Valentine’s Day in Rome in the Villa Borghese and at the Spanish Steps!

 

One of my favorite and most romantic things to do in Rome is to stroll through the Villa Borghese parks and gardens to one of the most elegant and sensual villa art museums on earth: The Galleria Borghese.

The Renaissance and Baroque gardens of umbrella pines, cypresses, palm trees, flowers, hedges, and exquisite lemon, orange, and magnolia trees surround the gorgeous villa, bringing one back into the past glories of Roman country estates, free and open to the public for generations.

The parks were private gardens for the aristocrats of Roman society until they were opened for the 19th century Grand Tourists. In 1820 English Romantic poet John Keats himself strolled through these same hallowed grounds before he succumbed to tuberculosis in his rooms at the Piazza di Spagna. Goethe mused through the art collection of the Borghese’s a generation before that, recording his impressions of the palazzo and of the art in his grand book, Italian Journey.

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Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn is a painting by Raphael.

The beautiful Galleria Borghese is home to part of the Borghese art collection curated by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V (reign 1605-1621).

The Villa was commissioned to be designed and built by the architect Flaminio Ponzi, partly based on sketches by Scipione, as a “villa suburbana” on the country edge of Rome. Scipione was one of the first patrons of Bernini and collected many pieces by Caravaggio, including The Sick Bacchus, Boy With a Basket of Fruit, and the poignant Saint Jerome Writing.

The Borghese collection also includes the breathtaking Bernini sculptures of David, Rape of Proserpine, and Apollo and Daphne, – and the Tiziano masterpiece, Sacred and Profane Love.

Other maestros are Raffaello “Lady With A Unicorn” (purported to be the Lady Giulia Farnese, commissioned by Pope Alexander aka Rodrigo Borgia), alongside countless pieces by Rubens, Barocci, Antonio Canova, Coreggio, Dosso Dossi, Domenichino, Veronese, Lorenzo Lotto, and Parmigianino.

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Sacred and Profane Love by Titian. c. 1514

 

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I love the gorgeous architectural details in stone and in fountains and statues lining the entrance of the Galleria Borghese.lala34

Remnants of the past play out as well in “ancienne” statue fragments and the fountains outside the museum’s grand entrance.

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The walk to the Galleria Borghese always has that lazy Sunday feeling, surrounded by Roman families and visitors enjoying the greenery and fresh air. Young and old lovers can be spied kissing under a tree or lying on a picnic blanket enjoying the sunshine and the sounds of songbirds above them.

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There are homages to temples, gods and goddesses, Greek Tragedies and Comedies, and to Rome’s storied past in the “Romantic era ruins” among the pleasure walks and dreamy Umbrella pines. As you approach the museum you feel you are in for something really special… and are not disappointed in the great architectural reveal.

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More architectural details by Flaminio Ponzi and Scipione Borghese create a feast for the eyes, before entering the villa with a ticket… for the Roman antiquities and Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, … in room after sumptuously decorated room.

Tickets are recommended bought IN ADVANCE, online or at the ticket office down the stairs. To enter the museum, proceed up the stone stairs to the stunning Classical Antiquity portico where they will take your ticket.

You don’t want to miss this experience!

After an afternoon stroll and a few hours in the museum, head to the Pincio at the Golden Hour (an hour before dusk) and watch the sun set over the cupolas and ruins and houses behind the glittering Piazza del Popolo.

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The golden and orange light eventually turns a deep violet, and there is an enchanting glow about Rome at its most magnificent! It is a heady, Romantic vision, and every one seems to be under a collective spell of beauty and the feeling of immortality in Éros in the Eternal City.

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This is one of the best, most beautiful, and unforgettable days you could spend in Rome. It could be the most romantic Valentine’s Day of your lives. Rome seen and felt like this is truly writ on the heart for an eternity.

You can eat at the romantic nearby Casina Valadier for sweeping sunset views and aperitivos or an early dinner – they have a Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu for lovebirds.

Looking for something quicker? Walk a short distance to the late Renaissance church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, (French: La Trinité-des-Monts).

Pop into the sanctity and quiet beauty of the French Roman Catholic church and you may luck out with a choir of nuns singing en français classical songs of devotion while you peer at lush murals, sculptures, paintings, and the altar.

Light a candle together and head down the famed Spanish Steps just outside and whisper a snippet of a Keats ode into your beloved’s ear outside of the Keats Shelley (Byron) House Museum (worth a visit if you’re there earlier when it is open!).

Stop for a late tea at Babington’s and try their Rome in Love Tea inspired by the Paolina Borghese sculpture and Female Beauty at the Borghese, or enjoy some cocktails or champagne and light fare – offered in the luxurious comfort of their 125 year old tea room. It’s a cute British afternoon tea room with Italian flare.

Looking for something sexier? Cross the avenue and stop in at the nearby Romantics’ saucy hangout, the Antico Caffè Greco, decorated in 18th century red satin and marble decor, for drinks and desserts.

