It’s not easy to stand out as an artist in Rome when Da Vinci and Bernini are your competition, but Roman architects like Francesco Borromini shaped this city.
Bernini, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio. These are the big names for Roman art. However, one of the most important baroque artists cannot be found in a museum, but all over the streets of Rome.
Francesco Borromini was a groundbreaking architect who helped create Baroque architecture. His churches and buildings are based on geometric figures instead of proportions of the human body, which continues to be a unique approach. While he is less known than Bernini, his collaborations are a must see when traveling to Rome.
1. 6 p.m. à To the Nunnery!
Start your Borromini tour with Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori in Trastevere. This nunnery turned hotel is a quiet, simple example of Borromini’s baroque style.
Constructed in the 1640s, the unfinished nunnery served as a military hospital in the 1800s and a safe haven for Jews during WWII. Its simple façade was stripped along with most of its art during the Napoleonic period, but the beautiful tile and marble work makes a visit to this small church worth it.
Location: Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori 27 Via Garibaldi
Hours: Holy Mass at 7:15 a.m., 8 a.m. on holidays, open to the public all day
Wander through the alleyways of Trastevere on your way to dinner. There is no end to the cute street vendors and shops in this area. Stop at Enoteca Trastevere for dinner.
Their bruschette antipasta is unique and their large pasta selection always makes choosing an entrée difficult. Sit outside and enjoy people watching as tourists and locals alike stroll through this neighborhood. Or come here to watch soccer games with all the locals as they gather in the street and careen to see the screens inside.
Location: Enoteca Trastevere 86 Via della Lungaretta
Hours: closed Monday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Make sure to save room for dessert and head over to Ciuri Ciuri for cannoli or gelato. This is a local Sicilian bakery that is hidden away, but absolutely delicious.
The cannoli are filled right in front of you and you can choose either plain, dipped in chocolate chips, or dipped in pistachio. If you aren’t a fan of cannoli, try their gelato. The pistachio is out of this world and the cannolo flavor tastes exactly like cannoli filling. The staff is friendly and it is the perfect sized dessert. Take it to go and wander through Piazza San Cosimato.
Location: Ciuri Ciuri 49 B Piazza San Cosimato
Hours: open until 12 a.m.
4. 9:30 a.m. à Just Around the River Bend
Go around Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and into Sant’Agnese in Agone. This baroque church is frequently over looked in favor of the busy sidewalks of Piazza Navona despite being the site of Saint Agnese’s martyrdom.
This church exemplifies Borromini’s geometric style with conflicting concave-convex façade and staircase, a wide round dome, and overall elliptical shaped space.
The interior is colorful and overwhelming, but also peaceful in the midst of all of the tourists and vendors of Piazza Navona.
Location: Sant’Agnese in Agone 30 A Via Santa Maria Piazza Navona
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., closed Mondays
5. 11 a.m. à Optical Illusion in an Art Museum
Borromini did not originally design the Palazzo Spada, but he was commissioned to modify this now art museum in 1632. Borromini changed this entire Palazzo into a work of art by creating a forced perspective optical illusion in the arcade courtyard.
The art museum houses Cardinal Spada’s collection and includes works from Caravaggio, Rubens, and many others. But this art museum is not just celebrated for its art, but also for its physical structure because of Borromini’s hard work and creativity.
Location: Palazzo Spada 13 Piazza Capo di Ferro
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
6. 2 p.m. à Tick Tock
Unlike churches, clock towers are not as common in Rome and you won’t see one on every corner. The Torre dell’Orologio is especially unique because of Borromini’s use of stone, iron, and bronze.
The building itself is rather simple, but the clock tower is concave with a detailed mosaic under the clock. It also has an iron canopy over the bell and two bronze stars on either side of the tower. Even for just a quick passing glance, this tower is extraordinary.
Location: Torre dell’Orologio Via dei Filippini
7. 3 p.m. à A Borromini Overview
Next to the Torre dell’Orologio is the Oratorio dei Filippini. This Oratory is part of the Chiesa Nuova Santa Maria in Vallicella compound and was designed by Borromini after he won a competition.
The Oratory is a good summary of Borromini’s architectural characteristics as the façade is concave with complicated column work and details. There is a clear influence from geometric patterns and more care is given to the façade and column work than anything else.
This stereotypical Borromini building is right in the heart of Rome and is a good example of the beauty that can come from architecture.
Location: Oratorio dei Filippini 17a Via dei Filippini
Try 8 Millimetri, a cozy bar with classic drinks and innovative cocktails all made in front of you by a bartender. This is more of an experience then a bar as the bartender puts on a show mixing drinks for everyone.
The atmosphere is perfect for hanging out after a long day of sight seeing and try one of their interesting cocktails like the classic Sin Fizz, a fancy gin and tonic, or something more exotic like a cocktail with tequila, absinthe, and Tabasco.
Location: 8 Millimetri 8 Via del Moro
Hours: 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
9. 12 p.m. à Snake inspired church facades
Start your Sunday a little later at San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Borromini’s first independent commission is a still functioning church and has been since 1646.
Although struggling financially to complete the church after Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the patron, lost all his money, the convex-concave façade is still intriguing and one of a kind.
Because of its location in the monastic complex for the Spanish Trinitarians, this church is uniquely shaped which is obvious from its elliptical interior. This commission was certainly challenging for Borromini and showcases his skill.
Location: San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane 23 Via del Quirinale
Hours: Mass every Sunday at 11 a.m., open on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
10. 2 p.m. à Party Palace turned Museum
Finish your weekend in Rome by visiting the Palazzo Barberini and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. Borromini began working on this complex with his uncle and then finished with his rival, Bernini. With the three architects came three different styles and the building became a revolutionary urban oasis and seat of power for the Barberini family.
There are many different aspects to this Palazzo but some not to miss are Borrommini’s staircase, the Raphael, and the Caravaggio in the museum. Don’t miss out on this beautiful juxtaposition of art and architecture.
Location: Palazzo Barberini 13 Via delle Quattro Fontane
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, tickets available at the door