Saturday, January 26, 2008

Just Feel

Merry Holidays in Rome definitely need to be remembered:) Let's go back to December 2007...

In Rome the sun shines through most of the winter, and usually makes a generous appearance. Snow is almost unknown in Rome even in the coldest months of the year. It can get a bit nippy setting at outdoor caffés, but the City, I know, that is always vibrant and alive. However this time of the year it was quite different than usual:) Perhaps I carried the cold with me all the way Istanbul to Rome, because it was indeed very cold in Istanbul on my departure day 20th December, and seriously giving signals for snow! Before too late, Istanbul had received the season's first snow in the first days of New Year that everywhere blanketed in white, stated during a phone call by my sister. When it was snowing in Istanbul, I was lucky with the weather in Rome as it was quite sunny and pleasantly warm compared to those first days of my arrival:)

When I arrived to Rome, there really were the days that feel very cold and even locals were surprised very much! Everyone in Rome were muffled up to their noses like me:) This type of very cold climate in Rome was unusual to what locals informed me. Thanks to the heating system well-equipped even outside of the bars and restaurants, so it was a very pleasant winter treat to sit down outdoors with my steaming cup of espresso, or vin brulé -mulled wine- lip-licking-delicious:)

In Rome, I am welcomed by a dear friend of mine who's of Italian origin. I went to stay at their lovely big old house in the region of Pantheon via S. Caterina only two steps away from Piazza Minerva and the Grand Hotel de la Minerva, that they have bought it and restored in the best way.

On the
street along the house I stayed, there are ancient houses very well taken care of that all was so stylish with cozy Christmas lights and beautiful decorations, see the photos.

The Christmas lights, a giant pine Christmas tree appears in the city centre of town by the Colosseum and also one in St Peter's Square.

Like every visitor to Rome over Christmas, I doubtless headed for the Vatican.

Firstly, I wanted to see the famous life-size nativity scene in St Peter's Square, that was amazing!

Nativity scenes in Rome are indeed worth to inspecting! I spent most of my full-one-day visiting some of the Nativity scenes.

I went to see the largest exhibition with the theme of 100 presepi from all over the world which was in display in the Sala del Bramante by Piazza del Popolo as well as smaller sized ones were being displayed in Piazza Navona. During my visits to other churches not only in Rome but also to the other parts of the country, I saw other lovingly nativity scenes (Italian: Presepi). Some of them have fascinating details and features day into night lighting effects.

Here is the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona. Where is possible to buy any components for your own nativity scenes, as well as toys, candies and all sorts of Christmas-related beautiful ornaments and goodies.

Not only this traditional market, but even the main shopping streets were sparkling with colorful festive lights for those interested in christmas shopping. Groups of busking musicians, often dressed up as Santas were playing cheerful seasonal songs: jingle bells jingle bells .. jingling all the way...

If you too have a keen ear for music like myself, so you would be able to trace a thread from Ireland through central Europe, the Balkans, Near East, Middle East and even India while walking down on the streets. I was surprised very much because some threads and lyrics were very similar to Turkish sound. I thought for one moment if any Turkish musical group was here or what else..

Ohh... I got it:) I really like to be covered in the traditions of a country I visit! Do you wonder what it is? It was the Christmas Zampognaro! December, the month of zampognari coming to announce Christmas and the birth of Christ. It is traditionally heard most often at Christmas wherever you go in Italy! Because zampognari is the part the atmosphere of Christmas.

In Italy Christmas past, that is, about the shepherds who used to migrate with their sheep from Abruzzo to Puglia each year and play the bagpipes at Christmas. An ancient musical instruments from Italian folklore are the zampogna, the tambourine, the diatonic hand organ and the ciaramella. The Italian shepherd playing a zampogna (bagpipe) is called zampognaro (English: Bagpipe player). This authentic traditional music instrument of Christmas in Italy is Zampogne, that was, and is made from animal horns, skins, milk churns, wood, basically anything to hand.

What my friend told to me the story of the Zampognari... it may sound romantic, but the pipers were out in the freezing cold. They were poor people... Zampognari were poor shepherds from Abruzzo and Alto Molise. They were poor men trying to earn a little money at Christmas time, instead of being with their families. Zampognari used to come to visit and wish Merry Christmas with their instruments. When the whole family was inside the house at night time, cooking or just talking, and then suddenly you could hear the sound of the zampogna. Because it is Christmas time! The family would run quickly outside to listen to the zampognaro's music. Magical atmosphere for the people.

Even today it's very popular traditional instrument to be played in those regions like Campania (provincia di Salerno), Basilicata, Sicilia (in provincia di Messina) and Calabria where I have also travelled after Holidays season, and got a chance to listen them even there in the Southern Italy.

The following is one of the most common Christmas decorations in ''all of Italy'': Little Santas trying to get into the windows are hung on apartment buildings, and the country wide as well. Any little Santa tried to enter your home this Christmas;)

I spent the Christmas Day and Boxing Day with my friend's Italian family all together. The pine Christmas tree placed in the best corner of their living room was gorgeous, decorated perfectly and put all the gifts under of it.

