My last entry dealt with my first foray into proper sightseeing in the Eternal City and I was pretty fired up to do a bit more. Not only that but I had resolved myself to walk as I am a firm believer that this is the best way to see any city. The previous day I had singularly failed to take an image of the Vatican due to equipment failure. OK, to be perfectly honest I had forgotten to charge the battery of my camera which had given up the ghost at the crucial moment and so I thought I would have an early start on the hop on – hop off bus as my 24 hour ticket ran to 1100 and then walk the rest of the way. Well, that was the plan anyway!
It all started off so well on a glorious Roman summer day which was to pass through being a complete navigational cock-up into one of the best days of the whole trip. I had my little free map from the hostel which was frankly about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine but I had a rough idea at least. I knew I had to walk across the Tiber and there are plenty of bridges at least, which is handy, so I picked one which looked particularly attractive and for some inexplicable reason I actually felt quite emotional. I have no idea why, perhaps it was just that I was walking across this hugely famous river in the heart of one of the most iconic cities in the world and I had never been there before, it was just one of those “travel moments” that I have from time to time.
I have a feeling the bridge I used was the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele II but I would not swear to it. At this point I decided to deliberately go the “wrong” way as I fancied getting an image of the river but I knew that if I retraced my steps I would be back at my “launchpad” for the Vatican.
Naturally, with me being me, I was taking random pictures of anything and everything and the image above shows a piece of “graffiti, if that is not too crude a word for it, that my untutored eye would not have found out of place in a fine art gallery. Shame the local thugs had not demonstrated the same artistic ability in their crude daubs adjacent.
I wandered along the riverbank, noting the many little riverside bars and restaurants set up in marquees but none of which was apparently open much to my annoyance. With the photo duly taken, it was back to where I had started and what should have been a fifteen minute or so walk up the hill to the Vatican. This is where things started to unravel.
I had a quick beer in a little local bar and I stress that it was a quick one and one only and then I took off along what I was quite sure was the uphill and very short walk to the Holy See. Wrong and I had a feeling it was wrong. I was certainly going uphill in what had by now becoming fairly blazing hot sun but whilst I should have returned to the bridge and regrouped I just kept ploughing on. Where was the problem? I was having one of my little adventures and I knew that if worst came to worst I could blag a taxi somewhere to take me home.
Onwards and upwards as they say but nothing is ever simple for me. I had worked out where I was and a route back down to the river but the entire road, including the pavements was blocked off for works and I mean completely blocked off. OK, resort to Plan B (I had not even had too much of a plan A) so I thought I would go the long way round via the park and perhaps I could find a path that would lead me back up to the Vatican City.
Find a path? Not a chance. Beautiful as the Parco del Giancolo undoubtedly is (it affords some beautiful views over the city as you can see above, even on a hazy day) paths are in pretty short supply so I just kept walking and what treasures were to be discovered and there proved to be quite a number.
First up in this ancient city was a not so very ancient monument at all but nonetheless impressive. It was, would you believe, a lighthouse in a city I had never associated with seafaring to a great extent. It merely dates to 1911 when all four of my grandparents were still alive but it is impressive nonetheless and is undoubtedly situated in the right place, namely just about the highest point in the city. It was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy, which I shall come to in a moment, and was funded by donations from Argentinians which is not as odd as it may initially sounds when you read on about Guiseppi Garibaldi and his rather daring and tragic wife Anita, herself a South American.
I found a wonderful memorial to Giuseppe Garibaldi who, as well as being credited as the unifier of what is modern Italy, had many adventures and military campaigns in the Americas and of whom I knew remarkably little.
It is very true to say that I constantly learn whilst travelling which I suppose is one of the major reasons I do it. If I may quote here from an excellent old Fairport Convention song, “For the more I learn it’s the less I seem to know” which was written by the late and much missed Dave Swarbrick, a fine musician who I had the pleasure of meeting. Such it was with Garibaldi on my trip to Rome.
Despite going to a good school, Italian history past the Romans just was not on the agenda. Yes, I had some sort of vague idea which I had read somewhere long after I left that seat of learning that he was an important personage without whom modern day Italy would not exist and that there was a biscuit named after him which may be true or purely another historical myth. Disregarding the biscuit (to which I am quite partial) I managed to find out, on this day of getting lost in Rome, quite a bit about this remarkable character. I have researched a little further since and found out more and I intend to continue that line of enquiry. Such is the joy of travelling, I never stop learning and hope I never will.
