Rome Tips: Embracing Things of Beauty

Let there be light: After Via del Corso became one of the first gas-lit streets in 1854, it became a shopper’s paradise

An eye-catching creation by the Sorelle Fontana (Micol, Giovanna, and Zoe) Back in the day, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn were happy clients

By Theadora Brack

Dear friends, Romans, and fellow window-shoppers, I am back behind the old chariot wheel. Delayed and waylaid by la grippe or Roman Fever (Daisy Miller, the Colosseum was lovely at midnight!), but fret not—I am now good to go. So lend me your pointy cat ears and dark glasses! Blame it on the festive holidays, but I’ve suddenly got a strong hankering for some ritzy, glitzy window-shopping in Rome along the straight-as-an-arrow Via del Corso (my new favorite shopping ’hood). Let it glow, let it glow, let it glow. Giddy-up!

Here’s the scoop: Named for the Berber  riderless horse races that took place here during the Roman Carnevale, the historic thoroughfare connects the northern spectacular entrance gate, Porta del Popolo to the center hub, the Piazza Venezia (at the base of the Capitoline Hill). After a few spectators were killed during the 1800s, King Victor Emmanuel II put his hoof down and banned the games. Heads-up: The hustling, bustling shopping area is still a prime promenading, people-watching hot spot, so look both ways before dashing. Distractions abound!

Tip: Between 5 PM to 7 PM, the northern section of the stretch becomes a pedestrian-only (almost!) zone, but still watch out for the occasional bus or taxi. Also, both the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) and the Trevi Fountain are just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Shopping and monument hopping during the big winter sales (through February 14, 2014) just got easier! During the holidays, lights twinkle like bright stars against the brilliantly painted shop façades, bathing pedestrians and creating an illusion of a soft rainbow sea.

Hobnobbing with athletes, emperors, gods, warriors, and nymphs at the Montemartini Museum

It is easy being green

More Scoop: I didn’t find a pot of gold, but I didn’t need one. Zara’s brand-spanking-new, planet-friendly flagship at Via del Corso 189 wooed me like a siren. And I’ve got the pencil skirt and ankle booties—in black, and on sale—to prove it. I tumbled flat.

Housed in the former 1880s La Rinascente department store, the five-level atrium flaunts mirrors, massive white columns, and floor-to-ceiling vertical wires. I felt as though I was popping tags in a Justin Timberlake light show, bringing sexy all the way back. Designed by Duccio Grassi Architects, the eco-glam shop consumes 30% less energy and 80% less water than comparable other shops. And that news alone almost made my heady transactions guilt-free.

If the suit, tie, and carbon footprints fit, own it!

And squeaking of high energy: I’ll also throw in a few photographs taken with the Vestal Virgins in the Forum, at the Vatican, and at the Centrale Montemartini Museum. The Montemartini is a new fave–housed in a classic 1932 electric power plant, here you’ll be able to get all up-close and “Olympian calm” with 400 ancient gods and goddesses. Left, right, and center, the white marble collection of curvaceous and delicate torsos, busts, and heads contrasts surreally with the hulking cast iron turbines, diesel engines, and steam boilers like something out of H.G. Wells or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Flaunting a weird futuristic vibe, the juxtaposition is both seamless and titillating. Trekking to Rome? Don’t miss it.

Piazza di Spagna (a.k.a. the Spanish Steps) Keats died in a house at Piazza di Spagna 26 in 1821 at the age of 25, after battling with tuberculosis

Cause when we kiss, Fire

Tip: After visiting the Montemartini, I highly recommend hoofing it on over to the nearby Cimitero acattolico di Roma (a.k.a., the Protestant Cemetery), nestled behind the Pyramid of Cestius and the city’s ancient Aurelian wall. Back in the day, Oscar Wilde called the cemetery the “Holiest place in Rome.” A perfect place for smouldering reflection on our mad, mad world.

Here I recently spent a luminous hour with John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Tears were shed. On this bewitching night—there was nary a soul in sight. It was dusk and the swooning was easy. With a neighborhood cat napping at my feet, I read out loud in a low whisper one of my favorite passages from Keats’s “Endymion” again and again.

Now a soft kiss—Aye, by that kiss,
I vow an endless bliss,
An immortality of passion’s thine: Ere long I will exalt thee to the shine
Of heaven ambrosial; and we will shade
Ourselves whole summers by a river glade;
And I will tell thee stories of the sky,
And breathe thee whispers of its minstrelsy.”

Yes. A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever. Happy New Year! (Thank you, Bradley Corbett! I love my new header!) Obsessed with Rome? Check out our chum Tin Man’s field report here! Grab a hankie. His photography is gorgeous. No surprises here!

