A Fountain Tour of Rome
Stone piazzas, twisty cobbled streets, soaring domes, jumbled rooftops, stunning churches, pocket parks and cool, leafy gardens—cafes and restaurants spilling into squares and carved spouting fountains everywhere—Rome is such an eternally magic place. On our most recent trip to Rome, we turned it into a fountain tour, nourished by enoteca exploration. Rome has so many magnificent fountains: Bernini’s Triton in the Piazza Barberini and the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona; The Tarturaghe in Piazza Mattei; the gargantuan granite bathtubs, originally from the baths of Caracalla in the Piazza Farnese; the renowned Trevi—again Bernini—the Fontana dela Maschera off Via Giulia near the Tiber; and across the Ponte Sisto to the Piazza Trilusa.
We begin our fountain tour at the Piazza Barberini, with the sea-themed Tritone fountain and the small, tucked-in Api fountain in the shape of a tall shell, with its three large Barberini bees, dedicated to Pope Urban VII who was the sponsor of both fountains’ creator, Gianlorenzo Bernini--arguably the greatest Roman sculptor. Just up the Via Quatro Fontane is the Palazzo Barberini (as carefully “measured and re-designed” by Troy’s father in 1939 when he was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome). How times have changed—an imposing building (interior architecture by both Bernini and Boromini)—it houses the national Gallery of Arte Antica, but sits in seedy run-down grounds. Right turn, past the Quirinale gardens (no admission to peons) with a peek into the interesting ovoid Chiesa Sant’ Andrea del Quirinale, designed by Bernini for the Jesuits, to the imposing Fontana del Dioscuri across from the Palazzo del Quirinale (the President’s residence)—featuring one of the dozen or so Egyptian obelisks in Rome, and two great marble statues of the Roman twins “Dioscuri” –the other iconic twins besides Romulus and Remus—originally from the baths of
A short stroll down to the Piazza Venezia and into the Palazzo Venezia reveals a fascinating exhibition “Michelangelo—tra Firenze a Roma” featuring dozens of varied works by the master, and three fascinating representations of him—two oil portraits, and one bronze bust. Winding through the Ghetto brings us to the Piazza Mattei, and its whimsical Fontana delle Tartarughe with its turtles, porpoises and little boys, then past the Piazza Cenci and Palazzo Spada to the tiny hole in the wall, old world charm of the Enoteca L ‘Angolo Divino for glasses of Monferato bianco and Franciacorta, a wonderful misto of aged Italian cheeses accompanied by chestnut honey and dried grape must, looking like shavings of black truffle.
Then a scoot across the Campo dei Fiori, through the greenmarket with its riot of purple eggplant, wonderful emerald lettuces, golden squash, red tomatoes, peppers, snowy cauliflower and dusky mushrooms, into the crush of Il Forno di Campo dei Fiori for a piece of hot, chewy, salty oil brushed pizza bianca—this is seriously some of the best simple pizza in Rome, or the world, and unbelievably delicious.
As we continue west into the Via Capellari raindrops start, then the sky begins to open as thunder train-rumbles, and we're forced to rush up the Via Banchi Vecchi for refuge in Il Gocceto, another small dark-wooded enoteca where we quaff Greco di Tufo and Fiano D'Avellino while the rain subsides.
We re-trace our steps into the Piazza Farnese, to contemplate the magnificent granite bathtub fountains, relocated here from the Baths of Caracalla, and admire the baroque façade of the Palazzo Farnese, now the French Embassy, with designs by both Sangallo and Michaelangelo, then head north toward the Piazza Navona. In Piazza Pasquino, we sip a quick glass of Falanghina at the Enoteca Cul de Sac waiting again for the rain to subside, in order to venture out and continue on.
Once in the Piazza Navona one comes face to face with Bernini’s huge and stunning Four Rivers, or Fontana dei Fiume, topped with yet another obelisk, representing the Danube, Ganges, Nile and Plate rivers of the four continents. This was of course made even more famous as the scene where Tom Hanks rescued on of the Cardinals in the film Angles and Demons.
From here, northeasterly to the Trevi—perhaps the most famous fountain in Rome—a huge rococo confection of Neptune, winged horses and chariot—Bernini again (actually the fountain was created by the architect Salvi in the 1732 on commission from Pope Clemente XII, continuing the work begun by Bernini about a hundred years earlier). Trevi is the termination of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct, built in 19 BC by Agrippa to bring water to Rome from a spring in the countryside. Nearby, in the Piazza Colona sits a low, serene inlaid marble basin atop 16 lion’s heads, fronting the 120 foot high carved marble column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius.
Just east and north lies the Via Condotti shopping area, on the northern border of which, meters from the Spanish Steps, sits the Enoteca Antica di Via della Croce, which features one of the best antipasto bars in Rome, and dozens of Italian wines by the glass. We sample another crisp, apple-y Aglianico, and then splurge on a rich, ruby Brunello di Montalcino.
