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Dimmi tutto : The small secrets of Rome

I spent 1 year in Rome. 361 days and 7 hours, a resident of Rome to be exact. This gave me quite some time to get lost there and discover it's wonders. And beyond the Colosseum, the St. Peter's Basilica or the Pantheon (three architectural nuggets in passing), there are, in the Italian capital, certain small thing to see (practically on every street corner actually) and some secrets that deserve to be shared. So here are my 361 (+ or - 250) favorite discoveries of Rome:

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Small alleys for strolling.

The streets of the historic center are very cute. I loved strolling in the center, losing myself in narrow passages, using unknown stairs... The most pleasant moment is during the golden hour, the light accentuates the ocher colors of the small buildings, the tourist flow is often quieter, it's nice out, we take our time... it was my moment of Dolce Vita.

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I especially loved the streets of Trastevere and their picturesque atmosphere. The houses are colored, the streets narrow, filled with trees, and you can find small craft shops there. The best is to go there at the late afternoon, then stay for the evening, get rectangular slices of pizza (al taglio), and go sit on the stairs of the Piazza Trilussa, to listen to the street artists. It's a vibrant place, especially on Saturday nights.

There are also the small streets around the Campo dei Fiori, with their jewelry merchants and some traditional luxury shops. In the morning you will find the tourist market, which I do not recommend, unless you are able to repeat forty times, in thirty seconds the words "No, grazie". From Campo dei Fiori you can find the Ghetto (Jewish quarter of Rome), with its restaurants combining Jewish and Italian cuisine (impossible to be disappointed here). And from there take the stairs that go down the Theater of Marcellus (attention, closed entrance at night).

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Otherwise, I loved walking around the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. The Via del Governo Vecchio, which connects Castle Sant'Angelo and Piazza Navona, is very pleasant, and small but not least, you can find il Frigidarium, one of the best ice cream shops in Rome (and although I want to write an article about the gelaterias, I will tell you the thing right now: homemade ice cream, flavors of choice, varieties depending on the season, and a chocolate sauce over it, which makes all the difference).

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For a walk in the center a bit more amusing, you can start searching for six talking statues. These ancestors of twitter, (yes, the romans really did invent everything) were once covered with papers of discontent for the government's attention. Today, most of them have become silent, apart from Pasquino, who maintains this tradition.

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If you'd like a longer walk, you can try finding the Egyptian monuments or Egyptian inspiration, which is present pretty much everywhere in Rome. From the pyramid of Cestius, to the obelisk of St. Peter's Square passing by Bernini's elephant, this itinerary will have you walk through a big part of the city.

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Finally, outside the historic city, there are two quarters I found very interesting: Coppedè and Pigneto. The first one, north-east of the city, is a neighborhood original for it's architecture. You will walk in a fantastic atmosphere combining art nouveau, baroque, gothic or even medieval, in short a happy cocktail of shapes and ornaments. Destined at it's base to be a popular neighborhood, most of the buildings are now occupied by law firms, wealthy families etc.

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For another original walk, I suggest you go explore the neighborhood Pigneto, to discover its streets full of street art. From small graffiti, to the monumental fresco, this neighborhood hides works of art on the gables of houses, between two restaurant terraces, or on closed shop doors. Just get caught up in the game and go looking for them.

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Gardens to relax in (and their breathtaking views).

Most of the gardens in Rome have an amazing view. The garden of the Villa Borghese and its Pincio Terrace is the most famous one. But as everyone knows, Rome was built on seven hills, and even though some have almost disappeared with time and urban transformations, this topography offers dozens of beautiful views points of the city.

My favorite garden is definitely the Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci), located on Mount Aventine. As you can tell from its name, it is filled with orange trees, along with the magnificent umbrella pines. There a peaceful atmosphere prevails. It's the garden for couples, for Sunday readers, and sometimes you can hear a guitar or a trumpet player. The panoramic viewfrom the terrace extends from the park of Villa Pamphili to the monument of Vittorio Emanuele. As a bonus, a small secret (so secret that all the tourist sites talk about it) at about a hundred meters from the park: the famous "hole in the lock". And if this small hole (Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta) attracts a crowd it is because it exactly frames the dome of St. Peter's Basilica (well, it's not worth waiting 1 hour in line, come back another time in this case).

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Another park worth visiting is that of Hill of Janiculum (considered to be the eighth hill of Rome), located north-east of Trastevere. It's a place rich in history where there are many terraces offering panoramic views of the city. If you go up from Trastevere, on your way you can find the Temple of Bramante, in the heart of the Spanish Academy (free entry), the Fontana dell'Aqua Paola, the botanical garden (very nice), as well as the equestrian statue of Garibaldi (one of the unifiers of Italy) and the busts of many officers, and finally the lighthouse of Janiculum (a small gift from the Italians of Argentina). Small anecdote: every day at noon sharp, they fire the canon of Janiculum in memory of the battle against the French army in 1849.

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Finally, right in the center, is a park a bit forgotten, but very nice, which is that of the Castle Sant'Angelo. This is probably not the most beautiful park but there is a small walk around the castle, as well as games for children (if you go into babysitting this is good to know). It is a good place for a picnic after a visit to the Vatican for example, and in summertime? along the promenade you will find book stands, some refreshments and some Italian craftsmen.

Galleries to be amazed by.

Rome is full of museums, galleries and palaces. It is almost impossible to do them all. And while some are inevitable like the Galleria Borghese or the Vatican Museums, others could just as much surprise you.

So, as a self-respecting architecture student, I will start by talking about MAXXI by Zaha Hadid. This museum of contemporary art, located in the Flaminio area is worth a visit just for its remarkable architecture. So, just to admire its entrance hall and its luminous staircase, I invite you to enter. And if you are motivated and want to see an exhibition, you can get information off the website and find the program for the coming months.

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In a totally different but equally fascinating way, you can go to the Galleria Spada and try to decipher the optical illusion of Borromini (and if you're friendly with the guard you can even ask him to try it out). And since we're talking about Borromini (major architect of the Baroque period), a short visit to Palais Barberini is a must. In addition to the building, which hosts the exhibitions all year round, the garden is very nice and is accessible for free.

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Finally, my very last secret has to do with the Galleria Sciarra, which is located in the center of Rome and which links Via delle Muratte and Via Marco Minghetti. It's not really a gallery but actually a simple courtyard, surrounded by four buildings. However, the four facades are covered with perfectly preserved frescoes thanks to a magnificent glass roof. So do not hesitate to take this passage and look up for a few seconds on your next trip to the city.

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In short :

  • Walk through the streets of the city center and look for talking statues and Egyptian monuments.

  • Discover original architecture in the neighborhood of Coppedè.

  • Offer yourself a street art exhibition in Pigneto.

  • Relax in the orange garden.

  • Start a historic ascent on Mount Janiculum and contemplate a panoramic view.

  • Discover the modern architecture of MAXXI.

  • Try to decipher the optical illusion of the Spada gallery.

  • Take a detour through the Sciarra gallery.

Extra tips :

  • The city center is very walkable, you will lose more time trying to take the bus.

  • Most museums, galeries and monuments offer student discounts and are free for people working in or studying art, architecture, tourism, etc. so I strongly suggest you get information off the official websites or the ticket offices.

  • Be curious, do not hesitate to push the church doors open, to enter courses, etc. In Rome, there are places accessible to the public everywhere! You just have to dare to venture.

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