Keats Shelley Memorial House, Keats, Shelley, Piazza di Spagna, English Quarter, ghetto degli inglesi

The Keats Shelley Memorial House and the English Quarter

The English Quarter–stretching roughly from Piazza di Spagna to Piazza del Popolo–is home to the Keats Shelley Memorial House and more.

You’ve probably heard of the famous Roman Ghetto, the ghetto ebraico or Jewish neighbourhood, close to the River Tiber and the Teatro Marcello. Less known (and bearing a history significantly less steeped in tragedy), however, is the English quarter. The ghetto inglese or Ghetto degli Inglesi, as locals fondly dubbed the area surrounding Piazza di Spagna, is something I only just learned about, despite having lived in Italy for over a decade. That’s how it is with Rome–there is always something new to uncover in the timeless, Eternal City.

Stretching approximately from the Spanish Steps to Villa Doria Pamphili on Via del Corso and to the Flaminian Gate (or Porta del Popolo) at Piazza del Popolo, the English quarter owes its name to the community of British expats that established itself in that location over many years, beginning in the early nineteenth century. Florence Nightingale, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens are only a few famous residents. From artists and writers to tourists who simply fell in love with Bernini’s peculiar Baroque-style Barcaccia fountain at the centre of Piazza di Spagna and the sloping steps leading down to it from the Trinità dei Monti church, what became known as the English quarter inspired a host of foreigners who eventually came to call the area their home.

The Keats Shelley Memorial House recently hosted an exhibition by Korean artist T-yong Chung, on the occasion of the two hundred year anniversary of Keats’ most creatively fruitful year, 1819. It was in that year that he produced some of his most well-known poems, including The Eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame sans Merci, and The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream. The exhibition, entitled “Odes to the Present”, is composed of a series of white sculptures, which line the bookcases and walls of the different rooms within the house–a bust of Keats and several, delicate nightingales in honour of the bird to which he dedicated his famous Ode: “Thou wast not born of death, immortal Bird!/No hungry generations tread thee down;/The voice I hear this passing night was heard/In ancient days by emperor and clown.”

The house, located at 26 Piazza di Spagna at the base of the Spanish Steps, was where the ailing John Keats spent his final days at the behest of friends and doctors who thought Rome’s warmer air would improve his condition. “At any rate,” Keats wrote in a letter to his sister Francis May “Fanny” Keats, “it will be a relief to quit this cold, wet, uncertain climate.” Artist Joseph Severn looked after him, and his letters from that time provide an account of those final months as Keats succumbed to tuberculosis, a disease that would take the lives of many famous artists of the time. He died on 23 February 1821, at the tragically young age of twenty-five. Both Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, are buried in the Cimitero Acattolico or Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the English Cemetery or Protestant Cemetery. The Severn letters are now used as a historical resource for the poet’s biographers. In keeping with the custom of the time, all Keats’ belongings were burned to stay contamination and contain the spread of the disease. Only the ceiling and the pavement are what remain of the original dwelling. The house was later converted into a museum, which now houses one of the world’s largest collections of books and manuscripts related to Keats and Shelley, among other Romantic poets and writers. According to the official website, the collection stands at 8,000 volumes, curated by associates of the house and built over time through the donation of benefactors.

To preface the experience, visitors are invited into an antechamber, where they can watch brief films that provide important contextual information on the lives of the figures associated with the house, as well as on the history of the house itself. The adjacent gift shop offers a delightful assortment of charming keepsakes: poetry books, canvas shoppers, postcards, prints, notebooks, and bookmarks–all things reader-writer related!

All I could think of, upon leaving the house, was the incredible history it has witnessed, from the time of the Romantic poets to the Second World War. After 1943, when Italy signed the armistice effectively making it an enemy of Germany, the museum relocated many of its artefacts so that they would not fall into German hands or be destroyed. Imagine the trepidation of the British expat community during those years! Their anxious position was the subject of the famous 1999 Franco Zeffirelli film Tea with Mussolini, starring Cher, Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, and Lily Tomlin. While the film has the city of Florence as its backdrop, rather than Rome, it faithfully portrays what the experience of being caught up in the international events of the Second World War must have been like for British citizens who had come to see Italy as their home away from home.

The heart of the English quarter, Piazza di Spagna itself, was used as a setting for many other classic films, including the 1953 Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck masterpiece Roman Holiday and the 1999 psychological thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley. Anglophone culture has undeniably left its imprint on the area. A few steps away from the luxury fashion shops of Via del Corso and Via dei Condotti stands the beautiful, Gothic revival-style All Saints’ Church. Built in the late nineteenth century and located on 153 Via del Babuino, the church is home to an Anglican, English-speaking congregation.

Another uniquely English icon of the area is the lovely Babington’s Tea Room, which was founded at the end of the nineteenth century by two Englishwomen who wished to cater to the English-speaking community of Rome. The tea room is located just opposite the Keats Shelley house, on the left side of the Spanish Steps. After weathering the tempests of both the First World War and the Wall Street Crisis, it went on to also be the only English business to not be closed down during the Second World War. The tea room bustled with antifascist activists during those tumultuous years, entering and existing in secret by way of the kitchen.

