Villa Borghese and the Corso
Rome’s Via Veneto, Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo
Villa Borghese, which occupies such a broad area of green on the street map of Rome, is mostly open common land with sparse grass. You could spend all day here, nevertheless. It has attractions for all ages and all seasons and is very popular with Romans. Outside it, beyond the historic perimeter walls, you find Rome’s smartest street (Via Veneto), two of its major tourist attractions (Trevi fountain and Piazza di Spagna) and one of its most impressive squares (Piazza del Popolo). Our walk covers all this and more. The distance is 8 km and, to give sights proper attention, you should allow six hours for it preferably spread out over two days, perhaps more.
Start: Villa Borghese – see map. Start this walk at Villa Borghese, the broad area of grassland, paths and avenues lined with statues, 1 km north of Rome’s Termini railway station. Exit by Porta Pinciana, whose two great towers strengthened the Aurelian Walls against 6thC Gothic invasions. Proceed along fashionable Via Veneto, admiring stylish clothes and elegant shops but avoiding bars and restaurants if the budget is limited. Cross Piazza Barberini, where Bernini’s Triton spouts water from his thrown-back head. He is one of Rome’s favourite fountain gods and the first of those you will study with appreciation on these walks among some of the renowned fountain groups of Rome.
You might spend 40 minutes in the Barberini Gallery (www.galleriabarberini.beniculturali.it) with 13th-18thC old masters and rich furnishings before continuing along Via Quattro Fontane to Via Nazionale and the Modern Art and Aurora Pallavicini galleries. The next big square is Piazza Venezia with the palace balcony from which Mussolini used to harangue the citizens. Palazzo Venezia, considered the geographical centre of Rome, is now a museum of tapestries and crafts. In the piazza, beside the ostentatious Vittoriale or national altar, Italy’s Unknown Soldier is buried.
Turn north to the Corso and beware hurtling traffic. The Doria Pamphilj Gallery (left)(www.doriapamphilj.it) is rich in European paintings, notably Correggio and Caravaggio. Before you reach Piazza Colonna turn right on to the Via delle Muratte for the Trevi Fountain, a major sight for the visitor to Rome. Tossing in a coin is a recent custom. (During the night they gather up many kilos of coins of all the nations; certain Tuesdays, at dawn, you hear the roaring waters hushed and see the basin emptied and men in waterproofs sweeping up the coins which have escaped the vacuum hoses.)
Back on the Corso turn right to Piazza Colonna, named for the tall pillar decorated with battle scenes, which Emperor Marcus Aurelius put up in AD 179 to celebrate a decisive victory over the barbarians. The palazzi, north side, are Montecitorio, seat of the Italian Parliament’s chamber of deputies, and Chigi, where the prime minister lives, Continuing along the Corso, turn left for the Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus and family and in Via Ripetta the Ara Pacis (‘Altar of Peace’) set up by Augustus about 20 BC to mark the total pacification, as he thought, of Rome’s enemies. Retrace your steps to the Corso, or return through the piazza and street called Fontanella Borghese where a busy market in old prints is held every am except Sunday. Cross the Corso to Via Condotti, noted for its expensive shops, and into Piazza di Spagna. The house where John Keats the poet died is a museum. Babington’s tearooms (www.babingtons.com), opposite, are another breath of 19thC England Everyone photographs the beautiful old fountain which represents in stone a waterlogged sailing ship: the Barcaccia, meaning ‘rotten old boat’. The blaze of colour between the piazza and the church of Trinità dei Monte above is caused by flower-beds and the overflowing baskets of the flower-sellers on the Scalinata, known to British and Americans (but hardly anyone else) as the Spanish Steps. The ascent, being conducive to the provocative pose, has long been the haunt of artists’ models and movie hopefuls. Street-traders and dubious touts also congregate there but when you have run that gauntlet you are on the Trinità Heights with a classic view of Rome, roof-tops, bell-towers, the Trastevere (‘across the Tiber’) quarter and the wooded Gianicolo (Janiculum) slope in front of you.
Head now for Piazza del Popolo along narrow streets where antiques buffs lose all sense of time. Via Babuino takes its name from an old battered fountain statue set against a wall. It probably portrayed Silenus, but Rome likes to think it is a baboon. The exits from these narrow lanes to Piazza del Popolo are framed by three beautiful churches, one of which, Santa Maria del Popolo, is a gallery of frescos, pictures and carvings by such masters as Pinturicchio, Sansovino, Caravaggio and Raphael. The obelisk in mid-piazza, dominating it for all the square’s broad dimensions, was brought from Egypt by Emperor Augustus and is more than 3,000 years old.
From this square you return to Villa Borghese by way of Viale dell’ Obelisco, entering by Porta del Popolo, another gap in the Aurelian Walls, which leads back to your starting-point at Porta Pinciana. That is probably enough for one hot day in Rome – and Rome in summer can be extremely hot and airless.
Sights of the Villa Borghese
Another time, try to see these: its curious fountains, its zoo (open all year; www.bioparco.it), the lake where children row boats under their Roman fathers’ stern gaze, the best modern art gallery in Italy, the international show-jumping arena, the Piazza di Siena (annual event in May). Villa Giulia in the north-west corner is the repository of Etruscan marvels, including a complete chambered tomb and the Apollo of Veio, a statue so exquisite that it had to be torn from the embrace of the peasant who unearthed it. At the end of Viale Museo is the Galleria Borghese with paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, Carpaccio and others, and sculptures including Canova’s Venus, for which Napoleon’s sister Pauline Borghese sat. Here and all over Rome, galleries, monuments and museums generally open am daily except Monday; sometimes also pm Tuesday and Thursday. Admission on public holidays is often free, otherwise expect to pay. At specialist museums you may have to apply in advance to Rome’s Antiquities and Fine Art Directorate. The Aurelian Walls, mentioned above, are accessible from Porta Pinciana and Porta del Popolo. Pay to walk on them, am daily (not Monday), also pm Tuesday and Thursday.
Find more in: Luxury