It was Holy Thursday, April 8, 2009 and we began our walk from our hotel down the Via Emilia steps to Via Veneto and then further down a couple of blocks to Piazza Barberini. Most of our Roman ventures started this way. Sometimes we took the Metro at Piazza Barberini. And sometimes we walked westward through the piazza to central Rome. But today we walked past Bernini’s Fontana della Api and exited the piazza at its southeast corner. We were going to explore Quirinal Hill, one of the legendary seven hills of Rome. Before our walk was over we would visit two churches, pass by several government buildings, linger at a half dozen piazzas and marvel at both the ancient and Renaissance architectural and sculptural wonders we viewed. Our walk would also take us to both the highest and lowest elevations in ancient Rome.
We walked a few blocks up Via Barberini hardly noticing the slight incline. Then we turned right on Via di Santa Susanna and soon came to our first stop when we reached Via XX Settembre: the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. This church was on our list of things to see in Rome ever since we read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown and saw the movie starring Tom Hanks. The architect Carlo Maderno designed this church as well as Santa Susanna across the street in the 17th century. And in a tiny chapel to the left of the main altar stands one of the most famous sculptures by the the great baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Saint Teresa in Ecstasy.
My wife decided to visit Santa Susanna, the National American Church in Rome, across the street while I dallied inside Santa Maria taking more than a hundred shots of St Teresa and other works of art . We then walked westward along Via XX Settembre (Italy was unified on September 20, 1870) which runs atop the Quirinal Hill ridge.
We soon came to the famous intersection of the Four Fountains which is the highest elevation on the highest hill in ancient Rome and where Via XX Settembre gives way to Via del Quirinale. If you were to form a triangle that joins the three obelisks at Piazza del Quirinale, Piazza dell’Esquilino (behind Santa Maria Maggiore) and Piazza Trinita dei Monti (Spanish Steps), the Quattro Fontana would be in the exact center of this triangle.
The rich Romans of 500 years ago built their mansions and private gardens on Quirinal Hill. Most of these mansions are now government buildings and some of the gardens are now public parks.
The west end of Quirinal Hill ends at Piazza del Quirinale, about a mile from Santa Maria della Vittoria. The famous statues of Castor and Pollux, the Horse Tamers, dominate this piazza which also allows the best view of St. Peter’s Basilica from central Rome.
From the piazza we walked down the Quirinal Hill steps near the President’s Palace and continued downhill another block and then turned right and walked downhill again another couple of blocks until we were immersed in a crowd all attempting to get to one of the smallest piazzas and largest fountains in Rome. It’s called Fontana di Trevi and it is arguably the most famous fountain in the world.
You have to walk downhill from three directions — north, east and south — to get to the Trevi Fountain. The only downhill direction from the fountain is west and so we continued our walk downhill a few more blocks until we reached the absolutely lowest elevation of ancient Rome and the base of four of its seven hills. And there we found an old Roman temple called the Pantheon that is now a Catholic church (and has been for more than 1000 years). Michelangelo and other great architects of the Italian Renaissance studied the dome of this temple to see how the ancient Romans did it and then they went off to build their own duomos and basilicas.
From the Pantheon we walked in a northerly direction past the Piazza Colonna and the Column of Marcus Aurelius and then turned east on Via del Tritone until we reached Piazza Barberini again. We then retraced our steps up Via Veneto and the Via Emilia steps to our hotel. Our walk was either pretty level or downhill all the way to the Pantheon but from the Pantheon it was all uphill and we were tired when we finally arrived back at our hotel. It was altogether about four miles and it took about five hours. We also stopped for lunch at a fast food restaurant about a block from the Trevi Fountain.
We returned to the Trevi Fountain on the day after Easter, our last day in Rome. This time we threw some coins in. We want to return to Rome someday. And take this walk again!