We returned to Rome from Sicily for a final day in this great city. Every day seems to top the last in Italy and this was no exception. It was the perfect way to finish our long visit in Italy and Sicily. While the days have been quite warm (though still better than summer months), this was a cool day with intermittent clouds. Perfect for one last day of walking around Rome. This was the day that I would satisfy another long-standing desire: to visit the Castel Sant’Angelo. It would again surpass all of my expectations.
Built originally as a mausoleum for Hadrian, Sant’Angelo was later built into a fortress and contains some of the most interesting art as well as armaments to experience in Rome. It is also one of the tallest ancient buildings in Rome with a breathtaking view of the city. I recommend doing Sant’Angelo last on a Roman trip. You can look down and see (and understand) all of the places that you have visited. With a cool breeze in the evening, it felt like a gentle farewell from this great city.
I cannot express how much I loved this fascinating building for its different periods of construction and incredible rooms ranging from dungeons to its papal chambers. One room was the famed treasury where all of the jewels and gold was held (with only two keys) in a massive box with six locking mechanisms.
The battlements show holes used for pouring hot oils and ancient cannon balls as well as a curious catapult designed to be used like a giant crossbow.
We left Sant’Angelo in awe but had to shop for the kids. We found some great little shops on our way dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. On the way, we walked down the street for antiques and I found a small shop run by Mario Prili, an amazing man who is a well-known antique dealer. He spoke no English but his young friend, Maximo, spoke a little English and served as a translator. We bargained over prices for maces and other items that were hundreds of years old. However, Mario was more interested in showing us his picture with John Paul II, his letter from King Emmanuel II, and a scrapbook of his life. He was one of the most incredible people that I have ever met. One of his pictures shows a young handsome man in combat gear. It turns out that Mario served in the Italian paratroopers in World War II and jumped into Sicily with the US forces. He later became an art expert of some renown, particularly with regard to pieces by Caravaggio. Then there was the odd picture of Mario in Roman Centurion gear – an outfit that seemed a bit dated even for the Italian military. It turns out that Mario had a small role in the movie Ben Hur. We talked well past his closing time with the help of Maximo. We exchanged numbers and email addresses. When we finally had to say goodbye, it was like leaving an old friend. This is Italy. That is how fast friendships begin.
The combination of Sant’Angelo and buying the antique from Mario Prili was the ultimate way to finish in Rome. It combined the breathtaking views with personal encounters that characterize this country. It was the perfect final day — finished off with dinner at La Pigna and its unique sunflower cake, Girasole.
With the early morning flight approaching, we walked through the city to our hotel, Villa Pinciana, a great hotel near the U.S. Embassy with beautiful rooms in a great location. The staff is incredibly helpful and the street is quiet and cute. The location cannot be beat — near the Spanish steps and Via Veneto. I recommend it to anyone looking for a hotel. There are some great choices for hotels but, as they say, location, location, location. Villa Pinciana is a lovely building from 1901 with nice rooms and a free breakfast in the mornings.