Magazine article The Spectator

Roman Holiday

Magazine article The Spectator

Roman Holiday

Article excerpt

The Landmark Trust has several properties in Italy. They all have some kind of English connection - but, of course, that's not difficult. The English have had a long and fertile love affair with Roman and Italian architecture. My father-in-law's family house was, like so many 18th-century country houses, designed in the Classical style by an ancestor who had been on a grand tour. Sadly, it had to be pulled down in the 1960s, but some wonderful follies remain in the park. There is the arch of triumph, based on the arch of Titus in Rome and my favourite - a temple of Venus which was inspired by the temple of Vesta in Tivoli.

The temple of Vesta is just across the valley from the ancient monastery of Sant' Antonio where we spent our holiday last week. Owned by the descendant of an Englishman who rescued it from ruin in the 19th century, the monastery is now managed by the Landmark Trust. It is not difficult to see what attracted them to it. The house has been lived in by two Popes and is built on the ruins of a Roman villa, dating from around 60 BC. A nymphaeum, said to have been frequented by the poet Horace, still exists in the garden. Naturally, I was keen to bring home some little momento of Sant' Antonio and I spotted an 18th-century oil painting of it in the Via Condotti on a day trip to Rome. Unfortunately, I couldn't run to the measly 17,000 required, so I bought a Piranesi print of the temple of Vesta for my father-in-law instead.

There was no need to drive into Rome twice as there is plenty to see around Tivoli. Despite another slipped disc, I managed to tour the 300-acre site of Hadrian's villa and admire the ruins that have inspired so many British garden buildings. I believe the emperor died only four years after it was completed. I suspect he overate. Half the place appears to consist of dining-rooms. There has been an attempt to restore their marble floors by patching them up with concrete. …

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