The Protestant Cemetery, Testaccio

I returned last week from yet another absolutely fantastic trip to Rome, staying in the ever-brilliant Bed and Breakfast Julius Caesar.  I was with two friends, one of whom had never been to Rome before, and another who had only been once on a school trip many years ago, so I went into full-blown tour guide mode and we spent a lot of the holiday walking round Rome.  It was hot and sunny and I made sure they saw all the usual stuff, as well as doing a day trip to the Ostia excavations and then the beach.  And of course there was a fair bit of eating involved, not to mention a rather fabulous (and very expensive) wine bar overlooking the Spanish Steps and Trinita dei Monti.

But on any trip a little alone time with Rome is always important to me, as is doing new things, so I combined these two requirements on a solitary early morning trip to the Protestant Cemetery.  Well, I say early morning:  it opened at 9am, and by that time it was already about 24 degrees even in October.


Pyramid of Gaius Cestius

A view of the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius


I got there for when it opened and had the privilege of exploring the cemetery alone, which was wonderful.  Call me morbid, but I actually rather like cemeteries.  They’re tranquil places, and it’s always interesting and poignant looking at the stones and imagining the lives and stories of those underneath them.  The Protestant Cemetery has the added attraction of being directly alongside the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, a marvellous Augustan-period freedman’s tomb, of which the cemetery affords by far the best view.


Pyramid of Gaius Cestius

Close-up view of the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius


I should add at this point a little about the history of the cemetery.  Obviously Italy is a Catholic country, but Rome has a long history of being visited by non-Catholic foreigners, and in particular the English. Think, for example, of all the Grand Tourists who found their way there in the 18th and 19th century:  poets, writers and artists all seeking inspiration from Rome’s incredible history and romantic environs.  Many chose to settle permanently in Rome (I maintain that I will join their number one day), while others died before they could return home, and the Protestant Cemetery provides a final resting place for many illustrious names in the literary and artistic world from that period.

It is most famous for being the place in which Keats and Shelley are buried, and, being most interested in Keats’ grave (having studied his work at GCSE), I devoted the first portion of my visit to locating it.  This didn’t take long; having stopped to observe several tombs modelled on the Tomb of the Scipios, I found Keats’ final resting place barely a stone’s throw from the Pyramid.


Keats' grave

The grave of the poet Keats


Keats’ grave is now one of three in a small cluster of graves comprising those of the artist Joseph Severn and Severn’s infant child.  I found the whole scene very moving.  Keats died aged only 25, having travelled to Rome to try to regain his health, while his close friend Joseph Severn outlived him, surviving to the grand old age of 85.  Keats’ grave contains no mention of his name; at his request, the stone is inscribed with the words, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”  Severn’s grave speaks of the artist’s close friendship with Keats, and how he had lived to see his friend numbered among the world’s greatest poets.  I thought how very sad it was that Keats hadn’t lived to see his own success, and how Severn had had to bear the loss of his friend, finally being laid to rest alongside him.


Protestant Cemetery Rome

A view of the Protestant Cemetery


After standing by the graves for some minutes, with a slight lump in my throat which took me by surprise, I decided to explore the rest of the cemetery. The bit where Keats is buried is the older part of the cemetery, and there’s a newer part by the entrance which is a lot more crowded, with all shapes and sizes of tombs and gravestones commemorating the huge variety of people who had connections with Rome.  Shelley’s is one of them, and I found someone with the surname Mendelssohn, whom I suspect was some relation to the composer.

Before I left I went into the small gift shop/visitor centre near the entrance and, exchanging pleasantries about the beauty of the cemetery with the man in charge, purchased some postcards and a small book of Keats’ poetry.  I then went back into the older part of the cemetery and sat reading on a bench with a great view of the Pyramid.  The sun was blazing down and I thought to myself that life doesn’t get much better than that!

I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the Protestant Cemetery if you’re a seasoned traveller to Rome and haven’t been before.  I get the impression that a comparatively small number of people visit, but it’s very easy to get to – just get off at Piramide on the Linea B Metro line and aim for the Pyramid – you can’t miss it!  The entrance is on an inauspicious-looking road to one side of the Pyramid but it’s easy to find.

