Rome is the predator of time. Time has the ability to consume all, yet it appears incapable of devouring Rome. Countless individuals yearn to visit this city and partake in a few fleeting moments of eternity. However, both visitors and inhabitants alike find themselves lamenting: a mere week is insufficient to fully explore Rome, or even a lifetime.
“A parlor to traverse with caution”
When people envision Rome, they conjure images of myriad streets, magnificent archaeological sites, innumerable medieval churches, Renaissance architecture and paintings, a multitude of old and new museums, and so forth. Rome itself is a grand museum. Its distinctive conception, natural scenery, illustrious history, artistic creations that epitomize the pinnacle achievements of over two millennia, and the wonders and romance that permeate the air are all encapsulated within its name. The word “Museion” originates from the Greek “μουσε?ον”, which signifies the “Temple of the Muses”. In the 15th century, humanists began utilizing this term to describe a place where art was gathered. Starting from the 16th century, European travelers and scholars embarked on journeys to foreign lands to deepen their knowledge, primarily by visiting urban archaeological sites and museums. In a remarkably short span of time, museums have evolved into symbols of nations, cultural icons, and guardians of history, for they safeguard scattered artistic creations throughout the land and serve as the most fitting havens to protect and appreciate a country’s cultural heritage. And it was in Rome that the world’s first public museum was birthed: the Capitoline Museums.
Alberto Sordi once professed that Rome is a “parlor that one must tread gently through.” Sordi is renowned as one of the greatest embodiments of Italian comedy and the most flawless interpreter of “an ordinary Italian”. He breathed life into over 160 lifelike characters on film and presented them to the public in a satirical and humorous manner, showcasing the true essence of this nation. He possessed a profound love for the city that bore him and remained his home throughout his entire existence. On more than one occasion, he expressed his longing for the Rome that was traversed on foot, rather than the Rome that has been consumed by automobiles and noise. Even today, 15 years after his passing, images of Sordi savoring pasta can be witnessed on the streets, and his former residence has been transformed into a villa museum, a vibrant sanctuary of memories where visitors can sense his enduring presence within the city.
In Rome, numerous cultural artifacts remain immobile, as they are still integral parts of the city or preserved within churches and historical palaces. Thus, Rome stands as a semi-open-air museum. Over the course of centuries, museums have transmuted into cultural sanctuaries within specific metropolises. Although their exhibits are flawless, they lack the power to completely immerse and astonish travelers at any given moment and at any given place. This is precisely what renders Rome unparalleled in a manner that no other city can match. Visitors to Rome typically spend an awe-inspiring day engaging in an endless promenade. Even if they do not enter a single museum, they can still be influenced by art and history. Ancient Rome, Byzantium, and Lombardy can be discovered in every nook and cranny. Sculptures and paintings from various eras, masterpieces spanning from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period, and sculptural remnants tucked away in alleys or corners might bear the marks of Pinturicchio, Philippe Lippi, Michelangelo, Raphael, Cartesian Varazio, Bernini, or Borromini, or one might unexpectedly find themselves standing before contemporary works of art crafted by world-renowned architects.
After beholding the majestic Roman Forum and descending the hill upon which the Capitoline Museum rests, before I could fully absorb the grand accomplishments of Augustus and Constantine, I beheld a peculiar edifice before me: a temple from the Roman Republican era and a church from the post-classical era seamlessly melded together, with towering trees along the banks of the Tiber River serving as their backdrop, standing proudly amidst the ruins, exemplifying the unique beauty of ancient Italian cityscape ruins. One might find themselves sighing: Only Italians possess such remarkable tolerance for all things, conceive innovative ideas, and possess the skill to fashion perfection and achieve beauty.
On every day designated as “free admission” in various museums throughout Rome, new visitor records are set time and time again, primarily due to the active participation of local residents. The most common weekend itinerary for certain Romans is to embark on a leisurely stroll through the city. Tourists revel in ceaseless walks, flocking to every scenic spot and forming lengthy queues before each museum.
