This elegant four-star, four-story boutique hotel, Capo d’Africa, opened in 2003 in a turn-of-the-20th-century building once a school. It is located on a short, quiet street of the same name in the heart of Imperial and medieval Rome, where pagan blends into early Christian. From here it is a short walk to the Colosseum and the Domus Aurea or Nero’s Golden House.
Around the corner is the Irish Dominican church, San Clemente, with its three layers of history: (1) at street level, the 12th-century church with its breath-taking mosaic apse above (2) a 4th-century church and (3) still farther below, ancient Roman buildings, including a Temple of Mithras. (Mithraism, an all-male fertility cult imported from Persia in the 1st century BC, was a rival to Christianity during Imperial Rome). Up the street a block away, the Via San Giovanni in Laterano, are several important sites: one of Rome’s four main Basilicas, St. John in Lateran, the cathedral of Rome; the Scala Santa or Holy Staircase (its 28 steps are said to be those Christ ascended in Pontius’s Pilate’s house during his trial and, in the early 300s, brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine); and the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies) built by Pope Nicholas III in 1278 as the Pope’s private chapel (it contains many relics, the most precious being an image of Jesus — the Acheiropoeton, or “picture painted without hands” — said to be the work of St. Luke, assisted by an angel).
Closest of all to the hotel, looming next door, is the fortified convent of Santi Quattro Coronati (Four Crowned Saints) erected in the 4th century, which gets its name from the four Christian soldiers martyred here after they refused to worship a pagan god. For centuries it was the bastion of the Pope’s residence, the Lateran Palace, next door to the Basilica. The convent’s star feature is the Chapel of St. Sylvester — its remarkable frescoes (dating from 1246 A.D.) recount the story of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity by Pope Sylvester I (reigned 314-35).
So it is no wonder that Paolo Sorrentino chose this neighborhood for the apartment of Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of his film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), which won the Oscar for 2014’s Best Foreign Film!
The hotel’s roof-top bar “La Terrazza” and recently-opened restaurant, appropriately named Bistrot L’Attico, from 7 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday offer panoramic views (especially at sunset) of the imposing convent and of the Colosseum, as well as modernized Roman seasonal classics like artichokes, homemade ravioli cacio e pepe all’Amatriciana (ravioli filled with pecorino cheese and black pepper Amatrice-style, which means bacon and tomato sauce), and rivistazione del baccalà alla trasteverina (a restyling of fried codfish on a bed of creamed potatoes with a sweet-and-sour sauce of red onions, raisins, and pine nuts), cooked-to-order by the young Roman-born and Roman-trained chef Davide Lombardi, who previously worked at temples of Roman gastronomy like Convivio Troiani and Antica Pesa in Trastevere, a favorite of Laura Bush. Other Lombardi specialties are his homemade spaghetti with anchovies and black truffles, and his homemade homage to “mari e monti” (“sea and mountains”) pappardella ripiena con funghi porcini alla pescatora (pappardelle filled with wild mushrooms and topped with a fish sauce). Leave space for Lombardi’s unforgettable desserts: Tiramisu Dec, Crumble with green apples, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream, and his chocolate, ricotta cheese and candied pear tart.
The hotel’s comfortable 65 rooms, all equipped with free wi-fi and decorated with works by contemporary Roman artists and in tones of ochre, sand, and saffron, are priced at c. 220 euro for a standard double, breakfast included. There’s also a roof-top studio suite with its own private terrace overlooking the Colosseum. Guests can also take advantage of the three elegant conference rooms each with a capacity of 60 people, drinks and snacks all day at the lobby’s “Centrum Bar,” a garage, and a well-equipped gym. From the Colosseum, jump on buses no. 87 or 80 to Piazza Venezia whence nos. 62, 64, or 916 take you to St. Peter’s. Hotel Capo d’Africa is a partner hotel of the Visconti Palace at Via Federico Cesi 37, off Piazza Cavour near the Vatican, but that’s for another “Food For Thought.”