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Friday 1 September

(Part 2 of 2)

I thought I'd concentrate on the Trastevere area leading to the Porta S. Pancrazio, with the Altemps during lunch when everything else is closed; but that's not quite what I wound up doing: no sooner did I step off the train than I told myself I'd go see S. Sabina, and ride the subway most of the way to Circo Massimo — and when I got off I never got anywhere near the doors of S. Sabina, and just barely at the end of the day to the Porta S. Pancrazio.

[and if you need it, here's help in using the map,
including my own symbols & added information.]

Right next to the exit at Circo Massimo (an unusually quick and direct exit for Rome's subway system: you actually get out where you think you'll get out), there's a "Salita S. Gregorio": since I hadn't seen the inside of S. Gregorio, this proved too tempting to pass up.

Of course it doesn't go to S. Gregorio at all, though; girdling the hill instead — anyway I got to S. Gregorio to find a sign saying I should ring to visit it; me being me, I didn't, although I first checked the TCI and I would have, had I read anything of outstanding interest —

Well the next church over, so to speak, was the three oratories in the gardens of S. Gregorio: S. Barbara, S. Andrea, S. Silvia from left to right; I'd expected three small buildings in a park, but they're three chapels of similar size and shape tied together by a shared façade. A man near the entrance to the compound sort of hustled me in, promising Guido Reni's and Domenichino's: this isn't my bag, but I wandered in dubiously, and inquired — he issued me a 5000₤ ticket — about the Roman tabernae, not visitable though; oh well I did the three chapels: S. Andrea has a marble slab surely dating back to St. Greg's time, with a later inscription commemorating his having regularly fed the poor on it. The info sheet had a serious typo ("e gentes" — ! — for "egentes") and when I pointed this out to my ticket-taker, this seems to have been the open-sesame to everything: it turns out he's the pro bono Director of the Oratories, and also the archivist at S. Mary Major; at any rate, Prof. (Francesco Maria) Amato set about cleaning up the place — which he described as a filthy mess of débris and trash in May when he took over — and tearing down some ivy, etc. At first he got flak from ecology types, but underneath the ivy he found Roman walls no one knew about — a piece of what appears to be the Servian walls — and they shut up. . . Anyway, he and a colleague, a young Albanian woman, also an archaeologist I think, have been doing cleaning, electrical installation, planting (they're working on an Albanian garden — there is a sign at the gate about the Sisters of Charity, and I later crossed several pairs of nuns in the blue-bordered white saris of Mother Teresa's order, so this all fits together), etc. all themselves; and the tabernae open officially to the public in a week or so —

Anyway, I got a grand tour: Prof. Amato opened up the tabernae, which are admittedly peculiar and may very well be what he and others think they might be, and it's fascinating. He spoke of an epigraphical record found on the Palatine that mentions Christians meeting in the area to eat together and worship their god; of the tabernae looking perfectly ordinary on the outside, but inside, in one of the rooms, there is a complete set of white stone brackets which must have supported a ledge or benches — except at one end, nothing. At that end, an arched opening leads to a rectangular sunken area, which certainly does look like a baptismal pool. . . In sum, today I may have seen the earliest known place of Christian worship. (And then again, maybe not.) Whatever it is, it's also full of interesting brickwork, where the bricks instead of having the usual red stamps, have various patterns of dots. The whole business is being studied and there hasn't been anything published yet, so I was very surprised to be allowed to take pictures: having asked about publication and been told none yet, I was putting away my camera (which was slung around my neck in the best tourist fashion) but Prof. Amato volunteered his permission; since I'm no scholar, I only took 4 photos and will of course clear 'em with him before putting them online, although we'd been talking Web stuff and I got the impression he won't mind. (By way of thanks, I'm doing a translation review of the ghastly hash of an English translation of their brochure —)

After this unexpected and fascinating visit, the rest of the day was anticlimax, but it was long. . . . Excluding the Caelian complex, I saw the insides of four more churches and the façades of twelve: adding tremendously to my collection of photos of tops of churches . . .

A garden, all in depth, with a small whitewashed church at the back, and a very old brick wall to the right. On the narrow walk towards the church door, in the foreground, a cat sitting facing the viewer. It is a view of the enclosed garden and façade of the church of S. Tommaso in Formis, in Rome.

(So who are you?)

Of particular interest, the entire East Caelian group, by good fortune all open: S. Tommaso in Formis (pleasant, but I happened to meet the Rector of the church, Fr. Arsenio — consulting with an architect — and after all he and I are virtually the only people to have webpages on the church), S. Maria in Domnica which I always like, and this time photographed (that boat looks real to me, not a Renaissance copy); and, wonder of wonders, S. Stefano Rotondo, sort of: the floor covered with boards (underneath they're working on how to handle the remnants of paleochristian floor) and large parts of the interior blocked off, but at least it's open — how many times I've stood behind a fence looking at it from far away, starting in 1966! For all that, other than the layout itself (must have been wonderful in its original state) it's a bit disappointing: Pomarancio is really not very good, and the frescoes are badly deteriorated, so that Dickens' rendition is better than the original. . . .

From there, back the way I came (don't like that, but the alternative was to go way out of my way and ditch the Porta S. Pancrazio altogether in favor of the Capena-Appia group etc.) [. . .] I felt hungry and had lunch at the Piazza Margana, which was as good this time as last time with James: fried zucchini flowers stuffed with basil-herbed ricotta, tagliolini with shrimp and more zukeflowers also tomatoes (not what I ordered, but manus tabernae manus Dei I never argue and it was excellent), tripe alla Romana, contorno: chicory with hot pepper, the good olive oil I identified as Tuscan but only get a B- for this since it was from nearby Viterbo; an excellent dessert, a sort of reine de Saba with lots and lots of crushed hazelnuts so that it just barely held together, with a sort of brecciated texture (I think I've been looking at stones too long. . .!); wine: a half-bottle of Vermentino di Sardegna, La Cala 1999, pleasant; limoncello, Bosci. French couple (Swiss, actually) at the next table, lively conversation at the end: he worried about turning 50 in December, but looks very good and I told him there was nothing to it —

From Piazza Margana to the Porta S. Pancrazio, starting slowly but ending rather quickly-paced since this is the last train: at 6 P.M., I was near S. Pietro in Montorio looking out over the eastern part of the city; at 6:55 I was at Termini, but I finally cheated, succeeding in flagging down a cab on the via delle Botteghe Oscure as I was starting to rush towards the Panisperna etc. Oof what a day: and we're approaching Gualdo, so in a few minutes I'll be trekking up the Flaminia to bed. I've made reservations in Arrone and Scheggino, so tomorrow my hike up the Valnerina is on; my legs appear to be fine, and it'll be good to get back out in the countryside a bit — now that the season has changed (although today was clear skies and rather warm in Rome), I can start worrying about rain!

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Page updated: 1 Feb 10