The secret courtyards of Rome

by Alexandra

rome courtyard 2

While aimlessly wandering around the centro storico last weekend, I stumbled across an event called “Cortili Aperti” (“Open Courtyards”). The private courtyards of various palazzi across the centre were open to the public, in some cases with guided tours.

I love visiting places that aren’t usually open to the public. The best thing about my old job in London (transcribing meetings) was getting to work in the Houses of Parliament, and accidentally-on-purpose taking a wrong turn, and sneaking into rooms behind signs that said “members only”. Similarly, as a student at Oxford, I always got a thrill out of going past the sign outside the Bodleian that said “no visitors”, or exploring the hidden quads of other colleges.

Rome also has its fair share of secret spaces. One of my most unusual evenings in Rome was a night at the Vatican, when the Swiss Guards let my friend and me enter a private building right next to St Peter’s Basilica. We spent the evening being offered wine and cigars by a German priest, and admiring the view of the dome, which was almost disconcertingly close.

Anyway, I digress…courtyards. I suppose the courtyards were slightly less exciting as they were open to the general public, so I had to share the secret with everyone else who had spotted the signs outside the palazzi. I kept seeing people rushing around the centre with their special maps (which showed the locations of the open courtyards), trying to tick off as many as they could.

I only managed to visit about seven of the palazzi that were open to the public – I had to give up earlier than planned due to a hayfever attack – but I’m glad that I saw what I did. While some of the courtyards, though pretty, were fairly ordinary, others were like something from a painting. My favourites were Palazzo Capponi Antonelli (Via di Monserrato) and Palazzo del Drago (just off Via dei Coronari) – overgrown, enchanted gardens bursting with palm trees, ivy and pink flowers.

rome courtyard 1

rome courtyard 3

I have to say, they put the courtyard of my own building to shame. When I look down from my balcony, all I can see is a couple of bikes and an old bathtub.

Cortili Aperti is an annual event, so I’ll have another chance to see the courtyards I missed in 2017. In the meantime, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for special openings. Sometimes they’re not very well publicised, while others, such as the openings organised by FAI, can attract huge crowds. I naively thought that I would be one of the few people interested in the free tours of the Temple of Portunus (in the Forum Boarium), but I ended up queuing for an hour and a half.

For more information about Cortili Aperti (and some additional pictures), check out Natalie’s post on An American in Rome.