Guide Spotlight: Barbara – Rome

This blog series features Walks’ guides from around the globe. It also highlights some of the incredible people who walk with us from Rome and New York. We hope that this blog series, along with our tours from home, will bring you some travel inspiration. This is a chance to hear from Walks guests from around the globe!

Barbara Ciolli, one of our Rome guides is joining us today to share her tips and tricks for the Eternal City. She also shares some insights into Trastevere’s Renaissance villa, which is a hidden gem in Rome. Let Barbara do the rest.


Tell us about yourself

An anthropologist is what I am. Although I was born in Rome, I grew up there. I spent six years living and studying abroad, mostly in Spain and Egypt. After traveling around for a while, I finally settled in Rome. First, I was a tour leader and then a guide. At the moment, I am focusing my studies around a few topics. The first is Villa Farnesina, a particular site. The second is the early middle age in Rome, particularly the Emperor Constantine.

Tell us more about Villa Farnesina, Rome.

Villa Farnesina is my favorite villa because it captures the essence of the Roman Renaissance. Power and beauty were deeply intertwined in the 1500s of Rome. Power is at the service art, and beauty is a way to not only enjoy life on Earth but also show off wealth and power.

Agostino Chigi is the great banker and friend of Raphael, the painter. He was also the creditor to the pope Julius II. He was extremely wealthy and passionate about art, astrology, Greek myology. He married a Venetian woman from a lower socioeconomic class because he loved her.

His Villa, which was the venue for the finest parties and most extravagant banquets in the 1500s is a treasure trove of beauty. It captures the joy and beauty of the Reinassance. This painting was beautifully interpreted by Raphael.


Tell us about your favorite story you’d like to share with our guests.

As an anthropologist, my interest is in the human profile and beyond. History is the sum of the stories told by the people. This has always been how I viewed history. Some of their decisions were extremely important and have influenced the lives of many others.

My favorite story is the gossip about Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Costanza was his lover and the wife of one of his workers. He would visit her while her husband was working (and he knew it). Bernini’s brother, however, had…ehm…the exact same lover. He almost killed his brother when he found out. A servant then had to make the girl’s face scarred. But he was able to portray the girl in a beautiful manner and keep the portrait. Bernini’s brother was expelled from Rome by the Pope because Gian Lorenzo was guilty. But he was too important to the Pope.

Do You have a favorite piece or artwork?

Portraits are my favourite art, as I love biographies. My absolute favorite piece of art has nothing to do anything. It is just a fragment of the deity’s face, which dates back to the 1st century BC. It is part of a chryselephantine chryselephantine statue. It is kept in Palazzo Massimo, and it seems magnetic to me.

What attracted you to the fragment from the face of the deity?

Because of its mysterious deity face, Palazzo Massimo magnetizes me. It captures my attention, even though I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the unusual material of ivory or because I can see the face of an ancient god through the missing eyes.


What is your favorite area in Rome?

The Aventine Hill is my favorite neighborhood. You will feel the peace and quiet if you go there in summer. It’s like being in a small town. Yet, you are in the middle of the town. The view is breathtaking.

Do you know of a hidden treasure in Rome that travelers should see?

The tiny church of San Carlino al Quirinale is my favorite hidden gem in Rome. Although it is small enough to fit in one of St. Peter’s dome pillars, it is a magical place where faith, beauty and power are beautifully expressed by Francesco Borromini’s revolutionary architecture.

What is your favourite place to visit outside of your hometown? Why?

Istanbul is my second home. It is similar to Rome in many ways because of all the layers of history that are still legible. They are, however, very different. For example, the same sentence can be written in two different languages.

Which country would you like to travel next? Why?

Japan will be my next destination. Although I love my country and its culture deeply, sometimes it is hard to accept the differences and to see how my life compares to others. This allows me to learn more about myself and the world around me by comparing my own experiences with others.

Which city or country in the world do think is most underrated?

My personal opinion is that many places in Italy are overlooked, often being overshadowed by great cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice. To my mind, everyone should visit Palermo.


Where and what city did you eat the best food?

It’s all about taste. I love Mediterranean cuisine. Baba Ganoush, an eggplant cream from Alexandria, Egypt, is one of my favorite dishes, even if I don’t include my mother.