When I first came to Rome as a tourist six years ago, it seemed so magical to me, so fascinating, enchanting, otherworldly. The Eternal City conquered me on that first date, and I could think of nothing else but my wish to come back and never have to leave it again. Have you ever heard of that famous ‘love at first sight’?
And then, two years later, the revelation came: when the clock stroke midnight and my beautiful fairytale started to crash over my head, I remembered the other famous ‘fear your wishes’. But there was no way to escape: Rome, from the seemingly loving and caring Fairy Godmother, was speedily turning into the worst of stepmothers. And, trust me, the highheels so perfect for a ballroom are no good for running on *sanpietrini.
After almost four years of living and working in Rome I have to admit that I understood at least one thing for sure – the meaning of the Italian expression ‘amore e odio’, i.e. love and hate. I could never imagine it was possible to love and hate something or someone simultaneously. But it is exactly what I feel for Rome and it is very real. Though, the years of my close relationship with this city, both private and business, taught me to accept it for what is it and recognize the best it offers.
My first discovery of Rome was that it is immense. Not just a bunch of touristic attractions you usually find neatly ordered in your guidebook. It is much more than that, especially in terms of square metres. And it is also inhabited by people: common employers and employees, businessmen and housewives, the old and the young, schoolchildren, unemployed and who-knows-doing-what others. So it is quite like any other city in the world, not just an open-air museum of antiques. Rome is not a postcard. And what makes it even more down-to-the-earth is that it lives a common life of a metropolis, or a capital, whichever you prefer. Thus, it has its ups and downs and, undoubtedly, its numerous unresolved issues.
One of the most disturbing of them is the public transport. The farther from the city centre you happen to live or stay, the less chances you have to be on time for an appointment or for work, because city buses are usually either out of order, or lack a driver (as a rule, ill at home, or at least claiming so), or terribly late because of heavy traffic caused by some accident or a landslide, or just a cup of coffee lasting longer than any common sense might suggest. And then there is the underground. A world of its own. The old line B stinks and there seem to be no incense remedy for it. Even during rush hours trains happen to circulate every 11 minutes instead if every 2-3 minutes, as it happens in the rest of the civilized world, thus being overcrowded and suffocating. And it goes without saying that, to protect your mental health from any possible abominable image my description could suggest your imagination, I am not mentioning summer heat and its consequential smells. The more recent A line is full of tourists and their usual companions pickpockets, so you have to stay alert, constantly. The newest C line is not terminated yet but seems to be promising. At least while there’s hope, as they say. But every time they start to dig to extend the metro to connect one of the numerous suburban areas of the city to its centre, they happen to find an antique relict and good intentions keep on paving the road to hell. Rome is one huge archeological site and no metro matters anymore when it comes to a broken vase.
One would think that in such a situation a car would be a solution. Maybe elsewhere, though. Roman roads suffer heavy traffic almost throughout the whole day not mentioning aggressive driving, deep holes, or even craters at times, in asphalt and the easily understandable road rage cases. Once arrived to the destination a car driver would have his suffering extended by the exhausting parking search. If is happens to you even only once to look for parking in Rome you will never ever again be surprised when seeing cars parked in the most bizarre places and positions. Once, after something like forty minutes, your patience is over, no Jaguar can escape from being left almost attached to a trash bin. Moreover, driving in Rome, especially in the city centre, requires profound knowledge of ZTL – the Zones of Limited Traffic, otherwise, be ready to pay some very unpleasant and eventually numerous fines. When in Rome, forget about driving a car and remember to watch out for cars. Would you like to take a cab? Watch out for your driver not to take you on a sightseeing tour before actually driving you to the destination around the corner. Some taxi drivers imagine themselves tour guides and not without a reason. But make sure you can afford such a courtesy.
One more thing: once invited to a party, be ready to dance. Do not get upset to have to take a picture of ‘the Trevi fountain covered by tourists’, or fight your way through the Vatican Museums. It can and most probably will be annoying to see more tourist than Colosseum on your visit to the Eternal City. And what did you expect? Everyone wants to see it! But be sure there are several ways to escape this experience: you either come to Rome off-season (let’s say February or March, for example), or take the so-called night tours (note, though, that usually they are arranged only during the summer season, late in the evening and are so requested that have to be booked in advance), or wake up very–very early and avoid touristic places trying to discover a different Rome, which is, obviously, next to impossible if you are in the Eternal City for the first time.
