The Borghese Gallery (Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5) features the works of Caravaggio, Bernini, Canova, Rubens, Raphael, Titian, and many others from the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese an early patron of Bernini and avid collector of Caravaggio. Boy with a Basket of Fruit, St. Jerome, Sick Bacchus are among the works to be found here.
The Capitoline Museums (Piazza del Campidoglio 1, atop Capitoline Hill) covers a wide range, with many examples of ancient art and architecture.
The Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei depicts four youths, one at each corner, each astride a porpoise with turtles above. The fountain dates from 1588, and was restored and modified in 1658. You’ll find this tiny square just off Via Arenula, near the tranquil courtyard of the Palazzo Mattei di Giove, which has halls and walls adorned with antique statues, busts, and bas-reliefs -- home to the Italian Center for American Studies.
This lively square down Piazza della Cancelleria (off Corso Vittorio Emanuele II), is much less grand or well known than Piazza Navona, just to the north, but it's one of the best places places in town to experience Rome. Cafes with terrace tables and WiFi internet access, bars and restaurants surround the central market area filled with flowers and fresh produce stalls that set up here each morning (except Sundays). Shop only at stands with clearly posted prices - or risk paying a lot more.
The square is dominated by the statue of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who was burned alive on this spot on February 17,1600 during the Roman Inquisition. HIs ideas, considered heretical, were deemed dangerous by the Vatican and civil authorities of his time, and his statue, erected in 1889, now seems to gaze defiantly in the direction of St Peter's from this place of his execution.
The fine bakery, Forno Campo De' Fiori, just behind the flower stands at the corner of Via dei Cappellari, has many kinds of local breads, plus quiches and sweet treats. At the other end of the square, Rucceri stocks everything you'll need to go with the fresh produce - sauces, meats, cheese, fresh pasta, wines and other grocery items. Find it at the corner at Via dei Giubbonari, lined with clothing and shoe stores, to the east of the square. The nearby Cinema Farnese screens mostly Italian-language art films.
Via dei Cappellari and Via dei Pellegrino, on the west corners of the square, are home to a number of small art, jewelry and glass studios, short-term rental apartment, and cafe/nightclubs. The cobblestone square is packed on weekend evenings with a young crowd of many nationalities, overflowing from the clubs and restaurants, who hang out late into the night, beneath the towering statue. For local short-term apartment listings see the websites of RomeLoft and RomeApartments.
The Villa of Hadrian (Via di Villa Adriana 204) was the emperor’s retreat to the north-east of the city, now in Tivoli. It contains what is now the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, a complex of over 30 buildings that once covered an area of at least 250 acres. Much is still unexcavated.
The Spanish-born Hadrian was also responsible for the building of the Pantheon, and the wall that bears his name that protected Roman Britain from parts north.
Hadrian was the lover of Antinous, whom he made a god after the youth’s death. Antinous embodied a Roman ideal of youthful male beauty, and his visage survives in countless busts and coins as perhaps the most common among extant portrayals of any face from the ancient world. Among the many beautiful artifacts unearthed and restored at the Villa, are marble statues of Antinous, as well as mosaics from the theatre and baths, copies of Greek statues, and Egyptian-style interpretations of Roman gods and vice versa. Most are now at the Musei Capitolini or the Musei Vaticani.
Take the Metro from Termini station to Ponte Mammolo station, then follow the signs upstairs for the Cotral bus station for a 30-40 minute bus ride to Tivoli. Once there, most of Tivoli is within walking distance - except the Villa Adriana, for which another bus is required. For an overnight stay, the Hotel Dimora Adriana is one of the closest, most reasonably priced lodging options.
Rome is a wonder of archaeological and artistic heritages. Some might visit St. Peter’s for one kind of spiritual inspiration. But gay travelers might feel resonance with something older.
What remains of pre-Christian Rome is a window onto older pagan concepts of sexuality, and an alternative aesthetic. The relation of the Church to that prior legacy is complex and conflicted. A visit to almost any Italian museum reveals that the ancients didn’t equate nudity with a lack of modesty. Gods, emperors, athletes, warriors, and noblemen embodied human perfection without need of garments. As had the Greeks, from whom they inherited so much, the ancient Romans revealed their manhood without shame, as seen in marble all around the city.
The Vatican Museum (Viale Vaticano 13), paradoxically, is now home to one of the world’s most amazing collections of nude male beauty. The Church wasn’t always so tolerant. Fourth-century Christian emperors looked the other way as roving mobs led by monks looted and destroyed countryside temples, smashing countless statues of incredible beauty. More than a millennium later, with pagan religions safely dead, a more confident Church (following fashions of the political elite) commissioned new works inspired by these same artifacts. During the remarkable 15th century, the finest artists of their time were employed by patrons such as the Medici family of Florence, who also contributed four popes. As the West began to emerge from the “dark ages" it looked back to old Rome as a cultural beacon.
The Vatican complex includes the Museo Pio Clementino with its 54 galleries, and the tour there ends with Michelangelo’s masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel. Postures and knowing looks so faithfully captured by the master artist betray his affection for street youth and urchins who portray the angels and saints, intact with the grit and grime they brought with them as models. Through him they transcend humble origins, and bridge the span of centuries, recalling fragments of an world we can no longer fully comprehend.
Spare some time also for other halls, including Museo Chiaramonti, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, and Museo Egiziano, with their ancient Roman, Greek, Etruscan and Egyptian materials. Get a head start from their website with extensive virtual tours.