The last time I was in Rome, I went to a part of town I hardly ever visit: il Gianicolo. It’s a beautiful spot and a must-see for anyone visiting Rome, but I live in the opposite part of city and very often laziness gets hold of me, especially now that I can’t count on my loyal scooter any longer (it’s just not that practical with two kids, although some people do it!).
But this time I found myself having to leave my usual hangouts and venture into the Rome traffic all the way up the hill: across town, across the river and above the city, aboard a taxi fiat multipla which, love it or hate it, just has to be the funniest car you’ll ever see. The reason for my trip was one I would have easily done without: my son needed a health check and il Gianicolo is where the pediatric hospital is. Like many parents before, I crosses the big hospital gates with tunnel vision: I was worried, didn’t know what to expect and taking in my geographical surroundings was as far from my thoughts as it could ever be.
But we were lucky. In less than half an hour we were free to go, reassured and unexpectedly healthy! Few things compare with the feeling of a health worry being taken away for you and I remember the moment I stepped out in the sun again as a moment of elation, gratefulness and joy.
It was also a moment of great beauty, because when you come out of the hospital gates, what you see in front of you is this:
Or rather, this: an almost 180 degree view over the Eternal city (apologies for the bad quality, I only had my phone to take pictures with!):
Quite a sight!
I was in the right state of mind to take it all in, but I think Rome looks objectively stunning from above. It’s a city of relatively small buildings and this means that at first sight it might look less impressive than some more modern cities, made of skyscrapers so tall they resembles trees in a forest. But I think its uniquely blue sky is the perfect backdrop for two of its unique features:
First, because the buildings are not that high, you can easily spot majour monuments, like il Vittoriano to the right (the one the Romans call ‘the typewriter’, with their/our typical dismissive way) and Castel Sant’Angelo on the left.
Second, the number of domes dotting the view is absolutely incredible. I have always known that Rome has a staggering number of churches (more than 900, it seems), but it never occurred to me that this also meant a large number of domes, including of course the biggest one of all: Er Cupolone (St Pietro). While not all domes belong to religious buildings, many of them do: overall there seems to be well over 80 of them and il Gianicolo seems a pretty good spot to have a first glimpse of them all.
My daydreaming in front of this view didn’t last long and soon I was taken by the more mundane task of buying balloons for my children from the friendly street seller there, but once home I remained curious about Rome domes and did a quick search about them.
I wasn’t successful in my quest for a list of all of Rome’s domes, but I did come across a couple of interesting facts:
Dome in Italian is ‘cupola’, and the word derives from the Latin ‘cupa’ (barrell), the shape of which domes are reminiscent of. The word ‘dome’ in English doesn’t go back to this etymology, but rather to the 16th century word ‘duomo’ (church) , of which domes were the most impressive features.
The biggest cupola in Rome (and beyond) is St. Peters’ and the oldest ones in the city date back to Roman times but the oldest cupole in the world have a much longer history than that: they are documented as far back as 6000 years ago and, it seems, they originated in Cyprus or even in Mesopotamia. A pretty exotic birth, for something perceived as quintessentially Roman a as a dome.
Finally, I discovered a map of Rome domes, that while not comprehensive, includes a good few of them and can be a good starting point for a dome-spotting itinerary! You can find it here
This is my city from above: how does your look like?