At 5.30 am at the start of my first ever February spent in Longoio, I scootered down to the main piazza in Bagni di Lucca to wait for a bus – a rather special one that would take me and other early risers to Rome, courtesy of the tour operators “Viaggi Mediavalle” from Lucca, whose web site is at: http://www.mediavalleviaggilucca.it/public/versione_nss/pages/ITA/home.asp.
It’s easy to get stuck in an area if one becomes a permanent resident of Italy and believe that now there’s all the time in the world to visit the country. I decided to avoid this rut but to continue to be a tourist in Italy. I thought Mediavalle’s itineraries (which I found in my letter-box) attractive and booked a seat with them.
The official reason given for this journey was to visit the Manet exhibition at the Vittoriano, Rome’s massive wedding-cake style monument to her first king Victor Emmanuel II, which hosts regular exhibitions inside all that icing.
The exhibition was clearly worth seeing but, (as often is the case with these events) the majority of exhibits were lithographs and drawing; of the actual paintings there were some charming portraits and evocative landscapes but nothing truly great from this father of impressionism.
There was considerable time after the exhibition to wander around before returning home. Wisely, I decided not to stray further than the Palazzo Venezia where, for me, there was a more enticing exhibition called “the Eighteenth century in Rome”. As an avid reader of Goethe’s “Journey to Italy” I was keen to see what the city was like when this greatest of men arrived in Rome on 3rd September 1786, a date he described as “the birthday of my new life.”
This exhibition certainly did not disappoint and there was a wide variety of paintings, furniture and dresses to evoke the city that greeted travellers from northern climes on their “Grand Tour”.
Of course, the best reason for being in Rome for the first time in ages was to re-connect with the eternal city. The day was beautifully clear: a north wind blew strongly, chilling me to the bone but giving the monuments a luminous transparency. Furthermore, the Via dei Fori Imperiali was traffic-free! (I’m glad to say that it has recently been made traffic-free permanently.)
I was able to visit that most ancient of churches Santa Maria in Aracoeli which I hadn’t seen for more years than I care to mention.
and Michaelangelo’s superb piece of town planning:
I joined my fellow-travellers and walked past a lovely group of ancient Roman temples to meet our bus and return home. It was a great first excursion with this company.
An exhibition on Cezanne has just concluded at the Vittoriano but, until March, there is an exhibition on ninety years of Italian radio and sixty years of Italian television which should interest technology buffs like me. From the end of February there will be a new exhibition of masterpieces from Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.
The Vittoriano also houses a permanent exhibition on the Italian Risorgimento. Garibaldi lovers, particularly, should be satisfied.
Finally, it is the resting place of Italy’s Unknown Soldier and, therefore, a place of solemnity commemorated each day by a military ceremony.
Recently the Vittoriano’s top terrace has been opened up to visitors – the view of the city from it must be absolutely stunning, not least because from there one doesn’t have to see the epic vulgarity of the monument!