A walk in Rome’s Testaccio neighborhood, at the foot of the Aventine hill in the opposite direction from the Centro, presents yet another vision of the city. It’s named after a small hill, Monte Testaccio, made in Roman times out of piled up amphorae. This area, certainly not pretty but still authentic, was for a long time the home to the main slaughterhouse, now closed and repurposed as a branch of the Macro modern art museum. With cobblestones underfoot, surrounded by old animal stalls and meat hooks, one views avant guard art installations. The neighborhood was traditionally working class and today, of course, attracts its share of hipsters, artists, intellectuals, politicians and expats. At night what seem to be holes in the wall turn out to be trendy clubs heaving with people. Testaccio is also a food destination (especially for carnivores…), full of restaurants both long-standing and newer – many built into the Monte’s grottos. Those who are looking for gourmet delicacies or special ingredients head to the crammed Volpetti alimentari on Via Marmorata. And, of course, the Testaccio market, once held in a local piazza and now in a covered area near the slaughterhouse, is considered one of the best in Rome.
Francine Prose writes about three quiet – and very different – Roman museums in an article in the New York Times’ travel section. Of the three, the most likely to have a few other visitors is the Galleria Doria Pamphilj on Via del Corso. It is housed in the family’s palazzo and gathers, in a baroque and sumptuous setting, paintings from the Pamphilij collections, including a very familiar Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X. Prose points out that even though the collection contains works by masters such as Caravaggio and Titian, one can discover many other artists with whom one is less familiar. Prose goes on to describe the strange and empty Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio in the church of Sacro Cuore which she finds affecting and powerful. Her final stop, in this article is at the Centrale Montemartini. It’s an old electrical power station from the early 20th century which now houses an amazing collection of Greek and Roman statues and mosaics. It’s an Art Deco industrial space with much of its original interior preserved and its juxtaposition with the ancient art is truly brilliant. As a bonus, it really is one place, that even at the height of the summer tourist season, is cool and where one is likely to be almost alone.
Naples has drawn travelers for centuries: its location on the bay with Mount Vesuvius in the background is among the most spectacular in the world, its historical and artistic attractions are myriad, its food is delicious. Its reputation has always been of a chaotic port city and in recent times problems with crime and garbage have been widely reported. Regardless, it remains a fabulous place to spend time in, a great destination. And, as noted in a New York Times “36 Hours In…” article, there is a cultural and artistic renaissance going on that, among other things, contribute to making it a premier venue for modern art in Italy. Also, pedestrian areas have been increased and even the traffic seems more orderly. All the more reason to visit or return to this city.
A short article in Corriere della Sera discusses Rome’s ability to continue to attract visitors. Tourism to the capital has gone up notwithstanding crises and scandals. The article credits this to Rome’s being an open-air museum together with its ability to adapt to contemporary times. It cites the season’s current exhibitions, from Vermeer and Klee to one on Roman emperors. At the same time, it reminds us of the “poor” Rome that appeared in classic Alberto Sordi or Dino Risi films and then goes on to give suggestions for areas and neighborhoods to explore where one can feel again this “real” ambience. Interesting ideas for a visit!