Across the river Tiber. This is the meaning of the name Trastevere, a district that has maintained its local charm. To find out why exactly it is so famous, it’s a good idea to start early in the morning, before the restricted traffic time is over, so you can stroll around in peace without any fear of being mown down as you explore the tiny alleys – often without pavements. The area’s bustling life is expressed in the tangle of alleys where sacred and profane rub shoulders: unusual small shops, churches, bars, kiosks, fountains, and some sort of religious building on just about every corner. But Trastevere has a hidden side, genuine and intriguing, and to discover this you should visit the noble palaces, discover the hidden courtyards and take a look at the refurbished industrial buildings in the district’s northern suburbs.
library of Accademia dei Lincei
Start from Porta Settimiana, and enjoy breakfast at the Settimio bar, where even in winter the sun warms the small tables set outside. Heading up Via della Lungara, you will see Villa della Farnesina, the famous summer residence for the Farnese family, and the less familiar Palazzo Corsini. Go up the Palazzo’s monumental staircase to the first floor, where you will find two remarkable interiors far removed from the mass tourism routes: the Library of the oldest scientific academy in the world, Accademia dei Lincei, whose members included Galileo Galilei. It was also the first Art Gallery for antique art in Rome, and the residence of the Queen of Sweden. Ask to be taken for a tour around the library’s sequence of halls, lined with bookcases containing rare texts and lost manuscripts. The hallowed silence is broken only by the sound of your footsteps on the old wooden floors.
steps to the Eleven Fountains
While you are visiting Palazzo Corsini, you will see glimpses of the botanical gardens behind you. They were once part of the Swedish queen’s garden. Today it is somewhat neglected, but nonetheless the small glasshouses and the old weathered buildings still have a certain charm. Wander through the palms, the sycamores, the bamboo forests and the cork trees until you arrive at the foot of the Gianicolo slope where, carving a path between the plantation and the natural woodland, you will find the splendid Staircase of the Eleven Fountains, which are still supplied by water from the ancient Paola aqueduct.
A disappearing artwork
Sometimes gallery space is not enough to accommodate an artist’s intentions, and so they have to look for other contexts where they can create site-specific works. This was the case for William Kentridge, who inaugurated perhaps his most ambitious work, Triumphs and Laments in Rome last April. It is a 500 metre-long frieze running from one bridge to another, from Ponte Mazzini to Ponte Sisto. A procession of mythological figures accompany personalities from recent history: Romolo and Remo’s wolf, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, Caesar, Saint Teresa, and even Mussolini on horseback. Kentridge explains, “Every story has a negative or shameful part. Every triumph corresponds to a lament, to someone else’s defeat”.
The technique is interesting, a Michelangelo-like process of subtraction, not of marble but rather the selective erasure of the biological patina on the embankment walls. The gigantic figures, 10 metres high, are destined to disappear as the patina regrows. So don’t miss the chance to see this work while you’re here.
Galleria Stefania Miscetti
There is an unimaginable amount of ancient art in Rome, but the city seems to be an inspiration for artists still today, and it has a vibrant community of artists and galleries. One example is the gallery run by architect Stefania Miscetti, in a refurbished industrial space set into the historic urban scene. It has a packed calendar of events and exhibitions featuring Italian and international artists, who have included Adrian Tranquilli, Marina Abramovic and Yoko Ono.
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