I’ve learnt many flicks of the magic ward to discover Rome, the one to love and impossible to hate. Here are only some of them for you to taste.
Via Margutta. The origin of the street’s name is very curious. Margutte was a squire of Morgante, one of the main characters of the famous poem by Luigi Pulci bearing the name of the latter, while the street takes that of the former. Via Margutta runs parallel to Via del Babuino, but it is completely different in mood. Home to Italian and foreign artists starting from the 17th century, now it hosts numerous art galleries and interior design boutiques. There’s nothing like a walk long Via Margutta at sunset. And there’s nothing like its unique charm far from the madden shopping crowd. I owe this very special discovery to my dear friend Veronica who knows to tell a special place and is the most generous person I’ve ever met to share her knowledge and give her own heart to you with no restrain.
Ara Pacis Museum. The Ara Pacis Augustae is one of the most important art testimonies of the epochal reign of the Emperor Ottaviano Augusto. In 9 B.C. the altar was dedicated to the Peace established after the campaigns in Gaul and Spain and was erected on the Campo Marzio. The actual museum surrounding and protecting the ancient artefact was conceived by Richard Meier and was inaugurated after the conservative restoration works in 2006. Placed between the mausoleum of the Emperor Augusto and the Tiber river, its modern aspect and ancient inner world hit by their contrast and simultaneous harmony. It is a perfect symbol of Rome that makes the tradition and the history walk at the modern pace. Moreover, the structure often hosts some very seductive exhibitions.
Largo Torre Argentina. This square and its name have a long history. And the archeological site of the square in question is, indeed, all about the history that changed the world. Apart from numerous cats that seem, for some mysterious reason, to adore this place, it hosts the ruins of numerous ancient temples and buildings. Among them – the basement of the Curia of Pompey that used to be an occasional meeting point for Roman senators and is now proved to be the place sadly famous for the brutal assassination of Julius Caesar.
Piramide Cestia. One of the relics that take us back to the Ancient Rome and a period of its history when the admiration for Egypt and its architecture gave life to the fashion of adorning Roman squares with obelisks and erecting pyramids, like the one by the San Paolo Gate erected between 18 and 12 B.C. destined to become a tomb to Gaio Cestio Epulone. In front of the ancient building there is a suggestive monument to the Holocaust victims and the famous Ostiense station from where it is possible to take a train to the Roman seaside. The whereabouts of the site often host second-hand temporary book markets.
Cinema Nuovo Olimpia. This cinema is situated on the Campo Marzio, in Via in Lucina, 16, right behind thebuilding of the Italian Parliament. It is one of those places surrounded by the common life of common Roman citizens who come here to watch films in the original language and have a glass of wine before or after a show in one of the bars and restaurants in adjacent streets.
So if you want to avoid your beautiful carriage to become a pumpkin at the end of the day, try to choose a central location for your Roman accommodation, move around on foot, wake up very early and be curious to discover Rome and not only to tick the visited attractions on your ‘must-see‘ list.
The photo and some of the most outstanding Roman discoveries credits go to Machs Gut ©.
On the days of heavy economic crisis many Italians blame the bureaucracy and corruption of the political institutions of Rome for the disaster they are forced to be living calling the Eternal City ‘la Roma Ladrona‘, Rome the Thief. The words full of resentment. But no matter how unhappy this city can make you at times, especially if you live it in your everyday routine, it always remains a work of art and some very special kind of powerful magic. And everyone who meets Rome falls in love with it. Everyone. I know no exceptions. And every person born in Rome, who lived in Rome or came here at least once in a lifetime hope that this city will always survive any future external or internal barbarian attack the destiny has in store for it. And at the end of the day, even the darkest one, the Cinderella, full of potential and hopes, will become the queen destined to reign.
At a certain time of my life Rome seemed to have become a stepmother to me. But time passes and I cannot but admit: Rome was, is and will always be Mamma Roma for all of us.
*pavement typical for some italian cities made of black basalt stones placed one next to each other.