Rome You Can’t See in Pictures

Some of the most interesting parts of Rome can’t be seen in pictures, because they don’t allow you to take pictures. Boohoo. So now I’m going to share to you the three really cool sites in Rome… in words (and pictures not taken by me).

Capuchin Crypt

Capuchin Crypt is the most bizarre site I have ever seen. The friar tomb under a church comprises of several underground small chapels that are decorated with… can you guess what things in abundance that can be used as decorative items in a crypt? Skeletons! The skeletal remains of 4000 bodies of Capuchin monks are neatly displayed in intricate patterns, filling in the chapels from wall to wall, ceiling, and ground. There are chapel of the skulls, the pelvises, the leg bones. Bones assembled as chandelier. You’d be greeted by this sign that gave me the hibbie jibbies:

“What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”

I went to Capuchin Crypt first thing in the morning – literally arrived 10 minutes before it opened, and I hung out at the entrance, probably disorienting people by eating banana standing up on the side of the road next to a suitcase at 9am in the morning, because it led one Italian woman to ask me direction (or so I assumed). Do I look like I can speak Italian to you madam?

Getting there early meant that I practically got the whole place to myself, which was fantastic. The mood was eerie, yet not too scary, since I could see staffs at the corner of my eye and at times passing by while throwing me a smile. I overheard a private tour guide saying that the place used to be free and people just came in to the crypt. Now there is quite an impressive entrance, with exhibition of the Capuchin treasures in impressive new-looking hall before you get to the crypt. I guess business is going well!

Capuchin Crypt is located near Barberini station and it’s a perfect stop before you’re off via Termini station – about 20 minutes away on foot. You can couple the trip by visiting Santa Maria della Vittoria church that houses Bernini’s statue The Ecstasy of St Theresa (about 10 minutes walk, halfway between Capuchin Crypt and Termini).

Capuchin Crypt, image from Wikipedia

Capuchin Crypt, image from Wikipedia

Basilica di San Clemente

I love how churches in Rome have their own thing, whether it’s Renaissance art or relic of a saint. St Clemente church, while seemingly normal from the outside, or even from the inside, hides underground remains dated from the Romans time. In fact, it has two underground floors, the bottom being remains of the Romans 1st century, and the second 4th century basilica. So it’s a three layer complex with the present basilica built just before 1100. Church was built on top of the first layer, got destroyed, then another one built on top of the last one. Its layers literally show the passage of time.

The middle layer has remains of church frescoes and the bottom layer has underground running water. Like the Capuchin Crypt the atmosphere was quite eerie, not to mention it gets chilly the deeper you go down. You’d be surprised at how big the underground rooms and tunnels are. It’s quite a unique sight.

San Clemente is 15 minutes walk away from the Colosseum so it’s a perfect sight to go to after the gigantic stadium ruin. Couple that trip with church San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) where they keep St Peter’s chains and Michelangelo’s Moses, also about 10 minutes walk away from the Colosseum (different direction with San Clemente).

Basilica di San Clemente

Basilica di San Clemente, image by Mee

Galleria Borghese

Borghese Gallery houses an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, of which my absolute favorites are two Bernini’s sculptures. Apollo and Daphne is a frozen moment when Daphne is almost caught by lusty Apollo and starts to turn into a tree – her feet rooted to the earth and her fingers transform to leaves. The intricate details of the foliage and the dramatic pose of the characters left me gaping for minutes. The same level of amazement came for Rape of Persephone, featuring Pluto capturing Persephone to drag her into the underworld – his fingers dig into her thigh, the hard cold marble looks like flesh. While Michelangelo was a Renaissance genius he was never good with female anatomy as his female sculpture’s nude body looks quite muscular. Bernini captured both male and female figures with glorious result.

The sculptures in Galleria Borghese are featured prominently in the center of the rooms, allowing a 360 degree view, unlike the usual custom to display sculpture with its back against the wall. Apart from Bernini highlights, there are paintings by Caravaggio – another favorite of mine. You would recognize his paintings too once you see a few (I’ve seen a few in London National Gallery). The lighting in his paintings is sooo dramatic!

Galleria Borghese is located at the head of Villa Borghese – a huge garden that looked very nice when I zoomed through to catch my time slot. You can only enter the gallery by advanced booking and it’s limited to two hour slot. You can not bring bag into the gallery (and especially camera!) so you have to leave everything in luggage area. Start going to the storage desk about 10 minutes before your time slot, because most people are not aware of the restrictions and 70 people would suddenly all rush together at one time to the tiny storage section with two overworked staffs, while grumbling all the way about how the queue is moving so slow. But the time slot works great in that it limits the number of people going in any one time, so it doesn’t get overcrowded.

Apollo chasing Daphne

Apollo chasing Daphne, image from Rick Steves

So there, the fascinating Rome I can’t show you in pictures. All of them were not overcrowded of tourists, making them great bit-out-of-the-way options when you visit Rome. Hope you give them a go!


The Traveling Reader
I left home when I was 17 and never stop exploring the world since. Most days I'm a digital technician at one of the London's biggest visual effects studio. My alternate persona writes and travels and dreams of doing these as a living. I alternately call myself Indonesian or Australian whichever is more beneficial at the time, and I've been a Londoner since 2011.