By YounginRome contributor : Mallory Robinson
When I used to think about Rome, and Italy in general, my mind immediately jumped to every stereotype: pizza, pasta, pasta on pizza and of course Julius Caesar. I moved to Rome about 3 weeks ago, a newbie to the ‘Eternal City,’ and one thing is certain after taking the Best of Rome Downtown Walking Tour with CoopCulture and Walks of Italy last week: Rome really is the ‘lasagna city.’ Not just for the popular dish made by baking layers of pasta filled with meats and cheeses, but as our tour guide Gabriel put it, every single landmark, street, art site and stage in the lasagna city has so many different lives and ‘layers’ of history ready to be consumed (pun intended) by those who visit Rome.
We began our tour with Coop Culture in front of the medieval church named Santa Maria sopra Minerva (St. Mary Over Minerva), whose dedication sprang from the false belief that the church was built over the ruins of a temple dedicated to the ancient Roman goddess, Minerva…by the time Romans realized the mistake, a couple hundred years had passed and the name stuck. But what will really catch your ears (and eyes) is the story behind the elephants statue’s behind and its infamous Baroque architect and sculptor, Gianlorenzo Bernini.
Next stop, the Pantheon: the most well preserved monument in Rome, which I learned also houses the tomb and (more importantly) namesake of the infamous Margherita Pizza. The unusual stories for me were the highlight of the tour, and although the tour was filled with plenty of stories from Roman history, the present day Piazza Navona, the location of many famous films such as ‘Angels & Demons’ and my personal favorite, ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,” also had a historic, blockbuster worthy rivalry – the story of Bernini versus Borromini- that could sell out a theater.
The picturesque tour continued on to Campo dei Fiori, literal translation ‘field of flowers,’ known not only known for its bustling market and happening nightlife, but also for the ominous figure of Giordano Bruno at its center. Next it was on to the ancients ruins at Largo di Torre Argentina and the theater where Julius Caesar met his fate!
Our guide Gabriel had clearly extensive knowledge of Rome, supplemented by anecdotes and references to the so-called “Roman mysteries,” old stories between reality and legend that will definitely stick with me next time I walk across the Centro Storico.
The tour ended with a visit to the Crypta Balbi and Crypta Balbi Museum, a unique experience of archaeological excavation that also gave us the opportunity for an exclusive visit to the Exedra and Excavations of Crypta Balbi generally accessible only on weekends!