A Grand Tour Walk through Rome

When Roman skies turn gloomy and rain starts to fall, there is no greater joy than to escape into one of Rome‘s many delectable coffee shops. You won’t have to look far to find one; they are everywhere, just follow your nose.

And so it was when I was walking along the Via dei Condotti that a sudden cloudburst caused pedestrians to scatter like bowling pins and I found myself by chance across the street from a cafe with yellowed light spilling alluringly out its windows.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, antico caffe greco, coffee

ANTICO CAFFE GRECO ON VIA DEI CONDOTTI

Inside, dimly lit counters were filled with delicacies, tarts and handmade chocolates vying for counter space.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, antico caffe greco

I ordered a coffee and, as an afterthought, a single marron glacé because those gently glazed chestnuts looked so perfect all lined up like little soldiers, glowing a soft caramel colour in the cafe’s yellow light. Before selecting a place to sit, I wandered the length of the cafe perusing the many artworks that adorn the walls.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, antico caffe greco, coffee

The Caffè Greco first opened its doors in 1760 and quickly became a popular meeting place for artists, writers, poets, politicians and other notables. Goethe, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wagner, Bizet, Mark Twain and even Princess Di have frequented this cafe over the years. The walls are covered with photos of prominent people from history enjoying a beverage at one of the cafe’s tables. I sat down across from Buffalo Bill and had coffee with him and his entourage.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, antico caffe greco, coffee, buffalo bill

Casanova had at least one rather risqué encounter here as a youth which he wrote about in his memoirs. I hoped I wasn’t sitting on the seat where he had made his conquest.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, antico caffe greco, coffee

The rain had abated somewhat by the time I had finished my coffee so I set off once more, now in a literary mindset. The Spanish Steps glistened with rainfall and rose men worked the crowds with armloads of blooms. To the right of the steps, a tall, thin house bore a placard commemorating a familiar name.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, keats shelley house, keats shelley museum, spanish stepsThe building now houses the Keats-Shelley House; a museum celebrating the English Romantic poets who fell under the spell of the Eternal City. It contains a series of beautiful rooms and a wealth of books and curiosities from the lives of the poets. In the hallway hangs a beautiful hand drawn map of this little corner of Rome, the Tridente district, indicating the residences of its more famous inhabitants during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Rome was an integral part of the Grand Tour. In the words of the great Robert Browning, ‘everyone soon or late comes round by Rome’. Poor John Keats, however, did not get to enjoy much of the romance and adventure of the Eternal City. He was already sick with tuberculosis before he arrived; in fact it was at his doctor’s advice that he made the trip in the first place. After a long and arduous sea journey, he arrived in November 1820 and set up house here right by the Spanish Steps. He wheezed his last tuberculosis-ridden cough the following February at the age of 25.

keats-shelley

Shelley, a friend of Keats, was at the time living in Pisa with his family. He had invited Keats to stay with them when he had heard of his friend’s illness, but this never came to pass. Upon hearing of Keats’ death, Shelley wrote the pastoral elegy Adonais, which he held to be the greatest of his creations, mourning his friend’s passing. The following year, Shelley’s life was also cut short when his boat was caught in a sudden storm and he was drowned.

On the other side of the Spanish Steps is a rather illustrious tea house, Babington’s, founded in 1893 by two English women. At the time, tea could only be bought in pharmacies in Italy, so Babington’s provided a much-needed cuppa for the droves of English who now visited and often set up residence in Rome.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, babingtons tea house, babington's

The 19th century interior is beautiful in a bright and shiny kind of way. In complete contrast to the cozy intrigue of moodily-lit nooks and crannies in the Antico Caffè Greco, Babbington’s dazzles with glamour, lit with sparkling crystal lamps and offering wide open rooms filled with tables.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, babingtons tea house, babington's

It too has had its share of illustrious visitors. During the filming of Cleopatra it was a favourite hangout for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and Fellini couldn’t resist their English muffins.

I pushed further on, down winding streets past the Casa di Goethe where the German author once had his residence. It now houses a museum dedicated to his works but it was closed on Mondays so I kept going.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, casa di goethe

My walk took me along a small side street that runs parallel to the Via Babuino which I wrote about earlier in the Congregation of Wits. The side street is called Via Margutta and was THE place to live if you were an artist in the city. Its reputation as the Artist’s Street began as far back as the 16th century when it was declared a tax-free zone for artists.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, via margutta, artist's streetIf you were a resident of the Via Margutta and an artist, you would be exempt from any and all taxes, so naturally, artists and musicians flocked here from all over Europe. Debussy, Picasso and Stravinsky, Liszt and Wagner all lived and worked here. In the 1950s Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Roman Holiday’ shone a spotlight on this street as well as the Mouth of Truth. Truman Capote lived at number 33 in the 60s and Federico Fellini was just down the road at number 110.

