by Tobias Sauer
The World Pride in Rome in 2000 coincided with the Holy Year in the Vatican. This led the authorities (probably under pressure from the Holy See) to withdraw their support of the Pride at the last minute. For Europride in 2011 there was no fear of such overlaps. And the majority of the gay party pilgrims probably kneeled down on other occasions than Sunday Mass. That does not mean that you should not visit any churches in Rome and admire their interior. If you love art and are in Rome for the first time, you should definitely visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are part of the museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica houses his most famous sculpture: the Pietà. The idea developed from the German tradition of the vespers paintings or sculptures, although the word for it is Italian.
In addition to the obvious sensuality of his male nudes, Michelangelo’s homoerotic gaze is expressed even more strongly in his lesser-known sonnets (“I vow to return your love. I never love a man more than you”). Michelangelo’s family regarded these poems as scandalous and published his literary works in altered versions after his death: the male pronouns had all been replaced by female ones. Another extraordinary combination of sacral architecture and sculptural decoration awaits the visitor in one of the author’s favourite places of interest: Santa Maria sopra Minerva, located around the corner of the Pantheon.
Situated in a small square that is adorned with a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back, this building is the only church in the city of Rome featuring a flat roof (the ceiling is decorated with golden stars). It houses Michelangelo’s statue of the naked Christ as Saviour, one of the most sensual Jesus sculptures ever. During Baroque the Saviour’s genitalia were covered with a loincloth – also a way in which Michelangelo was “de-gayed” after his death. From Piazza della Minerva, walk to Piazza Sant’Eustachio and have the best espresso in the world at Caffè Sant’Eustachio. The recipe is a strictly guarded secret – the coffee is prepared behind a partition wall to ward off curious glances.
The nearby Pantheon on lively Piazza della Rotonda is also worth a visit. This circular building, with a hole (“oculus” or “eye”) in its dome, was originally a Roman temple for all the gods that existed (in case one had been overlooked one and might have felt offended). It is Christian church in these days. The Renaissance painter Raphael found his final resting place to the left of the altar. He died at the age of 37 from the consequences of a “rampant love life” according to a biographer and was never married. His most famous works in Rome are his frescoes of the Stanze di Raffaello at the papal chambers at the Vatican Museums.
Almost forgotten among the churches is that of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti in the increasingly popular Monti district. Sergius and Bacchus were Roman soldiers in the third century who died as Christian martyrs. They were – at least according to a controversial study in 1994 by the late professor John Boswell at Yale – not only lovers, they even got married in church. There are statues of the holy couple on the façade. You can then stop off at one of the many small restaurants or bars on the piazza, which has become a popular meeting place for a youthful and artistic audience.
From Madonna dei Monti it is not far to the Colosseum and Nero’s Domus Aurea (“Golden House”), which is closed for maintenance. This palace became a symbol of Roman debauchery,as Petronius, the emperor’s festival planner orgnaised wild polysexual orgies here. The satirical novel “Satyricon” by Petronius describes how wild things got. It portraits the former gladiator Encolpius and his 16-year-old toy boy Giton.
The film adaptation of the book by Federico Fellini is famous and he added a hermaphroditic priestess to the picture. Colosseum and Domus Aurea are a must for anyone interested in archaeology or historic monuments. You have a beautiful view of the Colosseum at night from the end of Via San Giovanni in Laterano, which became Rome’s gay street in 2007. This designation may seem slightly exaggerated for a short cobbled bit of street and a handful of gay bars. However, this is a great place to meet like-minded people, especially during the week when many other gay bars are closed.
The best gay parties in town take place on weekends. There are a few purely gay venues, but the biggest gay-lesbian parties take place on certain evenings in regular clubs – so you should check the calendar of events on the spot before you go out somewhere dressed in a pink feather boa. One of the most famous and oldest parties is Muccassassina, currently held every Friday evening in the Qube in Via di Portonaccio, far outside the city. The best way to get there and back is by taxi. There are several great dance clubs on Monte Testaccio, an artificial hill created in antiquity already that served as a dump for amphorae – you can still see them protruding from the ground in places. The Alibi is located in an old, multi-storey brick building in which there are often several gay events a week. Seen from Testaccio, on the other bank of the Tiber, is the medieval working-class district of Trastevere (Tevere is the Italian name for the Tiber), where young Rome meets in squares and narrow labyrinthine streets. Most night owls park their Vespas in Piazza Trilusso, at the foot of Ponte Sisto, which crosses the Tiber, and stop there to visit Piazza Santa Maria or Piazza Sant’Egidio, both of which house well frequented restaurants and bars.
The vast majority of EuroPride events in 2011 took place in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a former market square between Domus Aurea and Termini Station. It is one of the city’s largest squares – around 10,000 square metres larger than St. Peter’s Square. Throughout Pride period, Piazza Vittorio, as the locals call it, was home to information booths for associations, bars and clubs, as well as live concerts and other events.
(Published in SPARTACUS TRAVELER 2/11)
Useful information about the legal situation, custums and gay life in Italy.
HOW TO GET THERE
Lufthansa offers several daily departures to Rome non-stop from Frankfurt and Munich. Return flights are available from 149 Euros. Watch out for special offers on the airline’s homepage.
Tamara’s Suites (Piazza San Cosimato 40) A small gay-owned BnB in the heart of Trastevere offering six rooms that are named after modern painters such as (Tamara de Lempicka, Monet, Klimt …). Breakfast is served in your room. The BnB is located in a palazzo that overlooks a square busy with a market in the mornings, www.tamarassuites.hotelinroma.com
Domus Valeria (Via del Babuino 96) Gay-owned Bed & Breakfast on the top floor of Palazzo Saulini. The roof terrace is accessible for guests and offers a beautiful view on the Académie de France in Villa Medici and the Spanish Steps, www.domusvaleria.it
Hotel Internazionale (Via Sistina 69) First class four-star hotel near the Spanish Steps where famous guests like Thomas Mann and Orson Welles have stayed. There are spacious rooms in classical style available and also superior rooms including a private terrace and jacuzzi, www.hotelinternazionale.com
The Inn at the Roman Forum (Via degli Ibernesi 30) luxury boutique hotel near Forum Romanum offering a vista on Campidoglio. The hotel also has some Roman ruins on display, www.theinnattheromanforum.com
„Gay Street“ (Via San Giovanni in Laterano) This street near Colosseum was named gay street in 2007, though it is just a stretch of cobbled street housing some gay bars, shops and one gay BnB.
Coming Out (Via San Giovanni in Laterano 8 ) open from 10am to 2am. This bar cum restaurant is the busiest on Gay Street. Have a cocktail here before going clubbing. Busy even off-season and during the week as most other gay venues are cloesed then, www.comingout.it
Alibi (Via Monte Testaccio 39/44) A gay club in theory but also very popular with metrosexual Italian hipsters. Big summer terrace, used for concerts at times. Plenty of theme nights and dragshows.
Garbo (Vicolo Santa Margherita 1/a) gay and lesbian bar in Trastevere offering a nice atmosphere, large cocktail menu good beer and food. Closed on Mondays.
Muccassassina (Via di Portonaccio 212) One of the oldest and biggest dance parties in Rome. Currently taking place on Fridays at Qube club. Don’t miss it, www.muccassassina.com
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