Salambo Blog

Living in Rome

Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill

I fell in love with Rome again. Just as I was getting tired of the daily hassle we continuously experience living here, I was struck again unexpectedly because of a particular view of the city. That’s what it’s like to live in Rome; our emotions constantly oscillate between negative and positive, anger and love, irritation and admiration, annoyance and patience. We can walk blindly for months not being able to appreciate its beauty any longer, when suddenly time stops and we open our eyes again.

Today was one of the first real summer days, I couldn’t stand being stuck inside anymore so I decided to finally visit the church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill. Santa Sabina is one of the oldest churches in Rome, and is famous for being the simplest, most typical example of an early Christian basilica. It was built in the 5th century as part of an artistic revival under popes Celestino the 1st (422-432) and Sixtus the 3rd (432-440). It is said that more churches were built in Rome in that era than during the golden Baroque age of the 17th century. Unlike its ostentatious Baroque sisters, it feels like a spiritual place, and has the expected simplicity of a place of worship.

Santa Sabina is also very close to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, where the renowned keyhole view of St Peter’s cupola can be seen. I looked through the keyhole in the door leading to the House of Malta’s gardens, but was disappointed by the view. The cupola was partly obstructed by what seemed to be a building, although I couldn’t see very well. It was the right keyhole, I checked afterwards!

What took me instead was the stunning view of the cupola from the orange gardens (giardino degli aranci), which are adjacent to Santa Sabina. This famous view of St Peter’s has been reproduced in many guidebooks, but seen for the first time, it is breathtaking. It is probably the whole setting that makes it so special: the majestic dome in the distance, framed by the very typically Roman umbrella pines. Maybe this is the closest to what Michelangelo had in mind when he designed the dome: a perfectly proportioned cupola standing out from anywhere in the city.

view of St Peter’s Dome from the Savello park or giardino degli aranci on the Aventine hill

Rome can be disorientating. Because the river Tiber is meandering through the city, the prospective changes drastically from one place to the other. Looking at Rome from the Aventino hill is very different from the Gianicolo or the Pincio, and it takes a bit of time to relocate the city’s main landmarks such as the Pantheon, Sant’ Agnese on Piazza Navona or the church del Gesu. Only St Peter is always dominating.

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