Now let’s get to prancing!

On a Grand Tour, New Romantics? Visit the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, located at Piazza di Spagna 26 (Kitty-corner to the House of Dior)

All that glitters: Berber Horses still put the hustle in the bustle along Via del Corso

What does the horse say? Prior to your trip, reserve your Vatican tickets online.

Chains and high-ticket boutiques mesh well on Via del Corso

Shoes come in handy for wooing the snakes at the Vatican

Daydreaming with Cleopatra at the Vatican

Pick your poison: Snakebite or a self-administered dose of poison? Cleopatra at the Vatican

Strike a pose: Tiber River God at the Palazzo Senatorio

Fly on the wall: Frosty Drama quietly unfolds in the boutique

I Woke up like this: Ghosts and machines at the Montemartini

VIP Vestal Virgins in the Forum at dusk: Keep stoking the fire!

Transfixed: Galleria Alberto Sordi (Galleria Colonna) with a view of the Piazza Colonna

Piazza Colonna with view of the Galleria Alberto Sordi Column celebrates the victories of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, erected by his son Commodus. (Portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the 2000 “Gladiator” flick)

Flawless: Florence and the Machines at the Montemartini. Trekking to Rome? Don’t miss it.

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91 thoughts on “Rome Tips: Embracing Things of Beauty

    • Thank you, Patti! I fell head over high heels for the city. Stay tuned for at least one more story about her. Have you trekked it to Rome? You’d love the street life. Bustling and hustling. You’d capture wonderful moments with your lens, I know it! Happy 2014!! T.

    • Ah, Merci!! You are WAY cool. As always, thanks for the sweet words! Yes, I am feeling better. I think I made one two many jokes about Daisy Miller—throughout the entire trip. That’ll teach me. After strolling around with the Vestal Virgins at the Forum, I returned to the Colosseum just in time to see a drop-dead gorgeous sunset, dressed in pink and purple with a speck blue. I cried as I snapped at least one hundred photographs! T. (Bonne Année! Here’s to a productive writing year!)

    • Thank you!! Do you have a favorite museum in Rome? The Galleria Borghese was spectacular, spectacular. I also loved the park. Bernini. Bernini. Bernini. He was so young! I have a big crush, big time. :D Good. Golly! Theadora

    • Well, thank you for the kind words! I’m pleased as punch that you joined us! Did you score any treasures along Via del Corso?! T. (The night air is so damp. Thank goodness for the Sephora shops with their endless supply of their dry shampoo!)

    • Thanks, Anita! Did I miss your Barcelona post or posts? Do you have a link? I’ll visit you later on this weekend. Did you find any treasures at Desigual? Do spill! T. (Happy New Year!)

    • So nice to “see” you again, Paul! Thanks for the warm wishes and swell words! It’s great to be back. I’ve missed seeing your perfect Paris photographs and stories. They always inspire! Keep on writing and snapping, Paul. Happy New Year!! T.

  1. Ahhh, I have greatly missed you, T. So sorry to hear that you were under the weather. I hope the new year has smoothed out for you. I’ve now got a hankering to go to Rome but instead I’ll be leaving Thursday for Arizona and a visit to my parents, leaving behind sub-zero temps in the Chicago area. I think I can stand it.

    Love to have you back.

    janet

    • I’ve missed you, Janet! It’s great to be back. The window-shopping in Rome was great fun and interesting, too. You’d love the Campo de’ Fiori outdoor food market. Such pretty photo-worthy, eye-catching displays of the vegetables in green, red and orange! I thought of you! I plan to write a few more stories about Rome. I did tumble flat.

      And speaking of beautiful places, enjoy your trip to Arizona! I’m looking forward to reading your field reports.
      Bon Voyage!!
      T.

      • The market sounds wonderful but of course no such markets around here (Chicago) now that the weather’s changed. There’s an indoor market downtown that looks like it’s open every other week, but I’ve never gone. It’s a long train ride from Naperville and I’m not sure where it is in comparison to the train station.

        However, there are some stores here that have all sorts of produce that I’ve taken photos of before and I think I will again soon. Not only are the a good amount of colors but many very odd looking veggies.

      • Is this the Chicago French Market on Clinton Street in the train station? Cute place! I love the mural of the Eiffel Tower in the café! ! T. (I loved your shots of the frozen berries! Stay warm!)

    • Bradley, thank you! Yes, I do love my new header. It’s fun! The outfit is quite the stunner. Love the belted dress. Love the matching heels. I need to find a dressmaker! Again, it was a joy to work with you. We’ll collaborate again this year, YES. Happy New Year! T. (Rome has so many levels! I was out and about on the cobblestones from sunrise to sunset. Do you have a favorite museum or hot spot in the city? The food was also amazing!)

