Follow one of Italy's most iconic desserts through time, gelato!
Follow one of Italy's most iconic desserts through time, gelato!
"What we were you are, what we are you will become" Quote from the Capuchin monastery
It was one of those perfect days in Rome—-the kind where the air on your skin just makes you feel alive, the kind where you are ok in your own skin--the kind where you aren't being swallowed alive by hoards of tourists or hit in the head by a selfie stick. If it weren’t for the noisy vespas and zooming cars I could have stayed in the forum for hours. There is a nice garden up on the Palatine where I like to chill. My tour had finished for the day and I had a few hours before it was time to eat dinner and go back to my hotel. I finally had enough time to visit the Capuchin monastery in via Veneto. My clients had asked me about it several times. I always nod my head and say, “oh yes” when they ask me if I’ve heard of something—-even if it is superficially—-then I make sure to investigate it further and see if it is actually worth it. Today was THE day. A short walk from my comfortable spot at the forum to the Colosseo metro stop—a switch at Termini to the other line, a few more stops and I was in Piazza Barberini, named undoubtedly by the infamous Barberini family. The Barberini are known for building the canopy of St. Peter’s tomb inside St. Peter’s Basilica by salvaging massive parts from the ancient Pantheon. The Romans have a saying “What the Barbarians didn’t destroy the Barberini did”—-but I will leave them for another article. Resurrecting from beneath the ground I walked up into Barberini square—a sign of what Rome once was—an abandoned theatre to my left once a sign of Rome’s golden post-war age and a Triton sculpted by Bernini spitting water from a shell, and the Baroque Barberini palace in the corner. I speedily crossed the large square, hoping not make myself history as I dodged vehicles preparing for formula 1—-seriously why were they in such a hurry.
A right here, a left there and I was in front of a completely normal looking church—what was the big deal? The sleeping January trees looked like skeletal limbs supplicating the heavens for their leaves back--that did make it a bit more ominous. Was this the infamous ‘bone church’ of Rome filled with things that would scare the narrator from “Tales from the Crypt”? Two staircases zigzagged up to church's main entrance. An arrow pointed up the stairs with the words biglietteria ‘ticket office’—-you're welcome for the free Italian lessons by the way. Weren’t crypts supposed to be underground? "Oh well” I thought and began marching up the stairs. I knew that if I could get to the top of the stairs without huffing and puffing-- everyone would really think I was in shape. I am not by the way. Isn’t the saying ‘It’s what’s outside that counts”—-nope again.
Trying to mask my heavily heaving chest after sprinting up the stairs, I turned the corner into the biglietteria. It was a neat wooden room with a youngish woman sitting behind a desk. I read the ticket price, €8.50—-dang that’s expensive. Trying to look unimpressed as to not seem like a tourist, I slowly made my way up to the ticket counter. The woman behind the counter looked equally unimpressed. I asked in my absolutely best Italian—which I never use, my Italian friends can testify to this—“ Posso avere un biglietto per favore”— Eyes rolling she passed the ticket over the counter, “eighta fifty please” — I noisily dug into the bowels of my bag for all of my change and obnoxiously counted out the exact change coin by coin---venti, cinque, uno, venti, Eccolo, aspetta ho trovato un altro pezzo da cinquanta (you can google translate it) . She seemed to get more impatient as time went by even though there was no one behind or in front of me. I guess staring at those beautiful wooden walls was much more interesting---more likely her smart phone was conveniently hidden under the counter---that is what I would do. Her face was partially blocked by a huge sign that said no pictures within the crypt. $%/£%& blanking blank! I thought I would try to sneak one. I imagined myself throwing my head back and breaking out in a hysterical evil laugh. I actually do that in real life---just ask my friends and family. Ticket in hand, I nonchalantly I walked through the doorway expecting to be blown away by something completely life changing. In reality in was just your standard religious art gallery that are a dime a dozen in Italy. I really was unimpressed--it's sad how desensitised I have become. I took a bit more interest in the Capuchin garb display, and some of the more intricate older paintings. Everybody was raving about the alleged practice painting by Caravaggio of San Francesco. I had a good stare. Moving on. I asked the security guard "dove sono le scale per andare nella cripta?", "where are the stairs to the crypt?". He looked at me with a confused expression, and responded, "this is the crypt miss" and pointed down the all way " if you are looking for the bones they are that way to the left."
I turned the corner and there they were. I don't think I was quite ready for the sight in front of me. Small skeletons, children...and at the base of their feet was a sign that made my skin crawl.