“Happy is England! I could be content/To see no other verdure than its own,” wrote Keats, “Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment/for skies Italian, and an inward groan/To sit upon an Alp as on a throne/And half forget what world or worldling meant.” That so flourishing a community of British artists should establish itself in this central part of the city is a testament to Rome’s power to inspire and its magical lure. From Chaucer to Shakespeare, British culture has undoubtedly been shaped by Italian influence. 

You can easily reach Piazza di Spagna, located in the heart of Rome’s historic center, by taking the Metro A from the Termini railway station. Travel in the Battistini direction and exit at Spagna. The piazza is fairly easy to reach by foot also, going in the direction of Piazza della Repubblica and turning onto Via delle Quattro Fontane, up to Piazza Barberini and all the way on to Via Sistina, which takes you to the top of the Scalinata and the Trinità dei Monti church. If you wish to supplement this brief exposition on the area surrounding the Spanish Steps with a more in-depth tour, be sure to check out the Heart of Rome private walking tour, which will guide you through the city’s most famous stops, including the Trevi Fountain, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. 

Domitilla's Catacombs in Rome, Rome Catacombs, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome Catacombs Tour, Tour of Rome Catacombs, Underground Rome Tour

Visit Rome’s Catacombs for Free(!) on October 12th

October 12th, 2019 marks Rome’s second annual Catacombs Day. This year’s Catacombs Day is the second ever – and what a treat it is for any visitor to Rome! Nearly all of Rome’s Catacombs will be free to enter.

Not only that, but some areas of the Catacombs which are normally closed will be open for one day only, like the Basilica of St. Tecla and the Museum of the Tower, with statuary from the San Callisto Catacomb.

So, grab a comfortable pair of closed-toe shoes and a sweater (trust us, it gets cold down there!) because we’re going to tell you about all the Catacombs which are open, on Rome’s second annual Catacombs Day.

Rome's Catacombs, Rome Catacombs Tour, Tours of the Catacombs

Life After Death

Each year Rome’s Catacombs Day has a special theme. Last year it was an exhibition of St. Paul, and this year, the theme is ‘Life After Death’. The idea of resurrection in heaven and other visions of the afterlife will be explored through the story of Jonah.

Infamously, Jonah was swallowed into the belly of the whale. His tale is one of forgiveness – life after death can also mean life renewed by repenting sin. Jonah’s story is one that most fascinated Early Christian Rome. Depictions of his trials and tribulations are all over the Catacombs; which is why he inspired 2019’s theme.

If you’re an Italian speaker who wants to know about Jonah and the Catacombs, look into the brochure and specially selected readings.

Free Entry to Rome’s Catacombs

On every other day of the year, expect to spend when you visit these Catacombs – but not on Rome’s Catacombs Day! Enjoy free access to all the below sites and discover Rome’s underworld.

San Callisto

You can visit Rome’s most famous Catacomb for free on October 12th, 2019. These Catacombs were named after San Callisto, a Pope of the 2nd century. Nearly all 3rd century Popes can be found inside these Catacombs alongside some of the earliest examples of Christian art.

San Sebastian

The Catacomb of San Sebastian was the first to be known as a catacomb, or catacumbas in Latin, which literally means ‘place of the hollow’, because of its proximity to a tuff mine. As well as being, quite literally, the original catacomb, San Sebastian is also famous for its 2nd-century tombs, Chapels, frescoes, wall-carvings, and mosaics. Any art lover would enjoy a visit to San Sebastian.  

Domitilla

Rome’s Catacombs of Domitilla was the largest underground Christian century in the world for much of late antiquity. Today, it’s the only Catacomb in Rome that still contains bones!

What makes the Catacombs of Domitilla so fascinating is how it also accommodates pagan bodies. Expect to see early images of Christ crucified alongside a casually louche Bacchus. If you choose to visit for free, keep your eyes peeled for the earliest depiction of the Last Supper – otherwise, join us for a tour!

Priscilla

If you’re looking for a series of crypts with a distinctly maternal vibe, Rome’s Catacombs of Priscilla is for you. Priscilla was known as ‘the mother of Catacombs’ in the 3rd century because it was founded by a woman, run by nuns and is home to the earliest representation of the Virgin Mary.

Sant’ Agnese

In these Catacombs, you’ll find the burial place of St. Agnes, a young saint who was martyred at the age of 12. Tortured to death in various horrible ways – accounts differ, but some feature vein piercing, throat-slitting, beheading, and other terrors – his cult spurned fascinated devotion in the Early Christian world. Constantine was said to be a fan.

Saints Marcellinus and Peter

The Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter are quite small by Rome’s standard; they only accommodate 15,000 bodies. Marcellinus and Peter were martyred here during Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. Legend states that these Catacombs marked the place Marcellinus and Peter were forced to dig their graves with their own hands.

Saint Pancreas

The Catacombs of Saint Pancreas aren’t too flashy, but never mind – it’s the perfect Catacomb experience for a minimalist. Admire the carefully crafted architecture of the underground cemetery and walk around the lovely Villa Doria Pamphili park afterward.

St. Lawrence

Admire the Catacombs of St. Lawrence, resplendent in beautifully rich artwork and labyrinthian rooms, stretching for miles. Constantine loved this saint and there are the ruins of a 3rd-century basilica dedicated to him on this site. A perfect choice for a visitor staying in Southern Rome.

