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May's Monthly Newsletter
In early May three years ago the Italian lockdown began to ease and for the first time in two months an unfettered solo walk was allowed. Which was just the thing I was yearning for more than anything else. I set off from Pigneto and walked and walked (and walked) through the deserted, still-shuttered city in the spring sunshine under absurdly blue skies.
I went to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, to St Peter’s and the Colosseum and the Forum, and to Trastevere. I walked until I couldn’t any more and covered almost 20 km and it was glorious.
The only church I passed which was open that day was Santa Maria in Portico in Campitelli, commissioned, in its present incarnation, by Pope Alexander VII. It served as an ex voto to mark the end of the plague of 1656, and to house the tiny icon of the Virgin which had pestilence-abating properties. The icon is said to date to the sixth century, but more probably to the eleventh. I put my head in the door, but held respectfully back from the prayer area where a couple of people prayed, I assumed, for deliverance from a pandemic as people have here for centuries. It was also, incidentally, the titular church assigned to Cardinal Henry Stuart, brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the Young Pretender is said to have prayed here every day he was in Rome.
May of 2023 is, happily, rather busier but it doesn’t have to be. Bucolic corners of Rome and environs, peppered with wild flowers, can still be every bit as tranquil as those strange days in 2020, but without the anguish. Here are some glimpses of recent tours of such uncrowded places, positively bristling with poppies at the moment.
Cari saluti da Roma! Agnes
Ostia Antica, Saturday 6 May 2023
Trastevere and the Tiber Island, May 2023
Tivoli, 27 April 2023