Sunday 17 January 2016

The Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati and its re-discovered Gothic Hall

Not far from Rome's Colosseum and the nearby Basilica of San Clemente, famous for its fascinating scavi, is the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati or Four Crowned Saints. From the outside, it looks remarkably like the fortress that was once one of its purposes, protecting popes from attack.

Fresco of the four crowned, or matured, saints.

The treasures inside the Basilica complex are wonderful and recently, thanks to my friend Laura, I was able to get a rare tour of recently opened Gotica Aula, or Gothic Hall. 

But first, I'll back up a bit and begin with some history of the basilica itself. Legend tells us that the first church on this site was begun by Pope Miltiades, in the 4th century and built over a Roman villa. Renovations were much later made under Pope Leo IV (847-855) including the belltower and the chapels of Saints Barbara and Nicholas.  He also expanded the church significantly.

Alas, this larger church was burned to the ground during the Norman Sack of Rome (1084) and Pope Paschal II decided to rebuild, but as a much smaller basilica. More changes were made: in the 13th century a Cosmatesque cloister was added (with the tiny Oratorio of St. Barbara).

(Frescos in niche inside the Oratorio of St. Barbara)

Then, the Cardinal Palace was enlarged by cardinal Stefano Conti, a nephew of Pope Innocent III. Conti also fortified the palace to become a fortress, to shelter popes during the conflict with the Hohenstaufen emperors. In 1247, the chapel of St Silvester, on the ground floor of the fortress, was consecrated; it contains frescoes depicting the stories of Pope Silvester I and Emperor Constantine I. Wonderful pieces of Church propaganda of the day, they suggest (likely incorrectly) that the sovereignty of the Church (Pope Silvester)  was by mutual consent paramount over the Empire (Constantine).

These are wonderful sites to see but what is relatively new for visitors is the Gothic Hall which is  on the first floor of the Torre Maggiore and was the showpiece of Cardinal Stefano Conti's palace. Here he held banquets, receptions and justice was administered

Decorating the great hall are vivid, multicoloured frescoes mixing Byzantine styles with then-recent discoveries of classical antiquity. They seemed to me a sort of stepping stone to the frescos of Giotto - almost, but not quite achieving natural figures.

The story of the re-discovery 20 years ago of the Gothic Hall by Rome Professor Andreina Draghi is fascinating. According to writer Alasdair Palmer, Prof. Draghi thought that the hall above, then completely covered in pale blue plaster, might have been a site where other frescoes had been painted. She theorized that the frescoes in the chapel of St. Silvester did not tell the complete story of what happens after the Church is acknowledged as supreme over the state (that is, the importance of obedience to the Church to salvation) writes Palmer.

It took several years to remove all the plaster without damaging the frescos, which proved to be in extremely good condition, likely because this plaster protected them from 500 years of light, damp - and clumsy restorers.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

A book contest with a fabulous prize

My friend Letizia is organizing a contest to be held next week - i.e. July 13 - to help promote her fabulous new cookbook that is now available on Amazon!

While I would love to win that pumpkin-sausage lasagna pictured above, I could actually make it quite easily from the recipe in Letizia's A Kitchen With A View. I am just lazy.

But the grand prize that Letizia is offering is a very lovely wine from a posh vineyard  -  Il Moro di Sangiovanni in Val d'Oricia - owned by friends of Letizia, making for the perfect food and wine paring.

Here are the contest rules (and as a teaser,  a photo of Letizia's incredible Limoncello Profiterolls, from A Kitchen With A View.)

Says Letizia: "The event will take place on my birthday, July 13 and to celebrate I am offering to a randomly chosen participant one fabulous Magnum bottle of 2010 Il Moro di Sangiovanni award winning wine which will be shipped to your home (retail value about 100€)
Shipping is available to North America or Europe.