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Free Tours Of Exclusive-Access Regions of the Catacombs

You can normally visit these areas of the Catacombs on appointment only – and hope you’ll get in! But on October 12th, 2019, you’ll be able to visit these areas in small tour groups. Just make sure you email [email protected] in advance.

Museum of the Tower and Crypts of Lucina

Learn about the Christianization of Rome and admire marble monuments taken from the San Callisto Catacombs in the Museum of the Tower and Crypts of Lucina. Admire pagan sarcophagi alongside Early Christian marblework.

Museum and Catacomb of Praetextatus

See some of the best examples of Christian sarcophagi in the Museum and Catacomb of Praetextatus. Enjoy some great classical marblework too – including a fascinating arch depicting the myth of Achilles and the Hunt.

Catacomb of St. Tecla

The Catacombs of St. Tecla keep it simple. Admire a small, early 4th century Christian Basilica, and the burial place of St. Tecla – who we know absolutely nothing about! Admire the 22 chambers of the Basilica, adorned in beautiful red Roman frescoes.

Museum of Domitilla and the Fornai Region

Hold onto your hat – the Museum of Domitilla promises some fantastic Early Christian artwork and history of Rome’s Christianization. The perfect way to complement a visit to the Catacombs of Domitila.

Hypogeum of the Aureli

The Hypogeum of the Aureli promises a fascinating experience of Late-Roman history. Visit the tomb of the Aureli, a wealthy family of freedman – former slaves. Admire the lower floor’s beautiful frescoes with scenes from Greek mythology.

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Rome’s Catacombs Day

There you have it! If you have a passion for Early Christian history, then you’ll know where you’ll be on October 12th. Discover the secret Rome, lying below the city streets, rich in history, eerie tales, and remarkable Early Christian artwork.

by Annie Beverley

 

 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month October 2019

Roma Experience Support Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The aim is to spread awareness about breast cancer, encourage self-examination among women, to raise money to beat breast cancer and support those who are suffering.

For all of October, Roma Experience will donate a portion of our sales on the website to the Susan G Komen Foundation, a charity which researches breast cancer cures and cares for those suffering.

Breast cancer awareness is a cause particularly close to the Roma Experience’s team’s heart, because of the personal experience of our business development partner, Robert Pardi. Rob’s wife suffered from breast cancer and, sadly, lost the battle 10 years ago. Rob wants to support people undergoing breast cancer treatment and research which is seeking to cure this disease.

“When my wife was first diagnosed back in the late 1990’s, it was very rare for a 30-year-old woman to have stage 3 breast cancer”, says Rob.  “I was told her outlook was bleak, but thanks to continued research and discoveries funded in part by organizations like the Susan G Komen Foundation, my wife lived a high quality of life for 11 years after her diagnosis.  I am so thankful that my company is taking a stand against this disease with me.”

This October, Roma Experience will do our bit to fight breast cancer.

Who We’ll Give To

Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

We’ll give to the Susan G Komen Foundation, a cause close to the Roma Experience Team’s Heart because of how they supported the wife of our business development partner, Robert Pardi.

The Susan G Komen Foundation fund screenings throughout America (212,324 women were screened last year, thanks to their initiatives), provide care for those suffering and conduct innovative breast cancer research. Rob is so grateful for how they helped him, and now he wants to give something back – with your help.

Every tour you purchase on our site in October will help support the Susan G Komen Foundation in their awesome work.

Breast Cancer Globally

Each year, 1.38 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer and 458,000 people die. Women are more likely to suffer from breast cancer than any other form of cancer. The majority of breast cancers (an astonishing 80%) occur in women over 50.

Unfortunately, there is still no definitive answer as to what causes breast cancer. That’s why early detection is so crucial to treat the disease. When breast cancer is detected in good time, in a country where diagnosis and treatment are readily available, there’s a strong chance a sufferer will experience a full recovery. In the cases where breast cancer is detected too late, palliative care is often the only option.

Over half of breast cancer deaths (269,000) each year occur in countries in the developing world. Often, this is because women do not know how to self-examine and health care is inaccessible to them.

How to Self-Examine

Woman Holding a Huge Pink Bra with Bras in the Background
Make sure you check your breasts!

Most breast cancer awareness campaigns in the developed world focus on self-examination, because in countries where health care is accessible, early diagnosis is what makes the biggest difference in beating the illness.

Britain’s CoppaFeel! Campaign has been one of the most effective at drawing attention to the need for self-examination.

They advise women to look and feel to get the best assessment of their breasts:

  • Look for any changes in the texture of the skin, be it rippling or dimpling.
  • Feel for unusual lumps, bumps, or any thickening.
  • Look to see if there’s any discharge from the nipple or crust around it.
  • Look and see if nipples have changed direction or position.
  • Feel for persistent pain localized in armpit or breast.
  • Look for swelling in your armpit or near your collarbone.
  • Look to see if size or shape have changed.
  • Look for rashes on the breast or nipple.

 It’s advised that women perform a thorough examination every month, looking and feeling for the symptoms above.

