The Not-So-Lazy 3-Church Day

It was supposed to be a lazy day. ‘We can relax and maybe go see a couple of churches not too far away’. Yup, that was what I said.

So we had a leisurely breakfast, refilled our coffee mugs more than once and eventually rolled out the door in the general direction of the Colosseum. My plan was simple, see 3 churches which are in close proximity: San Clemente, Santi Quattro Coronatti, and San Stefano Rotondo al Monte Celio.

A quick consultation with Google maps confirmed that it was less than 1.5miles to the nearest one, a nice stroll to enjoy the nice weather. This would be a ‘rest’ day. In and out way before the aperetivo hour struck.

Except it was not.

Two things went wrong with the plan. First of all we set out of the apartment at 11:45am. Remember that ‘pausa’ period where every single church in Rome closes for at least 3 hours? That was number one. The second problem was that some of the pedestrian roads that were shown in the map seem to be inside a gated garden that we could not get access to.

Heading to our first destination we had walk along the entire length of the Circus Maximus (If you are ever tempted to include this on a sightseeing itinerary… don’t. There is NOTHING there. Boring walk.), the side entrance of the Foro Romano and battle our way past the hordes of buses spewing out a constant stream of people, past the Arch of Constantine, past the Colosseum, and back up the hill behind it. Just to find that the church we wanted to visit. San Stefano Rotondo, was closed until 3:30pm. Of course it was. What was I thinking?!?!?

The only nearby church big enough to maybe stay open during lunch was San Giovanni al Laterano, but we had already been to it in the past and had no ‘need’ to revisit. The next stop was Santi Quattro Coronatti. Same thing, closed. Impending doom.

Down the hill to San Clemente, doors firmly shut. Regrouping only led to the inevitable conclusion: we were screwed until at least 3:30pm.

Nothing to do but go for a long lunch ourselves even if we were not really hungry. C spotted a little restaurant across from the basilica, Ristorante San Clemente, and decided to go in. This place is literally two streets away from the Colosseum and it might as well be a world apart. All local workers having their Friday lunch.


C got a spaghetti Bolognese and I had a pizza boscaiola (mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato and sausage). Everything was half a notch above edible and we drank cheap wine until it was time for me to go see church #2 and C to keep sipping said cheap wine and wait for me to come back. He was passing up on the Quattro Coronatti.

I’m so glad that I did not give up on visiting this ancient church! What a wonder. The main basilica was built in the 4th century and burned down in the 9th. It is virtually untouched since its reconstruction in the 9th century, when it was built up as a fortress.

As they opened at 3:30pm, the resident nuns were getting ready to sing the 9th Hour prayer, the Nones. This was totally unexpected and turned out to be the absolute highlight of the day. The music was prerecorded but a nun with the sweetest singing voice led the choir in the psalm. I was completely moved.

I quietly got up without waiting for the prayer to finish and headed to the door of the cloister. I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for cloisters, but this 13th Century Cosmatesque cloister was the cutest one EVER. Very small and simple, yet so inviting! The €2 donation seemed almost absurd.

Before going out I dashed into the Capella de San Silvestre, also containing 13th century frescoes. I loved it. There is a recently rediscovered and opened room with extraordinary frescoes but you need to write to the dioceses to get permission I don’t know how many weeks in advance. I’m a fan but not that much.

Down the hill and back to the restaurant to collect C, I went. Our next stop was the Basilica di San Clemente.

This is one of the most interesting compounds in Rome. Its restoration clearly shows the verticality of building ‘in situ’ through the centuries. At the very top there is 12th century Basilica dedicated to San Clemente, one of the first popes. Right below it, there is a 4th century original church which was filled out with dirt and rubble to build the newer one. And then, underneath the old one, there are the full remains of a 1st century buildings including one dedicated to the cult of Mithras. More than 10 centuries of history piled over 30 meters of Roman soil.

Absolutely worth the entrance fee and the walking there.

A short walk led us back to the first church we had started out in the morning; San Stefano Rotondo al Monte Celio. This temple is dedicated to the Hungarian community and was dedicated between 468 and 483 AD. You can see how the builders were still struggling to construct successfully a round space. It is an extremely interesting space from a technical perspective.

Later, in the 10th century, the church was embellished with the most graphically gruesome murals depiction martyrdom I have ever seen. I mean, the full scope: boiling, suffocation, feeding to the bears-dogs-lions, ripping your heart out with a rake…. Any kind of torturous death was included in here!


After that it was time to make our (loooooong) way home. Those 1.5 miles did not seem so short anymore.  Just about when we reached the Circus Maximus C decided it was time to give up and hail a taxi from the street. €10 and a master class from the taxi driver on historical Christian relics in Rome later, we sat down at Piazza de San Cosimiato for some Aperol Spritzes (though it was not quite the weather for them) to recuperate from what had been supposed to be a lazy day.

I don’t know where the taxi driver was from, but I could understand every word of the Italian he spoke. He told us stories about Emperor Constantine’s mother highjacking relics from all over the Holy Land and bringing them to Rome, and how we should really go visit the church of San Something I Can’t Remember of Jerusalem (I’ll look it up) and the Scala Santa…. And then he tolds us that we should really go eat good pizza at Ivo a Trastevere. Ok, we thought, let’s make note of all that and see when we can fit it into the schedule.

We finished our spritzes and dragged our butts down to the grocery store and picked up the makings for two dinners. However, on the way back, we passed in front of Pizzeria Ivo a Trastevere . We looked at each other and at the bags in our arms. Hummmm. Maybe I was just too tired to cook after all. So we went in…. grocery bags and everything.

It was busy. VERY busy. The place must be written up in every single guidebook published over the last 10 years. Particularly in the French ones, as this seemed to be the predominant language among the customers. The experience was somewhat similar to the one we had at Da Baffetto years ago.

When I say busy, it was busy. Packed elbow-to-elbow and staffed by proved and unflappable professionals. Food was delivered rapidly, efficiently and accurately, I did not see a single dish going back to the kitchen.

I was sitting so that I could see all the ‘action’ among the waiters, the head waitress and the guy I assume to be The Ivo. It was a constant source of entertainment. I got the impression that Ivo was just interfering with what is obviously a well trained staff. I got to see the eye rolls once they were past him.

I had a pizza Bresaola e Rughetta (Arugula) and C had a Capricciosa. Mine might not have been the best choice as I had to take away half a salad’s worth of arugula before I could even find my pizza (yes, it was the second pizza of the day). The taste was good, the crust was thin and light, and stayed mostly dry while the pizza was eaten. The edges were a notch above crispy, singed might be the better description but some might just consider them outright burnt. I do like charred edges, but it was a bit too much on mine.

C was very happy with his pizza. Though not so much during the night when he had to get up for some heartburn meds, but that might have been the fact that he ordered a large pizza and definitely overate. Bill was 28E with a liter of open red wine.

By the time we went out, it was madness and mayhem outside while groups ‘queued’ (apply term very loosely) for tables in the chilly evening air.

Was it good? Yes. But IMO, Popi Popi across the street is just as good (again, maybe all about better choices) and much more relaxed than Ivo. Although the bill at Ivo’s was about half as much (but we had bottled wine and coffee). Try both and let me know…

So we carried our groceries back to the apartment, put them into the fridge, and crashed for the night while hoping for a REAL relaxing day tomorrow.

—Friday, April 21th



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