The "City Secrets" series offers a unique kind of guidebook. Rather than being written by one author, these books consist of entries by many authors, who offer their observations not only on famous monuments but also on the overlooked or unknown places and experiences found in major cities. The volume on Rome, revised and updated in 2011, is a fascinating compilation that reveals many of Rome's treasures not included in conventional travel guides.
This isn't a book for the first-time visitor to Rome. There are no illustrations--just some maps of neighborhoods. This is a volume for Rome-lovers, people who already know something of the city and who are eager to learn more. Although the book covers all the great monuments of Rome, the emphasis is on unusual or overlooked aspects of those monuments, and on places you'd never find on your own. There are also restaurant recommendations, none of which are "tourist traps," and although a few entries suggest interesting, unusual shops, shopping isn't a major focus here: art and architecture is.
The editor divided the book into 12 sections, corresponding to 11 regions of the city, plus a final chapter on the outskirts and a few sites short distances outside of Rome. In each, you'll find entries varying in length from barely more than a sentence up to 3 or 4 pages, but the length isn't dependent on the importance or popularity of the monument. Instead, it depends on the individual insights and suggestions of the author of each entry. A few are a bit too academic, like this one: "Considered the shifting point from Renaissance to Baroque, Campidoglio-- Michelangelo's landscape intervention--is a geometric organization of topography that articulates exterior space with the same precision as an interior condition." Huh??? But most entries are excellent, original and sometimes delightful, like this description of Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X, in the Galleria Doria Pamphili: "Innocent X was anything but. ... He looks like he's about to exhale noxious fumes, or pull out a dagger and knife you."
Beyond major monuments, entries bring to the reader's attention all sorts of wonderful things: places to go at sunset to enjoy incomparable views of the Eternal City; places for picnics; little-known museums and archaeological sites; churches you've passed dozens of times without appreciating their facades or being aware of the treasures inside; translations of Latin inscriptions; which churches offer free concerts; the hours when certain places that always seem to be closed are actually open, and so on and on.
At the beginning there's a page listing useful websites, a particularly valuable inclusion, since it notes the sites where it's possible to buy tickets in advance to always-crowded places like the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums, thus avoiding those dreaded, endless lines.
This book shows that there's always something new to learn about Rome, even if you know the city well. As the saying goes: "Rome, a lifetime is not enough."