Ready, Trevi, Go! Ancient Fountains, Peerless Art, Creamy Cornettos-There's No Place like Rome, Says PHIL ARGENT

Daily Mail (London), March 28, 2009 | Go to article overview

Ready, Trevi, Go! Ancient Fountains, Peerless Art, Creamy Cornettos-There's No Place like Rome, Says PHIL ARGENT


Byline: PHIL ARGENT

AS I'm standing at a window, the Pope is on the street below me, waving. Shouldn't this be the other way around? I wasn't even expecting to see a pope, let alone receive a wave from one.

It's over 30 years since I was in Rome, the year before the one which would see three popes. It's the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and my hotel, Casa Howard, on Via Capo le Case, just happens to be on the route Pope Benedict took after giving an address at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.

Crowds had been gathering for hours. Now, four nuns stand behind the crash barriers in silent prayer, seemingly oblivious to the hubbub around them.

Motorcycles stream down the Via Due Macelli, police perk up, shouting loudly into walkie-talkies. I can see the bullet-proof Popemobile edging towards me.

It's a well-managed spectacle. The Pope's vehicle gives the crowds what they want; a clear view of His Holiness. Looking younger and more robust than I'd expected, he turns from side to side working the crowd.

Cries of 'Il Papa' erupt from the devoted as he passes by. Suddenly, he gestures up to my window. Is it a wave, or is he indicating for me to get back inside lest I fall? Whatever it is, it's brilliant showmanship, pure drama.

It was a different form of theatre than the one I'd come to see: Baroque art and architecture. Baroque is big this year. The Victoria & Albert Museum is about to stage a large exhibition on it.

Baroque is for ever associated with religion. But its ornate and complex style infused the world of music, art and literature during the 17th and 18th centuries.

And in few cities will you find such a concentrated example of what Baroque has to offer than in Rome.

I start at St Peter's Basilica. It's typically over the top in Baroque and Renaissance styles. Bernini was the great Roman Baroque star of his day and designed the pilastered baldacchino over the altar. Black bronze pillars twist like barley sugar supporting an enormous canopy, a marvel of engineering and design.

Bernini's work is scattered around St Peter's, including grand monuments to past popes, often commissioned while they were alive.

The Renaissance is well represented by Michelangelo's famous Pieta. In the crypt lies the simple tomb of the last pope, John Paul II. A continuous taped announcement reminds visitors to observe silence -- while disturbing the peace itself.

Later, I head for the small church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Less is more it isn't. Marble and gold, paintings and sculpture, it's like feasting on a rich meal. The big draw here is the Ecstasy Of St Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel, another from Bernini's output. Almost squished into the side of the building, it displays classic Baroque features. …

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