intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
In Rome, history is all around you. Every building in the heart of the city has strong roots, which are the source of its inspiration and raison d’être. However, most of the tourist accommodation has subtly dissimulated this connection and masked these ancient vestiges, considering them somewhat “quaint”. The Blue Hostel, a former 17th century convent, has made a point of highlighting its links with the past. The charm of its rooms, on the third and fourth floor, the meticulous attention to detail, and the warm welcome of its owners will impart a very special aura to your stay in Rome. Ideally situated, right next to the station and the historic centre.
The cosiness of a real period room, in the heart of the Eternal City © Blue Hostel
The vast listed building which houses the Blue Hostel goes back to the 17th century. This women’s convent replaced a medieval building (use unknown), which was built on ancient bedrock. We are not far from the summit of the Esquiline, one of the seven hills of Ancient Rome. Just opposite stands the old church of St. Anthony (13th century), which was part of a hospital for patients suffering from «St. Anthony’s Fire» (ergotism). Until fairly recently, a very popular Blessing of the animals ceremony took place here.
The old hospital of St. Anthony is said to have welcomed St. Francis when on a papal visit© Achile Pinelli
Is this why the basilica of Santa-Maria-Maggiore, which the nuns decided to built on this site, is here, or was it because of the activities of the hospital? Within the Catholic community, the “mendicant orders” devoted themselves to helping the least fortunate, providing medical assistance and education or pastoral care. This was the obvious place to be, in the heart of the city. Their convents, of which there were many in Rome, used to occupy several-storey buildings which merged into the urban fabric: rows of numerous cell-like rooms with several communal rooms on the ground floor.
At the end of the 19th century, the area underwent a vast renovation programme on the initiative of the first king of re-unified Italy, Victor-Emmanuel II of Savoy. The street of the old convent was renamed “Via Carlo Alberto” in homage to the new sovereign’s father, the King of Sardinia. The engineers even decided to lower the level of the street by several metres to provide a more uniform horizontal perspective. It was probably at this time that the facade of the building was renovated.
Behind the freshly repainted facade, is a series of walls from all eras, linked together all higgledy-piggledy , from the oldest to the most recent © intoHistory
When you enter the building, there is a long flight of stairs immediately ahead of you, a sure sign of this “downward levelling”. The Romanesque doorway of the old church of St. Anthony also had to have a double staircase to accommodate the difference in height.
When you reach the first floor of the Blue Hostel, you will come across an evocative ancient mural (protected by a frame), which depicts the Annunciation to Mary. The tone is set: in the past this site used to be dedicated to prayer. It is not difficult to imagine discreetly veiled nuns walking rapidly along the vaulted corridor to attend Mass, go about their work, or return to their rooms to the rhythm of bells.
The nuns left their convent 200 years ago, but the building has retained part of its period structure.
The beautiful mural on the staircase, albeit somewhat tarnished by its ageing plaster, will interest art history specialists, keen for it to regain its ancient lustre © intoHistory
And on the subject of bells, the timbre of those in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore can often been heard (except at night). There is a wonderful legend about them: your hosts Ercole or Andrea will be delighted to tell you about it.
It was when Ercole, the owner of the third and fourth floor of the building, decided to convert the nuns’ old quarters into bedrooms for his guest house, that he discovered the old ceilings of the 17th century, hidden under plasterboard. The superintendant of Monuments and Sites (The Italian Minister for cultural heritage), had no trouble persuading him to make a feature of this cultural heritage. So it was decided to highlight all the historical traces in these old rooms with their wooden doors, early 20th century cement tiles and structured glass (bas-reliefs). Ercole also gave a personal touch to each room – quite simple but in very good taste – using old family photos, with a powerful reminiscence of «Don Camillo» adding a delightful little creative touch.
The venerable ceilings of the rooms, decorated with closing-fitting beams and covered with wooden floorboards or flat tiles, are the features which appeal most to visitors © intoHistory
During your stay at the Blue Hostel, you will notice that the rooms on the third floor are higher than those on the fourth floor (the novices’ floor?), but they are just as comfortable. In terms of atmosphere, it is a little cosier on the upper floor… While the suite has a very fine view of the old church of St. Anthony, the rooms at the back are a little quieter. The choice is yours! Finally, please note that breakfast is not included in the room rate, but there are plenty of little cafes around the basilica which you can try.
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