To perform a thorough breast exam:

  1. Stand in the mirror and visually assess breasts
  2. Raise your arms and see if breasts have changed
  3. Feel your breasts while lying down, using the opposite arm to feel each breast
  4. Feel your breasts while standing or sitting straight up.

If you look or feel for the above symptoms, and follow this step-by-step guide to breast examination, you have a good chance of catching the cancer before it advances.

Give Something Back

Roma Experience put passion and creativity into the business of tours, which is why we want to give something back. Cancer can inflict terrible pain on bright and brilliant people, and we want to help lessen the burden. For every tour that’s bought in October, we’ll donate a portion of the profits to charities which help fight breast cancer.

by Annie Beverley

EUR, Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana

EUR: Rome’s 1942 World Expo District

Rome’s Modernist marvel was designed to host a World Expo that never was, but the bustling business district today is home to museums, monuments, and more.

The year is 1942. It has been two years since Italy joined the war as a member of the Axis powers, one year before it would switch to the side of the Allies with the Armistice of Cassibile. In November, Allied forces would land in North Africa, prompting the Germans to launch Operation Anton, in which Italy would occupy Corsica as part of its bid to ‘reclaim’ territories it deemed belonged to it. The Raid of Algiers would take place the following month. It was the year of the 10th annual Venice International Film Festival. That year, however, very few countries would participate. World War Two was in full swing, and the film festival would be suspended temporarily beginning with following year. 

1942 was also the year Italy would host the World Expo, an international exhibition that takes place every five years and that represents a country’s achievements as they relate to universal themes. Past world fairs have included that of Paris in 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed in celebration of the centennial of the French Revolution. Although the project was conceived back in 1936, after Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, this world fair would never take place due to the events that would unfold in that time period.

It was an ambitious project, meant to rival even the grandeur of Ancient Rome. EUR, or E42 as the project was originally called after the year in which it was supposed to be held, stands for “Esposizione Universale Roma”, or “Rome World Exposition”. Tourists will likely be most familiar with the historic centre of Rome, where the city’s major landmark sites are all huddled together, most within walking distance of each other– the Trevi fountain, Piazza di Spagna, the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, the Colosseum, the Vatican. The business district of EUR lies on the periphery, though. It is the penultimate stop on the Metro B line in the Laurentina direction. 

The area was designed to commemorate twenty years of Fascism from the March on Rome in 1922, in which the mass demonstration organised by the National Fascist Party led to its establishment as the ruling power in Italy. Though the project was left uncompleted at the time it was supposed to be presented, work resumed in the 1950s and the district was inaugurated as a residential and business area. The Palazzo dello Sport and the Velodromo were completed just in time for the 1960 Olympics. EUR is now home to the headquarters of many multinational companies, and it has featured in more than a few classic films, including Federico Fellini’s Otto e Mezzo (“8 ½ ”), Bernando Bertolucci’s Il Conformista (“The Conformist”), and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (“The Eclipse”).

The main attractions of EUR centre around what was originally called Piazza Imperiale (“Imperial Square”) and is now Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, named after the inventor of the wireless telegraph. In the middle of the piazza looms a tall obelisk inscribed with depictions of his inventions among other scenes, including dances and allegorical scenes.

The buildings, mostly in travertine and limestone, are paradigms of modernist, Fascist architecture, which itself was inspired by classical Roman Imperial architecture. The Palazzo dei Congressi and Palazzo Uffici are prime examples of this. The latter was the only building to be entirely completed before Italy’s foray into World War Two. It also contains an air raid shelter. The scene in front of the Palazzo Uffici is quintessentially Roman, with its stone pines and nude male statues. The bronze statue, standing proudly in full fascist salute near the entrance to the building, was originally called “Genio del Fascismo” (Genius of Fascism) and rechristened “Genio dello Sport” (Genius of Athletics/Sports) after the fall of the regime. The building itself still bears one of Mussolini’s most famous quotes, declaring the incipit of a “Third Rome” that would usher in a new era with all the old glory of Imperial Rome. 

Walking through EUR is like walking through a magical realist painting, or de Chirico’s Piazza d’Italia, the Song of Love, or Mystery and Melancholy of a Street. It is beautiful, in a bleak, minimalist way, and blindingly white in the summer sun. Perhaps the most iconic emblem of the district is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, or Palace of Italian Civilisation, which locals call the ‘Square Colosseum’ (‘Colosseo Quadrato’). Under its arcades stand statues, which represent the arts and different trades. At the top of the building are inscribed the words, “Un popolo di poeti di artisti di eroi/di santi di pensatori di scienziati/di navigatori di trasmigratori” (“A people of poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, explorers and travellers”). Since 2015, the palace has been the headquarters of fashion giant Fendi.

EUR is populated with museums, testament to its original purpose as an exhibition in honour of Italy’s cultural grandeur. One such museum is the Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari (National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions), which, with its sterile white portico and colonnade, is another example of the architecture that characterises the district. The museum is a sort of ethnographical exposition. It documents daily life before industrialisation, from the end of the nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century. Public transportation, agriculture, various professions, and traditional music are some of the facets covered. EUR would fall short of its purpose without the Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of Roman Civilisation), which boasts a large collection of all things Ancient Rome–copies of statues, bas-reliefs, and architectural models small and large. Other museums include the Museo Nazionale dell’Alto Medioevo (National Museum of the Middle Ages) and the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico (Prehistoric Ethnographic Museum). 

