Discovering the heart of secret Rome
A chance meeting, a shared interest in archaeology, and an unusual friendship was born in Rome between a taxi driver and a tourist. Elizabeth Moore reports.
On my first visit to Rome I had an extraordinary piece of good luck. I left my hotel front door – that of the astonishingly well-appointed and positioned Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps – and got into the first available cab waiting on the forecourt outside.
I told the driver I wanted to go the Forum, and a funny thing happened, natch… he told me he could take me on a sight seeing tour of the city for a consolidated price.. four hours, he projected. And the fee wasn’t bad.
Not wanting to look as though I was a tourist begging to be fleeced, though, I tried to negotiate the fee and got him down a little. It was a bargain, though – over the years, Maurizio Umena (for that was his name) had some splendid adventures in his taxi.
I wrote a piece about him in The Sydney Morning Herald when I came home – a piece which a family member (his wife was raised in Melbourne) sent to him. And then Australian tourists started to book him long distance. He enjoyed this unexpected international fame!
Maurizio was a great find – every time after that I was in Rome, he would give me a free day touring, and I would pay for a day. So he took me to the Villa Adriana, to San Pietro in Vincolo, taught me how to play scopa, bought me gelato and expressi – corretti, of course – and showed me a Rome which many tourists never experience. And then he took me on the Appian Way, shoved me down the Catacombs of Callistus… while he snoozed in the taxi.
Eternal City of hidden treasures
Rome has many hidden treasures to be discovered… places that only the smartest Romans know. Here according to The Lonely Planet are some of the Eternal City’s best-kept secrets.
– St Peter’s Basilica receives up to 20,000 visitors a day. But… go to San Paolo Fuori le Mura (Via Ostiense 190), the third-largest church in Christendom, and you might well be the only visitor. There is a 5th-century triumphal arch and a fantastic medieval cloister.
– Try San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura (Piazzale San Lorenzo) in San Lorenzo. one of Rome’s loveliest churches. Not often visited.
– A secret-feeling place closer to St Peter’s? You can tour the Vatican Gardens. Book a week in advance.
– Why not take in the little-known Museum Missionario di Propaganda Fide near the Spanish Steps. Baroque geniuses Bernini and Borromini designed this building which is home to loads of stuff peregrinating priests collected on their travels. Do not miss Bernini’s library and Borromini’s Chapel of the Magi.
There is heaps for the visitor to the Eternal City to enjoy – what’s your favourite, secret place in Rome?
Image 1: The cloister of San Paolo fuori le mura (wiki commons)
2: Exterior of Saint Callisto’s catacombs (wiki commons)
3: Borromoni’s facade of Propaganda Fide (wiki commons)