The first time I went to the Città Eterna was decades ago.
I remained impressed about how Rome, compared to any other Italian city, could be called the number 1: ancients, past and present history all in the same place.
Though I was sure there would have been a return someday,
I did not expect the invitation to come through a book: She Seduced Me by Mark Tedesco
a Californian writer who spent part of his youth there as a seminarist.
Despite of keeping distant from any what-to-do travel promotion type, I had always imagined a book as something too long and dense for a 1-day trip.
But I was WRONG.
Not only I got immediately captivated, but also found the ideal magnet motive in chapter 11, where Mark follows the steps of signor Michelangelo Merisi detto CARAVAGGIO.
To sum up: taking the chance to go and see some of his paintings turned into an opportunity to walk again in the streets of our magnificent state capital.
an overcrowded Termini station (queues everywhere!!)
I bought a subway ticket and went to the tourist information to buy a map.
Before diving into the historic city centre, I made a brief stop in Via Poma in the elegant neighbourhood of Prati, to see the building where Simonetta, a young secretary, was found murdered in an office in 1990.
She was 20 and I 22 when I learnt the news, shocked for having always considered a work place as safe.
I paid the visit as symbolic act of involvement, PRAYING that the truth will finally come out.
Then the walk into Rome began, well convinced I was about to arrive at Castel Sant’Angelo.
Instead, I found myself (speechless!!) before the facade of the
Palazzo della Corte di Cassazione, an extraordinarily imposing building
The Cassazione is the highest court of appeal, giving final and definitive sentences.
Have you ever seen Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara? More or less the feeling of great awe is the same, though this last looks more… “gentle”.
There is so much in Rome that recalls ancient history,
times when its inhabitants wore TUNICS and spoke LATIN
It reminds me of chapter 2, in which Mark imagines a conversation in the baths, where people from all walks of life converge, along with senators and soldiers.
In Piazza Navona I sat to have some lunch, my face half-roasted by a still-burning October sun.
It is said that here Caravaggio used to observe people; and that more in general he took inspiration from the poor to paint saints.
Mine was a different experience, feeling more captured by the buildings (three fountains, one obelisk, two churches) and catching a glimpse of someone looking at me from a Little Tramp disguise.
By the way: I confirm that the transit of religious people here is more frequent than elsewhere.
I remained there waiting for the opening of the church of San Luigi dei Francesi,
St. Louis of the French, which houses 3 paintings with Matthew, the Evangelist
When the time appropinqva (my Latinized version for “approached” 😉), I took the narrow street flowing in front of Palazzo Madama, seat of today’s Senate.
Within those walls the genius once lived, under the protection of a cardinal.
When the subject is Caravaggio, believe me… there’s no need of any map: where the stream points to, THERE HE IS!
Still very much searched by plenty of smartphones!
I opted to act in reverse: watch while keeping hands behind
First impression? Even a child would recognize Merisi’s unique style!
No one else employs chiaroscuros and strong realism in painted figures as he does.
For a moment Matthew even stood in the half-light of his dark backgrounds as the chapel light went out, then came back.
A bit annoying that no one cared much about respecter le silence.
If not le silence, at least respecter the barely perceptible Gregorian chant on the air…
Caravaggio lived in a very CONTRARY direction to those who sniffed money in his works
And I am very intrigued to explore more of WHO actually were these rock stars of yesteryear, who sent fans into a frenzy with violins and brushes.
I ask myself as well as Mark, who gives a brief explanation of the biblical context but add ample room for his own deeper questions.
More recently, film director Michele Placido has released The Shadow of Caravaggio, and perhaps it could be a good opportunity to investigate.
The following visits were supposed to be at the Basilica of St. Augustine and at Madonna del Popolo, but they both open at 4pm, and I had time left only for one.
I opted for Peter and Paul, and leave St Augustine’s Mary holding a big baby Jesus (with a somehow strange position of her feet) for another time.
As I tried to figure out which way to go, the Pantheon popped up
Down to Via della Scrofa, where Caravaggio used to attend an art studio in the 1500s, I was stopped by plenty of cameras tailing premier Giorgia getting out from her party headquarters.
Once she departed, I went on till the Palace of Parliament, turned onto Via del Corso, cut through Piazza di Spagna and Trinità dei Monti planning to descend by skirting Villa Borghese in the direction of the Piazza of the Peoples.
Here there is another obelisk, the THIRD I found on my way…
I felt a similar contrarian reaction like Mark had when exclaimed that My-lady must be more in Italy than in Heaven…
He was seeing Madonnas everywhere; I was now wondering: ma che-c-c’entrano tanti geroglifici con Roma??
The effect of feeling puzzled made me immediately mistake the church, entering Maria dei Miracoli instead of Maria del Popolo.
The right church is on the opposite side, and obviously, that very day was the only one attracting visitors.
Peter and Paul are there, on medium-sized paintings, one crucified and the other hit by God’s Light, at the sides of the “habitual” Madonna.
The chapel is narrow, so no position allows you to observe details, but one thing is sure:
Caravaggio put Faith into facts, his are REAL-LIFE scenes
highlighting what is really important to understand alongside Jesus’ words:
I am the Beginning and the End (Revelation 1:8)
My Kingdom is NOT from this world (John 18:36)
I now long for more of Caravaggio’s touch in Rome, and already put in plans future visits.
I’ll want to stop by for sure at Palazzo Barberini (to see Judith and Holofernes) and especially at Borghese Gallery (exposing most of his works, including David and Goliath).
But spaces with free entrance have been the best start.
Somehow more realistic, and perhaps the way he would have preferred.
There is something of what Mark says about Rome in general that I sense could
align with Caravaggio’s style: 1.Story matters 2.Gospel is not ideology
Two points that are NOT to be taken for granted, as require first hand life experience.
Imposing palaces, cold cases, antiquity, immortal wonder, salvation… did I experience some of Caravaggio’s personal world by looking beautiful and brutal realities in the face?
I don’t know, but I especially agree with Mark’s quotes:
Rome teaches that it is the story that matters and that beyond the tasks and responsibilities of life, there is a greater context that gives meaning to the fabric of human existence.
One realizes that it is not the “thing” that matters as much as the story behind it.
So dear future traveller to Rome, today or one day, even if only for a few days… make it be a TRUE journey!
GRAZIE for reading!
Which way do Caravaggio and Rome in general impress YOU?
I am always very interested in learning a foreigner’s point of view, and the way they see us.
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