After our audience with Pope Francis we had a few hours to ourselves before starting back home. There is an eternity of things to do in Rome but I decided I wanted to do something I’d done some years back with an old college friend: walk along the Janiculum.
Now, the Janiculum is a hill in Rome but it is not one of the Seven Hills which are all situated on the left bank of the Tiber. In case you forgot the names of the Seven Hills of Rome here they are, in clockwise order:
The Vatican hill, the Pincio and the Janiculum, in some respects the most vivid of the Roman hills, are not counted among the traditional seven. This is because Rome consisted originally of seven settlements on top of each of the “seven hills”, which settlements subsequently joined up to form the Imperial capital.
For me, however, the Janiculum is the hill to go for when in Rome as it offers spectacular views over the whole city, diorama style. It’s also relatively peaceful and is full of wonderfully unexpected things to see.
At the start of the steep street leading to the hill I came across the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia which was offering an unusual kind of peace ballet within its florid walls.
Approaching the hill I noticed a sign advertising a sanitary museum. I half-expected to see a collection of WCs, Lucinda-Lambton-style, but, of course, the word “sanitaria” in Italian refer to health.
I entered a dilapidated courtyard only to find it was part of the ancient hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia and was still in use after over seven centuries. I asked around for the museum but no-one seemed to know anything about it. Instead, I was treated to beautiful decomposing cloisters, a lovely fountain and an unexpectedly well-appointed hospital bar and canteen where I ate a delicious plate of ravioli at an unbeatable price under a picture of the Vatican square snow-bound!
The climb now began and I found myself in what must be one of the most evocative spots in the whole of this evocative city: the monastery of San Onofrio now inhabited by a group of Franciscan friars.
I entered one of the most exquisite cloisters I’ve ever had the chance to see.
Its lunettes were painted by Cavalier d’Arpino in 1600 with scenes from the life of the hermit saint. San Onofrio must have got on especially well with animals since one fresco depicted an episode in which a white deer approaches the saint and feeds him with her milk for three years.
At the moment of death his companion Pafnuzio was unable to find anyone to help him dig Onoforio’s grave when a kindly lion turned up, recognised Onoforio’s body and, crying, put his paws gently over it. The friendly lion then indicated to Pafnuzio the place where Onofrio should be buried and even started digging the spot with its own paws.
Talk about the faithfulness of animals – this truly takes some beating! I’d like to see if my minor feline i.e. Napoleone, does the same for me if my time comes before his.
The church contains the tomb of one of the greatest of Italian poets, Torquato Tasso – the author of that great epic poem “La Gerusalemme Liberata”. I couldn’t see the tomb as the church was closed but here anyway is a picture of it.
What I was able to view however, was a plaque by the church’s bell tower that bought a lump to my throat.
Truly, one of the trilogy of greatest poets Europe has ever produced (no marks for guessing the other two) Goethe was here during the journey which utterly changed his life (and is so interestingly written up in his “Italienische Reise”) and not only mused on Tasso’s unhappy life but also wrote his great drama on the poet here in Rome between 1786 and 1788.
I would like add a further plaque to this hallowed spot so fraught with memories. Franz Liszt came here too, during his stay in Rome. Indeed, the Gondolier’s song from that marvellous set of piano pieces called “Années de Pèlerinage” becomes the “Tasso” theme in the glorious symphonic poem the Hungarian composer wrote called “Tasso’s Lament and Triumph”.
The highlight of my walk was, in a sense, still to come. I espied the monument to Garibaldi’s great love, the heroic and beautiful Brazilian woman, Ana Maria de Jesus Ribeiro da Silva, AKA Anita Garibaldi.
Here, on her rearing horse land and brandishing her Colt rifle, Anita looks a little like Annie Oakley.
Nearby was her man, Giuseppe Garibaldi, on a somewhat calmer horse.
(Detail from Anita’s statue – where also lie her mortal remains – Garibaldi carrying his dying love across the Ravenna marshes to her final resting place,while escaping from tyrannical forces after the collapse of the Roman Republic in 1849)
All around the two were scattered, prize confetti-like, the busts of the valiant garibaldini who’d followed the hero of two worlds on his unforgettable exploits, including “Il Garibaldino Inglese”, John Whitehead Peard, a Cornish lad, who joined up with the red-shirts back in 1860 on their campaign to unify Italy.
And on the wall the most poignant reminder of all – the first democratic constitution Italy has ever had – that written by Mazzini for the glorious Roman republic suppressed by totalitarian forces in 1849 but whose sublime moment in the history of the Italian Risorgimento will live for ever as long as Freedom is valued.
I had not planned my little excursion on the Janiculum. Plan nothing in Rome. Let this sublime city come to you is what I say. If I’d followed the standard guidebooks I’d have never seen what I saw during that last afternoon in Rome and it moved me greatly.