Four More Romes
You're never far from the cooling sound of water in Rome, as it seems no square is complete without a gushing fountain, usually exuberant creations of marble, topped with rampant, mythical figures. The best known is the Fontana di Trevi, which suddenly leaps into view from the narrow streets that surround it. The fountain marks the end of the Roman Aqua Virgo aqueduct built by Agrippa in 19BC, and is a triumph of talent over taste, as Oceanus gallops out of the mock temple on his chariot. The young of Rome congregate here at night to chat, bemused by tourists endlessly throwing coins into the fountain to speed their return. (The collected coins are given to the Italian Red Cross.)
Other great fountains include the Fonatana dei Quattro Fiumi in the heart of Piazza Navona, with four figures representing the four corners of the world. Kids will love the Fontana della Tartarughe, a tortoise-carved cute fountain in the Piazza Mattei, and the Fontana della Api in the Piazza Barberini, where three bees sit on the end of a scallop shell, about to drink. The sexiest fountain has to be the Fontana della Naiadi, where four scantily clad nymphs writhe in the suggestively shaped tentacles of a giant marine creature.
How do the Italians look so damn good all the time? Designer gear, that's how. Rome has more than its fair share of top designer stores, from Fendi to Versace, Armani to Laura Biagiotti, and not forgetting Valentino. Their main stores can be found on the exclusive shopping streets of Via Borgognona, Via Condotti and Via Bocca di Leone. The top-notch prices tumble in the summer and mid-winter, where the shops have sales. Afterwards, show off your designer carrier bags at the nearby Spanish Steps.
So, you've got the clothes, now you need the shoes! Like most Italian cities, Rome is sheer heaven for shoe fanatics. Every corner seems to have a window full of the most exquisite, elegant foot ware imaginable, just calling for you to try them on. Arm yourself with your European shoe size in Italian, and the shop's your oyster. Most Italian shoe salespeople are expert in the art of squeezing your feet into shoes one size too small, so make sure you try a size up as well to check the fit really is comfortable enough to wear beyond the front door of the shop. The other danger is trying on shoes at night, such a novelty, when your feet are cooler and slightly smaller, and then trying to wear them all the next day in the heat. Save your new shoes, and your feet, for when you get home.
In the rush to see the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's, it's sometimes easy to forget that Rome's churches have a wealth of art just waiting to be discovered. Beyond the dark doors lie cool interiors, where respectful visitors are welcomed as much as the regular worshippers who pop in and out all day.
The church of Santa Maria del Popolo is particularly blessed with its collection of art, including Caravaggio's Conversion of St Paul and Crucifixion of St Peter, and early stained glass windows that reflect coloured shards of light across the church.
It's easy to see why Santa Maria in Trastevere is such a treasure; its exterior gleams from the 12th century gold mosaics that cover its face and are particularly amazing when floodlit at night.
Just as the Romans assimilated local gods into their own religion, so Christian Rome simply integrated former temples into their churches. Santa Maria sopra Minerva is built over a former temple to Minerva (hence its name) and has Michelangelo's statue of The Risen Christ next to the altar, and for the same artist's great statue of Moses, head for the modest church of San Pietro in Vincoli.
Bits and Pieces
Rome's churches are usually old, and we mean, really old, and their history is often revealed through their mosaics. The church of Santa Constanza was originally a mausoleum for two daughters of Emperor Constantine, and the simple white background of the mosaics show off these 4th century works of art. After that, things got more flamboyant, such as the Byzantine mosaics that glisten in the apse of Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura, or positively gleam in the Capella di San Zeno at the church of Santa Prassede. For a view of heaven, simply look up at the gilded ceiling mosaics at Santa Prassede - stunning.