Monday, 4 November 2013

Our European Adventure: Day 32 - Rome, Italy

Villa Borghese 

Villa Borghese, Rome
Villa Borghese, Rome
  When Camillio Borghese became Pope Paul V, he made his nephew Scipione , a cardinal. The family had enormous wealth and power and Scipione was a serious patron of the arts. He built a huge classical style villa on the family’s land, previously used as vineyards, and then proceeded to acquire all the land around it. On it he put gardens, lakes, arbors, fountains, neoclassic temples and statues. Today both the villa and the gardens, an oasis in the midst of the noisy city, belong to the state. There are jogging paths and walking paths and bicycles for rent.  It is truly the city’s playground. But best of all is the artwork collected by the Borghese family, on display to the public in the original villa. You must plan ahead and reserve your ticket to see it. They admit only one small group at a
time, and once inside you have just two hours. It is an incredible collection.  It houses several Bernini’s, among them my very favorite, Apollo and Daphne.  Apollo angers Eros (Cupid) who retaliates by striking Apollo with a golden arrow to make him fall in love with the
Statue in Borghese Gardens, Rome, Italy
Statue in Borghese Gardens
wood nymph, Daphne. Then the nasty creature strikes Daphne with a lead arrow to make her despise Apollo.  Apollo chases Daphne who runs but not fast enough. Apollo catches her. She screams for her father (a God, naturally) to save her, which he does by turning her into a laurel tree. (I’m not at all sure that’s what she had in mind.)  Bernini has captured this exact moment. Apollo’s hand is on Daphne’s thigh as the bark encircles her torso and her fingers sprout leaves. Her toes turn to roots and burrow into the ground. Her mouth is open in a scream. I like to think she’s having a change of mind. But it’s too late.

In my new novel, Love, Italian Style, my heroine Eve sees this sculpture and reflects on her own love life.

The Pantheon, Rome
The Pantheon
We spend a happy two hours exploring the riches of the Borghese, including several other Berninis and a Caravaggio and, after a walk through the garden,s took a taxi to the Pantheon. (Literally “all gods”) This magnificent structure is intact because it was simply taken over by the Christians from the Romans more than two thousand years ago. The center of its high dome is a large circular opening that provides the only natural light in the circular building. Through this opening snow falls in winter, rain falls in spring and fall. The area directly under the opening is roped off. The pillars that line the famous fa├žade are so worn it’s hard to discern their original shape. It is an awe-inspiring place.

Just around the corner from the Pantheon is our favorite coffee shop in Rome, or for that matter in all of Italy, San Eustachio. We made a lunch of their delicious pastries and rich coffee and then headed back to our hotel for a much needed rest.


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Blair McDowell