"Here is how to enter:

1. Please wait until July 13

2. Review "A Kitchen With A View" on the above page, then on your blog or on another website if you can (e.g. Goodreads)

3. If you were planning to buy more books for Christmas or other celebrations please buy them on July 13 if possible

4. Please tell friends to participate to this event either with reviews (if they have the book) and/or with purchases

5. So that I can add you to the draw, please write a comment in the timeline of this Facebook page set up for the book, and post here your reviews/blog articles, don't forget to also like the page please!"

Sunday 3 May 2015

A visit to Assisi and a cooking class in the Italian countryside

Last week, my friend Gwen from Edmonton came to visit me here in Rome. We stayed a week in the city and then went up to Assisi for a few days, to stay at Letizia's B&B and take a cooking class. (We also scored copies of Letizia's great new cookbook A Kitchen with a View.)

I also showed Gwen a few of my favourite spots, such as the tranquil and beautiful Eramo delle Carceri, where St. Francis of Assisi used to flee what he described as the noise and chaos of 13th century Assisi.

There are a few bronze statues of the saint and his followers who studied the movements of the stars from the retreat where they slept on beds of stone with rocks for pillows.

I can never resist photos of some of the gorgeous trees that have stood here perhaps for centuries, given how old olive trees can grow to be. 

Meanwhile, at Letizia's agriturismo we enjoyed seeing how beautiful, green and blossoming April can be in the mountains above Assisi. 

During the cooking class, Gwen and I enjoying trying our hand at making pasta! I think Gwen, who is an excellent cook, enjoyed the process.

And we all definitely enjoyed the final results!

Monday 30 March 2015

Quattro Fontane, the Forum, and other things

I had a bit of a flu bug on the weekend, so I used the time to sort through some recent photos, including this one of the Roman Forum, looking towards the Colosseo.

I also found a few random shots I took recently of Rome's Renaissance-era Quattro Fontane, which have had a good cleaning over the past winter. Decades of pollution from the traffic on the streets that meet at this extremely busy little intersection were removed and the four fountains look lovely.

I believe the photo above depicts the goddess Juno, who is very important to Rome; while directly below is a figure representing the river Aniene, which flows in Lazio province where Rome is located.

This fellow below represents Rome's great river Tiber, and near his feet is the legendary she-wolf who saved Remus and Romulus, founders of ancient Rome.

They can be a bit difficult to view as there is not a lot of space for pedestrians at this intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale. And for some reason, one did not turn out. So in fact, I have just Tre Fontane today.

Anyway, another day I was near the Celio Hill and took a photo of this great icon, representing a fraternity that used to pay ransoms for kidnapped Christians.

And heading back towards the Forum.

Monday 23 March 2015

A delicious taste of Italy

It seems that I have never had the time or the confidence to become a very good cook. But I have a few excellent go-to recipes, and I have learned a few important things about Italian cooking - particularly, the value of simplicity and finding a few, extremely good ingredients.

Most of what I know about food I have learned from my dear friend Letizia and from many of her marvellous cooking classes at her home, which is also a wonderful bed and breakfast tucked into the side of a mountain among olive groves and fruit tress and overlooking beautiful Assisi.

And now, she has finally published a cookbook, although I think that simple categorization does not do justice to everything that Letizia has included in this volume.

Recipes, of course; and very very good recipes, extremely well-explained, well-tested and deliciously illustrated. Also important information about judging ingredients such as good quality olive oil versus scary commercial crap.

But it is also something of a diary, of the seasons in Umbria and the value of living and eating according to the seasons; the recipes and ingredients that go naturally with the blustery winters or the hot, humid summers.

Her book will soon be available on Amazon, but in the meantime, she is taking orders (maybe even for autographed copies!) at the following email address (I am writing the address out to confound spammers):

madonnadp [at] gmail dot com

Letizia is a born teacher and story teller, and I find that this book, like her blog and like her cooking classes, are seasoned with anecdotes - from things she learned from her mother, to Letizia's tried-and-true recipes for making gluten-free pasta and bread, to interesting Italian women she knows and admires.