Skirting the Fontana della Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna, weary of feet, we flag a taxi and return to the Excelsior for a rest, charmed by Rome’s fountains, and refreshed by her Enotecas.
The whimsical renaissance Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei, in the Ghetto, with its turtles, dolphins and four efebi, or little boys.
Bernini’s magnificent and stunning Fontana dei Fiume, or Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona, representing the Danube, Ganges, Nile and Plate rivers of the four continents.
The huge granite basins of the Fontana della Piazza Farnese, moved there from their original placement in the Baths of Caracalla by Pope Paul III who was of the Farnese family.
The ancient flowing Egyptian granite basin, originally belonging to the baths of Nero, in the tiny square just off the Via degli Staderari behind the Italian Senate.
The water-jetting sea-god seated in a shell in the Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini.
Roman Enotecas and Ristorantes
Angolo Divino—12 Via Balestrari off the Piazza Farnese—serves lovely aged cheeses, smoked goose breast, and lardo (herbed, aged pork belly-fat), with a wide variety of Italian wines in a dark, wood-beamed old-world atmosphere.
Il Goccetto—Via dei Banci—a small, worn wooden bar, tiny tables again in an old-world setting features stuffed pepperoncini, boconcini di mozarrella with anchovies, various salumi and two dozen wines by the glass, from Prosecco to Passito di Pantelleria, the luscious dessert wine from the eponymous Sicilian island.
Enoteca Antica di via della Croce—Antipasto misti—pepperoni, salsice, funghi, cavalfiori, carciofi, pecorino and other sheep cheeses; Bresaola with grana & rughula—Greco di Tufo, Falanghina.
Il Vineti—at the base of the Via Veneto off Piazza Barberini—elegant sophisticated atmosphere, tiny cichetti; smoked salmon rolls, caviar canapés.
Cul de Sac—in the Piazza di Pasquino off Piazza Navona—sports a wide selection of wines and eclectic snacks—the small outdoor seating area, with wooden tables is more comfortable than the crowded bench-seated interiors.
Ristorante Da Ottavio—in Rinasciamiente, just east of the Piazza Navona. Locals, businessmen and government functionaries crowd this simple setting with terrific food at reasonable prices. A major spread of antipasti—grilled eggplant & zucchini, stuffed mushrooms, frittata, bietole, bufala mozzarella, and olivi al Ascolano—olives surrounded by sausage, then fried. Strachetti di manzo—thin slices of beef seared and doused in balsamic and olive oil, served with arugula is simple but lovely. Risotto di fior di zucha is anything but simple—rich, creamy, cheesy, with a touch of tomato and finely chopped zucchini flowers— ethereal. Greco di Tufo is a fine crisp, medium white to pair the both.
Pizzeria Griglieria San Marco—38 Via Sardegna, off via Veneto—a busy, hip place full of beautiful people. Wood fired pizza (all the in-the-know-regulars have a pizza bianca as their bread with whatever else they order), delicious grilled vegetables (porcini mushrooms in season), charred beef bistecca or filleto, grilled seasonal fresh fish. Reasonably priced, hopping, and a fun place.
Ristorante Lagana—44 Via dell’ Orso near Piazza Navona. Lots of locals and just a few tourists, this place was jumping as we arrived for a 9 pm reservation. Fresh mountain porcini stand proudly in a basket at the entryway, and, why refuse. First, sliced paper thin, tossed with shaved grana and baby arugula, drizzled with extra virgin oil—fragrant and heavenly. Then, grilled, with a bit of garlic and parsley, till slightly caramelized on the edges—amazingly rich, heady and meaty. We could and should have stopped there, but went on to thin quickly grilled chops of lamb and beef, which paired a simple Chianti classico – well, classically.
Ristorante Il Pagliaccio—A very pretty small space, three rooms, in Via Banchi Vechi (right across from the Il Gocceto enoteca). A new restaurant featuring very creative, non-traditional food, and outstanding service. We are brought a tiny crepe topped with a piece of tender octopus and puntarelle, as a starter, along with a glass of Prosecco. Bacalau three ways—fried, whipped and agro dolce is a pleasing first course for one diner, and cecci crema with bits of rabbit and peach tempura make for a stunning opener for the other. Boconcini di maiale—tiny medallions of pork in a pan glaze, and orato (sea bream) with olives, capers, spinach, grilled scallions and caramelized turnips follow, to our amazed delight. We ask for a selection of aged Italian cheeses and “appropriate” wines, and the knowledgeable wine steward brings half-glasses of 20 year old Marsala, and sweet, fragrant Passito di Pantelleria, and explains which order to taste the cheeses, and with which of the wines.