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Three of the best rooms in Rome

best-rome-rooms.jpgThree of the best rooms in Rome
All roads lead to Italy’s capital — but where’s best to stay?
The Times article from December 2001

Here are six of Rome’s finest, from a modest yet cosy three-star to the height of luxury in the city’s finest location. They span a wide range of budgets, but each one has something you can’t put a price on: that inimitable Italian flair.

Thanks to the strong pound, stylish Roman hotels, boutiques and restaurants offer especially good value. The time for la dolce vita is now — and these are the places that will help you live it.



If there’s a more elegant three-star hotel anywhere in Italy, I’ll eat my Gucci loafers. Equidistant from the Colosseum and the shops on Via del Corso, the Santa Chiara exudes aristocratic grace, with its marble terrazzo floors, columns, Roman arches and statues. The ground floor comprises a huge lobby, a light and airy reading room with newspapers from around the world, and a breakfast room.
The sense of space and style continues upstairs. The rooms are large, with jade walls and gold-brocade bedspreads, and the bathrooms are luxurious. All in all, this is a cut above the usual three-star.



If your idea of Rome is a clutch of glossy carrier bags stuffed with designer labels, then this discreet three-star hotel will make a perfect base. It’s just five minutes’ elegant stroll from Piazza di Spagna and the emporiums of Armani, Fendi, Gucci and Prada, and a short walk from the cafes around Piazza del Popolo. Even better, its prices won’t inhibit your designer spending plans.
The public areas, including the breakfast room and lounge, have a Renaissance feel, and there are splendid views as far as the Trinita dei Monti and the Villa Medici from the roof-garden bar.
Recently refurbished, the hotel offers a range of rooms, from basic singles to penthouse apartments. If you are seeking quiet, ask for one facing the inner light well. That way, you’re away from the street, and — just as importantly — you won’t hear the operatic society next door (though an evening aria does lend a certain atmosphere). Rooms are surprisingly spacious for such a central location, and are kitted out with everything from satellite television to trouser presses.



Opened in 1885, and owned and run by the same family ever since, the Hassler is the definitive five-star hotel. It occupies argu-ably the best location in Rome — right at the top of the Spanish Steps.
The hotel’s stated aim is to be a home from home — and you may find it so, if you’re a member of the royal family.
The museum-like rooms feature richly decorated and moulded ceilings, swathes of drapes, terrazzo floors and acres of marble. The ground-floor Hassler Bar and the adjacent tearoom are dark, clubby and indelibly English, but for a romantic dining experience, nothing comes close to the rooftop restaurant, which looks out over the dome of St Peter’s, the Pantheon and the Colosseum.


