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Rome. The piazza, church and famous Scalinata Spagna (Spanish Steps) have long provided a gathering place for foreigners. Built with a legacy from the French in 1725, but named after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See (which is still located in the piazza), the steps lead to the French church,
Trinità dei Monti. In the 18th century the most beautiful women and men of Italy gathered here, waiting to be chosen as an artist’s model.

Pincio

Rome. The Pincio was laid out by Giuseppe Valadier in the early 19th century. An elegant park with avenues of shady trees, it gets its name from the Pinci family who owned it in the 4th century. It is a popular spot for a weekend passeggiata and has a wonderful view of Rome over to San Pietro. The Pincio joins Villa Borghese park.

In May each year the steps are decorated with pink azaleas. lf you can’t manage the steps there’s a lift to the top outside the Spanish Steps metro station. It might look like the perfect spot for a picnic, but don’t get too enthusiastic. Theoretically you are not allowed to eat whilst sitting on the steps. The municipai police who patrol the area can be quite strict, and transgressors can be fined. lt’s all aimed at keeping the steps clean after a major restoration in 1995-96, but the police would do better to catch the vandals who are defacing Rome’s monuments with graffiti.

To the right as you face the steps is the house where John Keats died in 1821, now the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, a small museum crammed with memorabilia of Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and other Romantics. It is open from 9 am to 1 pm and 2.30 to 5.30 pm, Monday to Friday.

In the piazza is the boat-shaped fountain called the Barcaccia, believed to be by Pietro Bernini, father of the famous Gian Lorenzo. The Viale della Trinità dei Monti at the top of the steps leads to the Pincio. Half way along the road on the right is the Villa Medici, perhaps Rome’s best piece of real estate with undoubtedly one of the city’s best views. The palazzo was built for Cardinal Ricci da Montepulciano in 1540. Ferdinando dei Medici bought it in 1576 and it remained his family’s property until Napoleon acquired it in 1801, when the French Academy was transferred here. The academy was founded in 1666 to provide talented French artists, writers and musicians – Prix de Rome winners – an opportunity to study and absorb the enormous classical heritage that Rome offered. A good way to get inside the building is by seeing one of the regular art exhibitions that are held there. Guided tours of the villa’s spectacular gardens take place at 10.30 and 11.30 am on Saturday and Sunday from March to late May and from September to late October.

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