When it comes to architecture, Italy's capital isn't just Roman ruins. As the birthplace of the Baroque art movement, it boasts 900 of Europe's most beautiful churches. Here's three you must see
We all know about the Rome of two-thousand years ago - an ancient city at the centre of a vast empire that covered the globe. But 16 centuries later, long after the last Ceasar had come and gone, the Italian capital enjoyed a second golden age as the Baroque era of art transformed the old city into the one we know today.
The legacy of two centuries of the Baroque movement, which was about celebrating God and religion through art, is a staggering 900 churches, 280 fountains and endless statues that move and amaze more than 10 million visitors every year.
During the 1500s the Catholic church realised it needed some serious PR to get everyone on side. So it decided that when it came to official art, nudity was out and gold and marble illustrating images of the divine were in. This guide is designed to help you explore and experience the city by recommending a visit to three of Rome’s most dazzling churches.
They are all on one long straight road in the Via Quirinale area, five minutes from the Repubblica Metro stop.
Stop tummy-rumbles en route by popping into Pasticceria Dagnino in Galleria Esedra. It’s next to Repubblica and is widely regarded as the best cake shop in Rome. Once you’ve finished choosing ‘dolci’ make your way to the first church, Santa Maria della Vittoria. The plain facade could not contrast more with the kaleidoscope of marble and gold you enter into.
Hovering on the far left you find Bernini’s statue of Saint Teresa, It shows her being visited by celestial beings. Look to either side of the conclave she floats in and you will see the Cornaro family, who commissioned the chapel. They are looking on from what look like theatre boxes. This reminds us that Bernini was involved heavily in the arts which reinforces what the Baroque was all about. The statue aimed to engage by astonishing and, even four hundred years later, it’s still does.
Once you have admired Bernini’s technical virtuosity, venture back on to Via XX Settembre until it becomes Via Quirnale. Next to fountains you will find the church built by Bernini’s competitor, Borromini.
Bernini was a celebrity, rarely short of important commissions. Borromini, a moody depressive, had a much smaller fan club, so he was given fewer jobs and smaller budgets. However, neither the architect’s tortured life or gruesome suicide are reflected in the crystal-calm interior of the small but perfect San Carlino. The lack of corners and undulating pillars and conclaves make the church a rippling, rhythmic room for reflection. Designing the patterns at the top of the dome smaller than those at the bottom so they appear bigger was just plain showing off! But where Borromini built, you can be sure Bernini was not far behind - and that’s what you’ll find if you leave San Carlino and stroll down the road.
Imagine a Fabergé egg turned inside out and you have, in an egg-shell, the last stop on Via Quirinale’s Baroque bazaar - Bernini’s Santa Andrea al Quirinale. This is Bernini’s showy, sexy, unashamedly self-indulgent Baroque baby. The twist is that her turned the oval on its side so the path to the alter is short. In practical terms, this isn’t very useful for processions, but as Bernini was a firmly established Baroque superstar by this point, no one questioned it.
When you feel ready to do something a bit more secular, step out of Santa Andrea and carry on along the road until you arrive at a stunning, sweeping view of Rome.
For a well-earned meal, head towards The Ghetto for some of their famous grilled artichoke hearts or cross the river to Trastevere where you can relax at one of the many superb restaurants. Both places are simple to find by arriving at Piazza Venezia and walking down the large road on the right.
If you are after an all-round serene experience, avoid staying anywhere in the grubby, chaotic Termini area. Try staying at The Beehive. It’s clean, calm and well-connected. Then just remember, world-class art is just a map, bottle of water and a pair of comfy sandals away.