Have you ever wondered - as you walked down a street or drove to work on a freeway - about the stories you were passing? Perhaps there is a story about the family who owned the farm where a building now stands, or about an incident in a restaurant involving a famous person. Regardless, there are stories between almost any two points in a community.
Between two points in Rome
If your community is a popular travel destination, you can find some of the stories in guidebooks or tours, but many remain hidden even to the locals. One day several years ago I walked a path between two points in Rome, wondering about the stories that were hidden among the buildings. I was in Campus Martius, the neighborhood that contains many of the most popular tourist sites, including Piazza Navona, Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. I've walked the path several times since then, but if I had known the first time what I know today, it would have been a much different experience. Now you can take the same walk, but with the benefit of some of the stories.
Your walk to the Pantheon
The starting point is in the center of Rome, near the midpoint of Via del Corso, the main north-south street that bisects the neighborhood. From that position you can see up the Corso to the ancient northern gate of the city and the Egyptian obelisk standing in the center of Piazza del Popolo. Looking south you can see the giant Victor Emanuel Monument overlooking Piazza Venezia. The Corso is crowded with tourists, many of them on their way to the Spanish Steps, a few blocks to the northeast.
Across the Corso is the Galleria Alberto Sordi, an Art Nouveau style shopping mall named after the popular Italian actor. On your side of the street is Piazza Colonna, a pedestrian-only square and center of political life in Rome. On the square’s north side is Palazzo Chigi, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Monti. It's named after the family of Fabio Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII in the 1600′s. The original main entrance of the building did not face the square as it does today - it faced the Corso. The change was done when the Chigi’s demolished the buildings that separated the palazzo from the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the center of the square.
The Column of Marcus Aurelius, rising over 100 feet above the center of the square, commemorates the war victories of the emperor. It’s been there since the 2nd century. At that time there was probably a temple dedicated to him on the west side of the square where the Palazzo Wedekind now stands. Like Trajan’s Column near the Victor Emanuel Monument, the Marcus Aurelius column is made of Carrara marble and contains a spiral staircase. Pope Sixtus V, who erected the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, placed a statue of St. Paul atop the column in the late 16th century during a restoration. The column is just one example of the Pope’s efforts to transform pagan structures into Christian ones.
Government supported by trash
You walk to the northwest corner of the square to find a short street that stretches away from you to the west. On the left is Palazzo Wedekind.
You begin your walk westward down the small street and into a square called Piazza Montecitorio. Overlooking the square on the right is a massive building that was built atop a small hill created from trash discarded during the Middle Ages. Gian Lorenzo Bernini started construction on Palazzo Montecitorio, but the work was finished by Carlo Fontana in the 1600′s. The Catholic church used the building for its courts, administration offices, and police headquarters. Since the late 1800′s, the building has been the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies – the lower house of the Parliament.
In the center of Piazza Montecitorio is the Obelisk of Montecitorio, brought to Rome in 10 B.C. by Emperor Augustus. It was placed in its current location in 1789.
Discovering Hadrian's temples
You walk to your left, across the square and past the obelisk to a narrow street that leaves the square toward the southwest. You soon come to an intersection with Via in Aquiro. The area was once on the edge of a temple for Emperor Hadrian, built in 145 A.D. All that’s left is a set of columns on a building a block east of you.
You turn right onto Via in Aquiro and see a small square on the left a short distance away. As you walk that direction, you pass a row of parked scooters and the entrance of a restaurant on your right. Ristorante Capranica is on the ground floor of a palazzo built for Cardinal Domenico Capranica in the 1400′s. In addition to the restaurant, there is a school created in 1465 to educate children for careers in the church. The palazzo has held a theater since the 15th century, but the current one, Theater Capranica, was built in 1922.
During our first trip to Rome, my wife Nancy and I walked into this area after having lunch near the Spanish Steps. We were hoping to find the Pantheon, but were unsure of our location. While we stood there in Piazza Capranica, discussing our next move, I glanced at the opposite corner of the square. Barely visible between the buildings were two of the Pantheon’s portico columns. I could only see a sliver of the structure, but it was breathtaking.
We crossed the square and entered a dark, narrow street called Via degli Orfani. On our left we noticed the Caffe Tazzo D'Oro, a popular coffee shop known for filling the street every morning with the aroma of roasted coffee. In the summer people crowd its bar for a granita di caffè – a sweet, icy coffee treat, topped with rich whipped panna (cream).
The small street disappeared as the Pantheon's great Egyptian columns came into view. We stepped into the sunlight and stared. We had discovered many stories that day, but our last turn into that square revealed something we weren't prepared for. I couldn't help but wonder, what other surprises would Rome have for us?
Originally published at DestinationStory.com
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