Tucked between the Piazza Navona and via dei Coronari, in my favorite area of Rome, sit Santa Maria della Pace and the Chiostro del Bramante. After visiting these two gems, my slow travel itinerary would include meandering through the lanes, visiting antique shops on via dei Coronari, and enjoying lunch at an outdoor table while admiring Renaissance and Baroque architecture and watching locals go about their day.
Italy is full of surprises and below is one of my most treasured memories of Rome. My father was a poet and poetry was my first mode of expression, so my early travels were memorialized in this way. I would return home my head swirling with art, architecture, people, flavors, sounds, scents and then try to make sense of them. I’ve decided to share some poems here from time to time. How do you memorialize your travel experiences? Please share in the comments.
Rome, December 1999
the Lichtensteins unpacked and safe
Antonia offers me a tour
of the Chiostro del Bramante
we climb 500-year-old stone stairs
first worn to a U by monks
and now, by Modern Art aficionados
the cells where monks once slept
are now photography galleries
I stand in the center of one
and sense the loneliness of souls
insulated from Roman life
by thick stone walls
the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace
was added 350 years ago
and is closed for renovation
but she lets me peek inside
the winter sun has set early
no light seeps through the stained glass
plaster dust hangs heavily in the air
I can just discern scaffolding, tools
the outline of architectural forms
it’s too dark to see Raphael’s fresco The Sibyls
Hearing women’s voices
from somewhere inside
I take several steps forward
and peer down the nave to see
several women undressing
I mutter an apology
and turn back to Antonia
They are the restorers, she says with a shrug,
getting changed to go out for the evening
When I visited Rome again in early 2000 renovations were still underway, and in 2012 my timing was off to visit the church. The Chiostro and church do not have the same opening hours, and I’ve found Santa Maria della Pace’s to be elusive. I surmise they are only open for a few hours three days a week, and not during mass, but have found contradictory information. Next time, I’ll likely try my luck in the morning, or inquire next door at the ticket office of the Chiostro del Bramante, which is also wonderful. They host exhibitions ranging from Brueghel to Basquiat in a beautiful, Renaissance setting. Don’t miss the cafe located upstairs with a window into the church, offering an amazing perspective of the frescos.
In early January 2020 we visited Rome. At about 5:30 p.m. on a Friday we happened upon Santa Maria della Pace, and were surprised to find it open. It was a beautiful little church still decorated for Christmas. I finally saw the fresco of the Sibyls! We’d been to the Vatican Museum earlier in the day. It was amazing to see the Siblys with the School of Athens fresh in our minds. It was also fun imagining myself 20 years ago coming upon the restorers changing to go out. Visiting cities again provides a perspective on how I’ve changed over time, and there are always new discoveries to be made.
You may also enjoy my other blog post about that first visit to Rome, A Winter Day in Rome.