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The Santissima Trinità dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps from the Via Condotti.

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Gregory Peck’s apartment in Roman Holiday where he brings Audrey Hepburn in the film.

 

If you’re still in the mood for a short early evening walk hand in hand past the glamorous shops and passersby, head to the most romantic street in Rome, the charmingly low-lit, ivy covered boutiques and artisan art shops, boutique hotels, and restaurants, Via Margutta (made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday!) I love the vegetarian restaurant created by film director Federico Fellini, Il Margutta! They have many vegetable creations, handmade pasta and smoked cheeses, and a vegan and gluten free menu, with exceptional organic wines, mocktails, and delicious desserts, including house made gelato.

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Casino Valadier’s LOVE ELIXIR
€25 per person.

La Grande Cucina S.p.A.
Piazza Bucarest, Villa Borghese
00187 Roma
P. I.V.A. 05901701002

Tel (+39) 06 69922090
Fax (+39) 06 6791280
info@casinavaladier.it

Il Margutta’s San Valentino 2018

 

GALLERIA BORGHESE (english site)

Via del Collegio
Romano, 27
00186 Roma, Italia
tel. 39 06 67231
www.beniculturali.it

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map by Guilbert Gates

 

Antico Caffè Greco

Via dei Condotti, 86, 00187 Roma RM, Italy

 

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Babington’s Tea Room 

Piazza di Spagna, 23, 00187 Roma RM, Italy

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And Happy Valentine’s Day from A Love Letter To Rome… to everyone lucky enough to be in the sexiest and most romantic (and Romantic) city in the world, Roma, Italia! May Cupid’s arrows always find you when you least expect (but need) amore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rome in October


I caught a ridiculously photogenic couple in Rome taking a selfie together on the pincian hill at sunset, with cupolas and Saint Peter’s behind them. Oh, to be young and beautiful and in love in Roma, what many in this world wouldn’t give for it. If only, I think to myself…
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Persimmon trees bearing fruit with a view.

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A little ruin and a little Renaissance (and rococo).

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Dance of the tourists on the Villa Borghese’s Pincio overlooking the Piazza del Popolo.

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A kissing dove and pigeon. White doves always strike me as a symbol of Ancient Rome, much like olive trees.

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I like watching the beauty of Rome unfold before other people.

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Down the Pincio, on the way to the Spanish Steps, there are views everywhere of cupolas up close and far away.

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The endless flow of Roman water over stone and newly fallen leaves.

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There’s always a sense of play and humor in the Villa Borghese park, especially in the Pincian hill section.

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Walking along the Appian Way one is reminded why Rome will always be the eternal city, winter, spring, summer or autumn.

snapshots of posthumous john keats in rome

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This is the view John Keats had of the world for the last months of his life. Once he was too sick to climb the Spanish Steps to the Pincian Hill view of the sunset over the piazza delle popolo and take in the sweeping view of the renaissance rooftops of cupolas, churches, houses and hotels of Rome – he had one final view, the Bernini fountain outside his room, at the end of his deathbed. He could hear the passersby and the fruit sellers. He could hear the horses hooves and the coaches. He could hear the rushing water of the fountain and smell the scent of the sweetest water in Rome. Sometimes he could drink it, a few shallow sips in a brief moment of respite.

I stood and looked out his window and took this shot with my phone. I stood there for ages alone and stared out the window and looked for John Keat’s ghost or a shadow of his memory, an imprint of him somewhere. I think I found him in the golden glow of dusk which touched everything in Rome for the last hour before sunset and made everything so pretty it hurt to lose it each night.

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Keats’ Rome house is located at the Spanish Steps by the Bernini fountain.

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A white rose I brought for John Keats’ Plaque near his grave on the wall to the left of the garden in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome in the Non-Catholic Cemetery near the Pyramid of Cestius.

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The annual/ bi-annual pilgrimage to the Protestant Cemetery never fails to give me chills when I read the epithet Keats intended for himself; Here lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water.

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“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell. To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu!”

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Each time I follow that sign it still feels like a mystery unfolding. No matter how many times I retrace my steps to the back garden, to the memory of him, it feels new again.

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Really delicious prosecco at Caffe Greco, Rome, Italy, Oct 2012 (iPhone).

From the bar napkin I penned this:

Tonight I looked for Keats’ ghost.

Spotted Byron in the Borghese and heard Shelley was somewhere around the Villa Medici. Caught a glimmer of him.

Goethe kept a respectful distance when I passed him on the pincio. 

Keats silently joined me somewhere on Via delle Magnolie. He slipped out from the shadows and fell into step with me. I felt him quietly by my side for the rest of the night.

shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

At the edge of the garden at the Villa San Michele on Anacapri there are beautiful architectural details and greco roman fragments displayed among the trees and flowers.