“What you are we were, that which we are you will become.“
I felt like they were speaking to me with the monotone voice of one of the children from the corn. Their natural grin and playfulness of they pose made it seem as if they were cheeky cherubs ready to play. My eyes scanned the room. Bones----everywhere! Everything was made of human bone. After about ten seconds of stunned shock and worry of my mortal life on earth, I found the plaque about the small skeletons. They were children of the family who commissioned the chapel. Images of my own children flashed through my mind--their smiles, their laughs, their tears. The plaque said they weren't much older than my oldest--about 6 years old. I was filled with immense sadness. Even though the expanse between me and those tiny being was about 300 years I felt sadness for their mother---their father-- for their lives snuffed out at such a young age. I had to change rooms. I walked on.
As I walked down the hallway—-not so much a crypt down below the ground but a wing of a monastery, a limb of the church structure and not hidden —I was amazed at the elegant arrangement of human vertebrae, ribs, collar bones that decorated the walls, floors and ceiling. This artwork was at the center of this monastic establishment. A skull and scapulae made a perfect—a tidbit grim—cherub. Rib bones framed the room with an ivory garland, vertebrae made floral decorations. All was arranged neatly behind a gated off area where visitors could stop and gawk in horror and fascination. It was beautiful but morbid at the same time. I peaked down at both ends of the hallway—guards on either side. The visit was over in a matter of 10 minutes. I walked back and forth 2 or 3 times trying to take in as much of this gruesome site as I could. One room had skulls packed to the ceiling—another two arm bones in an embrace. It was intimate, personal, artistic, macabre, an experience but holy?—I guess it depends on your beliefs. I’m glad I wasn’t allowed to take pictures—at least it gave back the sacredness of the human life that literally created this space.
When you are surrounded by human remains, time seems to stand still. The quote upon entrance rang through my head, manically over and over again. The dead tell the tales that others want to tell. That should be a tongue twister.
On the way out I stopped at the gift shop and browsed through the rosaries, idols, holy water and other relics. My eyes stopped—I searched for a picture of the triplets—no luck. They did however have the cherubs, the clock and a few others. A purchase was made. I hid postcards in the plastic folder within my diary. Something morbid for later to share with my friends and family.
When I got outside I sat on the steps reflecting what I had just seen. I flipped over my postcards and looked at them over and over again. I pulled out my phone, took pictures and posted them to Facebook. At least a small part went to the church.
If are thinking—-Jill you just contradicted yourself—I am telling you the irony isn’t lost on me and I am only human.
There is no explanation as to why the bones were arranged like this. It was common practice all over Europe to position bones of individuals in order to make room for new ones. When the monks arrived from Northern Italy they brought with them the remains of around 300 monks. Afterwards the monastery was renovated in the 1700s upon which bones of poor Romans (people from the city of Rome, not an ancient people in togas) were found underneath the church floor. They were artistically arranged within the new crypt and other wealthier Romans later followed suit.
How can you see the Capuchin monastery?
No reservation is needed. Check the opening times on line and pay your admission. Make sure to wear church appropriate attire as it is a religious structure.
Address: Via Vittorio Veneto, 27
Admission cost: €8.50
Hours: 9:00 am-7:00pm
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My phone has been ringing off the hook and my mail box full of messages from worried family and friends from all over the world wondering if I am ok. Well, yes I'm fine---but I thought I would include a few facts about this mornings earthquake to put things in perspective for those that are not familiar with Italy---I am grateful for all of those who checked on me---please do it more often!
1. The earthquake happened in the Lazio region this morning at around 3:30am. Rome is located in the Lazio region, along with Viterbo, Ostia, and Civitavecchia. It is about 3 times the size of Delaware. However Rome is closer to the coast and the earthquake took place in the mountains on the eastern side of the region---the epicentre being in Amatrice. Amatrice is located in the province of Rieti. The epicentre was not far from the 2008 earthquake in Aquila.
2. The earthquake was felt in the regions of Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo as well.
2. The town of Amatrice is thought to be lost---with the entire downtown area reduced to rubble. 38 people are confirmed dead as of 1:00 pm with 10 still missing. Many are still buried in the rubble.
3. The earthquake was 6.2 in magnitude.
4. Amatrice is famous for creating Spaghetti Amatriciana!! A delicious pasta dish with tomato sauce and bacon.
5. The word for earthquake in Italian is terremoto
6. What can you do to help? If you feel like donating money make sure you donate to a valid charity---unfortunately many fraudulent ones pop up during times of disaster! Here are some reliable ones.
a. The Italian Red Cross-https://www.cri.it/home .
b. Donate blood with AVIS---if you are in Italy stop by your closest AVIS center and donate blood. Just to make sure you don't show up at a rental car agency, here is their site: http://www.avisroma.it
c. Donate to a local Catholic diocese--make sure they have contact with Italy.
d. Donate directly to us---if you contact us at email@example.com 100% of your donation will go to the victims of the earthquake.
