The Sistine Chapel ceiling might be a Michelangelo masterpiece, but it's not the only incredible ceiling in Rome. Many people don't know that Rome is replete with equally stunning ceiling art painted during the apex of the Baroque period -- and that are much less crowded than the Sistine Chapel. These are the ones worth the crick in your neck.
<strong>IL GESU</strong> The Jesuit order was known for their sumptuous churches during the Baroque age, and nowhere is this more apparent than the rich interior of the Il Gesu church. In typical Baroque fashion, the ceiling painting meshes with the architectural decoration, creating optical illusions and making the viewer feel as though they are about the fly into the sky. As a nice touch, the church has even placed a full length mirror on the floor, tilted at the perfect angle to help you view the masterpiece without straining your neck.
<strong>VILLA FARNESIA</strong> You don't have to go to the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican to see a masterpiece by the artist. Trastevere's Villa Farnesina is home to former banker to the Renaissance pope's Agostino Chigi, and he employed the best artists of the day to decorate his suburban home. The space is rarely crowded, which gives great viewing access to the loggia, where Chigi held elaborate banquets. Painted by Raphael, it details the myth of Cupid and Psyche, culminating with a wonderful tableau of gods and goddesses at their wedding banquet. Nature lovers might be interested in the painted foliage, created by an expert in Raphael's workshop, which includes the first painted depiction of maize after being recently discovered in the New World.
<strong>PANTHEON</strong> It may not be painted, but that doesn't make the Pantheon's ceiling any less impressive. A marvel of ancient engineering, the dome’s coffered ceiling helps alleviate weight while giving a pleasing geometric pattern. The stone dome thins as it moves toward the oculus, again allowing for a decrease in weight as the dome moves toward its weakest point. While you may face large crowds within the Pantheon, especially on weekends, it's well worth the effort to see a building that has influenced architects across the globe.
SANTA MARIA IN TRASTEVERE Traces of medieval Rome can be few and far between, but the apse mosaics of Santa Maria in Trastevere are a wonderful example of 12th century craftsmanship. Most people think they need to travel to Ravenna to see incredible Byzantine mosaics, but if you can't manage the trip, Santa Maria in Trastevere's, though completed a few centuries later, will satisfy the urge.
<strong>SAN CARLINO ALLE QUATTRO FONTANE</strong> While his contemporary and rival Bernini, who is responsible for the form of St. Peter's Square, may be more well known, no one can top Borromini for his ingenuity. Completed in the first half of the 17th century, don’t let the clean white interior fool you. Rather than hiring a painter, Borromini decorated the ceiling with complex geometric embellishments. Keep an eye on those shapes, as they actually get smaller as they recede into the dome—Borromini's way of tricking the eye and making the dome seem deeper than it is in reality. <strong>More About Rome: </strong> <a href="http://www.cntraveler.com/daily-traveler/2013/10/rome-best-places-eat-drink-trastevere-pizza-rome-italy?mbid=synd_huffpotravel " target="_hplink">A Chef's Guide to Rome</a> <a href="http://www.cntraveler.com/daily-traveler/2013/09/locals-favorites-restaurants-rome?mbid=synd_huffpotravel" target="_hplink">When in Rome: Eat at the Restaurants the Tourists Don't Know About</a> <a href="http://www.cntraveler.com/daily-traveler/2013/04/what-to-skip-in-rome-tourism-alternatives?mbid=synd_huffpotravel" target="_hplink">Skip the Colosseum. Skip the Vatican, Too</a>
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