On the final day in Rome, it was time to be awed and inspired by the best-preserved building of ancient Rome – the Pantheon. Piazza della Rotunda outside the Pantheon is mobbed with tourists from early morning ’til late at night (photo below).
As you walk past the eight massive Corinthian columns and step into the Pantheon’s interior, the bustle and noise of the outside piazza gives way to the peacefulness of this timeless church. Approximately 2000 years ago, the Pantheon was designed as a temple for all Gods. Six hundred years later it was consecrated as a church, the Pantheon Basilica dedicated to St. Mary and Martyrs. Mass is still held there each week (I saw colorful fresh flowers brought in for a service).
It was an amazing feat of engineering for its time. The giant dome is the largest unsupported dome in the world, with a diameter of 142 feet which is also the same distance from the floor to the top of the dome. The oculus opening in the top provides the only natural light and is 27 feet in diameter (much larger than it looks in photos, like the one above). Many notable figures are buried here, including Italian artist Raphael who died in 1520; his tomb is on the left side below a Madonna sculpture by Lorenzetto.
The area around the Pantheon is rich in Roman history and architecture, a main reason why I chose to stay at a hotel nearby (Albergo Cesari). Every block has a monument or interesting church. Next stop on the day’s itinerary was Palazzo Doria Pamphilj (305 Via del Corso), a lesser-known jewel that shows how wealthy Roman’s lived, entertained, and collected and enjoyed art masterpieces. Dating from 1435, the Palazzo has been owned by a number of wealthy Italian families united through marriage, including the Doria and Pamphilj families.
One of their famous family members, Pope Innocent X, commissioned Bernini’s fountain in Piazza Navona. His portrait by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez is at one end of the Mirror Gallery (pictured above). There are ornate apartments, including a ballroom with a separate section for musicians, and galleries with paintings by Raphael, Titian, and Filippo Lippi, among others. Three arresting Caravaggio paintings, Penitent Magdalen, Rest on Flight to Egypt, and St. John the Baptist, are in a small room downstairs towards the end of the tour (photo below). Even the gift shop has original art on the walls. A charming tearoom on the ground floor has a second entrance off Via della Gatta.
To share a trip with friends back home, I like to pick up small souvenirs. Venchi, a gourmet chocolate and gelato shop a few blocks north on Via del Corso (at Via di Pietra) was the perfect choice – I could get gifts and enjoy a creamy gelato. The selection of chocolates is amazing (photo below), and there is always a line at the popular gelato counter facing a wall of liquid chocolate flowing in the background.
Venchi was established in 1878 and has stores around Rome and Italy. Italian gelato is thicker than American ice cream, because it is churned at a slower speed, so less air gets in. Sorbet (sorbetto in Italian) is made without dairy (the intense taste comes from puree of fruit or other flavors). I savored a vanilla gelato while my chocolate gifts were put in attractive bags.
My brother and I had a favorite place for dinner – Da Sabatino Ristorante in Piazza St. Ignatius near our hotel. Our first night in Rome, the hotel concierge Tomaso recommended Da Sabatino (and even gave us suggestions of what to order). The menu has a big selection of pastas, pizzas, seafood and meat dishes. The complimentary bruschetta is delicious, and there are nice wines by the glass. We had a perfect last night, seated at an outdoor table in the picturesque piazza facing the beautiful Baroque exterior of St. Ignatius church.
Arrivederci Roma. We’ll be back…especially since we threw coins in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee our return.
Pantheon Facts (from Segway Tours):
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj:
Da Sabatino Restaurant:
Hotel Albergo Cesari (where I stayed near the Pantheon):
[Note: These are solely my opinions and experiences. I did not receive any compensation for my comments.]
CAROLINE O’CONNELL is the author of five guidebooks on Paris and southern California, and she has written numerous travel articles covering Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, among others (website, www.CarolinesTravelTips.com).