And of course, the incredible backdrop to her life in the Umbrian mountains provide images that are as beautiful as the meals she teaches us to prepare.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Avoiding the sunny Sunday crowds in central Rome

Life in Rome is very hectic and when I have some free time, I often like to stroll over the Capitoline Hill and head to the peaceful Aventine. There are still visitors strolling about in that part of Rome, especially around Circus Maximus, but in general it is far more tranquil than on my side of the hill in Monti.

There are always some lovely views around the Aventine Hill. I headed out Sunday, thinking that while it was too early yet to see the rose gardens being planted there, it would at least be very green.

I tend to follow the same route, down Via Fori Imperiali, over the Capitoline Hill walking behind the Dioscuri, the twins Castor and Pollux (one twin born mortal, the other a god)….

with its views across the Roman Forum towards the Colosseo…….

...and down the other side towards Circus Maximus where I cross its base then climb up along the side of the Aventine facing the Palatine Hill and the remains of the once-splendid aristocrat homes that were there 2,000 years ago……

…..up the Aventine to the medieval Basilica of Santa Sabina and the garden where there are always so many oranges hanging just tantalizingly out of reach……

….and  the stunning view across the Tiber River towards the Vatican, with the great dome of the Basilica of St. Peter's appearing to be relatively close…….

….. Even when standing further down the path near the entrance to the gardens of Santa Sabina,  it seems that St. Peter's is deceptively close…..

….a drink at a gruesome, ferocious fountain……

….back down a different side of the Aventine to emerge near the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the lines of tourists waiting to insert their hands in the Bocca della Verita

Thursday 12 February 2015

Temple of Peace to be unveiled for Rome's birthday in April


    I pulled this story together at work today, thanks to copy from my Italian colleagues, and thought it was extremely interesting.
    We don't hear often enough but "discoveries" or maybe "recoveries" of ancient sites although I am sure they are happening all the time here in Rome.
     I hope to see this light show on Rome's birth April 21, when the city - born by some estimates in 753 BC - will turn 2768, give or take a few years….
    The Temple of Peace, one of the lesser known structures of Rome's Imperial Fora, is set to rise again in time for the city's birthday commemoration, a cultural heritage official said Thursday.
    With reconstruction work set to begin in early March, five columns missing from what remains of the temple built by Emperor Vespasian in about 75 AD will be reconstructed by April 21, Rome's birthday, said the municipal Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Claudio Parisi Presicce. "The goal is to replace the five marble columns of the Egyptian portico that surrounded the temple, where they were at the time of Vespasian," he said.
    What remains of the Temple of Peace, sometimes known as the Forum of Peace, now rests in the present Roman Forum near Largo Corrado Ricci.

    One of its original walls has been incorporated into the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in the Roman Forum, where holes can stil be seen that were once used to affix a marble map of ancient Rome that dated from the third century AD.
    The restoration work will help to shed light on another element of Rome's history for visitors.
    "Of the five Imperial is the least known because unfortunately, most of the remains are underground but...we plan to expand the excavations of the visible surface," said Parisi Presicce.
    "The goal is to resurrect this forum which is currently not known by citizens, reassembling the five Egyptian marble columns of the quadrangle surrounding the temple, where they were at the time of Vespasian," he added.
    The plan is to include the restored Temple of Peace in large-scale illuminations of the Imperial Fora on the night of April 21.
    According to tradition, that is the date when Rome was founded in 753 BC by some accounts.

    Parisi Presicce said that large fragments of the Egyptian marble colonnade have been studied and recomposed for the restoration project using "very sophisticated technical work" that takes account of seismic issues.
    The danger of earthquake is ever present up and down the Italian peninsula.
    Two sections of the original quadrangle that surrounded the Temple of Peace are still in place, he said.
    Parisi Presicce said that excavation of the area dates back to the 1930s.
    That's when the Fascist administration of Mussolini constructed the modern Via Fori Imperiali that cut through the Imperial Fora, leaving the fora of Augustus, Nerva and Trajan on one side, with the Forum of Caesar and the Roman Forum on the other.

    It is believed the Vespasian began work on the Temple of Peace after the capture of Jerusalem in AD 71.
    It may have included treasures looted from the Temple in Jerusalem.