I have an aversion to most all of the ‘Top 10 Sights’ listed in popular ‘cut to the chase’ guidebooks. It’s not necessarily the specific places that keep me at bay but rather il sacco di gente that flock to them from sunrise to nightfall, surrounding them on all sides like a barricade and needless to say diminishing their charm. How I would love to spend hours at the Vatican museum, slowly treading the long halls, but the thought of standing in a line which resembles a snail both in shape and speed for half of the day is less then appealing. Then, once inside, one must push through crowds of people wearing backpacks over their tummies in order to see just a glimpse of the hall of maps. Let’s just say I haven’t been to the Vatican in a while.
Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe in frequent visits to the ancient city’s most fantastical destinations, but there are other avenues for appreciating the masterpieces bequeathed upon Roma. Here is a city of architectural gems; every cobble stoned street is lined with colorful palazzi in which I would like (and sometimes try) to venture inside. The center boasts a few which require only a few euro and nary a line. Their interior courtyards are a lesson in symmetry and perspective, dotted with pristine statues, ancient colonnades, and pots upon pots of green plants. If I find myself in search of peace and inspiration within the frenetic center, I dive into one of these palazzi. The masterful placement of shadows and natural light, the quintessential Roman loggias, and the ancient marble and stone revive my ‘appreciation’ for the sights. They may not be in the first pages of your guidebook, but they deserve equal attention. Just please don’t tell anyone; let’s leave the hoards in line at the Vatican, where they are unknowingly blocking the view of the spectacular, slightly tilted piazza.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Four families have assembled the collection that is housed in the seriously decadent Palazzo. Marriage brought together the Doria, Pampjilj, Landi, and Aldobrandini families. Pick up one of the audio guides and listen to one of the sons tell the story of how his family’s palazzo came to be. It is the largest in Rome still in private ownership, and in fact you will likely see the Doria’s Range Rover parked in the interior courtyard as the family maintains residence in one part of the palazzo.
Palazzo Altemps This exquisite palazzo across the street from Piazza Navona is home to Greek and Roman sculptures which belonged to Roman nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries. Walk through the rooms of both the first and second floor and be entranced by the way the sun casts shadows over Athena, Ares, and over 100 other sculptures and reliefs.
Centro Studi Americani in Palazzo Antici Mattei (not a museum, but it’s one of my favorite hidden courtyards in Rome with incredible busts and statues)