Galleria Borghese: Why Travel?

Why travel?

Why spend a week or two or three plus your hard-earned dollars —to see, well, whatever you choose to see?

Last year Mr. Penfire and I spent three weeks in Italy. Those weeks were filled with new experiences, excursions we had planned and unexpected surprises—a few wrong turns, a couple of mishaps, and at least a dozen occasions of pure serendipity.

I’ve already reported on the first few days of this trip-of-a-lifetime, then real life intervened, and I wrote about other things.

Now I find myself wanting to push my daily life aside and revisit the boot-shaped country crammed from toe to brim with treasure-filled cities and sun-drenched vistas, friendly people, incomparable history, art, antiquities—and food. Perhaps pondering all that we found wondrous about a civilization that’s been around for 2000-plus years will distract us from the depressing shenanigans that make us question whether our own country will survive to its tri-centennial.

back to Rome~ spring ~ 2018.

Mr. Penfire and I had 1 p.m. reservations to tour the Galleria Borghese, one of the most exquisite art museums in Rome. We thought we had allowed ourselves plenty of time, leaving our hotel immediately after breakfast. Our plan was to walk; the distance is only a couple of miles and we had all morning. We stopped at the Trevi Fountain and at the Spanish Steps…and then the morning began fast disappearing.

We climbed the Spanish Steps, strolled along Viale Trinita Dei Monti, passed the Villa Medici and stopped at the overlook that surrounds the monument dedicated to Enrico and Giovanni Cairoli. Here, at this lovely lookout point on the edge of the Pincian Hill, the city of Rome was spread out at our feet.

Galleria Borghese, is one of three major museums on the grounds of the Borghese Gardens, a vast public park—encompassing nearly 200 acres—more than three miles in circumference.
According to our map, we were at the edge of the park. Yet the Galleria was still more than a mile away! We began to get nervous.

And so we turned our backs on the view and marched straight down the Viale di Villa Medici. Uh oh. Where exactly were we? Which way do we go? And how much time would our wanderings consume? We experienced some moments of panic! Without even acknowledging we were doing so, we converted our stroll to a quickstep.

All was green—giant trees, extensive clumps of shrubbery, expansive lawns. We noticed a quirky, octagonal structure, each of its sides divided by wood beams into geometrically patterned squares and rectangular leaded glass windows peeking out on the top and bottom floors. Out front was a kiosk where bicycles and quadracycles could be rented. We did not dare take the time to stop and investigate; we were in a hurry! We passed a kiddie car carousel in garish primary colors and an ice cream vendor. Over there, a balloon seller. Here, a charming restaurant in the guise of a garden greenhouse, its deeply shaded outdoor seating looked inviting. And we were hungry.


We scurried past a tower that looked a bit like a wishing well with a bridge leading up to it—all made of sticks (Adirondack-Italian?), a multi-angled building painted in primary color stripes (The San Carlino Puppet Theater, I later learned). Then, at last! A shuttle bus (of sorts)—a miniature white train parked in the roadway: each tiny open-topped car had a couple of rows of seats. Passengers were waiting patiently for it to move. Doors were open. We hopped aboard. Would it take us to the Villa? Oh we hoped so! And it did…after wending along tree-lined roadways; happy families pedaled along beside us, couples old and young lounged on shaded benches, we passed fountains, sculptures, and tantalizing views of other attractions.

We ended up arriving early…in plenty of time to collect our entry tickets, peruse the choices at the gracious and spacious café, have lunch, rent our audio guides (absolutely essential, I would say, for comprehending the overwhelming abundance of priceless art that crams this jewel of an edifice), and get ourselves up the wide front stairs to the main entrance. Timed entry tickets are mandatory; only 360 visitors are allowed in the museum during each two-hour time slot.

Borghese ~bernini~A bookmark

Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V) began turning this former vineyard into a villa suburbana (country estate) in the early 1600s.

Galleria Borghese—the palazzino he commissioned—houses the Cardinal’s extensive collection of antiquities and Renaissance and Baroque art: Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Caravaggio, so many more, and especially (for me) Bernini.

We had seen already, the genius of Bernini at the Vatican. But here at the Galleria Borghese is where I found myself truly captivated by the powerful emotion expressed in Bernini’s work—his uncanny ability to bring inanimate white marble to the brink of living, breathing life.

I urge you, if and when you are lucky enough to visit Rome, to seek out and spend some time with Bernini’s sculptures—Truth Unveiled by Time, Pluto and Persephone, David, his Bust of Scipione Borghese…and especially Apollo and Daphne. Here, Bernini has given us the very moment when the beautiful water nymph—desperate to escape the god who was determined to possess her—is transformed into a laurel tree.

The bookmark I purchased that day, the image of that sculpture, still all this time later, is a simple but treasured reminder of our visit to the Borghese.

Why travel?

The adventure itself is fun. Better still, months, or years later, a memory of something you saw or did will bubble up to give you a moment of unexpected happiness on an otherwise ordinary day.