Even though it is so central, you could easily forget you were in the middle of a bustling metropolis as you walk down this ancient cobbled street lined with brightly painted ivy-clad houses, filled with galleries and antiques shops.

The weather was still holding out so I decided to venture a little further to finish my walk through Rome’s artistic yesteryears in the Pincio Gardens. I climbed the steps from the Piazza del Popolo as the sun started to drop low in the sky. It is impossible to walk along the formal pathways without feeling the whisper of Henry James, Edith Wharton, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, keats shelley house, keats shelley museum, spanish steps, pincio gardens

The pathways are lined with marble busts of famous Italians of yore. Many of the busts’ noses have been smashed and repaired over the years, due to an ancient belief that the nose, where you draw breath, was the source of life, even after death. It stood to reason that if you removed the nose of the statue, the spirit would be deprived of oxygen and could haunt you no more.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, keats shelley house, keats shelley museum, spanish steps, pincio gardens

The sun dropped below the horizon as I made my way to the Pincio terrace with a view that stretches over the city to the Vatican. It was the perfect way to end the day in the company of literary giants of a bygone era.

rome, italy, travel, literati, grand tour, photography, travelogue, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, keats shelley house, keats shelley museum, spanish steps, pincio gardens

 

 

Advertisements

About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
This entry was posted in Europe, Italy, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to A Grand Tour Walk through Rome

  1. ledrakenoir says:

    Fascinating… 🙂

  2. Evi says:

    Beautiful city, rich in culture and was told well. All harmonic 🙂

  3. sueslaght says:

    A beautiful walk Ailsa and I appreciated learning about the history. Your line about pedestrians scattering like bowling pins had me giggling at the vision.

    • ailsapm says:

      There’s so much to discover in Rome, hiding around every corner, Sue. I am fascinated with the whole idea of the ‘Grand Tour’ and have resolved to delve deeper into the tradition surrounding it. 🙂

  4. Kanika Kalia says:

    Beautiful City and luvd the history.

  5. abose says:

    Beautifully written! Loved reading the anecdotes from history. Your writing makes me want to visit Rome right now and trace all these places that you mention.

    Loved this: “a sudden cloudburst caused pedestrians to scatter like bowling pins” 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh I hope you get to visit soon, abose – and yes, those pedestrians did look a little like bowling pins ducking for cover. 😉

    • Sahara says:

      I second everything Abose said. The topic is interesting enough, but your photographs, descriptions and history blurbs make it that more engaging. Thank you for that wee break on a chill Friday morning. 🙂

  6. mithriluna says:

    Wow, loved this Ailsa! Rome is my favorite city.

  7. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Still haven’t been to Rome but these tea and coffee shops make it even more tempting.

    • ailsapm says:

      I fell in love with the Caffè Greco, Gilly, it is steeped in history and has everything I could ever want in a coffee shop with all those nooks and crannies where you can while away the hours, sipping coffee and writing to your heart’s content.

  8. joanfrankham says:

    thank you for a wonderful tour. I hope to visit some day.

  9. joannesisco says:

    I finally got a chance to visit Rome last fall and it really is a city of hidden treasures down every street and around every corner. I was totally smitten by this spectacular city – thank you for the fantastic tour so I could relive some great memories.

  10. Pat Bean says:

    This blog earned a Bean Pat as blog pick of the day. Check it out at: http://patbean.wordpress.com

  11. JP Chartier says:

    What a wonderful little journey 🙂 Love the way you bring your words alive in your writing!

  12. freebutfun says:

    There was so much history I didn’t know of, fascinating! Now I wanr to visit the city even more!

  13. I fell head over heels in love with Rome! Unfortunately I was on crutches and had a moon boot on, walking was very difficult, so I missed out hugely on the sights. But I threw my coins into the Trevi Fountain, and hope to go back soon.

  14. S for Summer says:

    Oh Dio! I ve been to Rome to the same places and I loved it! It was a sunny hot summer and the experience was magnificent! I ‘ve written on my blog about it! Have a nice weekend!

  15. Trish says:

    After reading your piece about the Caffe Greco I went to a cold cold cafe where there was no art on the walls, no history, and felt disappointed with my cafe life. I need to take my own grand tour.

  16. Max510 says:

    Wonderful description of some particular place of Rome !
    Ciao ciao
    Max

  17. Ziggy says:

    Its only been a year but this post makes it feel much longer. Need to go back asap

  18. Lynne Ayers says:

    A great tour Ailsa filled with interesting tidbits.

  19. Thanks for the lovely visual tour Ailsa – it’s cram packed with interesting bits to savour and great pics.

  20. lumar1298 says:

    I was there two years ago and would love to go back again soon… Great capture…

  21. ilargia64 says:

    Wonderful post! I love Rome and looking through your eyes, I can always discover new things and stories of the city!

  22. fordroosevelt says:

    Reblogged this on fordroosevelt's Weblog and commented:
    Ahh. Roma. Soon.

Comments are closed.