Touring EUR gives you all the feeling of being in a ghost town, which sounds strange to say, as the district is very much still populated, bustling even. But its history has left an indelible impression on it, and the rationalist architecture, while striking in its own unique way, is eerily impersonal in its geometry and rigid lines. Absent are the ornate, baroque flourishes that characterise so much of Rome. This is no-nonsense. The rigorous attention to structure reveals a deep fixation with discipline and uniformity, two qualities the fascist regime imposed upon the Italian people. It was a doomed enterprise from the beginning, though. Italy loves life too much to stay put within narrow, dictatorial confines. Returning to Policlinico that day, on my way to meet a friend, I smiled to notice a small poster on one of the walls that border the university and hospital complex. “Sapienza antifascista,” it read, “Fuori i fascisti dall’università! La cultura rivuole il suo spazio” (“Sapienza is antifascist. Out with fascists from the university! Culture is reclaiming its space”). The tides of history have changed, and the Roman youth today remain fully committed to remembering the lessons of the past. 

Reaching EUR is simple. Take Metro B in the Laurentina direction, getting off at the EUR Fermi stop. Proceed to Via Cristoforo Colombo, around which most of the attractions spread out. EUR boasts plenty of lovely restaurants, from Italian to ethnic cuisine. There is also a lake and an adjacent park with hundreds of cherry trees. It is an excellent way to pass the day. For those interested in also seeing Rome’s historical centre, there is a host of tours to choose from. From walking food tours for foodies to photography tours where you can take advantage of some of the most beautiful backdrops to immortalise your trip to the Eternal City, there is no shortage of ways to experience Rome! 

Secret Rooms, Vatican Museums

Roma Experience’s Best Vatican Tours — and Why

Not all Vatican tours are created equal, so we put our thinking cap on and came up with a list of the best Vatican tours that Roma Experience offer. If you have a passion for history, art and culture, these Vatican City experiences will surely put a smile on your face.

Skip the Line

A young woman laughing and a man with his arms in the air in the foreground of the Gallery of Maps, in the Vatican Museums

The original, and still one of the best Vatican tours available today. If you want to experience all the highlights of Vatican City, this Skip the Line Vatican tour is for you.

Expect to see the main sights in Vatican City, including the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica and Vatican Museums. What is it that makes this Vatican tour so special? Well, for one, the group size is limited to only ten people, which means you get a more intimate experience of this fascinating collection than in larger groups.

Another thing is that the guides are fantastic. You can really feel the guides’ lifelong passion for the art and history of Vatican City.

Early-Morning

Secret Rooms, Vatican Museums

If you’re an early bird, the Early Morning Vatican Tour might be an even better option than the Skip the Line. Expect to visit all the highlights of Vatican City, including St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Museums.

However, what gives this tour an edge is that you enter the Museums one hour before the general public. For that hour, you’ll see amazing artworks like Laocoön and His Sons and the Raphael Rooms, before they get busy.

Especially in high season, this can make a big difference between a super chilled-out experience and a busy one.

Alone in the Sistine Chapel

A woman stood in front of Michelangelo's 'Last Judgement' in an empty Sistine Chapel, her arms raised above her head

If you’re seeking a luxurious experience of Vatican City, perhaps no product can beat the Alone in the Sistine Chapel Tour. Feel like a VIP as you go behind doors which are normally closed to the public and see some rare treasures within, including remarkable frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Niccoline Chapel and mosaics from Hadrian’s Villa.

The real highlight? Entering the Sistine Chapel when it’s closed — with only 14 other people. Nothing compares to standing under Michelangelo’s frescoes in an empty Sistine Chapel; it’s like you’re looking at these iconic images for the first time.

Vatican & Catacombs

Rome's Catacombs, Rome Catacombs Tour, Tours of the Catacombs

Have a passion for Early Christian history? This product might just be one for you. Not only is it an intimate tour — only 6 other people will be in your group for the duration of the experience — but it’s also the most comprehensive experience of Christian Ancient Rome you’ll get.

First, you’ll head into Rome’s dark underworld and explore the Catacombs; once the burial grounds of pagans and Christian’s alike. Next, you’ll see the Basilica of St Clement; a beautiful and richly decorated wonder in its own right, it also hides a 4th century church and a pre-Christian Temple of Mithras below.

Last but not least, a full tour of Vatican City awaits. After the dark of Rome’s underworld, enjoy a breath of fresh air in the heavenly Vatican.

Private Tour

A Roman golden bronze statue of Hercules in the Vatican Museums

There’s no better way to combine a love of history with comfort and relaxation, than with a private Vatican tour!

When you choose a private experience of Vatican City, you’ll discover all the hidden histories behind the artworks which interest you the most. All itineraries of our private Vatican tours can be adapted to accommodate special interests.

Just spend time with your friends, family, lover, or even by yourself (!) in the company of a private guide, and enjoy hearing the mysteries behind the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.