The mad man bantered on for another 20 minutes as we all stood huddled underneath the portico of the romanesque Franciscan monastery. I zoned out 90% of his dialogue except for the the occasional outbursts of profanity---normally aimed at camper man's direction. After a while camper man decided it was a good idea to be quiet. Camper man's wife's face was in awe, completely captivated by everything the mad man was saying. He abruptly ended his discourse and the group followed him around the corner, deeper into the abyss. A row of hedges 2 stories tall made me feel as if we were locked inside of a labyrinth. Maybe he was the minotaur? Another left here, a pool there, down a corridor of bushes to a fountain. There he stopped to speak again.
I was now trying to fight my almost two year old to stay in his stroller-he kept poking his head out from behind the plastic cover and by this time his hair was completely wet-and my 6 year old was complaining he was bored and had to use the loo. There was no way I was asking the man for a bathroom. The man indicated 3 pathways behind him. "These three pathways are the pathways of our life, the first is religion, the second is free will , and the third is social class." Religion was a straight path to the end, free will was a straight but messy path---in the middle were several paths to choose from with a large fountain in the middle---and social class was a dead end. "These are the paths that we can choose from in this life" the man said. " Some are chosen for us and some we choose ourselves---some are of our fathers--and some we cannot escape." I was overcome with the profoundness that this tour had taken. This was true art--and even though it was pouring down rain, I began to enjoy myself.
Turning back the way we came---my son and I hurried down the middle path of "free will" to snap a few pictures. We then hurried back to the group. A few more right turns, and a left turn here and there until we arrived at a tunnel of trees and shrubs. Much like when we lie down to sleep---it was dark, a bit scary in places, a few times I wasn't sure what would be on the other side. I trusted the man to lead me through the tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel I beheld a large field with a dreamscape theatre in the middle. It was well...surreal. The dark tunnel had transported us into a dream...if only I could tell it to stop raining. I suppose it contributed to the ambiance. I've always loved going to the ballet and opera just for the sets---this was really a masterpiece.
We were in front of what seemed to be a Roman theatre, but then again it wasn't. There was something different about it. All of us were captivated by the scene in front of us. When he inherited the property he decided to create one of the many masterpieces of the late architect Tomasso Buzzi. Tomasso Buzzi used the space as his testing ground, where he could assemble and disassemble his creations. Two round structures rose from the back of the theatre. In between them was an artificial waterfall. In the center of the stage, the all seeing eye stared back at us. On the right side a city arose from behind the theatre---topped with the spire of a cathedral. We walked on, around the corner appeared a giant statue of the female figure---void of a head. "This is the portal to this world" as he pointed up to the female figure. Why does it always have to be a perfect in shape woman I though.
The gardens were truly a site to behold. The beautiful attention to every minute detail was out of this world. As we walked around the site of the theatre an entirely new site began to take form. A pond lie, like a moat, in front of the ideal city. We descended the staircases through the mouth of a whale---and then ascended the staircase through two rows of columns. We walked across the field over a small pathway which led to the city. We were able to enter some of the structures. Some of the rooms were so small that they seemed to be built for a mouse---but they were there---complete with staircases. As we made our way inside of the city we crossed through a circular structure with a dead tree in the middle. " This is the town clock". It was at that moment I realised we were in the middle of a giant sundial. " The tree has since died" the man uttered. We then proceeded deeper into the city. We had finally come to the center. In the middle lie a great cathedral---well it was about 2 stories tall---monumental if you were one of the mice living in the city next door. Inside of the cathedral a spiral staircase led to the steeple. " Jesus is one of the beings that made it through this challenge- He was one of the champions that understood the trick of the system. He came back to tell us that these beings want to bring us down here. As soon as we are dead, instead of accepting the tendency to walk horizontal, we should walk upwards. That is the only way out of this cage." Then another one of his braying laughs...as if he were telling us something insightful and life changing. We walked through the city one last time---around the backside of the structure and through the maze of bushes again---I turned back to have one last look at this surreal masterpiece, shots were still firing in the distance---but thankfully it had stopped raining. We thanked the man for the visit and exited the gates. My husband and the French family were having a little chat behind me--as we said goodbye and got back in the car I asked my husband what they had said. " They said they didn't understand much---but they were pretty sure that man was either crazy or a genius." "That makes two of us " I said as we drove off to find somewhere to eat lunch.
Who was Tomasso Buzzi?
Tomasso Buzzi a relatively unknown Italian architect of the surreal movement. Born in 1900 in Sondrio, Italy. He graduated from the Polytechnic Institute of Milan and began work on "Il Labrinto" along with other notable Italian architects of the time. He is most famous for his work on the villa Scarzuola---which was also his residence for a time. He died in Rapallo Italy in 1981. Is genius is only now beginning to become known to the world.
How can I visit this place?
