Ancient Rome in four days might sound like a visit too far, but when you have Professor Mary Beard to guide you for one of those days – as well as a host of specially arranged privileged visits – it turns into a unique opportunity to experience the Eternal City. Two groups of Andante guests were privileged enough to have done just that, getting to explore both the obvious and the hidden around Rome.
"There’s just one more little thing I’d like you to see," said our enthusiastic guide as we completed a very special visit to the Vatican Secret Archives. He had been careful to stress that ‘secret’ really meant private, and that Dan Brown made most of it up, but the concrete ‘bunker’ that housed centuries of Vatican papers and the long climb up to the Tower of the Winds with its spectacular view over Rome and the illuminated dome of St. Peter’s had honestly been gripping enough. The "one more little thing" was even more so. Opening the door of a wooden cupboard, there was the threatening letter from Henry VIII to Pope Clement VII, asking for a divorce. Resplendent with its 80-odd seals and famous signatures, this was one of the documents that set off an earthquake and changed the world forever.
That evening we ate dinner in the theatre of Pompey the Great, the restaurant built underground into the buried vaults of the mighty building dating to 50 BC, in whose specially created senate house Julius Caesar was struck down by the conspirators at the foot of Pompey’s statue.