Early-Access Private with Breakfast

Flowers at the forefront of a lawn in Vatican City's Courtyard of the Pine, with café full of people and St Peter's Basilica in the background

This Vatican tour is a personal favorite of ours! Not only will you have access to the astonishing Vatican Museums collection one hour before the general public, but you’ll have the opportunity to indulge in a delicious breakfast in the beautiful Courtyard of the Pine.

Sit back and relax, as you catch the beginning of the day in the shadow of St Peter’s Basilica; indulging in a delicious American-style buffet breakfast.

Then, go onto discover greater treasures in the Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s.

At Night

Vatican at Night, Vatican Tours

One of the most romantic ways to see Vatican City?

Discovering it at night! Explore the beautiful Museums and Sistine Chapel late in the evening when there’s no one around, in a group no larger than 12. Although the Vatican has unlimited daily entry, on Friday nights, the numbers are restricted. So you can enjoy one of the world’s most staggering collections in relative peace and quiet.

A view of the town of Pacentro, in Abruzzo inside the mountains of Majella National Park

Best Attractions in Pacentro

Pacentro is an ancient hill town, situated in the heart of the Majella National Park in Abruzzo, Italy. In 2001, Pacentro was awarded the title as ‘One of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.’

On one of our two tours to Pacentro, you’ll have the opportunity to discover the town; a storybook village from a different era. Now, we’ll introduce you to all the best attractions in Pacentro.

https://vimeo.com/351364113

Zip Line

Rob soaring above Abruzzo National Park on the Zipline

Fly like an eagle over the Majella National Park and Pacentro itself on the Zipline Majella. Glide down the 1km long cable at 80km per hour, and savor fantastic views of the ancient city and the surrounding mountains.

The first zipline in Central Italy promises an experience both safe, and extreme.

Caldoreschi

‘I Caldorschi’ is a week-long event in August, which recreates the mediaeval atmosphere of 1450, the time Pacentro was ruled by feudal lord, Antonio Calora. Expect parades in medieval costumes, music performances, duels, jousts, and even witches. These period re-enactments finish in a perfect medieval setting; the Caldoresco Castle of Pacentro, an authentic jewel of Abruzzo.

Corsa Degli Zingari

‘Corsa degli Zingari’ is a competition where the young men of the town race each other barefoot, down steep, treacherous paths. This event, wholly unique to Pacentro, has been held on the first Sunday of September for over five centuries.

Once, the Corsa degli Zingari was regarded as an essential right of passage for manhood, a military recruitment test, and a way to win reward or social favor. The final goal is the Church of the Madonna di Loreto in the historic center of Pacentro, where runners attend to their wounds. Afterward, a celebration parade commences.

Pane, Abruzzo e Fantasia

Italy is known for its great food culture. But the pleasure lies in not only eating well, but cooking a fresh, delicious meal.

Find experiential tourism at its best as you learn how to make traditional Abruzzo dishes from scratch. After class, dine in the restaurant with fireplace, or sit outside and enjoy the bird’s eye view of Pacentro and the entire valley, as you enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Settimana Santa (Holy Week)

On Holy Week, actors stage dramatic scenes throughout Pacentro, inspired by the Passion and Death of Christ. Throughout the week, special events are held, with Easter Mass as the grand finale. On Good Friday, a procession with sacred images are carried throughout the town.

Sagra Della Polta & Pecora al Cutturo

Twice each year, Pacentro hosts outdoor cooking festivals that celebrate  their local culinary traditions. ‘Sagra Della Polta’ focuses on celebrates an ancient local farmer’s dish of  local-favorite beans, potatoes and cabbage. Pecora al Cutturo’ is a celebration of the local, traditional, spiced-sheep stew. YUM!

Street Boulder

Once every year, free climbers from around the world converge on Pacentro for this unique international sporting event. The ancient brick, stone, windows, and balconies of this historic town challenge climbers of all levels.

The day ends with a feast in the main Piazza, of course!

Taverna dei Caldora

This restaurant celebrates regional cuisine with specialities such as spaghetti with saffron and truffles in the former wine cellar of a 16th century palace.

Recognise it? George Clooney’s The American was filmed here.

Mercatini di Natale (Christmas Market)

The streets come alive during the Christmas Market Festival of Pacentro. Over 50 stands set up in kiosks and historic houses host local artists and craftsmen. Crafts, food and wine, clothing, Santa’s Grotto, pony rides, marionettes, music, and lots of fun for young and old.

Presepe Vivente (Living Nativity)

Joseph and Mary’s quest for an inn is recreated in the picturesque streets of Pacentro.

Visit to enjoy a holiday event which combines religion, flavors and Pacentro’s picturesque streets.

View of Naples, the Bay and Vesuvius from a Panoramic Viewing Platform

What to See in Naples

What to see in Naples? Absolutely everything! The city is a treasure-trove of wonders, which have delighted travelers, artists, writers and thinkers for centuries.  

Perhaps no one sang in praise of Naples as highly as writer and naturalist Goethe, who enthused about ‘the shore, the creeks, and the bay, Vesuvius, the city, the suburbs, the castles, the atmosphere… I can pardon all who lose their senses in Naples!’ 