To visit Villa Scarzuola you will need to rent a car. Visits can be booked either by email or by phone. Please note that visits are only in Italian and are a guided tour of at least 2 hours. There is an entrance fee. http://www.lascarzuola.com/la_scarzuola_30_03_2016_003.htm
One hot July Michele announced "Tomorrow we are going to see that villa you posted on my Facebook page last month" and me sick of the Florentine heat and the beach...agreed it would be a good idea. To our dismay the next morning, and in contrast to what the weather report said the night before...it was raining. "Should we go?" Michele asked. The thought of our two boys running around the house all day, and me being the referee exclaimed "Yes, yes, let's go!" I bundled the boys up, as it was ironically a cold day in July, complete with wellies, rain coats and all other accessories and we packed them in the car. What trip would be complete without first stopping at our favourite local pasticerria? So we did that---then a stop at the gas station for gas and snacks---and then we were off! Cruising down the A1 was a piece of cake---even though it was pouring down rain and not relenting for even a minute. Our oldest son, Matteo, can't sit still even a second and we got the stereotypical 'Are we there yet?' every 5 minutes or so. I had made a mix playlist the night before with summer jams and decided to turn it up every time he asked me that question and wasn't satisfied with the answer I had given him. We exited in Chiusi and drove along the country roads. At that point we turned on the GPS---I set my GPS with a British accent. You have to keep things classey when getting directions. We found it amusing at it tried to pronounce Italian street names, and then annoyed as we had no idea what it was saying. We also thought it was crazy when 45 minutes later it told us to turn onto a dirt road and saying we still had 20 minutes more to go. Turns out it wasn't. I felt like we had travelled back in time. It is very rare to drive anywhere in Italy and not come across a house or some sign of civilisation, but that day there was very little of either. The dirt road was lined with broom bushes bursting with yellow flowers. I would have loved to have opened the window and get a whiff of its enchanting smell---but the rain was coming down even harder now. Twenty-five minutes later the GPS said 'arrived'. We were about 20 minutes early for our appointment, but it didn't seem like the place was open---or that anyone lived there. We drove around it...no hint as to who or what was inside. To our relief we saw a camper and two other cars when we came back around. Michele rolled down his window and in heavy Tuscan slang asked the middle aged balding man in the camper " Is this the entrance to the villa?" "I hope so" he said in a strong northern accent, smiling at Michele's accent "the gps took us here" I wasn't feeling super confident at that moment. Sorry GPS, you don't have the best reputation---even if you do have a posh accent. A couple of minutes passed. All of the sudden the gates opened, and a middle aged dark haired man emerged from behind the gates sporting two hunting dogs. He was completely geared up for the rain with an umbrella, wellies, rain coat, and special rain pants! My thoughts were, " Sophisticated Italian gentry". We geared up our kids---against Matteo's pleas to leave him in the car so he could play on his iPad...put the baby, Giovanni, in the stroller complete with rain cover and proceeded inside of the gates. As we all piled in the gate the man collected our money, We were in the courtyard of a romanesque monastery, built to keep raiders out---there was no escape. I wasn't all impressed and honestly a bit disappointed. I thought ' Did we just drive 2 hours for this?" All of us congregated at the far end of the yard under the porch of the monastery. The man then began to bar the gates. It is at that moment I heard shots in the distance. I glanced down at my phone, no signal. The man began speaking to us and the more he talked the more I realised he may be a genius or stark mad. Profanity started racing out of his mouth as he explained how he inherited the property. " The man I inherited it from was an a$$"£". A bit shocked from this tangent he had started down, my husband whispered under his breath " Sounds like your the a$$%&$, you got this cool property for nothing." The man from the camper asked the mad man " What are those shots I hear in the distance"--- "They are hunting wolves" he replied. "Wolves?" camper man exclaimed "There are no wolves in Umbria!" "Well then why did you ask the question? I mean I am so sick of people trying to take over MY tour---stay in your place dic£$%! Now, as I was saying this villa was originally a Franciscan monastery. Did you think Francis knew this place would become a voyage through space and time? The man who built the structures we are going to see designed this garden off of a novel with only three words written in it." The mad man then turned his head to the side and let out a guttural laugh, his teeth protruding from his gums--like a donkey when it brays. No one else was laughing---we were all looking at each other. I looked down at Matteo to see if he had noticed the string of profanities. He looked up at me and with a circular motion of his fingers to his temple said "This man's crazy mom." I looked at the other bystanders---the French tourists also had a look of panic in their face. Maybe more than me as they had no idea what he was saying. They could only guess by his gestures, tone, and deranged laughter. We heard shots firing again in the distance. Panic started racing through my chest---should we have come here?
Stay tuned for next week's finale!
Michele just happened to be on tour in Venice during a rare summer high tide!!!
Michele recently went to Venice with the International travelling school THINK Global School. Michele loves everything Venice and participated in a Venetian mask making class!!