I had planned to write up the rest of my Roman stay in this entry, wrap it up, and move on to Florence in my next entry. But, surprise, surprise, as I wrote up the day after my Vatican City trip, I ran longer than expected and decided to make the day after into its own entry, and put the rest in a follow-up. I think it will work out better that way. And certainly be a more bite-sized read.
[FYI, I’m currently in Zagreb, Croatia, as of last Tuesday, and I’ll be here until late May. But don’t worry, I won’t go anywhere or see anything until I catch my blog up. Promise!]
So, without any further delay, I give you:
Thursday, February 4th
Why is this day unlike all other days? Well, it is the next one, which none of the other days are. But, also, because I had reservations for the Borghese Gallery, that’s why. The Villa Borghese / Borghese Gallery had been recommended to me by a couple of different friends and, as it turned out, rightly so. But, as worth it as it was, it was hardly convenient.
First of all, the reservations were only available at 2 hour intervals: 9:00 and 11:00 were the first two, and considering how early I’d planned to be up for the Vatican Museums the previous day, and how far away the BG was, picking a later time and being a bit more relaxed about getting there seemed well advised. My host Max was a bit surprised when I said I’d be walking there, but Google Maps said it was about 55 minute walk, and that seemed eminently doable.
Unfortunately, as I later discovered, the “Villa Borghese” and the “Borghese Gallery” are not quite the same thing. The Villa Borghese is essentially a huge park, the estate of various Roman notables over time including the Borghese family, and the entrance to that estate was indeed 55 minutes away from where I was staying. The Borghese Gallery itself, a museum on the grounds of that estate, is about a 15 minute walk from that entrance. So, entering “Villa Borghese” into Google Maps and timing my arrival for just before 11:00, I found myself thoroughly confused at being nowhere near anything that looked like a Gallery, and having to follow signposts through the public park, getting more and more tense about my late arrival, until eventually I made it to the Gallery itself at about 11:10. Then I had to translate my eTicket to a physical ticket, and check my backpack, and I didn’t get into the museum proper until about 11:17.
“Oh noes!” you exclaim. “Poor widdle Cha-wes, not getting to start at the Official Time! How poor baby must have suffuhed!” Oh, sure, mock, you heathens. I’ll have you know — as I did not until later — that I only had a 2 hour window to enjoy that museum. The ticket was not just for an 11:00 entry. It was also for a 1:00 exit. And about 10 minutes before 1:00, they started shooing everyone out the door and locking off galleries. So I basically only got 3/4 of the time I should have had. Curse you, Google Maps!
BTW, on the off chance you’re curious, here’s the map of Rome that I’ve included before. You can see the Villa Borghese at the top, just east of the river:
The entrance that Google had directed me to was at the lower left of the park, at the Piazza del Popolo, and looked like this:
This is on the east side of the Piazza. Viewed from the south, the Piazza looks like this:
For all of that, I have no complaints to make against the Villa Borghese itself. There’s some nice artwork in this park.
Walking into the villa, gave me this vista:
There was a lot more than I never saw; I probably should have wandered around the park more after the museum, but I was getting hungry and left the Villa instead. Here’s Google Images, with some of what I missed, and YouTube with a bit more:
There was a plaque in the park describing how one of the early Villa owners (I forget which one, and can’t find it mentioned online) felt that the place was just too great to keep to himself, and opened it up for public use. (Eventually, the city of Rome obtained ownership and it became officially public.)
What a guy.
At any rate, as I mentioned, lo these many paragraphs ago, I did make it into the Gallery Borghese itself, which, it must be said, was impressive.
BTW, the reason that the Gallery has an “Apollo and Daphne” room is that they have Bernini’s famous sculpture as the centerpiece:
It’s surprising how rarely I’ve seen Cupid featured in the art for this myth (as he is above), which is surprising, since he’s the real villain of the piece. The whole thing’s often portrayed as if Apollo is the asshole, chasing the reluctant nymph Daphne until she finds only only one way to escape: calling on her dad to turn her into something else. But Cupid is the instigator, shooting Apollo with a love arrow and Daphne with a hate arrow, causing them both to be the victims of the imposed passions. And my earlier joke about Apollo being the real victim here is partially true. Daphne, at least, gets a relief based on her own determinism: in choosing transformation and becoming a laurel tree, she both escapes her pursuer and escapes her own passions. Apollo, on the other hand, has only the pain of unrequited love; he makes her immortal, so that the laurel is an evergreen, and wears laurel leaves in his hair from then on. Poor schmo.
