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(Credit: Alamy/David Köhler)


Walking Rome in the footsteps of Ennio Morricone


There are few names more synonymous with the sound of cinema than Ennio Morricone. From the surf-infused textures of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly to the lush swells of Cinema Paradiso the Italian composer continually imbued his work with a poignancy that has allowed these films to continue to captivate audiences to this day.

Morricone’s career saw him work with some of the world’s finest directors. But despite his success, he never made the traditional move to the Hollywood Hills, preferring to stay in his native Italy and politely refusing to learn English almost out of principle. “You can see my decision as either a distinctive factor or as a limitation,” he once commented. “I don’t feel it is a limitation.”

Morricone loved Rome, and I like to think it loved him back. The city’s influence on his compositions is rarely spoken about, but it was here that he learned his craft, and if you listen closely, you can hear the city’s immense history humming within his expertly-orchestrated motifs. Or perhaps what you’re hearing isn’t Rome’s history at all, but the city’s unique light – which likely dappled the lacquered surface of Morricone’s piano in his home in the Ara Coeli, located within the boundaries of Rome’s historic centre.

This life-long love of his hometown manifested itself in frequent performances around the city, in which Morricone treated the residents of Rome to selections of his film and concert works. From the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia to the Baths of Caracalla, Morricone bought his music to some of the most ethereal spots in Rome. If you’re willing, I’d like you to join me for a walk around some of these stunning locations.

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Piazza di Santa Maria

Location: Trastevere, 00153 Roma, Italy

Morricone grew up in the neighbourhood of Trastevere, in the centre of Rome, while Italy was still in the grip of Fascism. His father, Mario, was a talented trumpeter and taught his son to read music and play a number of instruments, paying particular attention to Ennio’s trumpet lessons (no surprises there). It was at this time that Morricone shared a classroom with Sergio Leone, with whom Morricone would later work on films such as Once Upon A Time In The West.

Today, Trastevere — and especially the central Piazza di Santa Maria — is still a beautiful as it was when Morricone was a boy. The central square splits off into winding streets filled with clusters of peach-stoned apartments and bohemian joints which cling to the neighbourhood’s ancient foundations. Indeed, this neighbourhood was once the centre of Rome’s important Jewish community, which was based there until the middle ages. The city’s oldest existing synagogue can be found in Trastevere, though it isn’t used much these days, as can the foundations of Julias Ceaser’s garden villa and the Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the oldest churches in Rome.

Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Location: Via Vittoria, 6, 00187 Roma, Italy

At the age of 12, Morricone began pupilage at the prestigious Conservatorio Santa Cecilia, located on Via Dei Greci. He was sent to the conservatoire to study harmony for four years, but completed the course in under six months, going on to study compositions and choral music under Goffredo Petrassi, where he outshined his fellow pupils time after time.

The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia was founded in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V and was regarded as one of Rome was important musical centres, a status furthered by the attendance of a number of important Roman composers, including the likes of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Luca Marenzio. As one of the oldest music schools in the world, walking into the ornate concert hall in the centre of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia feels like stepping into the cradle of western music itself, where, if you’re lucky, you can catch performances by Phillip Glass, Lang Lang, and the Berlin Philharmoniker.

Basilica di Santa Maria

Location: Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, 00153 Roma, Italy

We’re going to retrace our footsteps to the Piazza di Santa Maria now, where this, the most ancient church in Rome, resides. As a boy, Morricone would likely have peered up at the enormous flight of stone steps that lead to the entrance, feeling no small amount of unease at the thought of having to climb them. Well, after making his name, Morricone returned to Basilica di Santa Maria and climbed up those same steps yet again – this time to conduct an orchestra performing a selection of his music.

If you manage – as Morricone did – to make it to the entrance of Basilica di Santa Maria without suffering an aneurysm, you’ll find yourself on the threshold of one of the most sublime sites in Rome. Beyond the modest exterior, the Santa Maria explodes into shades of gold and pale Prussian blues. The interior, from the doorway to the altar and beyond seems almost entirely wreathed in ornate carvings and Renaissance portraits, while the ceiling seems so laden with gold that it’s a wonder that the whole thing hasn’t come crashing down on some unsuspecting huddle of worshippers.

Church of the Gesù

Location: Via degli Astalli, 16, 00186 Roma, Italy

Built between 1568 and 1584, this masterpiece of Roman Baroque architecture was the first Jesuit church to be built in Rome. It also served as the location for one of the most intimate concerts Ennio Morricone held in the city, where he premiered his first-ever mass in 2015. Morricone, who was 86 years old at the time, conducted Rome’s Sinfonietta orchestra throughout the 45-minute piece, while a chorus made up of 100 singers from The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Rome Opera, was directed by Stefano Cucci.

As the audience steeped themselves in the warm pool of dulcet tones dissipating into the concave walls of Church of the Gesù, they would have marvelled at the elaborate ceiling fresco, painted by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, known as Triumph of the Name of Jesus — a piece of art so mesmerising that I defy anyone to gaze into its startling depths without losing themselves in a state of trance for at least half an hour.

Terme di Caracalla

Location: Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Roma, Italy

Ennio Morricone’s final tribute to Rome was to conduct six farewell concerts beyond the bustle of the city centre in the Baths of Caracella, where the 90-year old composer conducted an orchestra playing music from the breadth of his career.

Morricone couldn’t have chosen a more atmospheric location for these final performances. The ruins of the Terme di Caracalla are all that remains of Emperor Caracalla’s vast complex of baths, which as well as giving wealthy residents of Rome in AD 212 the chance to scrub up, also offered numerous libraries and gardens. What these audiences couldn’t see were the subterranean marvels that lie just beneath the surface of this incredible site, the most notable of which is the Mithraeum, which was discovered by Ettore Ghislanzoni in 1912, and once served as a place of worship for followers of Mithra, an Iranian god who gained a wide following in Rome in the second and third centuries AD.