Day 28 – Rome

With clothes washing done in the pleasant company of a traveler from Texas, I take the bus that stops right around the corner from my lodging to the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, thinking that this spot will have fewer tourists.

I look up from the bus stop and see a building up on a hill that I hadn’t noticed before.

I get off the bus at Piazza Venezia and the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, also known as the Altar of the Fatherland. Tomorrow Italy’s President will lay a wreathe here on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the occasion of the Day of the Republic.

I make my way through the tourists to the palace. A convoy of so-called golf carts passes by, another way to see the city.

I’m not disappointed by the palazzo. Built by Pope Innocent X, it dates from 1650 and contains 1,000 rooms. The palace is said to be two-thirds the size of St. Peter’s Basilica and the largest private residence in Italy. It has four wings with walls covered with precious art works, including works by Caravaggio, Rafael, and Bruegel.

Chairs are provided so visitors may sit and enjoy the art at their leisure. And as I expected, it is not at all crowded.

Highlights of the palace are two portraits of Pope Innocent X: the painting by Velasquez, the bust by Bernini.

Mannequins wear livery outfits once worn by servants.

The bold borders are woven in a design based on the Pope Innocent X family coat of arms.

Walls of four elaborately decorated very long halls display painting after painting, which could be overwhelming, but the audio guide is well done and focuses on the masterpieces.

This cradle celebrates the birth of the first child from the union of the Doria and the Pamphilj families. The guide points out the symbols of papacy and power in the cradle. Lots of expectations for this baby.

The family chapel contains several relics, including the perfectly preserved remains of Saint Theodora and the relics of a martyred saint known as the Centurion, who is said to have been one of the Imperial Roman guards present at the crucifixion of Jesus.

The voice on the audioguide, Jonathan, one of the current heirs, frequently refers to his grandparents and his ancestors.

As I pass through the palace, listening to Jonathan’s refined commentary, I can’t help thinking how fabulous it would be to belong to such an aristocratic family, with its centuries of history, its villas and lands here and there, its saint relics, its Caravaggio and Velasquez paintings. How swell it would be!

Later I check out the family online and am astounded by its story. Jonathan and his sister were separately adopted as babies from an orphanage in London in the Sixties. Jonathan is gay and has two children through surrogate mothers with his Brazilian partner. His sister Gesine challenged the legitimacy of Jonathan’s children, concerned that the family’s fortune could fall victim to claims from the surrogate mothers. Gesine lost her lawsuit. She and Jonathan have formed a trust to manage the family’s holdings.

So none of the current heirs share the illustrious? Doria and Pamphilj bloodline. They inherited this life through chance and adapted very well.

Family members still live in a portion of the palace, spending a couple of days each week here.

I visit their chambers, which seem rather faded and uncomfortable, as seen in the misplaced red lamp with a rip in the shade.

On the bus back home, I take a snapshot of the Tiber.

Tomorrow is a national holiday, the Day of the Republic. Parades, processions, parties. I will try to stay out of the fray.

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