I could go on now to regale the reader with a full history of this fascinating man but I shall not as it is all available online and undoubtedly done better than I could. What I will speak of is this rather magnificent monument to the man which is sited on the highest point of the Janiculum Hill, one of the seven upon which the city is so famously built. It is an appropriate site as it is where he had a fairly famous “last stand” (although it turned out not to be his last) against Roman Catholic troops called in from places like Austria and France by Pope Pius IX who he had already effectively banished from Rome, if the reader can imagine that. A Pope banished from Rome?
The monument itself is very impressive and well worth seeking out, albeit that I had found it completely by accident but a quick word of warning here. I had fancied getting up close to it for a few images on my pretty basic compact camera but the antics of the Roman traffic precluded this as the effigy is effectively in the middle of a traffic roundabout and you really do take your life in your hands trying to get near it.
It is to the design of Emilio Gallori but was not unveiled until 1895, some 13 years after his death.
Anita Garibaldi Monument.
I found the magnificent memorial to his wife Anita, apparently a formidable woman who fought alongside Garibaldi and died tragically young of malaria. She is quite revered in Brazil as an agent of independence and the memorial also serves as her final resting place after her first hurried burial near Ravenna where she died.
If I knew little about Garibaldi, I knew absolutely nothing of his wife who has transpired to be an equally fascinating character if not, indeed, even moreso and yet again gives further credence to the old cliché about travelling broadening the mind. Like most clichés it has a sound basis in truth. Had I not managed to completely lose myself I would have probably gone to my grave never having heard of this incredible woman.
For a woman who played such a prominent role in the founding of modern Italy, it is a little surprising that she was not even Italian, whatever that meant at the time of her birth in 1821 as Italy was essentially a group of principalities. She was Brazilian and of very humble Azorean stock who had earlier relocated to South America. She met Garibaldi (himself from what is now France) in 1839 and they became lovers, comrades in arms and eventually national heroes.
Her wonderful memorial atop Janiculum Hill close to that of Garibaldi himself and I actually found hers the more aesthetically pleasing, not to mention historically accurate of the two and the central image of her riding away from potential danger with a weapon in one hand and clutching an infant child in the other I found to be hugely emotive somehow. Given the social mores of the time she really is a fine example of feminism which I suspect some of the more extreme of that movement in the 21st century might do well to study.
Her memorial is made all the more poignant in that it is her final resting place although this is in itself contentious. Having died of malaria in 1849 Anita’s remains were hastily buried near Ravenna where she had died. There is some suggestion that dogs dug up and desecrated the remains after which they were moved and it was not until 1932 that the Fascist leader Mussolini had the remains removed from the alleged second resting place in Genoa to be placed in the base of the current monument which is the work of Mario Rutelli. Hopefully it is the poor woman’s final resting place and I must say that when I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil I can think of many worse places for my ashes to lie.
Again, this monument is not on the standard tourist Roman tour but is well worth seeking out and the reader may even try doing it deliberately and not by getting as lost as I was!
They came from all corners of the globe.
So there I was on Janiculum Hill, apparently so named for the Roman god Janus (from where we get our English word January) and I had seen the monuments to Guiseppi Garibaldi and his redoubtable wife Anita which you have already read about. This was all well and good, I was admittedly lost but having a great time even if it was stinking hot, but there was something that was puzzling me.
All over the hillside, which is where Garibaldi made a famous stand against the French as sent by the Pope (Pius IX) who wanted nothing to do with self-determination for the Roman people, I found fairly uniform sized busts of generally bearded or at least mustachioed 19th century looking chaps atop plinths with dates of birth and death (if my appalling Italian serves me here).
It appears that Garibaldi was joined as brothers in arms by many men from all over the globe, including my own country, the UK, who shared his political ideals and these are the men commemorated here. Many of his comrades were South American as he had certainly had a few exploits there and his wife was Brazilian of Portuguese Azorean extraction.
Somehow I found these memorials to long dead men stangely affecting and I could not help myself quietly singing a song called “Viva la Quinza Brigada” (sp?) which I learned from the singing of Christy Moore and which was written about the International Brigade fighting against Franco’s Fascists in Spain in the 30’s. It was just the concept of idealists, be they right or wrong, travelling half way across the world to take up arms that had worked it’s way into my skull. Whatever the rights or wrongs of their cause, they died here and that makes it a place worth visiting.
I have been told before that I think far too much all the time, especially when I travel, and this is very probably true. However, I make no apology for this and I was glad I saw these memorials, albeit accidentally. I would recommend any traveller to Rome with a day or two spare to go up Janiculum Hill and view this, not to mention the many other attractions and superb views. It is arguably my favourite place in Rome and these monuments are well worth seeking out.
