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aventine keyhole

The Weird & Wonderful Rome

March 18, 2016 5:36 pm by

Aside from the obvious ancient history that is part and parcel of visiting Rome, there’s a whole other side that many don’t get to experience. From the downright weird to the amazingly wonderful, Rome is blessed with its fair share of quirks. From skeletal décor, to keyhole views, here are some of our favourite weird and wonderful things.

Skeletal Decorations

Interestingly there is more than one place in Rome where you will see the religious remains on display. If you’re not freaked out by the prospect, visit the Crypt of Capuchin Friars, Santa Maria della Concezione, to be really spooked. With the bones of over 4000 friars decorating the walls and ceilings you can’t escape the message: death can come at any time. San Silvestro Church is another one to visit as it claims to own the head of St John the Baptist. But depending on where you’re from, a church in Germany, France and Syria also claim to be the owners of the same head… Another dubious skull can be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which if you’re a born romantic, might strike a stronger cord, as this Roman church claims to own the head of St Valentine – the patron saint of lovers.

Criminology Museum

Another disturbing establishment – not for the fainthearted – is the Criminology Museum, near to Piazza Navona. After a visit you’ll certainly appreciate how far Italy has come from the days of executions and brutal methods of torture. On show are real objects of restraint and torture that were once used for incarceration during the late 19th century and into the 20th century. One of the most shocking artefacts on show is the infamous body-shaped Milazzo Cage which would be hung outside the castle or prison displaying the mutilated criminal.

Fantastical architecture

As well as the awe-inspiring historic architecture of the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon, for instance, you will also come across some fantastical architecture when you least expect it. One of our favourite places is the Quartiere Coppedé in the Northern part of the city. Home to a real blend of architectural styles, you’ll find Art Nouveau, Ancient Greek, Roman Baroque and even some Medieval all mixed in, designed by architect Coppedé between 1910s and 1927. Admire Florentine towers, Venetian palazzi, mosaics and frescoes… You won’t want to forget your camera, trust us!

Aventine Keyhole

A keyhole with a view, this really is a hidden gem and many miss it – literally. On the corner of via di S. Sabina and via di Porta Lavernale you’ll find a very nondescript looking door on the Aventine Hill, leading into the Priory of the Knights of Malta. But the trick is not to go in, but to look through the keyhole instead. Whether it was a stroke of brilliant design or pure fluke, you’ll be hard pushed to find another keyhole like it. Through the opening you’ll see your gaze lines up perfectly with the gardens inside the courtyard which frames the dome of the St Peter’s Basilica in the distance perfectly.

Optical illusion

Around the corner from the Pantheon make sure you visit the Jesuit church of Saint Ignazio, on Via del Caravita. Decorated by Andrea Pozzo between 1685 and 1694, the church was originally meant to have a dome but when the money ran out in 1642, Pozzo had to get creative. The painted dome on the ceiling is a real work of perspectives and many visitors don’t even realise that the shadowed dome is in fact a flat ceiling. You can also notice that the huge fresco on the barrel-vaulted ceiling also employs this trick of the eye and is a great example of the quadratura technique, juxtaposing geometrically accurate architecture and dreamlike cherubs and floating saints.

All things Egyptian

Pyramids might be a legacy from ancient Egypt but you’ll also find a rather famous one in the city of Rome. The Pyramid of Cestius was built in the wake of the conquest of Egypt in 30 BC when Rome was gripped by Egyptomania. The Pyramid is believed to have been built as a tomb for a wealthy Roman between 18 and 12 BC, however, it’s since been ransacked and any evidence or remains of who he was have disappeared. There was a second pyramid at one point, near Castel Sant’angelo, but it didn’t survive – instead its marble was used for the steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Another Egyptian landmark is the obelisk which you’ll find in Piazza del Popolo, which is actually one of thirteen dotted around the city.

image credit: tamthientran.com

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