The focus of the regularly occurring series “When in Rome” is the city beyond the Janiculum, coming directly from those who have spent time in Rome—including fellows, residents, staff, and more. Selections typically include: quiet places or off-the-beaten-path locations; specialty shops or stores; cafés and restaurants; parks or green spaces; and views or vistas.
This month we highlight the favorite places of Shawn Miller, the Academy’s program director. A staff member since 2006, Miller oversees the Rome Prize competition—and is usually the person on the other end of the phone when finalists get the exciting call telling them they won.
1. Palazzo Colonna
Via della Pilotta, 17
The Great Hall at Palazzo Colonna, which houses an art collection in a seventeenth-century palace, is flanked by painted mirrors and canvases by Guercino, Tintoretto, and Guido Reni. There’s also a bust of Hadrian, my favorite emperor. The most fascinating thing at Colonna can be found on a short marble staircase between rooms—a cannonball shot from the Janiculum in 1849. Fired by French troops who sided with Pope Pius IX during the early days of the Italian Republic, the ball came crashing through a western window, which they fixed, and landed on the marble stairs, which they left alone. After seeing the cannonball—and the paintings and sculptures, too—cross a bridge over the street to visit the terraced garden, where, in the distance, you can locate the Fontanone, and the Academy behind it.
Via Roma Libera, 11
My favorite gelato spot in Trastevere, just down the hill from the Academy. Taking a group of incoming Rome Prize Fellows there during the first week has been my tradition. I recommend the Kentucky chocolate—that’s one flavor they always have. It’s chocolate and tobacco. The other flavor I really like is lavender with wild strawberry—that one I don’t see very often. People will tell you to go to Olateg, and you can, but Fatamorgana has more interesting flavors.
3. Castel Sant’angelo
Lungotevere Castello, 50
I recommend circumnavigating the Castel Sant’angelo after dark. The easy way is to walk down the sidewalk along Piazza Adriana, but it’s better to find the grassy path that’s a few meters below ground. From Piazza Pia, take the entrance by the Passeto di Borgo (which connects the castle to the Vatican), go under the bridge, and follow the passageway. You’ll get dramatic views of the umbrella pines, the brick walls, the moat. Also, go into the building, if you can, to see the Mausoleum of Hadrian. At night it just seems so mysterious.
4. Monocle Eyewear
Via di Campo Marzio, 13
I’ve never bought anything at Monocle, but if I ever came to Rome with a prescription in hand, I’d head straight there and choose something from their amazing collection. With an interior designed by the architect Andrea Eusebi, this boutique near Palazzo Montecitorio has an amazing collection of funky eyewear. (It’s just that every time I go there, I’ve just bought a new pair in New York.) They also sell scents that I like, made by Meo Fusciuni. The shop’s vibe is quiet if you’re the only one there, which is quite likely!. It feels artsy—they really treat eyewear as an artwork.
5. Domus Aurea
Rediscovered in the fifteenth century, Domus Aurea was a palace complex built by Nero after the fire in 64 CE destroyed much of the city. It’s an active archaeological site, too. So much of what they’re finding there is new. A lot has been discovered in just the last ten years. The ancient frescoes are amazing and well preserved, but humidity is damaging them. The weight of the trees in the park above the domus is another battle with nature. Don’t miss the immersive virtual-reality headset component of the tour, which helped me understand the “Golden House” in its heyday. You can see the earth that buried the palace rising and falling over time. It feels like you’re moving because it’s so immersive that it plays with your mind a little.