Would you like to discover unusual and secret places in Rome?
Not only will you find the usual and most predictable tourist locations here, you will also get a precise and entertaining selection of the 10 most unusual things to see in Rome, at least once in a lifetime.
Attention: if you’re based in Rome, reading this article will cause you look to at those places you’re used to see every day with new eyes, since you may have never had the patience to observe them with greater interest. However, if you’re visiting Rome as a tourist, it will show you some fantastic venues, much different from the usual tourist attractions our Capital has to offer…
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Well, let’s begin then, shall we?
10. THE ZUPPIERA IN CORSO VITTORIO
Where the heck could we ever find a fountain with lid???
In Rome, it’s no big deal at all: more precisely, it’s not a big deal if a pope decides to cover a monument with a marble lid in order to protect it from the carelessness of citizens, with them retorting to the insult against them (not vice-versa, we have to specify!) by deciding to call the fountain as “Zuppiera“ (literally meaning bowl), in pure mocking fashion!
Indeed, this fountain rising today from below the street level in Corso Vittorio, was originally located in Campo de ‘Fiori.
However, in market days, local sellers were accustomed to wash fruits, greens, fish and all such stuff within it!
Finally, Gregory XV deemed the fact so outrageous, he decided to fix it himself! Which is why he “gifted” it with that curious lid!
In the end, though, I think the merchants of Campo de ‘Fiori won anyway, especially if by calling it Zuppiera all the time it was first removed, and then relocated where it is today, far away from such pitiful conducts…
9. CANNONBALL FOUNTAIN IN VIALE TRINITA’ DEI MONTI
How did a cannonball, of all things, end up in the middle of a fountain in Viale Trinità dei Monti???
Well, I’ll just tell you what popular legend says about that!
It appears that one morning, Christine from Sweden was just boringly strolling around within Sant’Angelo’s Castle, not knowing what to do.
Well, it came to her suddenly: she felt like going for a hunt!
Of course there was no way she was heading into the woods by herself, so she had to present an invitation to someone.
How would she do that quickly?
That’s simple, by shooting a cannonball towards Villa Medici, in order to wake up the landlord and have him partaking in the hunt (as proof, a mark on the bronze portal is still visible).
Do you think the man was happy about that??
Apparently, and strangely enough, he was, since in the end he decided to recover the cannonball and place it at the center of the fountain right before his residence!
Good luck figuring that idea out!
8. RUBENS’S MOTORIZED FRAMEWORK
Did you know there’s a church in Rome with an altarpiece consisting of a motorized framework?
It is the Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, which houses a miraculous icon of the Virgin: indeed, it seems it bled in a long-gone past.
Eventually, this icon began to deteriorate due to the effects of time, so it became necessary to protect it in some way.
So it was decided that Rubens would be appointed with creating an altarpiece, which could also be used as some sort of “casing” for it.
Only Rubens could think of creating some sort of “motor-ready” frame, in order to get his famous painting up and down, and subsequently hide or show the famous Virgin.
Today it is possible to attend this curious rite after the Saturday night mass, when the sacristan, armed with his trusty remote, decides to begin the “changing of the guard”!!!
If you don’t want to wait until Saturday night after the mass, here’s a video I put below which, from the 7th minute onwards, shows the ingenious device in action!
7. THE WATER WATCH BY PINCIO
The work of Dominican Giovan Battista Embriaco, as well as of architect Joachim Ersoch, this clock is almost like a small tower in the middle of a fountain, with a cast-iron shell resembling the shape of tree trunks, and a transparent box in the center, under the dial, enhancing the visibility of the complex hydraulic device allowing for its functioning.
What is it powered by?
It works thanks to the Rotten Water (Acqua Marcia) gushing from the fountain below!
Also on YouTube, I found this short video showing how this fantastic water clock works:
6. ANAMORPHOSIS OF THE TRINITÀ DEI MONTI CONVENT
The authors of thispictorial prodigysite on the 1st floor of the Convent are Emannuel Maignan and Jean-Francois Niceron, two monks belonging to the order of the Minims.
The distortion of its images allows to capture, but only from certain spots in the corridor,St. Francis di Paola in prayer, and St. John concentrated on writing the Apocalypse, while from others, it is instead possible to admire a suggestive landscape.
One can end up fascinated by the wonders made possible by a brush…
5. THE MAGIC PORTA DI PIAZZA VITTORIO
It is the only survivor of the access gates to Villa Palombara, which stood in the area, and it today stands in the middle of Piazza Vittorio, extending an esoteric veil all over it.
This is because this door, protected by two statues of the Egyptian god Bes, contains a not yet unveiled coded message, which perhaps would allow to transform its base metals into the most precious gold.
