Rome’s Rare Pocket Park

A friend of mine who is a fellow longtime Rome resident recently started to excitedly recount a new discovery in the heart of the city. I invited her to share the excitement with you, and here is her account:

Pocket parks, those petite oases tucked between skyscrapers, are so vital to city-goers in need for quick respites from metropolitan madness that they are now the stuff of guidebooks.

In Rome, such little islands of tranquility are a rarity, unless, perhaps, you happen upon a cloister hidden inside a convent or monastery, and the nuns or monks will let you linger there.

Rome, with its noisy herds of motorini, could certainly use a pocket park. To my delight, I discovered it now has one of the loveliest ones I could imagine, and right smack where perhaps it is needed most: in its chaotic heart, Piazza Venezia. For months I had rushed right past it with ‘nary a glance, as I hurried down Via degli Astalli, past one of the garden’s, three entrances as I raced to catch the tram home from work, or, more often, dashed from tram to work.

For many long years, tall, dark brown, almost forbidding-looking doors blocked the entrance on Via degli Astalli to all but those who worked inside Palazzo Venezia, a 15th-century building that is considered Rome’s first great Renaissance palace, and which was built for the future Pope Paul II. But suddenly I noticed the doors, in daytime, every day, were wide open, offering entree to an amazing ”secret garden” of towering palms, whimsical fan-tailed stone fish sculptures adorning a central fountain, and – wonder of wonders — stone benches where one can sit and chat, relax in silence or close one’s eyes and dream.

Until recently, the courtyard garden had been, in the words of Sonia Martone, a parking lot for employees in the complex, but when the cars and motorini vanished for the night, the space “transformed itself into an island of peace in the most chaotic point of Rome.” Martone is the new director of the National Museum of Palazzo Venezia, Rome’s decorative arts museum, itself a largely undiscovered gem in the city’s art attractions.

Thanks to the garden, the museum, housed in the palace which surrounds it is now getting more notice. This summer the garden was the setting for a series of evenings of entertainment dubbed “the found-again garden.” Among the popular offerings were dance, jazz, a chat with an art expert after a visit to the museum led by Director Martone.

The garden itself was designed to give relief from work. Martone notes in her comments on a museum web site that in the early 18th-century the fountain was commissioned so the palace’s inhabitants wouldn’t have to go to the public square for their water supply.

Please stop by this wonderful pocket park while you are in Rome. It is definitely worth a visit.