Photography by YiR contributor: Michele Robichaux
Rome can inspire with her scenic vistas, her quaint alleyways and grand churches but what about the dark side of the city? The ghosts that live in the shadows… the haunting memories that might fade away in the sunshine but loom up out of the night? I’ve seen the advertisements for the Dark Heart of Rome Tour for ages and nearly gone on numerous occasions when friends or family visited so when I had the opportunity to attend a tour with City Wonders last week I jumped at the chance.
What followed was a one and a half hour stroll down familiar streets in the center of Rome that I now see in a completely different light. By day I’ve gone grocery shopping at the Campo dei Fiori market or hunted for the perfect shoes in the boutiques around Via Giulia. I’ve crossed Ponte Sisto on the way to an aperitivo in Trastevere and Castel Sant’ Angelo has always felt like my first stepping stone into the city. Five years ago my study abroad program was located just across the river and I’d meet friends on the Ponte Sant’Angelo flanked by Bernini’s angels.
But this time the friendly alleyways and romantic bridges were transformed into the gruesome and grisly backdrop for stories of torture, unjust imprisonment, headless ghosts, and murderous wives. Ever wondered why the statue in the center of Campo dei Fiori looks so grim? What is the purpose of the portraits of Madonnas overlooking the streets on so many street corners in Rome? Why should you NOT visit the bridge of Ponte Sisto in the early morning, especially if you’re a guy? Why did they nail down dead bodies in the Church of Saint Mary of Prayer and Death? Where’s Nero’s ghost again? And wait, WHO got bricked in alive?
Our guide Peter (below) kept us captivated with his humor, clearly extensive knowledge of Rome, and his masterful storytelling that braided together one chilling ghost story after the next for one of the best tours I’ve been on. (And did I mention it’s only €25?) The next time I walk across the city, through my own memories of people and circumstances lost to the years, I’ll have my eye out for the ghosts that have been here for much, much longer.