According to a popular legend, if you throw a coin in Fontana di Trevi in Rome, one day you will come back to the Eternal city. I am not certain if all roads lead to Rome or whether the roots of this myth are based on true stories, but about a year after my first visit to the Italian capital – I came back.
My first tour of Rome had the most touristic itinerary you can imagine. It included: the Colosseum and the Pantheon, the museums of the Vatican and St. Peter’s basilica, the Spanish stairs and the gardens of the Borgias, Castel Sant’Angelo and the riverside promenade, dozens of squares and cathedrals. After a week in Rome, I had visited several times some of the most notable tourist attractions. I came back home with enough photos to publish a guide book and impressions that could fill in the pages of a few travel diaries.
My second visit was under the slogan of the Latin sentence: “When in Rome – live like the Romans”. Guided by a real contemporary Roman, who was born and had grown up in this remarkable city, I ventured into a search of “hidden gems”. We started the day in the late afternoon to avoid the summer heat – something that has never stopped me as a tourist.
– Have you been to the Janiculum hill? – asked my local tour guide.
– What about the Parco Degli Acquedotti?
– I’ve never even heard of it.
– Do you know the secret of Rome?
– No … What is it? – I was already intrigued.
– I think it’s time to go.
We headed to the western part of the city. On our way, we passed by a rich neighbourhood and an alley bordered with imposingly tall trees. Finally, we could marveled at the stunning view over the city of Rome. I could see all the places I have visited as a tourist but from a new perspective. This panoramic view seemed like a metaphor of my current tour. Now I was not seeing separate buildings, streets and squares. I was seeing the whole picture laden with towers and domes soaring over a multitude of brick buildings.
– What is that building that looks like a wealthy family’s mansion? – I said while pointing in the distance.
– That is the villa of the Borgias, arguably the most avid family in the history of Renaissance Italy. You have a good sense – responded the Roman while smiling.
We had a short break during which I learned that my tour guide was working as a courier a few years ago. During Christmas time, loaded with around 25 parcels with presents, he entered the Vatican to make a delivery to the Pope. When he brought the packages to storage room, he saw at least a thousand similar ones, which would never reach the Pope due to security measures. Well, I doubt people are sending him anything more interesting than Virgin Mary figures and crucifixes. I also doubt that the Pope is lacking any the above.
Our next stop was 8 kilometers away from the city center. The Aqueduct Park reminded of a field somewhere in the Italian countryside rather than a European park in the heart of a cosmopolitan city. I felt like I have gone back in time when I used to spend carefree summers in my grandparent’s village, searching for adventures in the neighbouring fields. This park was a real gem, even to my grown-up self. There was a huge Roman aqueduct built almost 2000 years ago passing through the whole park. The impressive line of arches towering as much as 30 meters above the ground goes on for 15 kilometers. This example of Ancient Rome’s engineering is just a small part of the entire structure which used to bring spring water to all 14 neighbourhoods of Rome.
Before sunset we headed to the secret that I was so eager to discover. My curiosity was growing by the second and I finally inquired:
– What is the secret of Rome?
– The secret – said the Roman – is hidden behind the keyhole of one of the buildings in Rome.
My attempt to satisfy my curiosity was counterproductive. What could I possibly see through the keyhole of a door?
Not long after, we stopped in front of a building. It was pretty but surely nothing impressive. Not only Rome but the whole of Italy was full of similar examples of classical architecture. There was a short line of people, eager just like me, waiting to see through the hole. I queued, feeling almost as thrilled as a child tearing through the wrap of its biggest Christmas present. A woman in front of me started laughing after peeking through the keyhole. The man after her did the same. It’s probably the statue of a naked boy, I thought, there are tons of these in Italy. Ultimately, it was my turn. When I looked through the keyhole, there was a stunning view. It was even more exciting than the anticipation. Through a tunnel of tall boxwood I could see the impressive dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Michelangelo’s masterpiece was the centre point in the distance.
– How is this even possible? How was that build?! – I asked astonished.
– Coincidence – said my tour guide.
– Impossible! – I demanded.
– It’s a coincidence and now I’ll show you why.
We headed to the nearby Orange garden to uncover the secret of Rome. This was definitely the most charming little park I’ve ever walked through. It was symmetrically laid out, filled with roses, pinias – an iconic to Italy tree, and dozens of small trees get heavy with oranges twice every year. The garden was magical and it opened up to a gorgeous view of Rome. There was still Michelangelo’s dome, dominating over the skyline of the city. The secret of Rome is truly a coincidence because you can get the same view from any point on the Aventine hill.
It took me some time to realise that not only the secret of Rome, but the secret of Italy itself is hidden in coincidental beauty. It is in all the small details like the cobbles, the narrow streets, the flowerpots, the soft music, the loud conversations, the tasty food and the bright sunshine. Details that fit so perfectly with one another that they create a uniquely romantic picture. The secret of Italy is the chance to fall in love on every corner.