Saturday, 26 September 2015

What to *munch* when in Rome

When in Rome, one should be daring and try to eat something typical of the place-- But as I see you getting crazy to figure out which is the best restaurant where you can get your original Carbonara or your perplexity in front of a steaming bowl of tripe, here I propose you a tiny list with affordable, yummy snacks that will give you a flavour of the city and its tradition without stress!

I open this list with my favourite snack, the delicious supplì.
A fried dumpling filled with ragù risotto and a bit of mozzarella, it's the icon of the Roman Snack and can be found at very cheap prices in every pizzeria, usually with other kind of croquettes and fried delicacies.
The etymology of the name seems to derive from the French "surprise", a reference to the filante mozzarella inside. This led to another "nickname" of the supplì, "on the phone": if the supplì is adequately hot, if you break it in the middle and separate the two halves, you should see the mozzarella getting ropy, making it look like the two halves are connected by a phone wire.
Places where you can eat delicious and cheap supplì are Re di Roma Pizza and I Supplì-- Both places are nicknamed "The House of Supplì" for a reason! Try both and pick your favourite!

Another "yummity" is the bomba, usually available with its sugary sister, the ciambella.
Similar to the German krapfen, the difference is that eggs are not used for the recipe of those fried bits of joy.
Originally the bomba was a sweet to eat during Carnival (pretty much like the frappa), but in recent times it's possible to eat it all around the year.
The "original" filling is custard, but they can be found filled with nutella or jam too, or even in salty variants with mozzarella and ham.
The most popular place in Rome where you can get both bombe and ciambelle for a ridiculous price is the legendary Dolce Maniera: as this place is opened all around the clock, you may happen to see guys that right after devasting themselves at the disco with all kind of alcoholic crap, come here around 6 or 7 o'clock to "freshen up" with a bomba-- Things that happen only here in Rome.

Supplì and bombe could be eaten all around the year, but if you happen to visit Rome on summer, you're FORCED to eat the grattachecca.
Don't mistake it with the granita!
The granita is grinded frozen fruit juice, while the grattachecca is just sliced ice, flavoured with syrups and fresh fruit.
It's very simple and light, an excellent remedy for the scorching heat of Roman summers.
Grattachecche are sold in the area of Trastevere, along the riverside, in their specific and easily recognizable stands.
If you check Italian food blogs to figure out which one the best one you get tones of discording opinions, but you can go on a tour and try to visit all of them!
My personal pick is the stand of Sora Mirella if just for the splendid location by Cestius Bridge!

I mentioned the granita, which is not a Roman typical product, but you can get something interesting here too.
A very popular dessert is the coffee flavoured granita, the granita al caffè.
It's extremely refreshingh and energizing at the same time, and it's usually enriched with a generous amount of panna, whipped cream.
A place where you can eat a delicious, cheap one in an absurdly touristic area is the one that you can find at Tazza D'Oro, a shop specialized in coffee (no wonder it's nicknamed "The House of Coffee") located by the Pantheon, where you are sure that you can eat a "proper" granita of this kind.

So, as you see there are many snacks that you can eat in Rome, and that are strictly connected with Roman tradition, even if their place of origin is far from Rome, as in the case of the granita, which is a Sicilian specialty.

The most famous of those "immigrants" is probably the porchetta.

Another dish connected with festivities and special celebrations, the producers of the delicious aromatized pork came from the countryside or the close-by mountainous regions to share and serve their delicacies in the city.
Even now, porchetta stands can be found on the streets during certain celebrations, like those dedicated to patron saints, but there are some rosticcerie and alimentari shops where you can find it all year around.
I'll tell you in advance, mistake it for kebap or consider it an "Italian variant" of it and you'll be promptly LYNCHED by the locals.
The porchetta is held as a culinary product of cultural relevance, and it's served and prepared with the same recipe since centuries.
In places like Er Buchetto you can savour it in a tipical Roman bread, the ciriola, and in alimentari like L'Antica Salumeria you can eat it as a filling for pizza bianca (don't call it focaccia!!), another peculiarity of Rome.

