Rome: the Hidden Places

One of my favorite things in Rome (and Orvieto, the other city we visited) was finding little hidden, secluded areas that were tucked away inside buildings or behind doors. There were some similar places I loved in Berlin—courtyards only visible from the inside of buildings which, from the front, appeared forbidding and impenetrable. I guess this love of the hidden places is nothing unique to me: it's the attraction of the secret garden or the little turret window or the turning bookshelf-door in the library of an old house. I'm sure Sam has a Design Principle name for this attraction, for the innate appeal of a path that leads our eye and makes us want to follow it into the forest. And maybe it's nothing unique to Rome either; maybe every city has its hidden gardens and quiet courtyards, places the casual visitor never sees. But maybe because I had so much time in Rome to just wander, off the usual tourist track (though I did the tourist track TOO, and loved it), I felt like I caught more glimpses of these spots, and found myself more intrigued by them, than I have in other cities.
To start with, there were the doors themselves. So many of them, and with such varied appearance. This sort of imposing double door was everywhere, and made it seem like the most ordinary sort of apartment building might hide the most wonderful treasure inside.
Then there were the rooftop gardens. Everywhere we went, we noticed lit gardens and terraces on top of  buildings. Again, this is probably something you'd find in any big city (and so would likely be unremarkable to a New Yorker), but it just made me feel WILD with curiosity! Who lives up there? What kind of parties are they having out on their terraces? What are their lives like and what are they seeing up there, looking out across the rooftops? We did get to see one—we got to go up to someone's top-floor apartment for a cooking class we took—and I loved it, but it just made me want so much to see MORE!
View of other terraces and balconies, from a rooftop terrace. That golden sun on those iron arches!

Our hotel had a little outdoor terrace where you could eat breakfast. I took my book out there and listened to the wind come through the umbrella pines, and wondered who my neighbors were with that pirate flag above. :)

On one of the walking tours I went on, our guide looked around furtively and then ducked us through a narrow alley into this secluded courtyard. It was near a busy piazza, but the sound just melted away as we walked in, until we were left standing in near-silence, with only the cicadas chirping. Our guide told us this courtyard has been left just like this since the Middle Ages. People still live here in these old buildings, and you can stand there and feel just like you're in medieval Rome! There was construction going on to close the alleyway so you won't be able to get in at all, except through one of the houses, so I'm so glad I got to see it while I could!
Mostly, though, I was just looking in through gates or between buildings, catching glimpses of cobblestones or fountains behind, and wondering, wondering, wondering how these places came to be, and who got to use them.
Many of the most boring-looking apartment buildings had forbidding iron gates at the front, usually standing open during the day. You could look past and see intricate tilework or beautiful stones paving inner chambers—maybe sunrooms or atria letting in the natural light.
This one was particularly beautiful, in Orvieto. Just an ancient-looking stone facade, an open door, and beyond the door…this. I love the collonnade and the gorgeous medieval arches along that little patch of garden.
Along the entry hall of another building nearby, this beautiful little chapel grotto with the Virgin Mary inside. It looked so peaceful and cool, tucked away out of the noise and the heat. I wonder who made it, and if the residents still go there to pray?
This building looked like it had an interesting interior, too. There's that cool terrace on top, and the round balcony, and a green garden behind the walls.
I suppose in a big, highly populated city like this, you have to make your own green spaces where you can (and if you have the money for it!). I loved this ivy-covered wall with what was clearly an oasis-like yard behind. I so wished to see inside!
Another hidden garden. And those inviting green doors tucked into the walls!
This was the inner courtyard of a museum rather than a private residence, so I ventured further in. Old statues and walls, with the welcome shade from the pines above.
And this was in a huge enclosure with extensive gardens, and lots of old outbuildings like this one. I was so curious about it! Did it used to be a guesthouse? Servants quarters? The gardeners shed? The estate was obviously a grand one, but it looked abandoned. Who used to live there?
Here are the front gates of that same estate, just hinting at the formal gardens beyond. All fallen into disrepair. Such a mysterious place! I loved thinking about it and imagining what it used to be like.

1 comment

  1. So cool! And that Ivy covered wall with the garden and big tree inside! It looks like something from a magical children's novel rather than real life!


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