Part IV: Roman Holiday – Secret Rome
Sitting outside enjoying the sunshine in this beautiful garden is absolute heaven.
For the afternoon we’ve booked a second vespa tour with Nerone Tours. The ‘Secret Rome’ tour is designed to take us off the beaten track to find the hidden gems of history known as ‘The Secrets of Rome’. With Epatzio and Valerio as our guides we head out of the city to the ‘Cimitero degli Inglesi’ or ‘The Englishman’s Cemetery’.
The cemetery itself offers a unique insight into life and death over the past two centuries. The graves of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, two of the great poets from the Romantic era are located here and many other writers, artists, diplomats and sculptors are buried here. Shelley’s grave bears the stirring inscription ‘Cor Cordium’ meaning ‘The Heart of My Heart’ and refers to his wife Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein). With such associations and beautiful memories, the cemetery is just as full of life in this classic sense, as it is with death itself. There are so many magnificent monuments, plants and flowers dotted about this oasis of greenery. Shelley himself described it as ‘a spot so beautiful it might make one in love with death to be buried in so sweet a place’. As we walk further on, a number of cats also come into view, strolling through the shade of the cypress trees or sitting on top of the gravestones catching the rays of the sun. The Englishman’s Cemetery is their refuge too. In folklore the black cat is thought to carry dead souls on to the next world, and so they seem to belong here – and quite rightly too.
The second of the secrets that we find in the ‘Cimitero degli Inglesi’ is a real life Egyptian Pyramid! The Pyramid of Cestius is incorporated into a section of the Aurelian Walls which border the English Cemetery and and can be seen instantly as you look up up from Shelley’s Grave.
The pyramid was an essential sight for many who took the Grand Tour in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (it dates to between eighteen and twelve BC) and it’s existence today – strangely – isn’t as widely known about as some of Rome’s other treasures…
Back on the vespas again we zip along through Rome’s traffic and arrive at the Aventine Hill – one of the seven hills of Rome. Helmets off we walk through a small park filled with Orange Trees and see the Dome of St Peter’s Basicilica in front of us. Stefano is here too with another tour and comes over to say hello to us again. He explains as we walk forward that the Dome infact becomes smaller rather than larger – the first of the optical illusions that we are to encounter on the Aventine Hill. The Garden of Oranges has a beautiful panoramic view of Rome from it’s terrace, and as well as being the setting for theatrical productions and a resting place for visitors to Rome, it is also the haunt of lovers. As we walk back to the scooters it’s easy to understand how love might blossom here!
A short ride away we park the scooters in the Piazza Cavalieri di Malta, an ornate, cyrpress-shaded square which takes it’s name from the ‘Cavalieri di Malta’ or Knights of Malta.
At Epatzio’s direction we peer through the keyhole of the Priory there and see the second of our optical illusions on Aventine Hill.
Through this small hole the full Dome of St Peter’s Basilica appears, perfectly aligned at the end of a tree-lined avenue.It would seem that even doorways have their secrets in Rome!
From here we head for the the Travestere, a picturesque medieval area located on the west bank of the Tiber, full of immense charm and character, and amazing to ride through with the vespa along it’s narrow cobbled streets. The final part of the tour takes us up and over the Janiculum Hill for a breathtaking view of the domes and bell towers of Rome against it’s beautiful blue skyline.
As i look across at the rooftops, I wonder what would have happened if Ann had returned to Rome. How would her romance with Joe have developed in ‘Roman Holiday – Part II’? And who would take the leading roles today? Perhaps the script would have included a vespa trip to explore the secrets of Rome, off the beaten track just as we were doing now on ‘The Secret Rome Tour’. Perhaps one day there really will be a Roman Holiday – Part II…?
In the evening we find ourselves in the Piazza Navona for our closing meal of the trip. The square is more colourful and even more buzzing than usual, with the restaurants keen to bring in Football loving clientele for the big Match of the week – the Euro Semi-Final between Italy and Germany. The waiters bring delicious dishes of pasta and pizza and then comically dash back to the many screens dotted about outside to learn the latest result. A huge roar of joy resonates out from one side of the square to the other as the final victorious goal is scored.
As the day fades and we walk back through the winding streets and the revelry of nightime celebration, we wonder about our return to this eternal, magical city? Will each of us come back one day in the future? The answer to this question lies undoubtedly in the closing frames of the film that has brought us here – ‘Roman Holiday’ – by all means Rome…by all means!
by Jackie Moreton
Co-Founder of Abeona Adventures