A DAY IN ‘ANCIENT ROME’ – Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in modern Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), and Tivoli
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A DAY IN ‘ANCIENT ROME’ AND VILLA D’ESTE GARDENS IN TIVOLI
After immersing ourselves in Christmas for days, we decide to voyage back into the times ‘before Christ’ with a knowledgeable local guide, and visit the Pagan Temple of Fortuna in Palestrina. It’s located in a dominating position looking out to sea in the foothills of the Apennine Mountain range, about forty kilometres from Rome. It’s good for a change to be driving out in the countryside; with farmsteads, sheep grazing in the fields, vineyards and olives; and seeing that signature Roman ‘umbrella’ pine that dot the landscape.
We do pass an old stone Roman bridge, but on winding up narrow roads to the top of the hill, there’s not too much left of the original Temple buildings in this Sanctuary of the Goddess of Fortuna. However, the massive scale can be easily imagined with the stepped landscaping that follows the natural slope of the hill.
An imposing Renaissance Palace, erected by the wealthy Colonna and Barberini Merchant families from the 12th century, stands atop the site where the temple once stood. Marc, our guide relates the history of the period and points out how the great physicality of the building and imposing architecture impacted buildings in Rome that followed centuries later.
A few sarcophagi, and other remnants of the original temple are incorporated into a museum in the palace building. We’re all stopped in our tracks with a beautiful mosaic floor of tiny tiles from 1BC depicting life in Egypt and up the Nile to Ethiopia. It shows Greek as well as Roman colonies. Depictions of animals are interesting because the artist had probably never seen these animals.
Tivoli is a hill town, but outside the historical centre, so depressing in its ordinariness. I can’t look on Italian ‘hill towns’ in the romantic sense any longer. If it wasn’t for the UNESCO protected Renaissance Palace of Villa d’Este with its unique microclimate, fountains and natural landscaping, I can’t see any reason to visit Tivoli.
That wonderful smell of smoke from logs burning in the fireplace greets us as we walk in out of the cold for lunch in Sybilla Restaurant at Villa Gregoriana, another green open area with waterfalls in old Tivoli. Most of us choose the Roman-style artichokes. They cut like butter, and I’m compelled to sop up the delicious oil on the plate with slices of bread. I make it an artichoke festa, and also take the pasta with fried artichokes and local pecorino sheep cheese.
The light is fading and it’s drizzling when we finally get to Villa d’Este; there’s no other place near Rome that has so much water; the fountains are spectacular. Rain ceases as the light fades and the sky is set ablaze with the most amazing red sunset. Rome is burning! We better be on the road and back to the hotel.