Although 300 years have passed since Goethe’s time, Napoli is no less intoxicating. A medley of different periods – from the Ancient, to mediaeval Gothic and Baroque – rub shoulders in a lively modern city, where scooters rush by and the smell of pizza dough is carried on the air from kitchens.  

This list encompasses the best of what to see in Naples. 

National Archaeological Museum of Naples 

Detail from a Statue of Naples Archaeological Museum
Detail of a statue from Naples Archaeological Museum.

Lovers of the Ancient world will be enchanted by the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, which has some of the best artefacts of Ancient Greece and Rome in the world. Many of these were claimed from the bathhouses from Ancient Rome, including the impressive Hercules and Farnese Bull

Others were taken from Pompeii, including the Alexander Mosaic. Keep your eyes peeled for the Secret Cabinet; a collection of classical erotic art owned by the Bourbon Kings!  

Choose our Naples in One Day Tour to discover the National Archaeological Museum, alongside the city center of Naples; we’re the only tour provider which offers both in a one-day experience.

Sansevero Chapel

Veiled Statues in the Sansevero Chaples, Naples
Strange veiled sculptures in the evocative Sansevero Chapel

Italy is a country full of churches, and Naples is a city full of them; but none of them, in country or city, are quite like the Sansevero Chapel.  

The interior design of the Sansevero Chapel is rich in occult symbolism, due to the influence of its eccentric patron Raimondo di Sangro. Raimondo di Sangro was certainly a mason, but may also have practiced black magic – which is why some Neapolitans believe the chapel is cursed. 

Inside you’ll find unique artwork like The Veiled Christ and the eerie Anatomical Machines, which show a full map of the human nervous system; scientists still don’t know how di Sangro did it.  

Piazza del Plebiscito

The Church of San Francesco de Paola, in Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples
The Church of San Francesco de Paola, in Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples.

In a country positively brimming with impressive squares, Piazza del Plebiscito takes it to the next level – it takes epic scale and grandeur to new heights. This is in no small part thanks to the Basilica Royal, which wraps a wide colonnade on either side of the square, in a glorious, excessive pastiche of St Peter’s Basilica. 

Basilica Royal was not intended to be a church, but rather a construction in honor of the Emperor Napoleon. The whole effect is entirely appropriate for a man who wanted to be a God, more than a King. Among what to see in Naples, this sight is the most epic.  

Gesù Nuovo

The richly decorated interior, with gold, marble and vaulted ceilings, in Gesù Nuovo Naples
The richly decorated interior, with gold, marble and vaulted ceilings, in Gesù Nuovo Naples.

Naples’ Gesù Nuovo is perhaps one of the most excessively decorated Baroque churches in Italy. All the drama of Italian Baroque, with its heavy reds, golds and voluptuous’ cherubim, impose themselves on you in the vaulted interior space of this former palace.  

Take note of the intricate inlaid marble – a craft typical of Campania. Make sure to find the room of votive offerings dedicated to Saint Giuseppe Moscati; the walls are covered in silver hearts, lungs, arms, and legs, in hope the saint will heal them. 

Cloister of Santa Chiara

Santa Chiara Cloisters in Naples, Naples in One Day
The beautiful cloister of Santa Chiara, decorated with Majolica tiles

Santa Chiara church is a wonder in itself – an elegant French Gothic church, from the mediaeval period, when Naples was ruled by France. However, the real highlight is the wonderful cloister, decorated richly in Majolica tiles. 

Majolica tiles are a traditional craft of Campania and are hand-painted in rich colors. Those in the cloister of Santa Chiara show scenes of traditional peasant life; men out fishing, men and women drinking and making merry in the towns of Campania. It’s always a pleasure to imagine the somber nuns walking among these playful scenes, done in oranges, blues and greens. 

Castel dell’Ovo

Image of the Castel dell'Ovo atop the Bay of Naples
Discover the Castel dell’Ovo, with an ancient lineage.

Naples is positively brimming with castles (the city has over 7) but none are as old – or shrouded in mystery – as Castel dell’Ovo. The Castle we see today was built by the French rulers of Naples in the 12th century, but was constructed atop a much older Roman Fortress.  

Legend has it that the Roman poet Virgil placed a magic egg in its fortifications; an egg which would protect the city of Naples, as long as it survived. Hence, the name: ‘The Castle of the Egg.’ 

 Visit to enjoy spectacular views of Naples’ harbor and the Bay. 

Catacombs of San Gennaro 

The darkened interior of the Catacombs of San Gennaro
Enter the darkened interior of the Catacombs of San Gennaro.

Head underground and discover the largest network of Catacombs in Southern Italy. This early Christian burial site became a place of worship, as the fervor surrounding early-Christina saints grew. Inside, you’ll find a confessional, a baptismal font and small chapels. 

San Gennaro Catacombs have not only been a city of the dead in their long and illustrious history – they also protected the citizens of Naples from air raids during WWII. Among what to see in Naples, the Catacombs of San Gennaro are among the creepiest. 

Toledo Metro 

The beautiful glimmering escalators, evocative of the sea, in Toledo Station, Napoli.
The beautiful glimmering escalators, evocative of the sea, in Toledo Station, Napoli.