The majesty of Rome

majesty_rome.jpgHaving become the artistic epicenter of Europe in the 16th century, Rome reinforced this position as the powerhouse of the baroque in the 17th century, and maintained its primacy in the 18th, when the city became the principal destination of the Grand Tour.
By the beginning of the 19th century, Rome’s artistic community had become the most cosmopolitan anywhere.
A glance at the list of contributors to an exhibition on the Capitoline Hill in November 1809 of some 100 pieces by resident artists, includes painters and sculptors from Austria, Denmark (the great Bertel Thorvaldsen, in reputation second only to the Italian Antonio Canova, also present), Finland, France, Germany, the Low Countries, Russia, Spain and Sweden.
By 1858, a Roman “artistical directory,” which was aimed mainly at foreign art buyers and which did not include the obvious national institutions such as the French Academy at Villa Medici, catalogued 200 studios, in which were working artists of all the nations already mentioned and, in addition, others from America, Britain, Malta, Poland and Switzerland.
Neoclassicism, which had originated in the already markedly international milieu of the Rome of the mid-18th century, was the most fashionable of styles by the turn of the century, and was given a further boost by Napoleon’s adoption of it on a grand scale for his new quasi-Roman European Empire.
Yet, 1810 – when Rome was declared the second capital of the Empire, with the clear implication that it should be the city of the arts par excellence – was also the year that the founders of the German Nazarene movement, dedicated to returning religious painting to its pristine spirituality and tranquil beauty by relearning the lessons of Duerer, Perugino and the early Raphael, settled in Rome to begin their influential artistic mission.
One of the virtues of bringing together such a substantial quantity of the work that was created in Rome during this period, but has subsequently been scattered all over the world, is that it reveals how many artists, who taken in isolation seem to belong primarily to the “classical” or “Christian” schools, in fact drew successfully from both these traditions, something they would not have been able to do but for the experience of living from day to day with Roman art in its multi-layered entirety.
Ingres was perhaps the supreme example of this synthesis, but it can be witnessed to some degree or other in many of the artists represented here. The French artist spent two spells in Rome: the first, 1806-1820, having won the Prix de Rome, as a pensionnaire at the French Academy, supported by the state, and then as a free-lance painter; the second, 1835-1841, as the director at Villa Medici.
Of all the nationalities, the French students of the academy consistently enjoyed the most favorable conditions. The French Academy in Rome had been founded in 1666 by Louis XIV, with the principal aim of having the artists there copy classical pieces to be sent back to France. The institution later became primarily educational, and moved into its present splendid premises at Villa Medici 200 years ago this year.
The existence of this prestigious and well-financed establishment encouraged other countries to support their artists in Rome, if seldom on so lavish a scale. But even the prince of a small German state, the Grand Duke of Oldenburg, paid for a single painter, Ernst Willers, to live for many years in Rome, regularly dispatching works to Germany. (Willers’s charming, recently rediscovered landscapes are on show at the Casa di Goethe on the Corso – where he stayed when in the city – until May 4.)
In the first decades of the century, classical models in sculpture and historical themes in painting were the most revered of post-Enlightenment forms. But the confluence of so many young artists in a single place – “all are equal, and only he who can really do something is esteemed,” wrote the German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld – and often the sheer necessity to make a living also encouraged the practice of lowlier genres that would gain increasing respect. As Jacques-Louis David, himself winner of the Prix de Rome, onetime revolutionary Dictator of the Arts, doyen of classical painters and teacher of Ingres, observed: “Far better to do good genre pieces than mediocre history paintings.”
The availability of comely local models of both sexes and the exotic light and atmosphere of Rome helped make the nude an end in itself, rather than a mere element in historical and mythological painting, and lent this type of study a more blatant eroticism: muscular young men and hairless, androgynous, boys competing with black-eyed, raven-haired femmes fatales; blonde, fair-skinned Circassians of the kind that Ingres liked to depict languishing in harems or chained to rocks.
In this context it becomes less surprising that three of Ingres’s most sexual “Oriental” paintings – “The Bather of Valpincon,” “The Grand Odalisque” and “Odalisque With Slave” – were executed not on the shores of the Bosporus but on the Pincian Hill in Rome.
Ingres sometimes seems to have spent almost as much time complaining about the demeaning task of doing portraits as painting them, but after the end of his scholarship, he was obliged to keep himself and wife from penury by taking to portraiture almost full-time – for which we may be grateful, even if he took this to be a form of slavery more dreadful than that suffered by his odalisques.
One of his most attractive portraits here is of his friend Francois-Marius Granet, against a stormy Roman backdrop that was almost certainly painted by Granet himself. Portraiture, often delightfully informal, thrived among Rome’s artists, who often painted one another, leaving an invaluable record of their likenesses and lifestyles. Granet was a landscape painter and the picturesqueness of the semi-rustic city landscape and surrounding plains and mountains did a great deal to stimulate the study of landscape in Rome, which had longer-term effects.
The novelist-painter-politician Massimo d’Azeglio, who died in 1866, warned that if Rome were to be made the capital of the soon-to-be-reunified peninsula, the city, which until then had been the capital of the world, would merely be the capital of Italy. After Rome became Italy’s political capital in 1870, it undoubtedly lost its supremacy as the artistic capital of Europe. But this was more the consequence of the decline of classical and religious art, the increasing demand by the ever more properous middle classes for landscape, portraiture and images of contemporary life, and the inexorable rise of Paris as the new capital of the arts.

Why Roman Motorists Are Not as Bad As You Think

motorini.jpgInstead Milan, the rival town that in spite of the Tangentopoli bribery scandal still calls itself “the moral capital,� has pretty loose driving ethics. Parking standards are the litmus test. A walk down any trendy street of Milan on a Friday night will expose a string of badly parked cars, some hovering on curbs, others squarely occupying crosswalks and sidewalks. That, here in Rome, is unthinkable. If you want proof, just try parking your car on a sidewalk or in a paid-parking spot without paying.
And don’t think that whizzing around on a moped will protect your wallet. In the old days when two-wheelers had no license plates, small-time centaurs could truly get away
with murder. Speed-mad mopeds would notoriously race down wrong-way alleys, storm across sidewalks and invade pedestrian areas. Unless they ran into motorcycle-riding
cops, no one could track them down — and nobody even tried. Those carefree days are gone. Now, moped riders are forced to wear helmets and behave properly, to the point that even parking outside the specially reserved spots will fetch hefty fines. Nor is paying the ticket, once it has been issued, an easy business. Say you unwittingly commit a traffic violation and drive away. A cop sees you, takes down your plate number and kicks off the
fearsome traffic ticket procedure. Many weeks after the fact, someone will drop by at your place on a weekday during office hours, and you won’t be there to collect the notification unless you have the flu. As a result, you’ll find a yellow slip in your mailbox, instructing
you to report to a neighborhood post office within two weeks to pick up the payment slip.
Obviously, you won’t make the deadline, so at the post office you’ll find another card ordering you to report to a city police office. There, you’ll be able to collect your payment form. With it, you’ll have to go back to the post office and finally — after a queue — you’llget to fork out the money. The danger of undergoing such tribulation prevents many Romans from breaking traffic rules. As a result, drivers here are actually more disciplined than in most Italian cities, including rigorous Milan. It’s just that they smile too much for anyone to notice

