I am delighted to create ‘made to measure’ itineraries from 2 hours to as long as you like.
Below are a series of possible ideas. Under each introduction is a list of places which fit in with the theme mentioned. These can be added or removed from your itinerary depending on your particular interests, and how long you would like the tour to be. The themes I’ve suggested are by no means exhaustive, I will be delighted to meet any specific requests of visits to be organised around any theme you like; historical figures, artists, by area, or anything else which springs to mind.
Julius Caesar claimed direct descent from the gens Iulius, the family line which takes its name from Ascanius Iulius, son of Aeneas, son of Venus and hero of Troy.
Claiming a lineage which began with Venus, the goddess of love, and which ran through Aeneas down to Romulus, founder of Rome, lent a certain kudos to Julius’ claims to power. After the power struggle which followed Julius’ murder, the subsequent victor, his nephew Augustus, continued the identification with illustrious ancestors.
It was for Augustus that Virgil wrote the Aeneid, the epic poem which describes Aeneas’ journey and arrival in Italy. When Augustus built his Altar to Augustan Peace, the ancestry of the Julian line was a fundamental part of its iconography.
The heroic tale of the fall of the city of Troy, an event which ultimately led to the foundation of Rome is one that recurs in Roman art from the reign of Augustus onwards.
On this tour we will visit the monuments which exploit the legendary origins of Rome.
Given that a couple of the key elements are to be found in the Vatican Museums
this could be combined with a tour of the Vatican Museums.
This can also be combined with a visit to the Galleria Borghese, where we can see the 17th century reading of the legend in Bernini’s sculpture of Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius.
Following the murder of Domitian, the deluded son of the general Vespasian who had been proclaimed Emperor following the death of the hated Nero, the senate elected the aristocratic conservative Nerva.
Already in his sixties upon election, and unmarried, Nerva adopted Trajan as his successor, having unwittingly becoming first in the line of what Machievelli, writing in the early 16th century, would term the “Five Good Emperors”.
In this period, for one reason or another, the Emperors did not produce surviving male heirs, and were forced therefore to elect a successor. The careful election of successors, means that this period of under-productivity of offspring sees the most successful period of the Empire’s history. It was under Trajan that the Empire reached its maximum territorial expansion, whilst in Rome he embarked upon a major building project, the Forum of Trajan, where Trajan’s Column still stands, a record of his triumphs in Dacia (modern-day Romania), and the so-called Trajan’s Markets.
By Trajan’s death, conquests he had made in southern Mesopotamia were already succumbing to insurgents, and upon his accession his adopted successor Hadrian set about consolidating the boundaries of the Empire.
Of the twenty years of his reign, Hadrian spent half travelling, visiting every province of his vast Empire, and especially the areas of Greece and Egypt which so appealed to his interest in the aesthetic. Ever fond of architecture, on these travels he is believed to have ‘borrowed’ ideas which he brought back with him to his Roman country estate, the villa at Tivoli.
Here he created a vast and eclectic complex of buildings, set within parkland, which echoed the Empire in miniature. Despite supposedly being mocked by Apollodorus of Damascus, architect to Trajan, for his ‘pumpkin-shaped’ domes, Hadrian is usually credited with the most spectacular of all Roman domes, the Pantheon.
Still today the largest free-standing concrete dome anywhere in the world, it is arguably the most influential building ever constructed. For all Hadrian’s borrowing from the Greek world, his greatest architectural achievement is a splendid exercise in unmistakably Roman design and technology.
Close by the Pantheon is the Temple of the Divine Hadrian, pushed for by his adopted successor Antoninus Pius, against the wishes of a reluctant senate.
Hadrian’s fondness of architecture naturally led to Hadrian designing himself a spectacular mausoleum on the west bank of the Tiber, what is now the Castel Sant’Angelo.
If you are particularly interested in Trajan’s Column a visit to the Museo della Civiltà Romana, where plaster cast of the column
can be followed at eye level is a wonderful way of deepening your understanding of this fabulous monument.
