Why visit Rome
When I went to visit Rome for the first time, I knew that one of the most beautiful cities in the world (and one of the richest European capitals too) was waiting for me. What I did not know is that Rome is also a magical city that always leaves you with a strange feeling: it seems that you have just touched it, but never knowing it enough. Even after a short vacation it amazes you with its beauty to the point of leaving you a strong feeling of pride and belonging.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, one of the greatest German writers, wrote these words that need no comment: “Rome is the capital of the world! The whole history of the world is tied to this place, and I think that I was born a second time, that I really rose again, the day I come to Rome. Its beauties have gradually raised me to their height”.
Rome is history, culture, myth, legends, monuments. Called “Caput mundi”, it is the cradle of Western civilization and capital of Christianity: it has an artistic, architectural and cultural history that has influenced the whole world during the last 3000 years.
Visiting Rome gives to the tourists’ eyes a charming feeling with its majesty, it is a real open-air museum where every building, church, square, statue, obelisk, fountain, each stone testifies traces of history and culture, looking thoughout thousands of years …… that’s why it continues to have no rivals among the favorite destinations of international tourism.
During my vacation, a whole week in the Eternal City, I visited many places, saw a lot of ancient monuments and made hundreds of photographs. I touched the vitality, the Italian joy and the hospitality of the Romans, but over all I tasted their culinary specialties every time it was possible. Considering that it would be a “murder” writing my Roman experience in a single article, I choose a couple of topics in my notes, leaving everything else for the next articles.
The luxury of water
In the Roman age, the water was a symbol of power, a luxury that the romans showed to their guests thanks to impressive aqueducts and to the most spectacular spas of their time, such as the Caracalla Bathes, ensuring hot and cold rooms and pools in every season. Another thing struck people: the abundance of water for common use, a good that was a symbol of wealth. Water and fountains are part of the artistic and cultural heritage of the city: since ancient times for the Romans water represented a gift from the gods and the baths were the place to meet other people, make deals, establish relationships or close political agreements. It was the abundance of water in the Lazio region that led its inhabitants to become excellent architects, building extraordinary engineering works such as bridges, dams, aqueducts. So they drained swamps and cultivated the countryside, thanks to the channeling or exploiting of water.
The history of Rome includes several men such as Kings, Consuls, Emperors (during the roman age), then Popes and rich Noblemen (up to the Renaissance and further) chose to enrich the city with monumental fountains in order to leave their name to posterity: that’s why fountains were very interesting for me, and this is another good reason to visit Rome. The use of building fountains was elevated to pure art in 1500 and 1600, when the most famous architects challenged themselves to furnish the squares of Rome.
Also nowadays, one among many things that amazed me while I was in Rome is the abundance of water, the number of fountains that are everywhere and that represent for the Romans and tourists refreshment points always available. It seems that Rome is the only city in the world that has about two thousand cast iron fountains. They are known by Romans as “nasoni” because of their characteristic shape recalling a huge nose, and made exclusively to quench the passersby.
The fountains of Rome
The following places are good suggestions also for who visit Rome in a few days days, a sort of “visit Rome tips”, besides many renowned monument such as Colosseum, Vatican city, Domus Aurea, Fori Imperiali. Our list of fountains can be without any doubt added to the “places to visit in Rome”.
Unmissable destination for any tourist visiting Rome is the Trevi Fountain, famous all over the world for its extraordinary beauty (due to many water games) and also known thanks to the kiss scene with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the movie “La Dolce Vita”. This monumental eighteenth century fountain, in rococo style, has a large statue of the god Oceano in the middle, towed on a chariot shaped like a sea horse driven by Tritoni (mythological creatures).
On both sides there are statues: Salubrity and Abundance. A legend tells that those who throw a coin into the fountain, turning their backs to the fountain and keeping their eyes closed and the right hand on the left shoulder, will surely return to Rome.
Along Via del Tritone you arrive in Barberini Square (from the name of a rich and important noble family) where stands the Tritone Fountain, a monument created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is dedicated to a powerful figure taken from mythology, kneeling on a large open shell and supported by the tails of four dolphins, which “plays” a shell from which the water comes out.