To mitigate the urban environmental and traffic challenges, the city of Rome has persistently championed a monthly “Verdant Excursion Day” in recent years, despite formidable skepticism and objections. This initiative involves proscribing private vehicular movement, urging the populace to opt for eco-friendly modes of transportation, thereby attenuating the frenetic tempo of modern life and fostering a heightened appreciation for the city’s historical and cultural tapestry. On this designated day, Rome metamorphoses from a bustling international hub into a serene haven, where the resounding chimes of church bells intermingle with the melodious hum of people on expansive thoroughfares. Laughter resonates, rendering the city an oasis of comfort and romance. In essence, Rome beckons as a realm demanding exploration with boundless reverence, akin to a “sanctuary traversed on tiptoe,” as articulated by Soldi.
Embarking on a global sojourn with Goethe,
Rome transcends its identity as a mere repository of history and culture; it embodies a profound significance. Whether one is an artist, historian, aficionado of culture, or an enthusiast of beauty and romanticism, the allure of residing in Rome is universal. It serves as a nexus for diverse cultures, extending its hospitality to both noble dignitaries and impoverished mendicants. Thus, Rome assumes the mantle of a global vocation. It is not exclusively the domain of the Romans; it belongs equally to those outsiders who yearn for a clearer vision of Rome.
“Rome, the world’s capital! The world’s history converges here. From the moment I set foot in Rome, I discerned a rebirth, a second lease on life.” In 1786, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe embarked on his Italian odyssey, deeming the ensuing two years the apogee of his existence. Who is Goethe? A writer, poet, philosopher, scientist, but above all, an indefatigable voyager impelled by curiosity and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He bequeathed his heart to Rome, awash with affection for the Eternal City.
Within the pages of “A Journey to Italy,” Goethe meticulously chronicled his Roman sojourn, accompanied by his own sketches: the vestiges of ancient Rome enshrouded in foliage, and the languorous sunsets adorning Baroque squares. Unwavering curiosity impelled the German luminary to articulate his observations of Rome and its denizens, providing an intricate portrait of post-Baroque Rome, delineating its myriad edifices and squares with precision. Transporting ourselves back over two centuries, the Colosseum stood as a desolate ruin in solitary isolation, shepherds meandering with their flocks through untended shrubbery. By day, the energetic wanderer traversed the city, while nights were reserved for clandestine trysts with his Roman paramour Faustina, immortalized in “Roman Elegy.” In Rome, Goethe encapsulated life’s beauty, significance, and intensity, resonating with a soul eternally questing for solace.
Eighteenth-century Rome epitomized the serenity and luminous beauty of the classical realm. For Goethe, the value of his Roman sojourn lay in a transformative metamorphosis, from the exuberance of youth to a more serene and classical ideal. “I reside here in a clarity and tranquility I had not envisaged for an extended period. Each day unfolds a novel subject worthy of contemplation, a fresh, grand, intriguing tableau, and an individual who has long inhabited my thoughts and dreams, now corporeal yet forever elusive to the imagination.” What captivated him most was Rome’s “lightness,” akin to the global perception of Rome and Italy: an inexhaustible font of vitality and joy. Italian writer Calvino’s renowned aphorism encapsulates this Italian ethos succinctly, “We ought to exist lightly. Lightness is not superficial but gliding from the summits of all things, divesting ourselves of the boulders within our hearts.”
Furthermore, Goethe frequented the renowned Greek Cafe multiple times. Situated in proximity to the Plaza de España, this cafe was once a refuge and congregation point for artists and writers. Goethe and his compatriots engaged in impassioned discussions of politics and literature amid the cafe’s warm ambiance. Presently ensconced in a bustling luxury thoroughfare, it is besieged by tourists both inside and out. In Rome, Goethe derived immense pleasure from perambulation and perusal; the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine Hill and the hues of Via del Corso, particularly the horse-drawn carriages animating the city on Sundays, left an indelible impression. Goethe frequently roamed the hill, now housing the city hall and the Capitoline Museum, offering panoramic vistas of the entire Roman Forum and the golden-hued sunset.