The trip to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli (c. 25 miles east of Rome) can be a half-day trip, or can be turned into a full-day trip when combined with the 16th century splendour of the Villa d’Este with its splendid fountains with lunch taken in Tivoli. The Villa d’Este was built for the extravagant Cardinal Hippolyte d’Este and offers a late Renaissance interpretation of the Roman country villa, as so splendidly exemplified at Hadrian’s Villa.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a stormy character frequently in trouble with the Establishment as much for his fiery temper as for his tendency to represent the figures of holy figures with the features and dress of the contemporary Roman poor. Representing the Holy Family and saints in all of their bedraggled humanity was seen by many as deeply offensive and he was forced to repaint on more than one occasion.
In his paintings the realism of the figures is emphasised by a strong use of chiaroscuro (light and shade) which creates a striking immediacy to his humble settings.
Following a number of run-ins with the law, his career in Rome finally came to an abrupt halt after a fight in which he killed a man and was forced to flee the city.
Here follows a comprehensive list of Caravaggio’s paintings found in the city. A tour based on his work can be planned for anything from three hours to three days, it’s up to you. Given that a number of his works are found in the palaces of Papal families (Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, Palazzo Barberini, and Galleria Borghese) an itinerary could also focus on patronage of these great families, and their role in papal power in the 17th century.
Following the protestations levied against the papacy by Martin Luther in 1517, and the birth of the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Church responded with the austere diktats of the Counter-Reformation.
The threats posed by Luther’s undermining of the papacy’s divine right to rule in the Papal States were as dramatic as any the Church had faced in Her chequered history. The extravagance perceived in the art of the Renaissance was curbed, and painting became primarily a didactic tool, the Bible of the illiterate. This relative austerity began to give way to a spirit of celebration in the late 16th century.
Military victories and the discovery of untold wealth in the New World contributed to a spirit of optimism. This new mood, boosted by the creation of a number of new saints including St Ignatius, saw a new artistic impulse which sought to embody the mysticism embodied in his “Spiritual Exercises”.
The foremost figure of the new style, which was to be derogatively termed the ‘Baroque’, was Gianlorenzo Bernini, himself a follower of the “Spiritual Exercises”.
He employed sculpture, stucco, painting, sculpture, and architecture in spectacular creations which sought, with their hidden light sources and gilt, to evoke a sense of the divine. Bernini’s troubled contemporary, was the architect Francesco Borromini.
At the splendid San Carlo he created a complex subversion of the classical language of architecture which had been so venerated during the Renaissance.
Whilst the whiteness of the interior of San Carlo and the exuberant drama of the Cornaro Chapel appear to have very little in common, they are both splendid expressions of the spirit of 17th century Rome.
Bernini and Borromini’s creers come together at Palazzo Barberini, which also brings us into contact with Pope Urban VIII.
A vastly important patron he is central to 17th century Roman art, as is the great painter of the Baroque Pietro da Cortona whose spectacular ceiling painting in the palazzo is one of the triumphs of the Baroque.
Mussolini’s rise to power in 1922 began a twenty year period of Fascist rule in Italy. During this period Mussolini sought to evoke the glories of the ancient city as a capital of Empire.Describing himself as the new Augustus, he undertook a number of building projects to underpin the rhetoric of his regime. He sought to ‘liberate’ ancient monuments of their medieval accretions, a period he despised for its barbaric (and of course foreign) disorder, his intention to return to the city of Augustus.
To glory the name of the first Emperor, the Ara Pacis was moved to its current position by the Tiber, where it forms one end of the new piazza named for Augusto Imperatore which was built around the Emperor’s mausoleum.
The bombastic nature of Fascist rule saw whole areas razed for the building of new roads, most notably the Via dei Fori Imperiali and the Via di Teatro di Marcello, together formerly known as the Via dell'Impero.
However the most dramatic intervention of the Fascist government was the building of a new area outside the city for the Esposizione Universale di Roma. Unfinished owing to the outbreak of the Second World War, the megalomanical forms of the EUR nevertheless give a unique insight into “the Word writ in Stone”.