The Pope’s Studio del Mosaico
COURTESY THE FIRST HOTEL
In Vatican City, all tour guides point out the Pope’s residence Casa Santa Marta, while just steps away sits an unassuming building circa 1578 called Studio del Mosaico. The few guides permitted inside introduce visitors to the handful of glass mosaic artisans who hold the job of a lifetime. These craftspeople chisel, polish, and burn—techniques developed by their 16th century predecessors—to maintain the breathtaking mosaics created for the Basilica’s 11 huge interior domes and 45 altarpieces. Pope Francis is a frequent visitor to the Studio, as he regularly gifts foreign dignitaries with a mosaic. (Former President Obama’s mosaic of St. Peter’s Square took nearly eight months to create.) Despite an inventory of 28,000 colored tiles stored in cabinets, sometimes the perfection-driven artist enters the adjacent glass-melting lab to heat two enamel pieces together with a blowtorch, fusing the shades together to create a new color. To tour the Studio, contact Access Europe, (pricey but super-exclusive); Aurea Roma, or Musement. Here’s a deeper look inside the Vatican, aka “The World’s Smallest Country”.
Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary
Courtesy Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary
Largo di Torre Argentina, a large square excavated in 1929, houses the spot where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C. Today, nuzzled amid the remains of four different temples and the Theater of Pompey (scene of Brutus’ betrayal) exists a cat sanctuary founded in 1993 by two gattares aka cat ladies to help the hundreds of feral felines who’d taken up residence among the ghosts of Romans past. Today, healthy kitties roam the architectural ruins, wandering inside the shelter for a scratch, some food, or to catch some zzz’s on a desktop or in a cat bed. In the larger room, which doubles as a gift shop (proceeds from t-shirts and cat toys go toward maintaining the shelter), visitors enjoy petting sessions with purring felines. Disabled cats are in the smaller room. The sanctuary offers sterilization, medical and adoption services, welcomes donations, and is open to the public daily from noon to six.
Brush up on your Caesar history with a quick lesson on the Ides of March.
Hotels doubling as art galleries
Courtesy THE FIRST HOTEL
Rome doesn’t lack for opportunities to see amazing art. Not only does it house museums such as the Borghese Gallery, the city itself is a living monument: turn a corner and stumble upon the Spanish Steps. But you needn’t walk outside your lodging to be immersed in art. Increasingly, hotels are becoming showcases for museum-quality works. The first hotel in Rome to capitalize on this trend is called, fittingly, The First. Throughout this five-star stylishly renovated 19th-century once-upon-a-time nobleman’s palace located steps from the bustling Piazza del Popolo are 150 paintings and sculptures curated by the nearby gallery Mucciaccia. Each of the hotel’s 29 suites features a collection put together by a different contemporary artist. A brilliant touch is having the art in the communal spaces be stark black and white, while much of the art in the suites is giddily colorful. Want a taste, as well as a visual feast? Dine at the First’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Acquolina. Other art hotels in Rome include Villa Spalletti Trivelli and Piazza di Spagna9. If you grow attached to “your” private collection, parting needn’t be sweet sorrow; much of the artwork is available to purchase.