Italy Rome

Uncovering The Best Myths And Mysteries Of Hidden Rome

Alexander Mariotti, our dear dear Alex, introduced us to the other Rome – the one that is hidden in plain sight beyond the usual tourist traps. He is half Italian, half Scottish (with his charm and sarcasm – I would say both in full, totally unadulterated), has worked on documentaries for Nat Geo, Discovery, History channel amongst others and acted in Troy and some pretty neat roles in entertainment. His is a historical advisor by day and when he has time off, he injects Roman history into selfie seeking oblivious travellers like us.

Alex was our guide for Palatine hill and Roman forum and he told us vividly about the Rome of millennias ago – from how the people lived, the greetings the Romans used, their clothes, makeup, their houses. He brought the city alive amidst the ruins; Viral and I could have sworn that we saw the Romans walking, shopping, and sitting in their living room. Would you believe Romans had running water, central heating, air conditioning, gym, sauna, like we have today. Or would it be more apt to say that we have all of that today just like the Romans did 2000 years ago?!

Alex invited us to join him later that evening and he promised to show us things not on standard maps (cartoons on the map he calls them!) and uncover the Church’s best cover ups. Irresistible offer, but by day three my feet had given up. Taking a gander at Viral’s enthusiastic face – who can say no! And what better way to bring his birthday than to unearth arguably some of the best-kept secrets of eternal Rome.

We started opposite Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II or better known as the ‘Wedding cake’ due to the very white marble architecture. The first stop was Michelangelo’s home, the famous renaissance artist and painter of the Sistine Chapel we have all flocked to see. He was, of course a genius, a very celebrated artist who lived very modestly. His last wish was to not be given a grand funeral like the numerous ones he had seen and that he wanted to be buried in Florence, where he grew up. The story continues but walking down that alley, we can’t help but think that we were literally walking in Michelangelo’s footsteps and he was just about our age when he painted the masterpiece at chapel! Next, we go to a monastery, where few cardinals live and run the church next door. The building was built by Della Rovere, a very powerful family during Renaissance. In 1997, the building was being renovated and while the mason was scraping the paint, he came across an original 14th century fresco. A team of archaeologists was immediately brought to see what is behind the layer of that plaster. What did they find other than the frescos? Why was the excavation never completed and only some arches are uncovered from the plaster? How is this connected to Michelangelo? Did the Pope fulfil his last wish to be buried in Florence? What lay beyond that unassuming door of that church? Alex takes us on an amazing journey of sensational twists and turns and unravelling truths with the backdrop of the 14th century church and its powerful friends.

For the next three hours, we walk and listen to a heart-breaking story of a painter-sculptor-husband and his muse-wife, about an appalling story of friendship and betrayal between a cardinal and a scientist known for the singular most important discovery of our understanding of the universe, on how a gondola from Venice came to Rome and is now immortalised in a very famous tourist attraction and an amphitheatre – smaller than colosseum but with secrets manifold. Wish we could tell you all, share precisely what he said and what we thought about each one of them – but we are afraid we won’t do it justice and they are best discovered in the hidden alleys with its trusted gatekeeper, Alex.

Throughout the walk, not for once we felt the need to click a picture – just ears fanned out, eyes mesmerised and feet floating. We are leaving soon but we know we are coming back, maybe next time to see more of this unknown Rome. The tour ended at a restaurant with our very own Italian granny, Nonna who cooks authentic Italian and is extremely sweet but not so nice if you left any food on the plate. Was it all fiction, I wonder for a second – if yes, Alex has some magnificent stories up his sleeve!

PS: The phrase ‘up his sleeve’ is derived from ancient roman convention where a person would raise his hand to greet so the other could see they are not carrying any concealed weapon up their sleeve!

PPS: I need to stop typing and stop spilling more secrets; trust us on this and go seek Alex and get a taste of this other Rome.

Mysteries of Rome is a tour provided by Alexander Mariotti with Dolce Vita Rome, for more information please contact him The tour company boasts of a VIP client list including Bill Gates, Clive Owen, Katie Couric, Dianne Sawyer and more – discover what makes Rome truly unforgettable.

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