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The Grand Illusion of Rome

The Grand Illusion of Rome

In Rome, pretty much what you see is what you get….or do you??

Can the great masters like Bernini fool your eyes all the while fascinating them with grandiose architecture and masterful brush strokes?

On this A Road Retraveled episode in Rome, I show you some amazing places that will fool your eye as well as amaze it!

Watch the video to see the places described below in the show notes.


This episode includes a bonus feature only available on the A Road Retraveled Travel App

In the App you will find useful information on how to reach the places mentioned in this episode so you can see these amazing places for yourselves!


St Peter’s Square

Bernini’s illusion of great proportions: the colonnade that surrounds the square which stands 284 columns long, 4 columns deep.

But if you stand at one specific spot marked in the square by a white disk (see in the video), it creates the illusion that there is only 1 row of columns, not 4. Next time you’re in the piazza, see for yourself!!

 St Peter’s Basilica

The square of Saint Peter is not the only place that tricks your eye.

On the floor surrounding the Baldachino are a series of marble designs using a mirror effect of unique natural patterns found inside the marble slabs. This Renaissance version of the Rorschach effect creates images suggestive of religious figures….can you see the mysterious images so cleverly hidden in natural marble? There’s more marble that you did not expect - I show you in the video!   

Churches in Italy: What you see is real or faux?

The Vatican is not the only church that fools you into thinking some of the marble is real…even in churches outside of Rome you can find faux marble, like inside the San Rufino Cathedral in Assisi, and St Maria Sopra Minerva also in Assisi.

But the faux marble is NOT the only attempt to fool your eye.

The church of San’Ignizio in Rome has an elaborately decorated dome…but wait, is that a REAL dome or a flat ceiling? Can YOU tell the difference in the video?

 Vatican Museums

In the Vatican Museums’ Round Room, the dome is Trompe L’oeil’ed to look like the dome of the Pantheon!

Not to be outdone, the small Chiesa Nuova church in Assisi created its own faux coffers also inspired by the ancient Pantheon. If you can’t make it, fake it! But I don’t know who was copying who because the faux domes look more like each other than the original Pantheon designs!

 The illusion of Sant Peter’s Basilica Dome

Even from far away St Peter’s will play tricks on you. From via Nicolo Piccolomini on Janiculum Hill, you’ll discover a splendid illusion. Once you turn onto the street, you’ll notice St Peter’s dome, and it looks real close up like it’s right smack at the end of the road!  But it seems to play hard to get because the closer to the end of the road, the father away the dome gets!!   I show you in the video…. and it’s even more spectacular when you see it for yourself in person! And when you’re at the end of the street, make sure you stop to admire the view…which by now appears EVEN smaller!! And this Trompe L’oeil did not require the magic of a paint brush or a chisel!

 The Secret Key Hole in Rome

On top of Aventine Hill is a key hole that turns even the most unassuming people and nuns into peeping toms!

Via di Santa Sabina opens onto the quiet Piazza of the Knights of Malta, where you’ll find a high wall with a famous wooden door. Here, you don’t take a key to the keyhole, just your eyeball…and what you’ll see is a fairy tale-like misty vision of St Peter’s Dome in perfect perspective and elegantly framed by an archway of trees from the garden beyond the door. Taking a photo through the keyhole does NOT give justice…it’s really meant to be experienced through the naked eye, not a camera lens.

In the video: there’s something else to consider as you’re spying at St Peter’s through the keyhole: are you looking through 1 country or 3?

 Mount Testaccio (Ancient Rome’s Mount Trashmore)

Another hill I’d like to show you is in Testacio at the bottom of Aventine Hill. This is NOT one of the 7 famous hills that Ancient Rome was built upon, but one that was built BY the Romans…bthis is NOT so much Mount Testaccio, as it is Mount Trashmore…with ancient trash, that is: a hill of broken pots. A massive dump site for primarily empty un-recyclable 15 gallon jugs that carried olive oil imported from Spain. To get to Testaccio, catch the Red Metro line to the Piramide stop. Yes, there IS a pyramid in Rome, and NO it’s not another optical illusion! More on THAT in a future show!

Trompe L’oeil may be a French world that means to Fool the Eye, but they sure know how to do it in Italy!

Thank you for joining me today in the Eternal City of Rome. If YOU find something that fooled YOUR eye in YOUR travels, be sure to let me know! Until next time, ciao for now!

Sample of a Bonus Feature offered on the 

A Road Retraveled Travel App


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