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Forgotten Rome?

A glorious morning for a change and as luck would have it I had an appointment at the Villa Lante in the shadow of Garibaldi’s statue on the Gianiculum.

I deliberately aimed for the Fontanone (Fontana dell’Acqua Paola built in 1612) to take in the view and to my surprise found the road blocked by police. No criminals in sight just irritated commuters being turned back. A podium and film kit were being arranged because the refurbished Fontanone was being unveiled. This Renaissance wonder made famous by Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza has had a face-lift. In the cloudless radiance today the grandiose marble headstone to the fountain simply sparkled. Even the event team were seduced to photograph it, whereas normally it is a snap and selfie taken by visiting Chinese – many, in recent times, using it as a backdrop for their wedding albums.

Fontanone - refurbished and awaiting the mayor

The restoration is a triumph. But once seen you cannot but wonder why it was chosen and the next points on my perambulation are in a pretty tawdry condition.

The footpath from the Fontanone to the Garilbaldi piazza is, like so many footpaths, shredded. Hidden holes as big as traps lie in wait, so one must concentrate rather than admire the Via Aurelia above.

The panorama that Garibaldi commands has no equal. Every great building in Rome can be seen and beyond the far mountains are snow-capped, glistening. It is awe-inspiring. Cartographers of Rome were positioning themselves here as long ago as the late 16th century. (A copy of Antonio Tempesta’s great map of 1595 is mounted to one side of the belvedere, askew and infuriatingly misted up…. )

The world's greatest urban panorama...still

A hundred metres on, beside the Villa Lante, is another belvedere. Here the view is even more expansive. (The Finns who own the villa have the most ravishing garden, perched on the sharp cliff overlooking the city.) Advancing on the balustrade I suddenly realized it was a new inscription, about 40 metres along

Nothing immediately tells you what it is, but poking around the left-hand side, under a bramble bush, the half-visible end-stone explains that this is the Roman constitution, from 1849 (the year Garibaldi and his warriors fought the French on the Gianiculum to give the city liberty from papal control). This modern inscription by Annalaura Spalia was mounted here in October 2011. Eight years ago and this blessed place has been ……forgotten. Perhaps if Chinese wedding parties came here….

Forgotten - the Roman constitution

I returned to Trastevere after my visit to the Villa Lante by way of the Via Dandolo down the cracked pavements. One stretch was restored immediately below the Santuario Siriaco.

Only a small stone plaque explains this great ruin excavated by French archaeologists in the early 20th century in the lea of the Villa Schiarra. Fourth-century in date, the dig brought to light rich treasures of an eastern cult beside a spring dedicated to Furrina. The long building has an architecturally inventive atrium that led into a long hall that terminated in a cross-passage before the apsidal sanctuary itself. Built in about AD 360, it was abandoned within a generation. From it comes a marble statue of a Jupiter-Serapis (deliberately destroyed) but now restored and on display in the Palazzo Altemps in Rome.

Santuario Siriaco

The excavators found remains of a large earlier temple underneath. Here, though, this remarkable architectural link between ancient and Christian liturgical practice is padlocked and essentially forgotten.

There is an “Other” Rome – actually, there are numerous Other Romes – to be defined and way-marked and intelligently exploited for visitors. No city in the world has a greater history, and I am afraid to say – with the exception of its monumental treasures – no city has worked harder to forget that great history, some of it as derelict as the cracked pavements.

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