Political culture dying? Not in Italy on May 1st, International Labour Day. When the Left celebrates with music, food, performances and political speeches, it’s your chance to listen to old partisan songs, music from Dario Fo, Gianni Bosio, meet new and aged activists and admire handcrafted political banners. Find out where the music school of Circolo Gianni Bosio from Rome is going. The Circolo GB does political research, oral history, activism and folklore collection. Last year they were in Sesto Fiorentino near Florence at the Istituto Ernesto de Martino, another active centre of political culture. The same year a few days later, May 6th, the music group sailed with other Rome choirs on a barge over the Tiber, singing against Berlusconi’s politics.
When the usual sites in Rome are heaving with people, Ostia Antica is a place of superb Roman sites which are blessedly peaceful. The site was once the sea port of ancient Rome but was silted up after the decline of the Roman Empire. Many buildings have been excavated and it is possible to spend a whole day here enjoying the sites and rural peace. We were there on a Saturday and it was not mobbed like the centre of Rome.
Google map: bit.ly/Aet2ld
The basilica of San Clemente, not far from the Coliseum, is three buildings in one - a church within a church within a church.
The church above ground dates from 1100 and is simply beautiful; one of the most lavishly decorated in Rome. A €3 entrance fee will take you down to the other two levels. There is a fourth-century church below which still houses the remains of ancient frescoes. Below that is the dark and intriguing house of Mitra (the Roman god of the equinoxes), which dates from the first-century, and was later used as a secret meeting place by early Christians. Amazing to think that this labyrinth of tiny rooms and corridors is hidden below two other churches and has still survived.
Traditionally a dirty, noisy and over-populated area of Rome just north of the forum between the Viminale and Esquilino hills. Rather than stray dogs, vagrants and ladies of the night, these days you are more likely to find locals sharing a slice of everyday Rome. Even though it’s a stone’s throw from the forum, these few streets feel like a village with a history all of their own. If it's genuine Rome you're after, this is the place to see it.
Via dei Serpenti, just off Via Nazionale. Also Via del Boschetto running parallel to via dei Serpenti plus several cobbled streets running off each.
This splendid church has three of the most amazing Caravaggios, including the Calling of St Matthew and it is free.
The second find is the The Ecstasy of St Teresa di Avila by Bernini. It is carved of one solid piece of marble is is simply quite stunning and stirring.
Piazza di San Luigi dei Francesi near to the Piazza Navona
the Church of S Maria della Vittoria is close to Via XX Settembre near the appian Way
As you face the Spanish Steps, the house is at the bottom on the right. Keats spent his last days here, suffering from consumption, and you can see relics of him and Shelley in this memorial to the Romantic poets. When I visited, there was a shop next door named Byron, but I think this was purely coincidental.
Piazza di Spagna 26 00187; www.keats-shelley-house.org; Tel: +39 06 678 4235
The legend is that if throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi fountain, you will return to Rome! It worked for me! Eat an ice cream whilst sitting there. Famous for most celebrated sequence, Ekberg splashing in the fountain, in Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita.
Down Via del Corso follow the signs for Fontana di Trevi, it's to the right.
Piazza di Trevi, 00187 Roma
Directions: near Via Del Corso and Via del Tritone Underground exit: Barberini Buses 52,53,61,62,63,71,80,95,116,119,175,492, and 630 exit Via del Tritone
You always have to queue so get there one hour early and walk through all the rooms directly to the Sistine Chapel, ignore the rest or do another time; then you arrive ahead of the crowds able to glory in it without the noise and hub-bub. Many people take mirrors to look down into to save their necks.
Etruscan museum. If you're tired of Roman ruins covered in scenes of warriors and gods, meet the older and more laid-back inhabitants of Central Italy. Particularly good for couples, it's often quiet and is a lovely building to boot.
Piazza di Villa Giulia 9 Tel 06-3201951
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