When Naples’ city refurbished their metro, they made the decision to dedicate some stations along the busiest lines as Art Stations. These Art Stations were intended to be especially beautiful and comfortable for commuters, and among them, none is as beautiful as Toledo. 

Toledo Metro advances well below the depth of the Bay; in fact, it is the station with the greatest depth in Naples. So, architect Oscar Tuquets Blanca, designed the station to mirror, the earth, sky and water; of which water is the most impressive.  

The underground of Toledo Metro glimmers in dazzling blues, in curves like the waves of the sea; it’s a real sight to behold.  

San Carlo Theater

The rich red and gold interior of San Carlo theater, Naples
The rich red and gold interior of San Carlo theater, Naples.

A visit to San Carlo Theater is like taking a journey back in time to the peak of Baroque grandeur. San Carlo is the oldest still active opera house in the world; all the Opera houses in Europe are based from its design.  

If you visit from January to May, you’ll be able to see an Opera, the likes of which have been performed here for 300 years. If you miss that window, there are still dance shows and other entertainments on throughout the year, so there’s always a show to entertain. 

However, chances are you’ll be admiring the gilded interior as much as you are the performance! Even if cultural performances aren’t your thing, you should definitely poke your head in for a look around; it’s among the most impressive sights that make what to see in Naples.  

Castel Nuovo 

Exterior view of Castel Nuovo, Naples
The exterior of Castel Nuovo, Naples.

Castel Nuovo’s name may delineate it as the ‘new Castle’, but it’s not so new by our standards. This mediaeval castle was constructed in 1273, and has been an iconic feature of the Neapolitan skyline ever since.  

Visit Castel Nuovo to discover the evocative fragments of frescoes by Great Master Giotto in the chapel. On the upper floors, discover great pieces from the Carravagesque period and the Neaopolitan Baroque.

Gran Caffè Gambrinus 

A barista hard at work, preparing coffee via the traditional methods, in Gran Caffè Gambrinus.
A barista hard at work, preparing coffee via the traditional methods, in Gran Caffè Gambrinus.

All that history got you thirsty? Why not pay a visit to one of the oldest – and most loved – cafés in Naples, Gran Caffè Gambrinus. Enjoy the city’s finest coffee in the incomparable atmosphere of the Gran Caffè, just to the side of the monumental Piazza del Plebisicto.  

Enjoy a perfect coffee in a haunt beloved by artists, writers, poets, thinkers, debonairs and aristocrats from the 18th century up to the present day.  

Now you know what to see in Naples…

And amazing discoveries await, in this beautiful Baroque city, framed by Mount Vesuvius and the Tyrrhenian sea. Discover a wealth of historic treasures in this enchanting town, with influences as diverse as Ancient Greek, French Gothic and Spanish Baroque.

Lose yourself in the incomparable atmosphere of this lively modern city, as you discover Naples’ historic wonders.  

by Annie Beverley

The Roman Forum at Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

A Normal Morning, in Vesuvius’ Shadow: Pompeii’s Eruption

The residents of Pompeii had no idea what would happen on that fateful Fall day in 79 AD. The sun rose on a bright and unremarkable October morning, on a busy merchant town below Mount Vesuvius. Those who lived in Pompeii had no idea the mountain was a volcano; they though the lofty heights of Vesuvius housed the God of wine, Bacchus, because of the abundance of vineyards curling around it.  

Until 1 o’clock in the afternoon, life in Pompeii carried on as normal. Slaves were collecting bread from the bakeries for their masters, legal cases were discussed in the law courts, and Gods were worshipped in the temples. After that first eruption on that early Autumn afternoon, the region would never be the same… 

The Eruption That Changed Everything  

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1944

When Vesuvius erupted at 1pm, it looked like a pine tree made of fire was bursting from the mountain top. Lava, pumice and molten ash shot into the atmosphere and lingered, waiting for its later fall upon the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum – destroying them completely.  

The sky went completely black. People tried to flee the town, but when they reached the beach, boats could not depart because of thick pumice stones floating near the shore. A tsunami followed, making escape by sea impossible.  

Morning turned to afternoon, and no real horror had yet met the town. Those who had initially fled returned, as the quiet mountain tricked them into feeling safe. As afternoon turned to evening, that all changed. First, pumice stones the size of golf balls rained down upon the town. Wooden ceilings collapsed, leaving people trapped inside – but the worse was not over yet. 

The Dead of Pompeii

Plaster cast of one who died in Pompeii
A plaster cast of one of Pompeii’s citizens who died in the eruption

The first pyroclastic surge touched Pompeii at 6 am the following morning. Originally, scientists believed that ash filled the lungs of Pompeii’s citizens, and they suffocated. However, the tranquil repose of the plaster death casts always disrupted this theory. We now know that a pyroclastic surge kills people with a sheer wave of heat. The surge is over in a millisecond – and in that millisecond, everyone who had remained in the town, and survived the earlier trials, was dead; cooked alive at 325°C.  

Over 1,000 bodies were found in the town, and by pouring plaster into the shapes they left behind, life as it faces the moment of death has been preserved in the most evocative casts, on display in the town.  You can see these evocative plaster casts on a private tour of Pompeii – where you’ll learn even more about Ancient Roman life, and the horrific eruption of Vesuvius.

by Annie Beverley