A walk of a few minutes along Via Sistina and you can reach Trinità dei Monti, where is possible to see a wide panorama over the heart of the city and then, walking down along a large and majestic stairway (the famous Spanish Steps) you reach is the Barcaccia fountain, near Via Condotti, the Roman street of luxury.
This fountain is both: a sculptural and architectural work, built between 1626 and 1629 by Bernini on commission of Pope Urban VIII. A unique boat-shaped tub collects the water that comes out of two large suns, at the bow and the stern of the ship, and it also gushes from a small central basin. The idea was taken from an old boat that had been dried up in the place where the fountain now stands.
It really arrived there during a flood in 1598. This position is also due to the fact that the Virgin Water aqueduct, which still today feeds the fountain, had a pressure too low to allow the creation of spurts or waterfalls, therefore the Bernini chose the shape of a boat sunk in water and built it below the road level.
Perhaps the strangest fountain of Rome, curious as it is ugly, is the Fountain of the Babuino (Baboon fountain): a square pool dominated by the deformed silen (sileno) lying, strained, on the rock base. It seems that its ugliness of the statue led the Romans to compare the divinity depicted to a monkey and they called it baboon (Babbuino) and then they also changed the name to the road that, instead of Via Paolina, became Via del Babuino.
Through the monumental entrance in Piazzale Flaminio, you enter the public park of Villa Borghese, an area of about 80 hectares of greenery that houses the headquarters of the Museum and the Galleria Borghese. Here you can find one of the most prestigious collections of art from the 16th to the 18th century and masterpieces by artists such as Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Bernini and Canova.
Walking through this green area, among centuries-old trees and Italian gardens, it is worth visiting the Giardino del Lago (the garden of the lake) with the Tempietto di Esculapio (a small temple built on an island created by architects) and the Fountain of Sea Horses, a large circular pool supported by four seahorses.
Then, walking towards the Roma Termini station you cross Piazza della Repubblica. In the center of this square stands the Fountain of the Naiads, a sculptural work that takes its name from the bronze statues of four nude nymphs, the Naiads: the Nymph of the Lakes, the Nymph of the Rivers, the Nymph of the Oceans and the Nymph of Underground Waters. The male figure in the center of the fountain is Glaucus who holds a dolphin to symbolize man’s power over nature. It is considered the most beautiful of the modern fountains of Rome. It was built in 1888 with the aim of providing a monumental perspective to the then elegant Via Nazionale. Personally I recommend you visit it after sunset because you can fully appreciate how gorgeous, glitzy and spectacular it can look.
Another example of sculptural refinement can be found in the ancient Jewish ghetto: passing next to beautiful buildings of the ‘500 and’ 600 you arrive in Piazza Mattei and there you remain open-mouthed in front of the Fontana delle Tartarughe (turtles’ fountain), one of the most striking.
The sculpture in marble and bronze depicts four ephebes, showing their beautiful body structure. They push upwards with a hand some turtles to let them drink the fresh water of the upper tank. Each young man with the other hand and a foot holds a dolphin from whose mouth comes the water that feeds four large shells: a real gem, made in the second half of the sixteen century.
Another stop of my itinerary, dedicated to the fountains of Rome, was Piazza Navona. At the northern end of this wonderful baroque square is the Fountain of Neptune also known as the Calderai fountain because of its proximity to the ancient alley where once there were the workshops of blacksmiths and sellers of pots, pans and metal dishes.
At the center of the square, a must visiting Rome, is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers Fountain) placed in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. It was designed and built by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Completed in 1651, it is called with this name because it depicts the four corners of the Earth, through their most important rivers fully discovered at that age: the Danube, the Ganges, the Rio della Plata and the Nile.
Crossing the Tiber it is easy to reach Piazza San Pietro and the two twin fountains that are positioned on the main axis of the ellipse of the square, aligned with the obelisk in the center.
The story tells that when Gian Lorenzo Bernini began to take care of the construction of the majestic oval colonnade and the architecture of the entire complex, he saw that a single fountain, if compared to the square, looked like to be positioned not in a centered position and this risked ruining the harmony of the entire work; therefore decided to place a twin fountain to save the symmetry of the square.