Another slightly unexpected building I passed was what turned out to be the Finnish Embassy, not that it was unusual in itself but the location has to be one of the most pleasant diplomatic postings in the world with that stunning view over Rome. A whole lot better than, say, Kabul for sure. I noticed they also advertised classes in the Finnish language (amongst other regular cultural activities) and I wish them much luck with that as Finnish is a ludicrously difficult language unless you are Hungarian. Go on, I’ll bet I have piqued your interest now and you’ll look it up. I’ll give you a clue, do a search on Finno-Ugric languages as it would take me forever to explain here. Personally, in several weeks in that lovely country I learned the word for breakfast which has more vowels than I have ever seen, how to order a beer (obviously) and please and thank you and so I wish polyglot Italians “in bocca al lupo” with that.
On and on past the gates of the park and I eventually came upon what could just about be described as a hamlet where I stopped in a tiny locals bar for much-needed refreshment.
Directly opposite this excellent hostelry was a small museum to Garibaldi which I visited before heading back towards town. I only found out it was a museum by chance as I had thought it was just a very ornate old city gate, which it also is. There was not a vast array of artefacts but what there were proved interesting and there was a particularly harrowing audio-visual piece (pictured and available in English) about a man whose young sons were all executed before his eyes during the “Battle of Rome” or whatever it is officially called. Definitely not one for the youngsters but very well done.
I thought I had already had a pretty good day’s sightseeing and learning considering I had only the vaguest idea where I was but I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and done what I love doing on the road, just wandering at random and hoping for the best.
I eventually managed to get to the Tiber again by way of some ludicrously steep steps and a very well-tended war memorial and then cross the river by way of a small island which I did not even know existed.
My knowledge of Rome was indeed lamentable. The island is really pretty tiny yet it boasts no less than a basilica (pictured) and three hospitals which I can only surmise is some sort of historical quirk for keeping infection out of the main city, I really have no idea. Hot as the sun was I was still thankfully not in need of hospitalisation but I could have murdered a drink which proved to be no problem as there were a few little bars dotted about from which I chose the Tiberino which was a pleasant if expensive choice with just a word of warning which I suppose still proves I have not quite shaken off my habit of reviewing as I did for Virtual Tourist. The “facilities” are down some rather steep steps as I suppose is normal in an old building like this and I did not see an accessible toilet (although there may be one) so if mobility is an issue for you it may be a problem. Actually, I do not see a problem with reporting things like this, it is my site and if I care to share what I believe to be helpful information, so be it. As I have said many times before I still have not quite worked out what form this site is to take which I know is not a good way to run it but I rather like my scattergun approach.
Pausing to look at the impressive 1,000 year old basilica which was regrettably shut. I wandered across the delightful pedestrian “Ponte Quattro Capi” aka “Pons Fabricius”, which I discovered is the oldest bridge in Rome in it’s original state and dates to 62B.C. Not only does it speak volumes for the standards of Roman construction but it was a bit of a thrill to think I was walking across a bridge that perhaps legionnaries, centurions, senators, gladiators, slaves and all the rest may have walked over. This day was just going from good to out the far side of brilliant. How I love getting lost.
I eventually regained “my” side of the river, so I was in with half a shout of getting home in one piece, all good.
Once there, I had a reasonable idea of where I was heading but that did not stop me going a bit crazy again. Read on.
Despite my pretty dodgy back and advancing years coupled with the still fairly stifling heat of the late afternoon I reckoned I had a bit of walking left in me and so I kept going. Probably more by good luck than good judgement I found an area I vaguely recognised from the previous day’s bus trip and by dint of following the route of the tour buses I knew I was getting back to more or less where I wanted to be. Naturally with me being me, there were a few diversions on the way and, as long as I was still vaguely orientated I reckoned I was still ahead of the game. Some of the diversions are pictured above but don’t ask me what they were, impressive as they seemed to be.
These diversions included the not very Italian sounding “Public Bar” which I would normally have given a large swerve but it turned out to be great and eventually, more by good luck than good judgement I suppose, I ended back up in the hostel, utterly exhausted but very happy.
It is a strange dichotomy in that I can read maps pretty well and yet can manage to get myself completely lost somewhere like Rome yet I can always find my way home even after visiting numerous purveyors of liquid refreshment which is what happened this evening and I can tell you that after the exertions of a very warm day my head had hardly hit the pillow before I was fast asleep.
This rather extended journey is approaching a conclusion but there is still a little more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.