Italians take their food very seriously indeed, when families gather together for any reason such as Christmas, New Year's Eve, Easter, Birthday, or any kind of celebrations... But even more so at Christmas! And they like to spending entire days at the dinner table. The old Aunt aged around 70's made all the delicious food for christmas dinner to us. I can easily say that Italians love to EAT and DRINK! They like having their visitors around the dining table, instead of serving them only a cup of coffee and some traditional sweets in the living room. After the dinner, all the kids and the rest of the family opened their gifts. On the Christmas morning, there were different types of Christmas cakes and cookies on the table. We had a late and long, having a nice chatting breakfast.

Contains no breaks with the tradition, the Pope celebrated Midnight mass in St Peter's Basilica, the heart of catholicism. Then at noon, on Christmas Day, the Pope delivered his Christmas message and gave the ''urbi et orbi'' (to the city of Rome and to the world) blessing from the central balcony of St Peter's.

To me, the lyrics are everything, and combined with the rhythm and sounds and the uplifting spiritual atmosphere make for a memorable event, no doubt. In this sense, I went to some concerts in Rome.

One of them was Concerto per due trombe (English: Trumpet) e organo (English: Organ) Le Ore Dell' Organo Post Missam. Organist Gianluca Libertucci directed, and trombe Martina Dainelli and Lucia Luconi; music by Vivaldi, Bach, Aldrovandini, Clarke, Bartolucci, Telemann and Blumenthal at the Church of San Marcello al Corso. This church is devoted to Pope Marcellus, see the photos. The façade of the church is by Carlo Fontana, c. 1683 and it's considered his masterpiece. It was completed in 1708.

Some information about Gianluca Libertucci, he's organist at the St Peter's Basilica and of the St Martin and St Sebastian Chapel. E' organista nella Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano, nella Cappella della Guardia Svizzera Pontificia e nella Cappella Musicale Pontificia ''Sistina'' nei concerti in Italia e all'estero; titolare della cattedra di Organo presso il Conservatorio di Castelfranco Veneto.

Spiriual and Gospel music in Italy is ...Heaven! In one word, heaven! I like it listening very much. It's stated that Gospel music in Italy has been re-discovered during the last 20-years. Still continues to thrive in ways that anyone who isn't a fan of the genre would be hard-pressed to believe. Not just during traditional periods like Christmas and Easter, but all-year long Gospel artists from the United States and Central Europe, and around the world perform for this uplifting music.

Another concert, as called 1st January New Year Concert. Ronald J. Ossovicki directed St. Joseph Catholic Church Choir-USA; in collaboration with patronicio della Associazione Internazionale Amici Della Musica Sacra at the church of Sant' Ignazio di Loyola. Music by Praetorius, Martin, Reger, Waddell, Batastini, Handel, Goemanne, Fissinger, Caccini and O' Brien.

The church is situated between Via del Corso and the Pantheon. With its classical
baroque style, the church is the most beautiful among the Roman churches! The piazza in front of the church is a late baroque theather set of buildings. Inside, see the photos, the sense of theather continues when you realize that the church's dome is actually a masterpiece of trompe-l'oeil painted on a flat surface by Andrea Pozzo in 1685, that appears as ''The entry St Ignatius into Paradise''. When standing on the marble disk in the middle of the floor and looking up, then I said only this ''My Godness, from here the dome almost real!'' Briefly, a Magical Dome!

Some information about Ronald J. Ossovicki: the Director of Music and Liturgy at St Joseph Catholic Church in Marblehead, Ohio, USA. The thirthy-four singers are members of St Joseph Parish and range in age from high school students to senior citizens. The Choir sings a wide range of music from Gregorian Chants, Christmas carols to Contemporary Church music.

The Befana
The Befana comes by night

With her shoes all broken
With a dress in Roman style
Up, up with the Befana!

She brings ashes and coal
To bad nasty children

To the good nice child
She brings candies and many gifts!

The last big religious date is 6th January for Romans that is the feast of Befana (English: Epiphany). Before the Santa Claus tradition of the english-speaking world became the dominant force in the Italian Christmas, January 6 was the customary day to receive presents, not December 25th. The Christian feast of Epiphany, which falls on the twelfth day of Christmas, recalls the Bible story of the Three Magi arriving in Benthlehem with their gifts for the newborn Christ. Although the good witch of the Epiphany has now been partially sidelined, a recent survey by the Milan Chamber of Commerce found that one in two italians still feels the importance of Epiphany. I can easily say that the tradition is strongest in Rome and southern cities, such as Naples.

According to the Epiphany tradition, a white-haired witch known as the Befana arrives on her broomstick during the night of january 5 and fills the stockings of good children with toys and sweets. On the other hand, the naughty ones find a lump of coal:) I saw the Befana stuff represented in many forms at the Christmas market in Piazza Navona, and also a good tradition in line with Epiphany parade with the hundreds of people in medieval costumes and colorful characters walking along the wide avenue leading up to the Vatican, carrying some symbolic gifts for the Pope.

