The Eternal City of Rome
Part 2 of 3 A Classic Roman Holiday
It was late spring 2018 when I touched down at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Having been many years since I had visited Italy, an echo of nostalgia waved over me from having passed through this airport on many family holidays in my youth. Even though these days Rome Fiumicino has the underwhelming homogenized sameness as all airports worldwide.
With the vague familiarity of the airport, I recalled the first time I visited as a 10-year-old child in the 1970s, my super stylish uncle (Zio in Italian) picking us up at the airport, he was dressed in the most elegant clothes, complete with a man bag, we piled into his tiny groovy 500 Fiat car & he zipped us to his glamourous city apartment in Rome. My Zio creatively & expertly navigating the infamous crazy Italian traffic, giving us an exhilarating, bordering on terrifying experience!
Unsplashed photo by Claudio Hischberger
Now back to this trip, the driver took me towards Rome’s historical centre. My hotel was near the famous Spanish Steps, the driver was so stressed getting to the location as it’s difficult for vehicles to get through the small streets & chaotic traffic! Looking out the window I realized we were at the Villa Borghese Gardens. I remembered the beautiful historic buildings & palazzos as we passed the park. Suddenly I noticed out the window we were at the Trinita Dei Monti, the Church at the top of the Spanish Steps behind the Villa Borghese! I said to the stressed driver “It’s ok, drop me here - I know exactly where I am!” It was the gorgeous panoramic lookout at the top of the Spanish Steps I use to go to every day many summers ago to hang out with friends on the steps.
I felt like I was in my own Roman Holiday movie, much like the Audrey Hepburn classic I watched on the flight coming in. It was so exciting to be back in Rome. I skipped down the cobblestone street, down past the Spanish Steps hearing the clip clop of my court shoes as I trotted towards my hotel with suitcases in hand. It was just like I woke up into a beautiful dream, except it was real! On this balmy spring afternoon, I made my way past the rustic restaurants in the laneway, past the beautiful boutiques with sublime merchandise of high-end fashion, shoes, bags, jewellery & shimmering trinkets in the windows. Everything I wanted & nothing I could afford!
Known as the Eternal City of Rome & built on seven hills. There is a lot to cover if you plan to stay only a few days in this gorgeous historic city. For a little background about the fascinating ruins left in the seven hills of “La Città Eterna” inhabited first by the Etruscans & the Roman Empire you might like to check out my blog “The Eternal City of Rome Part 1 where it all began”.
I recommend there’s a huge advantage of staying in the historic centre. Once settled into my hotel, I find it easy to set off with a map in hand. I always find it a good idea to have an orientation landmark & card of how to get back to the hotel! The squares & piazzas of Rome are accessible by foot & it’s an easy city to navigate around. However, if I get tired, it’s always a good option to take a bus or metro - Roman public transport is simple to use. Tickets need to be pre purchased from a tobacconist, newsstand, vending machine or station.
So, let’s discover what is revealed in the treasured sights, relics, buildings & piazzas of Rome from the Roman Empire, medieval, renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Neoclassical & Modernist eras.
These are my favourite Seven Classic Roman Holiday places to visit:
Photo from Unsplashed by Mathilde Ro
Villa Borghese is Rome’s largest public park, with six kilometres of the loveliest old trees & charming paths, with the entrances from the Viale dell’Obelisco, Porta Pinciana, Piazzale Flaminio & minor entrances too. The park was created by Cardinal Caffarelli Borghese in the early 17th century, completed by the architects Asprucci & painter Unterberger, the work continued by Luigi Canina into the 19th century.
This was finally donated to the city of Rome by Umberto I, the King of Italy. There are many graceful historic buildings, museums, palazzos, ancient temples & fountains all within the gardens including The Temple of Aesculapius, The Casino Borghese, Museo & Galleria Borghese. I spent many a summers day in the cool shade of the magnificent trees & piazzas of this beautiful park. Featured in the 1953 movie “It Happened in the Park” & 2010 in “Eat Pray Love”.
The Via Veneto
Photo from WIX media
The Via Veneto is an elegant street near Villa Borghese. It had its heyday in the 1950s & 60s when the Hollywood movie stars & the Jet set visited the Via Veneto. Stars including Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Elizabeth Taylor, Anita Ekberg, Tennessee Williams & Coco Chanel would frequent the elegant street, as they loved the glittering five-star hotels, Italian high-end boutiques, restaurants, bars & cafes. It was the glamorous “in” place to be, everyone who was someone wanted to be there & be seen. There was glamour, gossip & scandal! Careers could be made or broken by one shot by the paparazzi! Today it’s possible to still visit the iconic “Harry’s Bar” or “Caffe Doney” where it was said Frank Sinatra surprised bar goers playing the piano. The Via Veneto featured in the Federico Fellini 1960 movie “La Dolce Vita”.