“My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!” – Axel Munthe

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I find the ramble through the gardens of Anacapri (especially the Villa San Michele one) to be a bit fairytale-like, a bit dreamy. The dark, lush, green paths over stone and fragments of ancient Roman columns and statues; the intoxicating scent of flowers and herbs; the layered calls of forty different species of birds – all hold one’s attention. When the garden is not crowded one can find themselves utterly alone, with the run of the place. There’s a sense of timelessness walking the stone paths and climbing stairs which boast unreal views of rugged coastline and layers of rocky, verdant cliffs.

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A nonchalant rustic garden with the aesthetics of a museum, an olive jar, shadows between the sunlight and a verdant spread accompanying a stroll. The stairs beckon and frighten a little when alone.

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The gorgeous cloak of wisteria entwining the columns and topiaries. Mighty cypresses soaring like some needly skyscrapers. The hint of other villas and other stories are tucked neatly into the mountain.

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Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

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The heady flowering of spring, clean white blossoms breaking up the velvet thick gloss of leaves and tangled old branches, is in every turn.

“The sacred mountain above San Michele is full of birds on their way home to mate and rear their young. What a joy to me that they can rest there in peace! Yesterday I picked up a poor little skylark, so exhausted from his long journey across the sea that he didn’t even at- tempt to fly away, he sat quite still in the palm of my hand as if he understood it was the hand of a friend, perhaps a compatriot I asked him if he wouldn’t sing me a song before he went off again, there was no bird-song I liked better than his; but he said he had no time to spare, he had to hurry home to Sweden to sing the summer in. For more than a week the flute-like notes of a golden oriole have been sounding in my garden. The other day I caught sight of his bride hiding in a laurel bush. To-day I have seen their nest, a marvel of bird-architecture. There is also much fluttering of wings and a soft murmur of bird-voices in the thicket of rosemary by the chapel.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

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Far below a tiny shock of blue sits in between the fields and the bay of Naples; while all those lives play out from an Emperor’s ancient vantage point.

“The whole bay of Naples lies shining like a mirror below my feet, the columns on the pergola, the loggias and the chapel are all ablaze with light…” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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The best view is a private spot of solace, a corner to stop in your tracks and allow the view to overtake your senses. A sip of the island’s limoncello, the scent of flowers and the sea, the sound of the birds and the south wind, the feel of the stone along your hands and under your feet – all senses are occupied with Capri from here.

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On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

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Some of the paths are winding, some are hidden until you come upon then suddenly, some form straight lines with edges and niches laid out for yards.

“The pergola was already covered with young vines; roses, honeysuckle and Epomea were clustering round the long row of white columns. Among the cypresses in the little cloister court stood the Dancing Faun on his column of cipollino, in the centre of the big loggia sat the bronze Hermes from Herculaneum.” – The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

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At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

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On one path a sign leads to the café, a welcome distraction after all that beauty. Doesn’t everyone at a museum always love a café? This one is a rooftop one in the garden.

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Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

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The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

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A stone water fountain which looks completely natural bubbles forth in between ivy, basil and shiny leaves. There’s mint and rosemary and too many herbs to count.

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A few Egyptian looking palm trees and several umbrella pines recall Capri’s ancient Roman days when the island played host to emperors and sirens.

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This is one of my favorite spots…I feel a sense of happiness and pleasure whenever I pass under the leafy canopy and approach the café. This is my dream garden.

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Whenever I see a Bird of Paradise I think warmly of my mother and her love for them. This was the most perfect one I’ve ever noticed.

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The Loggia has many windows to the sea and other curves of the garden. They are filled with manicured folder pots and Greco Roman statues. Roses climb the walls in every soft color.

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Some of the architecture reminds me of a Spanish style church, some is a bit Occidental, some a little Roman and the rest an eclectic mix of early 20th century and Capri-style.

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Each path ends with a different corner of the grounds, each turn is so inviting it’s difficult to choose one lane over another for the promise of their beauty.

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Where ever you end up in the next step, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. You always wind up at the heart of the garden and of Capri herself. If you remain quiet and strain your ear just a little bit and listen past the songs of birds, you may still hear the faint call of the sirens on the rocks below you.

“Like children in the trackless forest we grope our way through our lives in blissful ignorance of what is going to happen to us from one day to another, what hardships we may have to face, what more or less thrilling adventures we may encounter before the great adventure, the most thrilling of all, the Adventure of Death. Now and then in our perplexity we venture to put a timid question to our destiny, but we get no answer for the stars are too far away. The sooner we realize that our fate lies in ourselves and not in the stars, so much the better for us. Happiness we can only find in ourselves, it is a waste of time to seek for it from others, few have any to spare.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

Interesting perusal in relation to Anacapri and Capri:

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (Full text)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

This is part three in a series of photo essays on the Island of Capri’s museum The Villa San Michele. All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler at alovelettertorome.com