For this occasion, I did not want to miss out an Epiphany Concert in the Basilica di Sant'Eustachio; Paolo Teodori directed Coro Santa Chiara. Ancient and Old Christmas Songs by Reading, Redner, Palestrina, Gruber, Mendelssohn, Dett, Berlin, Leontovich, Adam and De' Liguori.

The church Sant'Eustachio dates back to the early Christian period, and according to the tradition, it was founded by emperor Constantino on Sant'Eustachio's house, martyred and buried there in 120. In the past, it represented a rescue center for the poor people. The church's structure was widely modified during C. XII and transformed by Antonio Canevari after 1724.

The Romanesque bell-tower is one of the few remainings of the Medieval
church. The Baroque façade, preceded by a porch, is crowned by a deer head with a cross amidst its horns, recalling the deer that appeared to the Saint in a dream. In the inside, the paintings in the transept are by Giacomo Zoboli. The high altar, rich of marbles and bronzes, is by Nicola Salvi (1739), while the canopy that surmounts it is by Ferdinando Fuga.

Some information about Paolo Teodori, si e' lauerato in Storia della Musica presso l'Universita La Sapienza, dopo aver conseguito i diplomi di Pianoforte e Composizione presso il Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. Collabora da diversi anni con la RAI ed altri importanti Istituti Internazionali.

On Sunday, the 6th of January, when we drove up to Piazza del Popolo and then had a change of attending for the Greek Festival of Epiphany, or The Blessing of the Waters at the Church of Sant'Atanasio dei Greci a Via del Babbuino. This is the special occasion when many daring young Greek men brave the chilly waters to dive for a cross after it has been blessed by a priest and thrown into the water. For his gallantry, the first man who recovers the cross is said to have good luck throughout the coming year.

The Epiphany Festival is said to have originated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where it is also still recognized as the anniversary of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the western churches. So Epiphany is not just a Greek event, it is also celebrated around the world on January 6 by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches as well.

I saw there were thousands of people on the ways while travelling, thousands of parents and grandparents excited about hugging their children and relatives. Some people do say that this time of year is getting more commercial in Italy, but there's no doubt that more importantly it's the time of year that families come together.

Even though it was the time of le feste in Italia, and accordingly means to fast and eat only traditional food like fish and pasta -as we ate the same-, but I see that times do change even in Italy. Now the New Year for Italy means also time to dance, eat, drink and party with the loved ones following endless choices of things to do, tons of parties organized all over the Rome in very charming locations such as old palaces and villas.

Anyone wanting to celebrate New Year in an open air in Rome can go to the most famous celebrations that are generally held in and around of Piazza del Popolo. If you prefer a quieter solution in a charming atmosphere, you would try for the corner of authentic Rome, centro storico (English: Historical Island) as I did:)

Piazza del Popolo -Italian popolo is people; popolo derives from pioppo, poplar- is a beautiful, one of the most characteristic areas of neoclassical Rome in the downtown filled with priceless statues, twin (symmetrical) Baroque Churches housing paintings by Carravaggio the Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Santa Maria in Montesanto, and a hieroglyphic-adorned obelisk carried out of ancient Egypt by the Romans that occupies the center. The churches both were both designed by Carlo Rainaldi. The churches are not identical since the surface area for the Santa Maria in Montesanto, on the left, was smaller. In order to preserve symmetry, he created an oval dome for this church and a circular dome for the Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

The Obelisk, taken from the Sun Temple in Heliopolis by Emperor Augustus, was first set up in the Circus Maximus but then moved here in the late 16th century. On its north side, the Porta del Popolo 1562 - 1655 (originally the Porta Flaminia) leads to the Via Flaminia. This gate was designed by architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio in the mid 16th century. Later in the 17th century inside of the gate was decorated by Bernini. The top of the gate pays tribute to Pope Alexander VII, whose coat of arms had six stylized mountains and a star.

I am pleased to have a very Italian Christmas, it was truly magical! I feel myself lucky to have such good friends that welcomed me to their homes, eating delicious food and drinking Chianti wine, having nice chats, seeing beautiful places and relaxing a lot.

Spending the holidays all together, and viewing the sky fulfilled with different colors and countless fireworks while saying Hello for the New Year 2008 have been really fantastic as well as sharing the magical atmosphere in Roma, La Città Eterna.


  1. What a wealth of photo's. I am delighted that I got to visit Rome during the holidays with you through pictures.


  2. Wow! So you're back and I haven't noticed yet! Incredible... ;))
    This is a stunning post. Of course, Rome helps, but your pictures are brilliant! And staying close to the Pantheon (my favourite monument in Rome), to the Gran Hotel Minerva (one of the best, though the Hassler has a better view), and to the Antonio al Pantheon (a great ristorante), is surely a treat!
    Have a great week!