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Only in Rome

Sometimes you see things in Rome which start to make you think, “Only in Rome”.  Here are a few of my favourites!

Unfortunately there’s no escaping the golden arches even in the Eternal City; but where else would you find a branch called “Pantheon”?

McDonalds Pantheon

McDonalds - the Pantheon branch

How many scoops of ice cream is it possible to fit on one cone?  I suspect not this many, though I have yet to ask for one of these…

Ice cream

Gelateria near the Via Tritone (if I recall correctly)

There are Smart Cars everywhere in Rome – they make sense in a crowded city. But as a wedding car?  How does the bride’s dress fit in?!  I spotted this outside Santa Maria sopra Minerva:

Wedding Smart Car

An unusual wedding vehicle

Roman Holiday calendars, fine. But where else but in Rome would you find a calendar of Hot Priests?!  Also available… the Pope.

Hot priests

Hot priests calendar, anyone?

And of course the ubiquitous penis pasta. Don’t leave Rome without buying some for the folks back home 😉

Penis pasta

Rudely shaped pasta

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Photographing Roman sculpture

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve updated – life has rather overtaken me.

For this entry, I thought I’d share a few of the photographs of Roman and Hellenistic sculpture I’ve taken over the years in various museums in Rome.  I’ll start with my favourite…

This is the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, housed in the Capitoline Museums. It only survives because it was thought for a long time to be the Christian emperor Constantine. I like it because he looks so benevolent! A replica now stands in the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Marcus Aurelius

The original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (Capitoline Museums)

I’m very pleased with this photo I took of a bust of Paris in the small museum on the Palatine Hill a couple of years ago. He looks very pensive , and though this photo makes it look big, the sculpture is actually quite petite.


Paris (Palatine Antiquarium)

Next we have something really interesting:  a statue which still has traces of gilding and paint on it.  This gives us an impression of how statues would originally have looked in antiquity.  Though there is undoubtedly something romantic about a pure white marble statue, they would originally have looked a lot more realistic – as you can see with the eyes painted on, for example. I like the contrast in this photo between the red and gold on the statue and the green background.

gilded statue

A statue with traces of paint and gilding (Montemartini museum)

The next photo shows the most famous frieze from the Ara Pacis – Augustus’ Altar of Peace.  The iconography of this monument is complex, but overall it was designed to show Augustus’ reign as heralding a new era of peace and prosperity. Here the imperial family is shown as the model of traditional family values – and fertility (note the children are shown, demonstrating that there would be heirs to Augustus who would continue his work).

Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis (Ara Pacis Museum)

This last photo is of the bronze statue known as the Terme Ruler.  There has been much debate over the age of the statue and who it depicts; some have argued that it is a victorious Roman general shown in heroic nudity in the style of a Hellenistic king, while others (and I believe this is the generally accepted opinion) believe that it is actually a Hellenistic king. Either way, it ended up in Rome and it has graffiti on its rear which appears to indicate that it was imported. That’s about all I can remember about it for now!

Terme Ruler

The face of the Terme Ruler (Terme Museum)

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Music that reminds me of Rome, #2

‘Five Years Time’ by Noah and the Whale –

One of my favourite songs because it’s so happy and sunny! It reminds me of Rome because on the BSR course some of my fellow students were singing it as we wandered the streets of Rome. And of course in Rome, there was sun sun sun. Happy days! 🙂

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San Crispino gets some love on the big screen

I hear that my favourite Rome gelateria San Crispino has got some great publicity by being featured in the forthcoming Julia Roberts film Eat Pray Love.  Needless to say I can’t wait for this film to come out. Not having heard of the book before, I have just ordered my copy so that I can read it before seeing the film, part of which is shot on location in Rome.  I’m also pleased to hear that Javier Bardem stars in this film – I adored him in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I also read today that Robert De Niro looks set to star in another forthcoming film set in Rome, in which he will play a divorced professor living in the Eternal City.  Apparently it’s the third Manual of Love film, but I must admit I’ve never heard of these films.  Are they worth watching?  Surely this one will be, if it stars Robert De Niro and is set in Rome!

