Book Review: Secret Rome (Jonglez Publishing)

Secret Rome header

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I have been to Rome many times, but I still have a long list of things I would like to see. Now that list has become much longer, thanks to a recent title from Jonglez Publishing. Secret Rome is a collection of almost 200 lesser known sights in Rome and the Vatican City, exploring the places themselves and the history and traditions that surround them.

About Secret Rome

Book cover with title Secret Rome and picture of an ornate gateway

Secret Rome is a collection of “hidden or little-known aspects of the city”, an invitation to look beyond the obvious. It ranges from curiosities hidden in plain sight to well-concealed esoterica. The entries are interspersed with legends and information panels – about the places, and about the city and its history. These are not the regular facts you find in guidebooks: although I knew about the legend of Pope Joan, obscure traditions like the Blessing of the Throats or the Holy Foreskin were entirely new to me…

As this is Rome, many of the entries are concerned with the Catholic church, classical remains and Renaissance art. But there is much more to the city than this: we also find Jewish catacombs and the symbolism of the Maltese Cross. Then there are wartime bunkers, a historic elevator, and the history of the measurement of time.

A Wealth Of Information

Some of the places are easy to find, once you know where to look for them. For instance, you may have seen Bernini’s elephant obelisk in the Piazza della Minerva, but were you aware of its imagery? Others take a bit of effort to visit, only open at certain times, or requiring written requests in advance.

A fantastic amount of research has gone into this book, and it really does include places that would be unfamiliar to most visitors. Only a handful of the entries were places or sights I already knew about, and even then there was more to learn.

Railway line leading into a closed gateway in a wall
The Pope’s Railway in the Vatican City (image copyright Adriano Morabito)

I was pleased to see a reference to the Pope’s railway, which I had stumbled upon by chance when walking around the walls of the Vatican City. I had been to the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere, but I have to admit that I managed to miss the head supposedly drawn by Michelangelo… And I had never realised that the obelisk in St Peter’s Square was actually a meridian marker.

How To Use Secret Rome

The guide is divided into sections, covering the centre, the Vatican, and the wider city. Each has a map and a list of sights to guide your exploration. There are lavish full colour photographs, and frequent snippets of incidental information.

Elephant shaped fountain in an archway, and heavy doors leading to a bunker
Fountain at the Villa Madama, and the so-called Devil’s Bunker (images copyright Ariane Varela Braga and Marco Gradozzi)

As the introduction says, Secret Rome encourages the reader to “look more closely at the urban landscape”. It would take a lifetime to discover everything here: even frequent visitors, or those who live in Rome, are likely to find much that is new to them. It is a book to dip into, and to inspire your curiosity.

Use it as a guidebook when visiting the city, or just enjoy some armchair exploration!

Secret Rome by Ginevra Lovatelli, Adriano Morabito and Marco Gradozzi, Jonglez Publishing, 2020, £15.99/US$21.95, 9782361954161

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Bewitched By Italy is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), but Italy remains one of my favourite destinations. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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