A few steps further we were in the Roman neighborhood called Trastevere, which means Across the Tiber.
I adore Trastevere. The energy here is less frenetic, the mood medieval. Ivy flows from the ancient walls of this old neighborhood like green waterfalls. Fewer tourists crowd its narrow cobbley streets — mostly locals, families pushing strollers, couples arm-in-arm, all meandering down the main pedestrian avenues during late afternoon, getting a head start on the daily passeggiata.
We happened upon the Church of Santa Cecilia — it was on my list of Underground Rome. Somewhere between the 3rd and 5th century the original church had been constructed here over the house of St. Cecilia, an aristocrat and patron saint of music. She had been martyred on this spot in 230 AD by beheading and it was in her honor that the church was built.
Today, one enters the church through a pleasant courtyard decorated with flowers and lawn surrounding a square fountain. Sitting inside the fountain is a large ancient water vessel called a cantharus. Ancient columns line the front of the church’s 16th century facade; a 12th century bell tower watches from above.
Noticing a small crowd of well-dressed people mingling outside the entrance, we guessed a wedding was taking place inside. We were right. Tiptoeing in, not wanting to disturb, but unable to curb our curiosity, we stood respectfully at the back listening to the hum of the ceremony at the front.
I would have to wait for another trip to see the treasures hiding below: elaborate mosaics and marbles decorating St. Cecilia’s crypt, as well as the remains of several ancient Roman houses and a glimpse into a stuccoed grotto.
The threatening skies fulfilled their promise and the rain came tumbling down. We dashed along, reluctant to leave.
Knowing our luck for dry skies had run out, we hightailed it across the river and towards home; but a deluge caught us mid-street and we had to hover beneath a wide-branched tree. As we stood there trying to make ourselves as small as possible, we realized this storm wasn’t letting up. One deep breath and off we went, bracing ourselves against the pelting drops as we plunged through the gathering river-lets. Soon we were home, peeling off our damp clothes.