If you ever played Disney’s game ‘Hercules’ as a child and loved those fantastic trees from the forest part, Villa Borghese gardens is the exact place where you should be headed to. I’m not saying you should hop directly from the plane to the park, but I think the best way to avoid spending your day of arrival in bed would be a quiet walk in what I’d like to call a mythical heaven, maybe enjoy a glass of good Italian wine before considering going to bed. Being the third largest park of the town (it gets down to 80 hectares!) it was wide enough to contain my inner conversations. Step by step, I walked aimlessly where my feet took me, constantly gazing and wondering how it felt like to be a pine in this landscape garden and how do we all look like from above. ‘Giant ants walking on two feet’, I said to myself. Somehow, being surrounded by trees that tall, by their greenness and their beauty, I felt safe in a city stranger to me still. I heard a dog bark at the sound of a fountain and I thought about all the things being in the right place, from the old man on the bike who couldn’t stop smiling to the kids on their Segways shouting, having a blast. It’s important to just listen – to stop every distraction for a while and listen.
Maybe this is precisely what Cardinal Scipione Borghese thought of when he turned the former vineyard placed on the most famous gardens in the late Republic into what it is to be now the third largest park in Rome. Surely this is not how it all looked like back in 1605, with the gardens being remade in the English taste, but the essence is still there. Maybe he stopped and looked at the sky as I did and thought ‘God, instead a glass of wine made from this vineyard to blur my thoughts, give me a garden to clear my mind’. It felt like the History itself joined me in my walk from a point on, not walking side by side, but always being in front of me, allowing me to see only its back, the remains still amazing of what it once was. Being amazed by the variety of sculptures and monuments of this park, I felt ashamed of myself in front of them. They were rocks and marbles to whom some artist who spent his whole life doing this gave shape. They knew nothing about me and they didn’t have to. But I knew nothing of them also and I should have. Suddenly, I wanted to know everything – where do they all come from, who is their artist, how come they lasted so long in here and which is the story behind them. Little did I know there were hundreds of them in that park and it was impossible for me to know their stories – not in one day, at least. I felt discouraged by not having enough time to absorb it all; for me, every piece of rock from that park for which an artist worked hard was important and it felt like reading about it somehow payed off his long lasting effort. Right there, in the middle of the alley, with my phone turned off and no possibility of asking Google for help, I knew that History won the game; I was on her territory, so I tried to make as little noise as possible, like a humble observer, in order not to disturb the solemnity and majesty of her green empire filled with statues who had seen more with their petrified eyes than my eyes ever will.
I continued walking and got to the front of Galleria Borghese, closed then because of the end of visiting hours. ‘What an amazing building’, I thought. ‘I wonder how’s it like inside’. That question will have been answered a few days later, when I got to visit the Borghese gallery and fell in love not only with the outsides, but with the insides also. Unexpectedly, a ‘train’ parked right in front of the gallery. You know, that kind of trains you always see in the parks with tourists in them desperately taking pictures, with parents holding their restless kids and trying to make them calm down. I saw the chance and took it – I hopped in without asking, not knowing where this ride might take me, but enjoying it anyway.
It was amazing – my Roman holiday did not start with pizza, pasta and gelato, but with a walk in a park and a small new adventure I did not see coming. It was all so beautiful – I passed by a zoo, people were waving and smiling and shouting ‘Buongiorno’, kids were playing on the sides of the street we were passing on. Somehow I wanted to hop off and say hello to everyone, to admire every single part of the park and to rest a bit on every different bench. It felt like you could start a love story on every corner and nostalgia kicked in like a shy flower who just got out from the ground in the pot. Eventually I got off, even if I knew the ride wasn’t over. I just felt like it was the place to explore more, to dig deeper into the unknown I was surrounded with. Nothing felt more right – in front of me lay an open space filled with groups of people. There was music playing from a distance and I knew the song, so I started humming along. It was when I remembered the name of the song (The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home) when the magic got to me – I saw a father dancing with his little daughter, holding her on the shoulder like my dad used to when I was little. I saw a man completely oblivious to the sounds around him, calmly and carelessly reading a book and enjoying the sunset, right there in the middle of Passeggiata del Pincio. Rome welcomed me a way she knew I had no other choice but to fall in love with her instantly – with music, nature, books and the happiness of people I do not know.
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