on the River Tiber, between the Apennine Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea, the
'Eternal City' of Rome (Roma) was once the administrative centre of the mighty
Roman Empire, governing a vast region that stretched from Britain to Mesopotamia.
Today, it remains the seat of the Italian government and home to numerous ministerial
offices, but is superseded by Milan, in the industrial north, for business and
finance. The legendary beginnings of Rome are related in the tale of Romulus and
Remus. Princess Rhea Silvia, ravished by Mars, the God of War, gave birth to the
twins and abandoned them to fate. The River Tiber carried them to the Palatine
Hill, where a she-wolf mothered the babes until their discovery by a shepherd.
Romulus later killed Remus, before going on to found Rome in the marshy lowlands
of seven hills. The anniversary of Rome's foundation -21 April 753BC is marked
by a public holiday.|| |
The historians' version is
no less astonishing, and traces the rise of the city from unimportant pastoral
settlement (the earliest remains date from the ninth century BC) to vast empire,
ruled over by a string of emperors from Julius Caesar to Nero. Although Rome's
power has waned, the city remains the essence of European civilisation.Rome saw
a second period of development during the 15th century Renaissance, when the Papacy
took up permanent residence in the city. Ruins dating from Rome's glory days lie
within an area known as Roma Antica (Ancient Rome), and include the monumental
Colosseum, and the Foro Romano (Roman Forum) - a crumbling legacy of pagan temples,
broken marble and triumphal arches. Buildings from the Renaissance period are
concentrated within the centro storico (historic centre), situated between Via
del Corso and the Tevere (River Tiber). Here, a labyrinth of narrow, winding,
cobbled side streets opens out onto magnificent piazzas, presided over by Baroque
churches, regal palaces and exquisite fountains. The romantic Piazza Navona with
Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza di Spagna and the sweeping Spanish
Steps, and the Trevi Fountain immortalised by Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1959),
all lie within walking distance of each other.|
Modern life continues amid this theatre of breath-taking monuments, as thousands
of years of history are animated by more recent innovations: Sophisticated boutiques,
rowdy pizzerias and a merry-go-round of cars, buses and mopeds. Across
the river, to the west, lies the Vatican State, home to the Pope and spiritual
centre of the Roman Catholic Church. South of the Vatican one finds the bohemian
quarter of Trastevere, packed with trattorie and small wine bars, and further
south still, the Testaccio district, renowned for night clubs and live music.Tourism
is a major source of income, and visitors come and go throughout the year. The
city is blessed with a warm Mediterranean climate, making it particularly pleasant
to visit in autumn and spring. In August it is hot and sticky and most of the
locals head for the coast, many shops and bars close for the summer break, and
the streets are strangely empty save for visitors. |
While Rome's cultural life is hampered by the vagaries of political squabbling
and its inhabitants' lack of passion in the arts, there is nonetheless a frisson
to be gained from watching a play seated on the hard, cold stone of an ancient
amphitheatre in starlight.
Rome's one and only official arts centre,
the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Nazionale 194 (tel: (06) 474 5903; website:
www.palaexpo.com), combines cinema with
dance and exhibition space, lecture hall and all-important bar and roof-garden
restaurant - in Rome, everything is a social experience. Those determined to sample
something less conservative should seek out the Centri Sociali - hosting
the most radical concerts, films, theatre and dance events that Rome has to offer.
Tickets are in demand and many are for subscribers only, so it is important
to rush to the box office with cash (not credit card) in hand some days prior
to the performance. Price start at around L30,000. Ticket agencies may save hassle.
Box Office, Via Giulio Cesare 88 (tel: (06) 372 0216), or Orbis,
Piazza Esquilino 37 (tel: (06) 482 7403), provide tickets for concerts, theatre
and sporting events.
Music: Rome has great plans for Renzo Piano's
new auditorium, but these look set to remain plans for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, the classical musical scene bases its reputation on two academies:
the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Accademia Filarmonica.
