The Heat Ope­nis On Se­crets

Bespoke - - ROME -

Rome is one of the world’s most ex­hil­a­rat­ing and ro­man­tic des­ti­na­tions and it’s not for noth­ing that the Eter­nal City has been at­tract­ing vis­i­tors for over two mil­len­nia. But be­fore you plan a trip to Italy’s cap­i­tal, you should know that, away from the pop­u­lar at­trac­tions, a trail of un­ex­pected trea­sures await.

There is a pi­azza in Rome with no traf­fic, few peo­ple and a sin­gle mys­te­ri­ous door. The Pi­azza dei Cava­lieri di Malta sits on the crown of the Aven­tine, the qui­etest and most beau­ti­ful of Rome’s seven hills. The square was de­signed by Pi­ranesi, a man who loved a sur­prise. That sin­gle door is green and sits to one side of the square. It leads into the Pri­ory of the Knights of Malta ( Villa del Pri­o­rato di Malta). There is an elab­o­rate key­hole, sur­rounded by an es­cutcheon, which has been rubbed bare by many hands. If you peer through, you will find Pi­ranesi’s sur­prise – the dome of St Peter’s, al­most two miles away, per­fectly framed by the key­hole. The square, the door, the key­hole, even the gar­den within have been ori­en­tated to of­fer this pri­vate glimpse of one of Rome’s most fa­mous mon­u­ments. Given that Rome’s pub­lic face is so spec­tac­u­lar and well known, it is easy to for­get that many of its best mo­ments, many of its un­ex­pected trea­sures, are be­hind closed doors. Be­yond the great sights of the Colos­seum, the Fo­rum and the Vat­i­can is an­other more pri­vate Rome, a city of sur­prises and un­pre­dictable se­crets. Be­yond the grand ho­tels with their bustling lob­bies is a more el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated Rome of pri­vate vil­las and lux­ury apart­ments from whose rooms you can em­bark on the ad­ven­ture of mak­ing Rome your own. Rome is the kind of city in which tourist maps soon fade and a dif­fer­ent, more per­sonal kind of nav­i­ga­tion takes over: one’s own ad­ven­ture within the city. This may be­gin with the dis­cov­ery of an old-fash­ioned work­shop in a backstreet. It might in­clude a ro­man­tic pause on a bridge be­neath the sil­hou­ette of Cas­tel Sant’an­gelo. And it should def­i­nitely take in that restau­rant with the won­der­ful

Pi­azza del Popolo is cen­tral to my own pri­vate map of Rome. When I first came to the city 30 years ago, I stayed in a pen­sione just off this square. There was a high-ceilinged room, tall shut­tered win­dows, a door with a ped­i­ment that I’m sure in­cluded cu­pids, a beau­ti­ful re­cep­tion­ist and the sound of a sax­o­phone drifting up from Via An­gelo Brunetti in the evenings. At night, when the sax­o­phon­ist had gone home and the traf­fic ceased, I could hear the splash of the foun­tains in the pi­azza be­neath the obelisk that Au­gus­tus had brought home from Egypt some 2,000 years ago. Ev­ery morn­ing, I sal­lied forth on a bat­tered scooter some­one had lent me, ca­reen­ing be­tween an­cient ru­ins, baroque sculp­ture and de­li­cious meals, be­tween Ro­man tri­umphal arches, the soft thighs of Bernini’s Proser­pina in the Gal­le­ria Borgh­ese and the di­vine crois­sants in a bar in the Via di Ripetta. I dis­cov­ered – in those days every­thing was a dis­cov­ery – Santa Maria in Traste­vere, bar­na­cled with age, its gold­hued in­te­rior freighted with in­cense and prayer. I made a pil­grim­age to Velásquez’ por­trait of In­no­cent X in Palazzo Do­ria Pam­philj and an­other to Sant’anselmo on the Aven­tine where Bene­dic­tine monks filled the Ro­man dusk with Gre­go­rian chant. I climbed the steps of the Capi­to­line at night to Michelan­gelo’s exquisite pi­azza where the eques­trian statue of Mar­cus Aure­lius stood bathed in moon­light. I came home late to Pi­azza del Popolo, hop­ing the beau­ti­ful re­cep­tion­ist might still be on duty. I only ever man­aged to ex­change five words with her: “La mia chi­ave, per fa­vore.” Trag­i­cally, “My key, please” was not a gam­bit to arouse her in­ter­est.

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