In 1788, Goethe bid farewell to Rome, leaving behind an abiding sense of nostalgia and remorse. In 1829, during the twilight of his years, he penned, “I can affirm that it was only in Rome that I grasped the true essence of being human. I have never revisited such elevated spiritual heights, nor have I encountered a comparable felicity.” Gratifyingly, Rome reciprocated Goethe’s profound affection. His former residence, situated at 18, the bustling Via del Corso, has been transformed into a museum, while a majestic commemorative sculpture graces the villa in Borghese. Notably, not far from the Goethe Museum in Piazza di Spagna, one finds the former residence museums of the British Romantic poets Keats and Shelley. They, too, selected the Eternal City as their eternal resting place, perpetually entwined in the city’s space and time.
Romance and splendor in the vicinity,
Rome, a verdant city conducive to leisurely strolls, unfolds without mountains, forests, or lakes, but rather hills, monuments, and fountains. Villa Borghese, an expansive park on the periphery of the ancient city center, houses the renowned Borghese Gallery, a bio-park, a zoo, and extensive green expanses with fountains. En route from Trastevere to the Janiculum Mountains, one might chance upon the Roman Botanical Gardens, Villa Schiaara, and the splendid Villa Pafili. Villa Ada to the north exudes a Nordic ambiance, while Appia Park and Villa Acquadotti Park to the south offer picturesque promenades. In essence, Rome beckons as a city that avid pedestrians shall never exhaust. No one can proudly assert, “I have traversed every inch of Rome.”
Rome, tailored for pedestrians, necessitates comfortable footwear. Dubbed the “City of Seven Hills,” Rome entails traversing one undulating terrain after another, a feat that can be rather fatiguing. Unlike other metropolises, Rome’s thoroughfares are paved with palm-sized gravel, resulting in perpetually uneven surfaces. Consequently, Roman women eschew stilettos. Many visitors to Rome, caught unawares, return to their lodgings on the initial night with aching muscles and blistered feet, akin to pilgrims enduring tribulations to reach Rome. Getting lost in Rome is inconceivable; its labyrinthine streets and alleys, evolving over millennia, confound logic. Thus, traversing any unfamiliar alley may unexpectedly unveil iconic landmarks such as the Trevi Fountain or Piazza Navona.
The capital of Italy, with its picturesque sunsets, majestic vistas, and architectural marvels, captivates the purest sentiments and evokes a profound admiration for existence. Rome offers an abundance of locales where one can forge indelible memories throughout the year. Behold the Tiber River from the Sisto Bridge, immerse yourself in artistic masterpieces in the Vatican Museums, cast coins into the Trevi Fountain, and meander through the nocturnal splendor of Rome, which resembles a movie set. Much like the melancholic and bewildered Marcello Mastroianni in “La Dolce Vita,” and akin to Jep in the same film, who is ceaselessly seeking and perpetually lost. The film’s most iconic scene depicts intellectuals adorned in suits strolling through Rome late at night, traversing between the classical and the contemporary, the sacred and the profane, the beautiful and the grotesque, prompting the audience to realize that life is far from saccharine, and Rome imbues absolute beauty.
The appellation of Trastevere derives from the Latin term “TransTiberim,” meaning “beyond the Tiber River.” Situated on the western bank, this district lies outside the ancient Roman city. Characterized by its labyrinthine alleys, this vibrant neighborhood stands as one of Rome’s most vivid, and its inhabitants have long prided themselves on being more “Roman” than those residing in other districts.
Moreover, Rome boasts breathtaking sunsets. Witnessing the sky gradually blush with hues of pink and orange, the sun leisurely descending beyond the horizon, while the Vatican dome begins to shimmer in the sunlight, offers an ineffably enchanting experience that transcends temporal dimensions. On an August evening, saunter along the Tiber, partake in an aperitif in Trastevere, savor a refreshing juice at Campo de’ Fiori, relish a sophisticated dinner in the shadow of the Colosseum, and enter the hallowed Rome of Pasolini; behold the Dome of San Pietro from the Orangery atop the Aventine Hill, rediscover the grandeur of Sorrentino and Neorealism, following in the footsteps of great cinematic works; nestled beside pale yellow edifices, concealed amidst the cool shade of marble columns and amidst flourishing wisteria, one can often find languid felines; on nights when the scent of Trachelas flowers permeates the air, one may partake in an authentic dish of egg and cheese pasta in the Testaccio district, or indulge in handmade gelato at any esteemed establishment.