      • It’s so good to hear that you liked it. Makes me smile. Another blogger also commented on the belt and heels. :)

        Yes, definitely more collaboration. :)

        I was only there a few days, so I mostly saw the Vatican and the Coliseum that I can remember. I enjoyed it all quite a bit. :) Yes, yummy food. :)

  2. Oh, you have returned to us!!! Virginia and I sat by the Trevi Fountain for days and days and days!!!! The ground around us was littered with champagne bottles and a few even rolled into the fountain and were bobbing about! We fretted so about you. So glad to hear you are better. All that sitting around in the cool Roman nights gave me the H1N1 Flu, so I too took to bed as soon as we arrived home……..laughing, of course as there were remnants of ostrich feathers stuck to all my clothing. Virginia returned home to Lars (no doubt he was concerned about her absence) They spent some marvelous time together enjoying the Holidays. I shall ring her up and let her know you are back among us………..for joy…….for joy!!!!!!

    • Goodness. Gracious. Apologies for keeping you waiting! And Virginia! Poor Lars! I’m blushing, really. Here’s my Full Confession: As I made my way to the Trevi Fountain, I spotted the Fontana sisters, working late at night in their studio! I completely lost track of time, as I winded it back to 1954. Soon I was trying on dress after dress after dress. How could I say no? Ava sends her love. And so does Humphrey. They’re both in the city, shooting “The Barefoot Contessa.” The Fontana Sisters are creating the costumes. I swooned. Dashing out of the shop WAY past midnight, I managed to leave behind black pea coat in one of their lavish dressing rooms. I kept running! By the time I made it the fountain, I was chilled to the bone. In the early morning light, I scanned the crowd for you and Virginia but only spotted a few floating feathers and one empty bottle. With a heavy heart, I made my way back to my hotel. Sigh.

      I’ve missed you and Virginia. It’s true! Thanks for spreading joy all year long, Monsieur Tin Man! Happy New Year!
      T.

  3. There were vigils. We lit candles. Whispered prayers. And, of course glasses of Veuve Clicquot to keep our spirits up through the damp Rome evenings. We didn’t want you to think we were having too much fun waiting for you, and I told Tinny the fountain was no place to hide empty bottles. Then early, very early this morning Tinny set up rockets. Our ring-a-ding-ding Theadora was back. Pack your valise with chicken soup. Say good-bye to Lar. We are off to a rendezvous in glorious Rome.

    • Chicken soup, bubbly, and rockets—Oh, sigh. I will repack my bags. Here’s my confession: As I made my way to the Trevi Fountain, I called on the Fontana Sisters. You’ve met them! Why, Zoë, Micol, and Giovanna are divine! And so are their dresses. Soon I was trying on their new creations. How to chose? How to chose? Ava Gardner was there. Rita, too. Humphrey joined us with a fresh bottle of bubbly. I left a message with your hotel concierge. Perhaps you didn’t receive it. The Fontana Sisters said to tell you hello. They’ve created a gorgeous number for you in ruby red and one in forest green. It’s a knock-out! Rita was quite jealous. In fact, she tried to purchase it, but Giovanna refused. “This one is for Virginia,” Micol said. “She’ll love it,” I said. They all beamed. T.
      (Happy New Year, Virginia! I’ve missed you and Tinny! Your positive energy is always, always contagious! )

  4. We lit candles. We said prayers. We filled our glasses with Veuve Clicquot to wile away the waiting hours – waiting for our Theadora. Tinny tried to hide the many empty bottles in the fountain (not a good idea). We left. Then early, so very early the morning sky was still dark Tinny set up rockets. Ring-a-ding-girl is back!! Pack your valise with nourishing chicken soup. We’re off to romp in Rome with Theadora.

  5. When I get excited I do repeat my self. Theadora oh Theadora – a red dress a creation of the Fontana Sisters. It will be a dress to tango in. Isn’t Micol a delicious dear! What a marvy way to start this New Year. A million New Wishes to you. Tinny and I were waving flags and sounding trumpets having you back.

    • Yes! Micol Fontana’s dresses are tango worthy, Virginia! I’m working on a follow-up post. The research is great fun, of course! T. (I loved both passages! You have a way with words!)

  6. I Photos, fantastico! The reportage, igualmente. That a sick person can be so ebullient!!!!!!! Obviously Rome is the place for miracles.
    Be sure to visit St. Teresa in Ecstasy and say hello from me!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Love, love, love your words and the Tin Man! His photographs of the Colosseum are gorgeous.
      Rome IS the place for miracles! From sunrise to midnight, I walked and gawked. I didn’t pass a church without popping inside. Perfect places for reflection and warming up the fingers and toes! YES. I spent time with Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria. Smitten, I was. Sigh. I stayed for hours! T. (Happy New Year!)