In Piazza Vittorio, in the center of the garden inside the square, there’s part of a structure erected by Marquis Palombara around the mid 1600s: it is the Porta Magica, the Magic Gate also known as the Alchemical Gate, or Porta Alchemica. This gate was part of a real villa, of which nothing remained except for the famous Porta.
The marquis was a famous alchemist of the time, and loved to surround himself with people and scholars in search of the philosopher’s Stone, with which it would have been possible to transform metals into gold.
Want to know the legend of this door?
Well, it’s been narrated over generations that one day, Palombara’s mansion was visited by a pilgrim, which asked the Marquis for a place for resting within his garden.
The Marquis accepted, but shortly thereafter the pilgrim began to handle some herbs and magically disappeared through the Door, generating gold dust behind him, and leaving a sheet with very strange inscriptions.
Really few people know about these wonderful places, and you will hardly find them elsewhere:
The marquis, while not succeeding to interpret the enigmatic message with his people, decided to engrave it on the doors of his villa, so that someone in the future could succeed in the arduous task of interpreting them.
Even today, there is no news concerning the meaning of these symbols, and on how to change metals into gold.
Wanna try and solve the puzzle?
Just get in front of the magic door and start analyzing it, who knows what could happen…
In the meantime, let me quote some cryptic sentence inscribed on its architraves, if you’re bent on trying the impossible:
“Centrum in trigono centri”
(the center is in the triangle of the center);
“Quando in tua domo nigri corvi parturient albas columbas tunc vocaberis sapiens”
(when in your home the black crows will generate white doves you will be called wise);
“Qui scit comburere aqua et lavare igne facit de terra caelum et de caelo terram preziosam”
(he who will know how to burn with water and wash with fire will transform dirt into heaven and heaven into precious dirt).
And if you indeed are lucky, remember “What to do in Rome”…
4. CASINA DELLE CIVETTE
Within the Torlonia estate on via Nomentana, an entirely extravagant building is located, with the name of Casina delle Civette (small house of owls) in honor of the animal Prince Torlonia absolutely loved more than any other, for the subject of one of its most beautiful windows.
The Casina can be hardly assessed in a specific architectural context, as it was really built according to an eclectic blend of styles, from gothic to liberty.
Visiting it makes us children again, bringing us back to the time when we all dreamed of living in an enchanted house…
3. FLAT CUPOLA OF THE CHURCH OF SANT’IGNAZIO
As soon as you enter its entrance, the humongous Cupola di Sant’Ignazio will appear as nothing short of magnificent. You’ll then try to walk along the hallway in order to see it up-close but…
wait a moment…
what’s going on???
it’s getting flat, the dome is literally crushing on itself as you approach it!!!
How can we explain this unusual phenomenon?
Actually, the grandiose dome the church was designed with, was never actually built due to some technical problems.
So Andrea Pozzo, in order to not leave the sacred building incomplete, equally decided to fit it with a dome, but a fictitious one.
He painted the flat space on which it should have been built through the trompe-l’oeil technique, with an optical illusion allowing to perceive it as three-dimensional, when viewed from a given point of view marked on the pavement.
It’s just too bad, though, that not all tourists may get the deception, if they stay on the threshold. Just think about some of them coming back home, and telling friends and family something like:
you cannot imagine what an architectural marvel the Dome of the Church of St. Ignazio is…. Ssssssshhhhh!!!!!
They don’t need to know!!!
2. GALLERIA SPADA
If you were a seventeenth-century nobleman, who bought a representative house, but without a large garden for pleasing your guests:
what would you have come up with in order to amaze them anyway???
Well, you would never get the idea Francesco Borromini had, in order to satisfy his client Bernardino Spada. Indeed, the artist decided to create a gallery which gave the illusion of being quite long, while it really was just eight and a half meters long.
Actually, this illusion originates because the floors on which the gallery develops itself converge towards a single vanishing point, giving it the shape of a “telescope”: therefore, the ceiling goes down, the floor rises, and the eye is deceived enough to believe that the gallery is really more than 20 meters long.
Further sharpening the illusion, at the end of the closed corridor between the two columns, a Statue of Mars which looked giant was placed, but it really was just 80 cm long.
1. PALAZZO ZUCCARI
The 30th of Via Gregoriana is the address of an extravagant palace, with its only entrance consisting of… the open jaws of a giant monster!!!
Thus, the frames of both gate and windows were created in the form of monstrous figures, which seem to engulf anyone who tries to enter those caves!
Who’s brave enough to get in???
Well, thanks for getting all the way down here with you reading!
I hope this article has stimulated your curiosity, encouraging you to observe places that you see every day with more attention, since in my opinion, this is indeed the only way to really discover what’s unusual and unique within things we’d normally label as “ordinary”…
I hope Rome is good to you.
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