In Rome shops displaying the latest fashion trends, smell of fresh bread and ragù and loud car horns make clear to tourists that they are not only visiting the Italian capital, they are experiencing it.
Walking down Via Ottaviano to Piazza Risorgimento, I’ve always been discouraged to join the queue standing for hours alongside the Vatican Walls, under no matter which weather conditions, and proceeding amazingly slowly towards the longed-for entrance of the Museums. But one day I haphazardly found out that the line-up I’ve never wanted to face didn’t embrace only tourists religiously waiting to admire the Sistine Chapel, but also tourists, as well as locals, as much religiously clamouring for an ice cream in the tiny gelateria “Old Bridge”, which turned out to be one of the finest producers of handmade ice creams in Rome. In all Italy, the ice cream is not simply a passion but, especially from Rome southward, a ritual. During the mild wintertime the ice cream shops are a friendly way to spend your Sunday afternoon, during the hot summer days the gelateria is seen as a blessing, an oasis of life in the desert.
With all the patience I managed to muster, I finally got to the ice cream display. My fantasies over that mouth-watering show of colors I happened to be witnessing were quickly interrupted by a matter-of-fact assistant who brought me back to reality with a hasty: “Che gusti?” That was exactly my point, I just needed a bit more time to make my decision among all those flavors: chocolate or strawberry? Lemon or gianduia? After leaving behind me an increasing queue, I grabbed one of the green benches in Piazza Risorgimento to fully enjoy my choice of pistachio and stracciatella while watching amused the hustle and bustle of this old and ever-green European capital that shows no sign of cooling. As the main city of a country rich in history and culture, in Rome possibly every corner has been theater for some historical event or at least the set of a movie.
Visit Rome to delve into its art and history
Proud collaboration of ancient civilization and modern trends, Rome allows its visitors to swan around where some of the greatest decisions within the Roman Empire were taken. From Piazza Risorgimento I made my way through Via di Porta Angelica to Saint Peter Square, the sacred place that I’ve crossed almost every day during the seven years I spent living in Rome. Now, three years on, I was joining the tourists and staring at the basilica as if it was my first time. Vatican City has been wrapped in a mysterious atmosphere since its creation and today, after Dan Brown’s bestsellers The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, admiring the cathedral symbol of the Catholic papacy inevitably makes you travel with your mind back in time. The basilica lies at the heart of the tiny Vatican City and is surrounded by the wonderful Vatican Gardens visible from the top of the Sistine Chapel, the square and the Vatican Walls and Museums, certainly some of the best places to visit in Rome.
The first thing you notice when you walk through the massive bronze doors is a myriad of tourists whispering in every sort of language and permeated by the characteristic smell of incense. Despite the countless pieces of art that populate the cathedral, the main attraction is Michelangelo’s Pietà, representing the Holy Mary holding her dead son in her arms, symbol of the universal pain that crosses countries, cultures and civilizations. Stunned by the architectural perfection and majesty of the inside of the temple, I had a clear idea why so many writers and filmmakers have been captivated by this symbol of ancestral power only when I entered the crypt underneath the church.
Leaving the cathedral and crossing the square framed by the massive columns, I headed to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, first walking through the wide Via della Conciliazione, leaving Castel Sant’Angelo on my left-hand side and crossing the Tiber. I chose first to turn right and ended up in Piazza Campo de’ Fiori where stands the statue of the philospher Giordano Bruno, in the exact place where he was burnt because considered heretic by the Catholic Inquisition in 1600 a.C. Today Campo de’ Fiori is far from being an usual touristic place and the locals simply love it, making it one of alternative hubs of the city, with pubs and trattorie surrounding the piazza and open until late night. Every morning a colorful open-air market selling all sorts of homemade gastronomic delicacies, gives the casual tourists an idea of the loud and easygoing personality of Rome’s inhabitants.
The smell of regional cheeses, breads and roasted meat captured me in Campo de’ Fiori and didn’t leave me until I reached, on the other side of the main street, Piazza Navona, meeting point for dancers, musicians, mime artists and painters. From Roman Holiday to Talented Mr. Ripley, the wide sunshades of the bars around the piazza have been taken as a benchmark for romance and style by filmmakers and writers of all times. If you are traveling to Rome for the first time, do head to Piazza Navona, still today is symbol of elegance where once a year the biggest names of the Italian fashion industry gather to introduce their new collections. Not only are the works of art in the piazza aesthetically beautiful, but they also enshrine their artists’ personality and temperament. According to the legend, Bernini built the Four Rivers Fountain in the middle of the square with the statue representing the Rio della Plata protecting its face as if scared about the imminent collapse of the church just opposite, masterpiece of his competitor Borromini, and the Nile covering its eyes to spare itself from that unpleasant vision, all in a fierce baroque-styled smear campaign.
Heading east, I wound up in Fontana di Trevi, where the notion of glamour that Italy boasts becomes suddenly clear. Evocative of elegance, power and sensuality, this famous fountain has been the set for the unforgettable scene of Fellini’s Dolce Vita in which Anita Ekberg in her off-the-shoulder black dress dives into the water and invites Marcello Mastroianni to join her. Surrounded by beauty, Italian people have an innate bewitching demeanor. Undoubtedly, Rome’s charm stems from the epic events of the Roman Empire, and strolling from Piazza Venezia all along the Fori Romani I reached what can by all means be considered the soul of the city, its inhabitants and its history. The Colosseum has been silently witnessing some of the most cruel real shows in history, when the gladiator’s life was at the mercy of the emperor’s mood and thumb. Today muscular gladiators much more gleefully hang about at the entrance of the amphitheater, posing for touristic photos.
I don’t think I’ve ever met people as proud and conscious of their past as the Romans are. From the small trattorie to the souvenir shops, you would imagine anytime to bump into some white togas burst into the bustling modern life to choose their favorite wine for a couple of bronze sestercii.