Another popular dish in Rome, but not native of the place, is the famous fritto misto or frittura.
Every Italian region owns its peculiar variant of the "variety of fried fishes and vegetables", but the one popular in Rome and its province is the one that comes from the close-by region of Campania, focused on shrimps and squids.
The Paranza is a similar dish, but way more filling because of the (baby) fishes that come with it.
As a quick, tasty snack that you may eat even while walking around the streets, my suggestion is to make a stop to O'Cartoccio, where, besides the "classic" fritto featuring shrimps and squids, or squids only (my favourite), you can find and savour the cartoccio with fried veggies (I recommend the artichockes!) and the famous fried baccalà!

Take this list as a simple invitation to try and enjoy the street food of Rome, I hope it will serve as a starting point for your culinary adventure of personal discoveries!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The "Rooms of the Nazareni" at Casino Giustiniani Massimo

I mentioned in my previous posts the contributions in Rome of Preraffaelites and Bentvueghels, it looks like it's the time for some German artists to celebrate-- So today I'll spend a few words on the Nazareni, and their work in the so-called Casino Giustiniani Massimo.

Designed by Borromini, the "little house" that was part of the "countryside" residence of Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani was meant to be a place far from the noise of the city dedicated to his free time.
The original precints of the villa included a huge plot of land where the Marquis could hunt or ride his horses, and vineyards.
What remains now is the tiny casino, the laid-back residence of the Marquis, mostly dedicated to the collection of his antiquities.
By looking at the building, you can still spot the decorative insertions of ancient Roman sarcophagi, a trend at the time.

The collection of the Marquis was scattered all over Europe on latter years, but in the courtyard there can still be spotted the "Giustiniano", a pastiche of an ancient torso with a newly sculpted head dedicated to Emperor Justinian, a figure that this powerful family from Genoa liked to claim as their ancestor.
It was the far XVII century, and two centuries later the complex would be acquired by another Roman nobleman, Carlo Massimo.
He was the one who invited the Nazarenes in there with the request to fresco the three little rooms on the ground floor, tasks that the guys took care of in the span of ten years, from 1819 to 1829.
The idea of a "sublime nutshell of Italian literature" found its imagery in the depiction of three fundamental masterpieces: the Jerusalem Delivered, the Orlando Furioso and the Divine Comedy.

The completion of the huge task took some time and the work didn't proceed smoothly.
The Room of Tasso (dedicated to "Jerusalem Delivered") was the work of Friedrich Overbeck, the charismatic leader of the movement; he took care of the most of the frescoes of the place, but abandoned the project on 1827 after the death of Carlo because he disapproved the "profanity" of the Massimo family, far from his religious inspiration.
The Room of Ariosto" (dedicated to "Orlando Furioso") was token care by Julius Schnorr Von Carosfeld.
Last but not least, the third room, dedicated to Dante, was worked on by Philipp Veit, who took care of the "Paradise" on the ceiling, Franz Horny, who frescoed the decorative vegetations, and Joseph Anton Koch, who took care of the "Hell" and "Purgatory".
As Overbeck left once Carlo Massimo was dead to head for a trip to Assisi, the rest of the frescoes would be finished by Joseph Führich, a newbie in the group, from 1827 to 1828.

The Nazarene Movement had a short history: on 1830 it was disbanded as Overbeck was the only member left. He died in Rome on 1869. His tomb can be found in the church of San Bernardo alle Terme
The impression that you get from these Rooms is that of an elegant, calculated refinement.
The group took their inspiration from the masters of the past, and despite the attempt to copy colours, poses and mood, you can't help but notice the "modernity" behind a certain touch...

Saturday, 12 September 2015

"Saint Filippo Neri - The Biblioteca Vallicelliana Celebrates its Founder" Exhibition

This exhibition is dedicated to the popular personality of Saint Filippo Neri, the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, an innovative form of secular clergy taking care of poor people, locals, children and assisting pilgrims.