From the most famous fountains to the roman culinary art
After a bit ‘of history and many legends, now it is time to change the protagonist of my writing and going to tell about something that is surely another good reason to plan a holiday in Rome: I will talk about a typical dish of Roman cuisine: pasta Cacio e Pepe, whose simplicity in the choice of ingredients seems to be almost out of place if compared to the majesty of the Roman palaces and the historical complexity of the Eternal City.
“Cacio e Pepe” (pasta with pepper and sheep milk’s aged cheese) is an extremely tasty dish, made by combining three simple ingredients, pasta, pecorino cheese and pepper.
Cacio e Pepe recipe is a dish that has humble, but ancient, origins. It seems it was the meal prepared by the shepherds of the Roman country that, during the transhumance of the flocks, carried in the saddle bag caloric and long-life ingredients. They used to take dried tomatoes, pork cheek, a few slices of aged pecorino cheese, a bag of black peppercorns and dried spaghetti prepared by hand with water, salt and flour. Over time the custom of seasoning pasta with cheese and pepper spread throughout the Lazio countryside to the mountains of Abruzzo and Umbria and then become a master dish of the Roman culinary tradition. So we can say that the basic Cacio e Pepe recipe has been revisited in a thousand different ways by varying the type of pasta, ingredients and the method of preparation too.
Pasta Cacio e Pepe Recipe
Today the “Cacio e Pepe” pasta is cooked with rigatoni pasta, egg pasta, tagliatelle (noodles), spaghetti alla chitarra (made using a tool that reminds a guitar with many strings), etc … and the chef usually adapts the creaminess of the sauce, considering how much pasta can absorb the sauce. In short, the secret of pasta Cacio e Pepe, dish typical of poor Roman cuisine, lies in the ability of the chef to mix the ingredients and find the right balance between cheese and cooking water.
I have chosen to publish two recipes for “Cacio e Pepe” pasta: the one that is closer to the origins and tradition of the shepherds of the Roman countryside and the other is the modern one that seeks the creaminess of the condiment. However, remember that the original recipe does not include the use of oil, butter, cream to make the sauce.
Ingredients for 4 people:
- 400 grams of spaghetti or other pasta
- 100 grams of grated Pecorino Romano cheese Pod
- black pepper
- Salt to taste.
Cacio e pepe recipe n.1
- Mix the grated pecorino and the black pepper in a glass or stainless steel Cooking vessel. Better if you pound the whole grains of pepper in the mortar to preserve the full aroma of the spices.
- Cook the pasta in lightly salted water for a few minutes in order to obtain a “al dente” cooking . Pasta should be cooked but not completely softened to maintain the right consistency and avoid overcooking.
- Raise the spaghetti and quickly, in order not to lose the cooking water, throw it into the mixture of pecorino and pepper.
- Mix the pasta with the sauce, adding a couple of tablespoons of cooking water for a better mix. Be careful: avoid to leave any kind of cream on the bottom of the pan, the original Cacio e Pepe is not creamy: pecorino cheese and black pepper must give the effect of “blasting” the spaghetti.
Cacio e pepe recipe n.2
- Cook the pasta in plenty of lightly salted water.
- Take a large pan, pour the grated pecorino, add a generous amount of ground pepper, then mix everything with a ladle of hot cooking water. You have to melt the pecorino cheese without letting it clump: pour the boiling water not directly on the cheese, but on the bottom of the pan and then gradually stir.
- Drain the pasta when cooking is “al dente” (pasta must be not too soft or overcooked), pour it into the pan and mix it with the cream cheese for a minute. If necessary, add a little more cooking water.
- Turn the heat on and, keeping it medium-low, blow the dough for about twenty seconds, stirring constantly, so pasta ties stronger with the pecorino cheese sauce. The secret is to create a homogeneous cream able to adhere like a thin veil on pasta.
- Serve hot spaghetti, adding if you still want some grated pecorino and a sprinkling of pepper.
Warning! You can taste this goodness in every tavern and restaurant in Rome, everyone will tell you that you are going to eat of the “real, traditional Cacio e Pepe recipe. Don’t worry, the Romans are like that, a bit mockers but very proud. For those who visit Rome taste the “Cacio e Pepe” pasta is almost a must as to pulling the coin in the Trevi Fountain.
Have a nice trip and Buon Appetito!