You don’t have to be a history nerd or art snob to appreciate the beauty of Rome. What you do need to arm yourself with is the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child; the way a toddler is wide-eyed and shrieks with joy at the most banal everyday objects: a door handle, a bird, a packet of sugar- anything really. That is the energy I want you to bring with you to this city.
I think that human beings are attracted to shiny things. I am a sucker for a fresco and gold-leaf room in some palace of the former nobility. I can’t profess that I had studied art history and knew about all of these magnificent places before I moved to the Eternal City two years ago. My source for finding new and interesting niche locations is often an assiduous Googling of “unusual things to do in Rome” or even the video reels that have invaded our Instagram feeds. You know the ones: unnaturally attractive ladies swanning about in sumptuous locations around the globe with music in the background as if they always lived like that. It pains me to admit that my discovery of Galleria Colonna was from one such reel. I drooled as some anonymous goddess filmed herself (let’s be real: bullied someone into filming her) swanning about the resplendent gallery and knew that I too wanted in on the shiny room.
TIP 1: Booking tickets is a must: Friday and Saturday only.
My first tip for visiting the Galleria Colonna is to book in advance: it is only open for Friday and Saturday morning because it is inside the Palazzo Colonna, which is stilled owned by the Colonna family. When you visit, be sure to look out for the family photos in the apartments of the Princess.
TIP 2: When you get to the shiny room, don’t be tempted to venture in yet: Follow the advice of the staff, about face and head out to the magnificent gardens.
The large white flowers of the magnolias perfume the spring air with a sweetness and instantly make you feel like you are stepping into a whimsical Shakespearean play. As you wander past the box-tree and laurel hedges the line the dirt path, you feel like you are anywhere but the centre of Rome. The Colonna Palace and gardens are around the corner from Piazza Venezia, but they have the magical ability to make you feel like you have floated away from the city. The Colonna family had modified the site where the garden is from the 13th Century, but Filippo Colonna II requested that the garden be connected to the palace around 1610 and commissioned a series of bridges that connected the raised garden to the palace. In fact, when you look over these connecting bridges there is a small, narrow road that leads you to the Trevi Fountain. I had, on previous wanderings, walked down that road wondering how I could reach those bridges, so this opportunity to visit the Palace provided me with the answer I had been looking for.
The garden itself is structured around a terraced hill. The centrepiece is a grand fountain that is at the centre of two stairways that you can walk up to reach the upper level of the garden. Although spectacular from the bottom looking upwards, do not miss the opportunity to venture up to the top to see one of the most breathtaking views of Rome I have ever seen.
Tip 3: Head to the shiny rooms
After visiting the gardens, admiring the magnificence of the city and exploring the Pio Pavillion dedicated the Princess Donna Sveva Colonna (1903-1967) on the way back to the main palace, you are ready to soak up the aureate Great Hall (the big shiny room). Just watch your step as you head down into the sweeping room because a cannon ball has been lodged firmly in the steps since 1849 when the French Army Fired it from Janiculum Hill when they were saving Pope Pius IX from the insurgents who took over the city for a few months.
The shiny rooms (as I have named them) have exquisite paintings. I usually walk through with the pamphlet outlining all the works of art and simply focus only on those that jump out at me. That said, if you want to find artworks by artists of note, look out for Il Mangiafagioli (The Bean Eater) by Annibale Carracci, and anything by Tintoretto, Rubens or Veronese.
Un bacio x