A Glimpse of Ordinary Life in Ancient Rome

A third-century dwelling, reopened here after three years of restoration, gives a rare glimpse of how middle-class Romans lived — in rooms adorned by frescoes and courtyards replete with fountains. The “case Romane al celio�, a complex of 20 rooms, was discovered in 1887 under the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, but was forced to close when one courtyard collapsed and mould started to eat away at the frescoes. “The reopening of the site will allow visitors to Italy to see another side of Roman history,� Elio Paparatti, the city’s head restorer, said at the opening on Wednesday.

“Like the Colosseum, most of the Roman ruins we have found are imperial monuments or palaces. This is a dwelling that shows how a different social class lived,� he said. The residential structure is also thought to be the home where Saints John and Paul, army officers who were martyred under Emperor Julian the Apostate in 363, were put to death and buried. The basilica was built on top of the site to honor them. But most importantly, the restored dwelling shows how Italy’s middle-class ancestors lived, Mr. Paparatti said. They painted rusty red and yellow frescoes on their walls, depicting fruit-picking cupids, nude young men, birds, goats and mythological scenes. In the nymphaeum, an open air internal courtyard that was once equipped with fountains, a fresco portrays the Greek god-dess Persephone surrounded by cupids sailing boats in a green-gray sea.

“It was a kind of Jacuzzi,� Mr. Paparatti said. “You can see these were upper-middle class people who could afford to paint mosaics and use marble. But they weren’t rich since they lived right next to shops.�

The house was originally built as three separate dwellings in the third century, but after numerous renovations they were turned into a single house in the fourth century, when most of the frescoes were painted. The three-story brick structure is filled with windowless rooms with arched ceilings. The few windows are small to keep out the cold Roman winters and sweltering summer heat. In a curious sign of Christianity’s growing influence, one of the last rooms to be built was a small third-story known as the “confessional� because of its small size.

Things to Do in Rome


Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Visit the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and the Gallery of Tapestries. Enjoy the journey out of Rome and into the walls of the Vatican. Nothing in the world compares to being lead into the Vatican Museums, taking the beautiful Spiral staircase and continuing through the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Geographical Maps before arriving in the famous Sistine Chapel with its magnificent fresco of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo.

Illuminated Rome
Discover some of the famous monuments of the Eternal City in the romantic atmosphere of past times. Some of the sights you pass by include The Fountain of the Nayads, the Exhibition Palace, Piazza Venezia with its Tomb to the Unknown Soldier and the Capitoline Hill.

Italy Essential information

italy_information.jpgTourism is big business in Italy, a country which offers such a feast for the visitor that it is difficult to know where to start. With more than 3,000 years of history, art and culture – and a cuisine that is popular around the world – Italy oozes la dolce vita.

The capital, Rome, within which lies the separate city-state of the Vatican City, boasts Roman ruins, Etruscan tombs, renaissance palaces and early-Christian churches. Other highlights are Florence with the Uffizi gallery and renaissance gems; the canals, palaces, piazzas and galleries of Venice; the ruins of Pompei; medieval Siena; sophisticated Milan, rustic Sicily; Pisa‘s leaning tower and the stunning Amalfi Coast.

But Italy is not all glamour, history and cappuccino – organised crime, corruption, high unemployment, severe air pollution, political instability and the poverty of the south are all high on the fix-it list. With a population of more than 57m, Italy also has high numbers of illegal immigrants. A charter member of Nato and the European Union, Italy supports the increasing unification of western Europe.

In general, Italy has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. The climate is subject to local variations. The northern area, especially into the Alps, has more severe winters whereas the central areas are more temperate. Southern Italy has a hot and dry climate. Rome averages 20-30C (68-86F) in July and 5-11C (41-52F) in January

Italian cucina is quite provincial due to the differing microclimates, terrains and traditions of the various regions. The northern plains are known for beef, veal, creams and cheeses, the mountainous south for goat and sheeps milk and cheese, lamb, chicken and pork. Thus the dishes of the north are rich and creamy, while the poorer south has a more robust, spicy cuisine. Staples also vary across the country; alternatives to pasta are rice, beans, cous cous and polenta. Olives, olive oil, anchovies, capers, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic and basil flavour dishes. Tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkin, spinach and aubergine are typical vegetables. Pizza is sold everywhere, often by the slice on street corners. Seafood is excellent along the coast. Icecream at its very best can be sampled in the many gelateria.