San Carlino

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane snapped at the lights

On my way home from yesterday afternoon’s tour of the Galleria Borghese (it’s glorious, go!), I scootered up via delle Quattro Fontane and past the Palazzo Barberini to the tight junction with via del Quirinale, to the only traffic light I always hope will be red.

Strung across the narrow crossroads, even after all these years in Rome (13, since you ask) it still seems wonderfully exotic and profoundly un-English. However it isn’t merely an enthusiasm for the subtle differences in street furniture between European capitals which makes me happy to add two minutes to my journey. The red light offers a splendid view of Francesco Borromini’s great masterpiece, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

When I started this blog I wrote a post on this church. But I hadn’t really got an idea of what I wanted the blog to be like and it came out wrong; too much turgid, fact-laden undergraduate essay and not enough magic. Because the building is magic: its grimy tight facade looming over the narrow street is Vitruvius seen through a hall of mirrors, riddled with anxious undulation.

If you manage to negotiate the pavement-less road, the seemingly incomprehensible phasing of those exotic traffic lights, and its perennially unreliable opening hours, you will be rewarded with a crisp white interior, the apparent simplicity of which belies a dizzying and infinite interplay of curves and deliberate solecisms of the classical which will send you out reeling back onto the street, and back down to earth with a bump.

This church is included in my “Bernini, Borromini, and the spirit of the Baroque” tour.


San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (yes, it has a website, but the last entry on the “Novit√†” page refers to the protocol for ordering a 2003 calendar. Do with this information what you will).

via del Quirinale 23

Opening hours: Mon РFri 10-1, 3 Р6; Sat 10-1; Sun 12-1. Probably.