 and then became the official residence of the king. We were required to book the time for our tour online for a nominal fee.

Today, Palazzo Quirinale houses the President of Italy. We found out that he was in the palace during our tour based on the flags being displayed. The palace is along the lines of the United States White House combined with Versailles in France. Both inside and outside the Palace, we saw the President’s guard (the corazzieri regiment) in their magnificent crimson and blue uniforms, with embossed steel helmets and knee high boots.
Our tour started with a short video which included an English language guide. Although the one hour guided tour is in Italian, one of our guides was a student who translated the highlights into English for us. The tour included the courtyard and many public rooms, such as the majestic state reception rooms. Highlights included a hall of mirrors similar to Versailles outside Paris, a room dedicated to the presidents of the Republic, the Pauline chapel with dimensions similar to the Sistine Chapel and the private office of the President. The tour is designed for but not limited to residents of Italy.

Borghese Gallery

Galleria Borghese is an art museum housed in a lovely Baroque mansion. Located next to the beautiful greenery of the large Villa Borghese Park, the museum contains an impressive collection of sculptures, paintings and antiquities, focusing on the 15th through 19th century. Pictures are not allowed within the gallery because the Borghese is a private art collection.

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Advance booking for a specific date and time is required because the gallery strictly limits attendance. Highlights include Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s statue of Apollo chasing Daphne as she transforms into a tree, Bernini’s realistic statue of David about to swing a rock at Goliath, and greatest collection of paintings by Caravaggio including a self-portrait.

Currently the gallery is showing the first Italian exhibit dedicated to Picasso sculptures. Fifty six works of Picasso are interspersed within the gallery’s permanent collection. The permanent collection is housed in twenty frescoed rooms, with ornate decorative ceilings of great beauty.

The Capitoline Museums

These museums contain an extensive collection of art and archaeology, sitting at the top of Capitoline Hill. The museums consist of three buildings and a beautiful piazza, designed by Michelangelo. The museums were founded in 1471 by donations of Roman sculptures and statues from Pope Sixtus IV. The Musei Capitolini are the world’s oldest national museums.

The museum’s detailed audio guide took us through the collection highlights, including the She-Wolf. This iconic bronze statue represents the she-wolf suckling the brothers Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. Other masterpieces included Bernini’s bust of Medusa, the Palazzo dei Conservatori courtyard containing the colossal fragments of the famous huge statue of Constantine the Great and the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

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Follow Saul into The Vatican – Rome of the Popes to uncover this miniature state with maximum to see. Or check out these 10 Roman fountains, that each have a special story to tell.

About Saul Schwartz

Saul lives in Alexandria, Virginia and has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1984. He loves to travel throughout Europe with his wife and family and particularly enjoys interacting with local residents and learning about life in their city and country. 

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