To go back to the subject of San Crispino, it also featured in my guest post for the travel blog.  I wrote about what my perfect day in Rome would be, so naturally San Crispino had to feature in there somewhere.

Hurrah for San Crispino!

San Crispino ice cream

My favourite flavour at San Crispino - caramel and meringue!

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Colosseum to open for night tours

Earlier this week I read with interest and excitement the news that the Colosseum is to open for night tours.

Colosseum interior

The skeletal remains of the Colosseum by day

It will be opening to small groups of visitors each Saturday evening for seven weeks starting on 21 August, which is excellent news because as it happens, I will be in Rome on a Saturday falling within this period.  I would imagine that it will be highly oversubscribed, but it’s worth a shot!

The lucky few to see inside the Colosseum after dark will be following a well-trodden path.  For the Victorians, a stroll about the Colosseum by moonlight was very much the done thing, thanks to the immortal words of Lord Byron in “Manfred”:

The stars are forth, the moon above the tops
Of the snow-shining mountains. Beautiful!
I linger yet with Nature, for the night
Hath been to me a more familiar face
Than that of man; and in her starry shade
Of dim and solitary loveliness,
I learn’d the language of another world.
I do remember me, that in my youth,
When I was wandering,—upon such a night
I stood within the Coliseum’s wall
Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome.

Colosseum night view

The Colosseum at night

Inspired by these words, Murray’s Handbook to Central Italy, first published in 1843 and the essential companion to any Victorian traveller, recommended the twilight hours as the best time to view the Colosseum.  This view continued to be propounded throughout the nineteenth century, and night-time visits became so popular that some entrepreneurial type began putting on private light shows for paying tourists, who marvelled at the Colosseum being lit up with red and blue lights.

Somehow, I think that I would probably prefer today’s tours for their greater historical awareness… So wish me luck!

And thus ends what will probably be the first of many entries devoted entirely to Rome’s most famous monument.

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An impromptu trip to Rome (part 2)

18/1/09 – 1pm

Had a nice long sleep and then got the Metro up to the Vatican.  Had a wander round and took some photos, including this one of a grandad feeding the pigeons with his little granddaughter!

Vatican pigeons

A grandfather and his granddaughter feed the pigeons in Piazza San Pietro

I’m currently in a pizza place not far from Cavour Metro station, near a piazza by a church called Madonna dei Monti.  There is a small street leading from the piazza down to the back of the imperial fora.  The thing I love about Rome is the constant juxtaposition between ancient and modern – wherever you go, you’re liable to stumble upon impressive ruins. It’s amazing!

It’s warm again – relatively speaking – which is nice.  One feels so much more relaxed when one is not having to expend all one’s energy on trying (and failing) to keep warm.  (Although that said, at this specific moment I am a bit cold cos I just drank a bottle of chilled water!)

Not sure how I’ll spend the rest of the day – wandering down the Via del Corso to the Piazza del Popolo perhaps.


House of Livia frieze

Part of the stunning Garden Room frieze from the so-called House of Livia (Terme Museum, Rome)

I ended up going to the Museo Nazionale next to Termini Station, where I spent several hours admiring some absolutely incredible mosaics and frescoes.  I hadn’t realised that the entire breathtaking garden room frieze from the House of Livia would be there, so I was very much taken aback with joy and amazement!  I was also very happy to be able to see the statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, and I spent some minutes photographing it from pretty much every conceivable angle.


Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (Terme Museum, Rome)

My museum ticket was also valid for the Baths of Diocletian, which were unfortunately closed, so I got the Metro back to the Circus Maximus and wandered about the centre of Rome for a bit.  I had yet more pizza for an early dinner and then went to San Crispino’s one last time.  I took some photos of various monuments lit up in the dark, and I’m now rather tired and aching from all the walking I’ve been doing!

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain at dusk

Shame I have to go home in the morning, but it’s been great – so great – to get away for a couple of days.  The only thing that would have made it even better would’ve been having lots of money with which to indulge in some shopping!  I have been exceptionally restrained, and have only bought a couple of postcards.


The Colosseum by night

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