The installation of an observation balloon at Villa Borghese means that it is now possible to see Rome as it has never been seen before. The Aerostato Arophile 5500, anchored in the Galoppatoio and scheduled to begin operating on 23 July, silently lifts 30 passengers at a time to a height of 150 m and then brings them back down to earth, all in the space of 15 minutes.
A French company set up in 1993, Arophile has tethered its handmade captive balloons all over the world, including France, Germany, China, Japan, Cambodia and the United States. The popularity of the flights, it says, is due to the fact that passengers find themselves on a flying balcony with an unobstructed, 360-degree view of their
But while the balloon undoubtedly provides a new and unusual perspective on Rome, it is by no means the only place from which to feast your eyes on the Eternal City.
The Pincio terrace above Piazza del Popolo, not far from the Galoppatoio, is a popular place to enjoy the view, as it looks straight across to St Peters and the west, making it perfect for watching the sun go down. There are plenty of drink-and-snack vans on hand if you need sustenance, but you may have to jostle to obtain a good position, and the couples snogging as if their lives depended on it can be an unwelcome distraction.
Less hectic is the tiny Parco Savello on the Aventine hill overlooking the Tiber, which provides a prospect of the city from the southeast. Filled with trees that hang heavy with oranges in season, this walled garden is lent a peaceful air by the neighbouring basilica of S. Sabina, and has a smaller version of the Pincio terrace that provides a perfect viewing platform.
A little further along Via di S. Sabina, in Piazza Cavalieri di Malta, you can take a peek at the most unique view in the city through the keyhole at the entrance to the Priory of the Knights of Malta. A small, round hole in an unprepossessing door, it looks straight at the far-off St Peters, with the dome perfectly framed by a hedge arch in the gardens.
Across the river and on the other side of Trastevere, Piazza Garibaldi on the Janiculum hill is another good spot to get an eyeful of Rome. Reminiscent of Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence, the square has a little bar and some rather battered maps that explain what you are looking at. Unfortunately it faces east, which means the sun sets behind you, and nearby St Peters is tantalisingly out of sight.
If youre fairly fit and dont mind enclosed spaces, its worth going to St Peters itself and climbing the hundreds of narrow steps that lead to the lantern at the top of the dome. From here there is a wonderful view over the city, and you can admire the beautifully manicured grounds of the Vatican. There isnt a great deal of room, however, and with everyone battling for the same camera shots it can become uncomfortably crowded. If you want a bit more breathing space or to watch the sun set, go during the winter.
If, on the other hand, you fancy watching the sun go down behind St Peters while you relax with a coffee or a glass of wine, try the terrace bar at nearby Castel S. Angelo. Situated in the ramparts of the fortress built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum, the bar has rickety little chairs and tables squashed into alcoves, each with its own particular vista over the city below.
Another well-situated bar is the one at the Capitoline Museums, at the back of Palazzo dei Conservatori, from where its possible to enjoy a panorama of the other side of the historic centre. The spacious terrace has a canopy to shield visitors from the sun, and the self-service restaurant makes it a good place to have a snack while you count the domes that rise above the citys streets. Inside the museums, an underground passage leads to the Tabularium, the state archive of ancient Rome, from where there is a wonderful prospect across the Roman Forum.
The towering white Vittoriano, or wedding cake, nearby, which looms large in almost any view of the Eternal City, provides an impressive outlook of its own from the colonnaded portico at the top. The monument is entered through street-level doors at either side or via the steps at the front, and boasts a caf halfway up which looks out over Via dei Fori Imperiali and Trajans Market.
The lovely, sweeping pink Piazza Quirinale, on the hill of the same name, provides a less panoramic but still popular viewing point, particularly at sunset. Flanked by the presidential palace, the Palazzo della Consulta and the Scuderie Papali, the square is open on one side, from where there is a pleasant cityscape across the rooftops of Rome. Its also worth checking out the vertigo-inducing outlook from the stairs at the back of the Scuderie, now an exhibition venue.
More birds-eye views of the city can be had from the top of the Hotel Raphael, just off Piazza Navona, where you can enjoy a beer or a meal in the thick of the domes and chimneys. Among the many other hotels with terrace bars worth checking out (and stumping up the extra dosh for) are the Hotel Eden, just off Via Veneto, and the Bernini Bristol in nearby Piazza Barberini; the Hassler Villa Medici and Scalinata di Spagna, both at the top of the Spanish Steps; the Hotel Forum off Via dei Fori Imperiali; the Grand Hotel de la Minerve near the Pantheon; the Cavalieri Hilton up on Monte Mario; and the new ES near Termini, which has a rooftop bar that provides unusual views over the railway tracks and station itself.
The Aerostato Arophile 5500 observation balloon is scheduled to operate every day from 09.30 until dusk, from 23 July until July 2004. Tickets cost 15 (10 for Rome residents), or 5 for children aged 4-12. Admission is free for children under four. The balloon can also be hired for parties and special occasions. For more information see
www.villaborghese.it. St Peters dome is open 08.00-18.00 (Oct-March 08.00-17.00), and costs 5 if you make the first stage of the ascent in the elevator, 4 if you walk. The entrance is located on the left-hand side within the main body of the church. For details of Castel S. Angelo, the Capitoline Museums and the Vittoriano, see Romes Museums, page 17.
Picture: Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II and beyond: the city from Castel S. Angelo.