On the 500th anniversary of his birth, the Biblioteca decided to celebrate him by showing and sharing documents, books and informations about this charismatic figure, all of them preserved in the library that he founded on 1565.
The Biblioteca Vallicelliana is part of the Oratorio dei Filippini, the oratory and residential quarters of the congregation created by "Pippo Buono".
I won't talk about the Oratorio or the adiacent, beautiful Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella ("Saint Mary of the Little Valley", also Chiesa Nuova), as a mere post won't be enough, but I leave you with a tiny anectode-- Do you see this fountain?
It's the "original" Fontana della Terrina, the one placed in Campo dè Fiori.

Without further ado, I reached for the Biblioteca, located at the second floor of the Oratorio.

Even if just from the stairs you savour the simple yet airy spaces designed by our good ol' Borromini. The priests themselves asked the architect to use simple, solid and cheap materials for the structure, so Borromini picked his favourite bricks and plaster: the contrast between the two materials, and the outside and inside of the building, is tangible and dreamy.

Once on the stairs, I was presented with the beautiful vision of the plaster bozzetto for the bas-relief of "The Encounter of Attila and Pope Leo" by Algardi. The finished piece is placed in Saint Peter's, but even the model is absolutely charming.

I've never seen Saint Peter and Saint Paul so pissed off!

I finally reached the Biblioteca where the exhibition was set.
Unfortunately it was forbidden to take pictures of the pieces, but I was allowed to take a few shots of the place.

The exhibition was extremely interesting! It followed the life of Pippo, from youth to his religious career through documents, the books he used to read and prints portraying him and his "brothers".
Besides the various items, there were some explainatory plaques dedicated to his most favourite places in Rome, the churches and catacombs that he used to visit for the sake of meditation and spiritual exercises.
The most intriguing were the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, where he received the "Divine Grace", and the so-called Oak of Tasso in the cloister of Saint Onofrio, a place where he used to walk, meditate and pray, centuries later followed by guys like Leopardi and Goethe.

Lots of informations focused on the Seven Churches Walk , a pilgrimage to do in Rome in one day, from dawn to dusk (or from dusk to the morning of the day after), on Good Friday.
At the time of Filippo Neri it followed this route:
1) Saint Peter's
2) Saint Paul Outside the Walls
3) Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls
At this point it was called for a lunch in the park of Villa Celimontana, by the Coliseum, hosted by the Mattei, owners of the place. The simple meal involved bread, cheese, eggs, salami and apples.
4) Saint John Lateran
5) Holy Cross in Jerusalem
6) Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls
7) Saint Maria Maggiore
On 2000 Pope John Paul II changed the Church of Saint Sebastian with the Sanctuary of Divine Love.

Last but not least, the exhibition included a little section dedicated to the books that belonged to Pippo, with an in-depth analysis over his passion for Aristotle.

It was a little yet intruing exhibition, focusing on a figure who is a cornerstone of Roman popular culture and a foundation of modern Catholicism.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The "Madonnelle", Devotion on the Streets

Sprouting at almost every crossroad of Rome, the Madonnelle ("Little Madonnas") are a token of that popular devotion that characterized the "religiouness" of Roman citizens, from the lower to the higher classes (Popes included, of course) through the centuries.
Historically speaking, their massive presence by crossroads and streets corners is related to the Roman cult of the lares compitales, minor deities associated to defuncts and ancestors, destined to the protection of people during the dangers of traffic (which was quite chaotic and dangerous even then!)-- Abolished in the latter years of the Republic, their cult would be "resumed" by Augustus, the lares now impersonating his own ancestors, part of that propaganda to settle in his role of Divo, "God", of the Empire.

A defined pattern can be observed in the curious votive niches: the most of them are placed at a certain height from the ground, probably to avoid damages from people and carriages. The height looks consistent with the position of sacred icons in churches and chapels, but it must be noted that, in case of alleys and other tiny roads, they are located at around 1 meter of height from the ground, so to allow common gestures of devotion.