During springtime, various squares in Rome are adorned with resplendent pink azaleas, exuding a captivating ambiance. Throughout the year, street vendors offer roses to amorous couples. Furthermore, the “Mouth of Truth” serves as another testament to Rome’s romantic allure. According to ancient legend, anyone who deceives their beloved will be punished upon placing their hand into this marble visage. This circular sculpture, positioned adjacent to the Church of Santa Maria on the banks of the Tiber, was employed by the protagonist in the 1953 film “Roman Holiday,” featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, to captivate the princess’s heart.
It is also worth mentioning that the establishment of cities has perennially been intertwined with rivers, much like Rome and its maternal river, the Tiber. It is by virtue of this river that the city burgeoned from a humble village into a colossal metropolis during the imperial era, ultimately attaining its status as the global capital it is today. Crossing the Tiber, therefore, engenders a profound sense of sacred ritual, intertwining one’s essence with the annals of Roman history.
For those yearning to experience genuine urban life, away from towering monuments and swarming tourists, a leisurely stroll through Trastevere is an excellent proposition. Trastevere’s name, derived from the Latin “Trans Tiberim,” signifies “Beyond the Tiber River.” This district, situated outside the confines of the ancient Roman city, has thrived for over two millennia, retaining its distinct medieval character to this day. Its distinguishing feature lies in its intricate network of narrow alleyways, where labyrinthine streets converge, confounding navigators yet imbuing the atmosphere with a tranquil charm, rendering it one of Rome’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The inhabitants, who take pride in their Romanness, delight in regaling visitors with the jovial and humorous Roman dialect. After traversing the Tiber River, one’s gaze is immediately greeted by the square named after the illustrious Roman poet Trilussa. Whether by day or night, this square teems with tourists, foreign students, and youthful individuals, who, after a brief interlude of embraces and kisses, venture forth to uncover the secrets of medieval Rome.
Some individuals harbor deep affection for Rome, while others harbor disdain. One notable figure is the Italian writer Fraiano, who once penned, “Being in Rome is to squanderone’s soul.” These contrasting sentiments reflect the multifaceted nature of Rome, a city that can simultaneously captivate and overwhelm. The city’s allure lies in its ability to evoke a wide range of emotions, from awe and wonder to frustration and exhaustion. Rome is a city that demands to be explored, to be experienced, and to be felt. It is a city that rewards those who are willing to delve deeper, to peel back the layers and uncover its hidden treasures.
From the grandeur of the Colosseum to the serenity of the Vatican City, from the bustling streets of the historic center to the peaceful gardens of Villa Borghese, Rome offers a multitude of experiences for every traveler. Its rich history and culture are evident at every turn, from the ancient ruins to the Renaissance palaces, from the Baroque churches to the modern art galleries. The city is a living museum, where the past and the present coexist in harmony.
But Rome is not just a city of monuments and museums. It is a city of life and vitality, where the streets are filled with the sounds of laughter and conversation, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the scent of blooming flowers, where the taste of authentic Italian cuisine lingers on the palate. It is a city that celebrates the simple joys of life, where sitting in a piazza, sipping a cappuccino, and watching the world go by is considered a legitimate pastime.
Rome is a city that defies definition. It is a city of contradictions, where ancient ruins stand next to modern skyscrapers, where tradition coexists with innovation, where chaos meets tranquility. It is a city that can be both overwhelming and comforting, both chaotic and serene. It is a city that can leave you breathless and speechless, yet longing for more.
So, whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, whether you are drawn to its history or its culture, whether you are seeking adventure or relaxation, Rome has something to offer. It is a city that will challenge you, surprise you, and inspire you. It is a city that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.