The Spanish Steps
Photo from Unsplashed by Daniel Basso
The Spanish Steps welcome millions of tourists every year. There are 135 gradual travertine stairs on 12 ramps. The steps fan out covering 270 meters with the iconic Trinita Dei Monti Church that was built in 1503 is situated at the top of the steps. The façade of the square was designed in 1644 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. At the centre of the square is the gorgeous Barcaccia Fountain, designed by Pietro Bernini the father of the most important Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. I just love that this piazza is such a Bernini family affair! The Spanish Steps have been immortalised in many movies including “Roman Holiday” in 1953.
Image from Unsplashed by Marialaura Gionfriddo
Piazza Navona is the epitome of Roman Baroque style & elegance with the centre piece the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers built in1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini representing the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile & the Rio de la Plata Rivers. The square has the most delightful ambience as its surrounded by restaurants, cafes, bars & gelaterias. Piazza Navona is an arena style that was founded in 86AD, originally it was an area for equestrian & sports events.
In the 1500s it was denoted as a public space & Bernini’s genius architecture transformed the piazza into the fine Roman Baroque square we know today. I have such wonderful memories of this Piazza being a colourful fun place to spend an afternoon. Many years ago, as an au pair I very much enjoyed taking the little boy I looked after for gelato, buying him a balloon & small souvenirs. He loved to spend hours running after the pigeons in the square with a bright balloon in hand! There are artists who will sell lovely paintings & sketches who will create you an amazing likeness portraits or funny caricature. The elegant square featured in the 1999 movie “The Talented Mr Ripley” & the 2009 movie “Angels & Demons”.
Unsplashed photo by Iga Palacz
Trastevere, meaning over the river is a famously bohemian area proudly celebrating its working-class roots with charming cobble stones & colourful buildings. Here you will see iconic balconies full of planter boxes, brimming with ivy & colourful geranium. Known for traditional trattorias, funky artisan shops, craft beer pubs, wine bars & music. Trastevere was featured in the 2010 movie “Eat Pray Love”
Photo from Unsplashed by Davide Venole
The Campidoglio is built on Rome’s most sacred of hills, the Capitoline Hill is the smallest hill of Rome, it was the centre of religious & political power in Ancient Rome. Pope Sixus IV in 1417 wanted to bring an end to the pillaging of historic artefacts so he commissioned the construction of the Capitoline Museums to house important ancient relics. Then Piazza del Campidoglio was redesigned by Michelangelo who was commissioned by Pope Paul III in 1536 as a way of significantly making a cohesive site to draw together the important elements of the ancient site. The genius of Michelangelo dovetailed all the new & old elements make this an architectural triumph. I love the view of Ancient & classical Rome from the top of this palazzo. The Capitoline Museums featured in the 1999 movie “The Talented Mr Ripley”.
Photo from Unsplashed by Michele Bitetto
Trevi Fountain in Piazza di Trevi is where a multitude of visitor’s flock every year to marvel at the fountains that are both a sculptural & architectural masterpiece. This piazza is a creation of the talented duo Pietro da Cortona & Gian Lorenzo Bernini built in 1762 with the Corinthian columns making an elegant backdrop for the dramatic sculpture of Neptune’s horse drawn chariot out of the sea! The massive baroque façade & fountain dwarf the tiny square adding to the drama, this is easily the most beloved sight of Rome. It’s fabled to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain & you’ll always return to Rome! The fountain was the subject of the 1954 movie “Three Coins in the Fountain”, “Roman Holiday” in 1953 & immortalised in the Fellini movie “La Dolce Vita” in 1960.
For more about Rome you might like to check out my blog “The Eternal City of Rome Part 1 where it all began” & Part “3 celebrating Saints, Reformers & Heroes”
Reflection Summary: Rome was not built in a day; indeed, it has taken over two millenniums to build & has become a perennially favourite city of all time, full of history, legend, grandeur & artistic elegance! Rome through the ages teaches us by taking the insights & building on the legacy of past eras, then bringing new vision, energy, passion & excellence. It is possible to build a remarkable Eternal city for all the generations to live, visit & enjoy “La Dolce Vita”!