  7. Glad to see your are well and back for 2014! Love it that you had an “accident” in the Zara sale in Rome – I am sure I would have too – great post on Rome – took me back to our trip there in 2012. Have been re-reading your Paris posts and taking notes as our trip draws closer!

    • Happy 2014!! Yes! You trekked it to Rome back in 2012. I’ve been re-reading your posts about Rome. I loved your “taking a breather” shot at the Colosseum! Zara. Confession: I actually shopped in all three of the Zara shops along Via del Corso. For the architecture, I told my friends! T. (I’m also working on a new Paris post on the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. I’d add it to your list! Great for window-shopping. Here is where Julia Child found her beloved mortar and pestle. It’s now at the Smithsonian!)

  8. Glad you’re feeling better and back online–we all need you (R, B, and K included). I’ll always remember going to Rome with my Sweetie. The pasta! The cobblestones! The sunsets! And all the churches, of course . . . .

    • Dear M., R., B., and K.! I agree! The pasta! The cobblestones! The sunsets! And the churches inspire! I’d love to see your photographs. Perhaps one day you will share. I’m looking forward to it! T.

    • Ah, thanks for the kind, kind words! I fell in love with the city. It’s true. I’m even watching the HBO “Rome” series! Day and night, the lighting is magical. I took beaucoup photographs, including the world’s first shopping complex, the Trajan’s Market. At night, it flaunts trippy blue lights. So stay tuned! T. (And Happy New Year!!)

    • Thank you for your words—perfectly articulated and fantastical as ever! :) As always, thanks, Jessica! As you know, the feeling is mutual. I feel the same way about your travel work. Signed, a fan (And Happy New Year to you!!)

  9. Theadora
    Happy New Year. Welcome back to the world of the living – missed you!
    Again, you capture a city (Rome) in a most unique and interesting way. You brought me (and wife) new insights as well as fond memories of a past visit to Rome. It renewed our desire to make a return visit. Feel better and enjoy
    Thom

    • Ah, Thom! I’ve read your words again and again! It’s great to be back. And YES. I am feeling better. By the way, I also scored a new coat at one of the Zara shops on Via del Corso. I thought of your wife! She’d love the new flagship, I do believe. Rome. So many layers! Start planning another trip. I stayed near Via Coronari—a street lined with antique shops. Perfect for dreaming and window-shopping! T. (While I was away, did I miss your New York City window-shopping series? I’ll visit today! Happy 2014!)

      • No you didn’t miss the Christmas walk near mid-town.. I did a local one as I too was somewhat under the weather… however still enjoyed the holiday though. I recall we stayed near Plaza Venezia – it turned out to be a great location as we could walk to several of the “must see: site. Glad you are better.

      • Piazza Venezia is a great location! Very central. Of course, I plan to create a special to the nearby Trajan’s Forum (world’s first shopping complex). At night, it’s decked out in blue lights. Haunting! T. (Enjoy the week, Thom!)

  10. I love the excuse holidays bring to make things extra glitzy and glittery (like I don’t do that year round!)
    Rome is one of my favorite places, so many sites to be seen! As always, fabulous writing T!
    xo,
    CoCo

    • As always, thanks for your sweet words, CoCo! Rome is now one of my favorite cities. More tidbits: And speaking of glitzy and glittery, I read this morning that the Roman women powdered their hair with pure gold. Imagine. Talk about the ultimate Ring-a-ding-Bling! (I’m looking forward to sharing my newly discovered Roman beauty secrets and recipes. Some were quite dangerous!)
      Happy New Year!
      T.

    • Well, thank you! I took beaucoup photographs (thousands), day and night. It was difficult because the streets in Rome are so narrow! But I enjoyed every minute, vitrine, and cobblestone. Gorgeous. T. (Happy 2014!)

    • AH, Dana! Thanks for your kind words. I love strolling through cemeteries, especially with a book in hand. Always, always, the promenade both soothes and re-energizes my spirits every time! T. (Happy New Year!)

  11. Oh, Rome! So many memories: falling in love, the bridge at the Trevi fountain, being baked alive in the summer heat, unbelievable treasures in Saint Peter’s and the Vatican, avoiding vespa scooters on the pavements, the room where Keats breathed his last, the castel sant’angelo, art, endless walking, the magnificent forum, the Pantheon with its quite remarkable construction…I could go on! Thanks for taking me back there with your usual mix of culture vulture and fashion hound!

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