The most of them are covered by baldaquins or other scenographic roofing of sort. Many of these icons were removed from their original frame and replaced in renewed niches that render difficult their datation. In some cases the original icons were removed and replaced in dedicated churches, chapels or private collections. It's the case of the famous Madonna dell'Archetto, copy of the miraculous original preserved in the chapel of the same name, and the Madonna della Pietà, that is a photo reproduction of the original preserved in the offices of Villa Doria-Pamphilij.

The most of Madonnelle, and all of those placed by crossroads, sport a lantern or a light; it's important to note that during the peek of their popularity (that spans from the late Reinassance to the Baroque) they were the only source of street lighting, a further proof on their importance to avoid trasportation accidents.

Even if the structure of a Madonnella is considered quite simple (baldaquin, image and light) it must be noted that many differents tecniques and materials are used for their creation.
The majority of them are paintings on canvas or wood, but some of them are frescoes, mosaics, relieves or statues.
Among the most used materials figure stucco (expecially used for the decorations framing the icons) and terracotta. Very little Madonnelle were realized in marble or ceramics. This last material was usually "suggested" by glazing the terracotta bas-relieves.

Generally speaking, Madonnelle are considered the result of popular devotion, but in my opinion is kinda naive to assume that private citizens, expecially those of the lower social classes, could afford or pretend to modify the urban assets out of a votive whim.
The Madonelle were in fact the results of private committences, but they were usually supported by noble families, churches or friar orders. An obvious example of this tendency can be witnessed by the Madonnelle decorating the walls of private buildings. These Madonnelle were not just placed on corners or crossroads, but directly on the facade or walls of the palace, preferably in between windows, so to allow their maintenance.

A famous example of this tendency is the stunning Madonna del Pellegrino that can be spotted on the street by the same name:
The excellent commissioner of this Madonella was Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni: he placed the Madonnella were he could spot her from his office in >Palazzo della Cancelleria; among the decorations you can recognize the eagles of the Ottoboni's Coat of Arms and a little portrait of Saint Filippo Neri, one of the most loved religious figures in Rome, an homage to the close-by Chiesa Nuova.

Despite the more or less powerful committence, the Madonnelle were indeed the source of a blatant and extreme popular devotion, as many of them are still considered miraculous images because of their portents.
There are many stories and legends about miracles that have the Madonnelle as protagonists: some of them cried blood before invasions, flowings or pestilences, others bleeded when offended, another let the flowers placed in front of it to not wither for several months.
But the most curious and disturbing miracle involved a good number of Madonnelle from the 9 July of 1796 and continuing for 20 days: an impressive number of Madonnelle in Rome, in fact, was witnessed while moving their eyes alarmingly and cry, as to alert the population of a close threat.
The event was so blatant and widespread that the Roman Inquisition investigated. Among the many Madonelle just five (that were already quite popular, some of them venerated by Popes themselves) were recognized as miraculous... Plaques and tags around them still remind the distracted walker of their portent.

More investigations were conducted at the time, but they were stopped once the "catastrophe" predicted by the Madonnelle took part on February 1798: the invasion of Rome by the French Republican troops the imprisonment of the Pope by Napoleone Bonaparte.

They are called "Madonnelle" because the most of them portray the Virgin Mary, a favourite among Catholics as she's the "sample" of a mere human being elevated to Sanctity due to the intercession of Jesus her son, but the sacred images of Rome don't involve the Virgin Mary alone. Following are a few examples featuring the Sacred Family, Saints and Jesus.

Other interesting examples are those dedicated to the Crucifixtion or an interesting case portraying the Circumcision of Jesus--

Popular, aristocratic or "fake", they are indeed an interesting contribution to the understanding of Rome and its way to live religion, inbetween fervent devotion, naive superstition and popular gratitude.

If you wish to know more about the Madonnelle, I suggest you to take a peek to this extraordinary website, and for a complete list with addresses and details, you can check this page out!