The moral of this story is: the Greek gods suck. Which is pretty much the moral of every Greek myth.
Anyway, it is unlikely to surprise you that there were other rooms in the Borghese Gallery after this one. Here are some of them:
There was a bunch of other art in here, but they weren’t allowing pictures of my favorite pieces, the Caravaggios, and at some point you have to draw a line in including admittedly well-executed Christian religious art, so I’m doing that here. Particularly since searching Google Images for “Galleria Borghese art” yields plenty of them. (One caveat: when I did that search, the Girl With The Pearl Earring was included, and that piece definitely wasn’t there when I was. So you’ll actually get to see more in that Google search than I did by being there. You’re welcome.)
As I mentioned earlier, at around 12:40 they started announcing that they were closing soon, and at 12:50 they started closing galleries behind people. I’d seen everything at this point — I’d had to rush a bit through the upper floor, but that was no great sacrifice as it was mostly smaller pieces of undifferentiated Christian artwork. (I could have sworn I had some pictures of a few of those, but I’m not finding them. Maybe I deleted them as relatively uninspired? I don’t know.) Anyway, I tried to get back to the room with the Caravaggios, but found my way blocked by closing doors. So I quickly made my way around the building to come at the room from the other direction, and got into it just as they were closing the far door. The woman closing things said that they were closing, and I protested, “But not for 10 more minutes, right?” She reluctantly acknowledged that I was right, so I had a few more minutes to look at those paintings again. But now I’m staring at them while she’s staring at me, and it really put all of my awareness on her and not on the paintings, and my standing there became more of a “You can’t cheat me out of my due time” thing and not a “Hey, let’s look at the cool art.” So, after a couple of minutes of feigned careful inspection, I left. Sigh.
I collected my stuff from the coat check, and made my way through the Villa grounds; they were quite pretty, but I didn’t linger as long as I might have because it was after 1:00 and I was really interested in getting something to eat. Still, there were very pretty sights, like this one:
I started walking south looking for a good place to eat, and kept tripping across distracting landmarks.
At the top is a pretty bit of church, the Trinita dei Monti; I took some pictures, but I like the ones on the Wiki page better.
Right next to the fountain, I found a little grocery and deli that served one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Just a simple panini, ham and cheese on flat bread, for about $2.50, but wow was it good. Of course, it helped that I was hungry, but still. Really kind of amazing. Which made this even more mind-boggling:
At this point, I was right around the corner from the Pantheon, the famous Roman temple to all of the gods, and I was hugely looking forward to seeing it. I was still eating my sandwich when I got there, so I hung around outside and just admired it while I finished.
This place is undeniably pretty. And architecturally impressive. And pissed me off no end — I was so disappointed. Because, while this place is in great condition, due to having been used continuously since it was built almost 2000 years ago, the Catholic Church long ago converted it from its original purpose of worshiping all the gods, to worshiping just one. Theirs. And while this can’t really be called surprising in any way, still, I had somehow imagined that this place would still be preserved in its original form. You do see statues to the ancient gods around Rome, and I just figured that this temple would be another holdover from that. It was not. It was another coopting by the Church, a theological bait-and-switch. I’m not going to rant about this again, my Vatican rant said everything that needs saying about that. I’m just going to say that I was kind of heartbroken here. I came looking for a pagan temple, and found a fancy church built into its hollowed out remains, with statues of saints where the gods used to be. Thank the original gods, I’d just eaten; dealing with this on with and empty stomach and low blood sugar would have suuuucked!
By now, it was fairly late in the day, and I walked home, through the usual charming Roman streets.
Dinner, YouTube, sleep, the usual. The rest of Rome to come.