We had to go to Rome, because, you know, Rome. We were a little intimidated by the size, the potential crowds, and the complexity of finding our way, but we persevered nonetheless. I don’t remember quite when Malta was added to the mix, but I’m sure it was in part because of Dorothy Dunnett. At any rate, we made arrangements for a week in Rome, five days in Malta, and on October 10 we flew away.
We arrived on a Tuesday morning and the pre-arranged driver met us at the airport. At the apartment, our landlady, the lovely and charming Lucia, explained everything to us (well, almost everything). Here is the entrance. But first you must unlock the big wooden door that gives out directly on to the street, then go down a passageway with a tiny elevator for the other apartments, then through a heavy metal gate, then finally the front door to the apartment. Very safe! (Though there is a key crisis yet to come.)It was not quite ready, so after our tour Lucia gave us the keys and we went out for a short wander through the Campo de’ Fiori nearby. We stumbled around the beautiful market for a while, then returned to eat the two kinds of delicious pizza Lucia had left for us, followed by a deep two-hour nap.
It was drizzling just a bit but we made our way along Rick Steves’ walk to the Pantheon. The maps do not make much sense but we persevered nonetheless and along the way visited Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Navona. Here is one of the four rivers, the Rio de la Plata, gesturing in fear at St. Agnes’ Church.At least, that’s the story. As Wikipedia says, “A legend, common with tour-guides, is that Bernini positioned the cowering Rio de la Plata River as if the sculpture was fearing the facade of the church of Sant’Agnese by his rival Borromini could crumble against him; in fact, the fountain was completed several years before Borromini began work on the church.”
At one end of the piazza is the Fontana del Moro, featuring the Moor sculpted by Bernini. A whole book could be written (and undoubtedly has been) about the fountains of Rome. They are justly proud of their abundant water, much of it still arriving via aqueducts, and you can find fountains monumental and simply useful, all over the place.
Then on to the Pantheon. There it is, just around the corner, because Rome has gradually built up around all these amazing places. It was full of people but we still loved the space, the ceiling, the oculus, the pillars, the floor pattern. From here we went to Santa Maria sopra Minerva with the delightful elephant and obelisk out front. The elephant is by a student of Bernini, and the obelisk is is yet another Egyptian one, this one uncovered during excavations in the 17th century.On the wall outside were markers of floods through history (the Tiber frequently overflows its banks). Inside was Rome’s only Gothic church, built on a previous temple to Isis (not actually Minerva). Michelangelo’s muscular Christ is the star of the interior. Someone famously said the knees alone are worth all the art in Rome – me, I didn’t quite see it.
Dinner on this first day was panini from a local market and then an early bed.