Rome's principal and most prestigious academy, the Accademia Nazionale
di Santa Cecilia (tel: (06) 6880 1044) stages its own concert or hosts visiting
orchestras at Auditorio Pio, Via della Conciliazione 4, year-round, and
in the beautiful Renaissance courtyard of Villa Giulia, Piazzale di Villa
Giulia 9, in the summer. The Academia Filarmonica performs from mid-October
to mid-May at the Teatro Olimpico, Piazza Gentile da Fabriano, Flaminio
(tel: (06) 326 5991) on Thursday evenings. Rossini and Verdi were once members
of this academy (founded in 1821), that offers a varied programme of chamber music,
opera and contemporary music.
The Teatro dell'Opera di Roma,
Via Beniamino Gigli (tel: (06) 481 601; website: www.opera.roma.it),
dominates the opera scene. The season runs from November to May. The box office
opens two days before each performance.
Free concerts (choral, chamber
and organ recitals) are held in churches - including Sant'Ignazio, San Giovanni
de' Fiorentini, San Giovanni and Santa Maria Maggiore - during the
Theatre: The season runs from October to May. The
city's official troop, the Teatro di Roma, is based at the prestigious
Teatro Argentina, Largo di Torre Argentina 52 (tel: (06) 6880 4601; website:
www.teatrodiroma.net), which hosts lavish
productions directed by renowned directors.
The Teatro Nazionale,
Via del Viminale 51 (tel: (06) 4816 0255), is the permanent home of the Italian
Theatre Board (ETI) which puts on light and fluffy comedies. Musical
comedies are performed at the fashionable Teatro Sistina, Via Sistina 129
(tel: (06) 420 0711). Classical works are performed in the Teatro Valle,
Via del Teatro Valle 23A (tel: (06) 6880 3794), and in the ETI-owned Teatro
Quirino, Via Marco Minghetti 1 (tel: (06) 679 4585), whose varied programme
includes the classics, contemporary work and Commedia dell'Arte. Fringe
theatre is well represented at the Vascello, Via Giacinto Carini 72, Monteverde
(tel: (06) 588 1021).
Best of all are the open-air performances, held
over summer in the lovely park, Giardino degli Aranci, Via di Santa Sabina,
Aventino. Other venues are the Anfiteatro della Quercia del Tasso, Passeggiata
del Gianicolo (tel: (06) 575 0827; website: www.anfiteatroquerciadeltasso.com),
with stunning city views over the city, and the Teatro Romano di Ostia Antica,
the Roman amphitheatre in Ostia Antica. Information and booking numbers are advertised
Dance: The Rome Opera Ballet performs at the
Teatro dell'Opera (see above) where the regular diet of classical ballet
is enriched with guest performances of internationally renowned dancers. The Teatro
Olimpico has a strong dance season, ranging from classical to contemporary.
Tickets for dance productions at the Teatro Argentina are snapped up, so
early booking is advised.
Film: Italy's grand history in film
has been centred in Rome since the Cinecittā (Cinema City), Via Tuscolana
1, was opened by Mussolini in 1937. Scenes from Anthony Minghella's The English
Patient and Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady were filmed in these
studios but Italian cinema has failed to match the flowering of the 1940s, 50s
and 60s. Among the greats are Rossellini's Open City (1946) and Vittorio
De Sica's The Bicycle Thief (1948), depicting a harsh but touching picture
of post-war Rome. Equally popular, but highly romanticised, was Jean Negulesco's
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), centering on the quest for love and
the Trevi Fountain, and Audrey Hepburn's Oscar-winning performance as a besotted
princess in Roman Holiday (1953). However, it is Fellini's films - Roma
(1972) and La Dolce Vita (1959) - that have stamped images of Rome indelibly
on the movie-goer's mind.
Rome is blessed with over 80 cinemas, whose
numbers are increasing all the time. Tickets cost about L12,000; prices are often
reduced for matinee performances. The recently refurbished Pasquino, Piazza
S. Egidio 10, Trastevere (tel: (06) 5833 3310), shows English-language films daily,
as does Quirinetta, Via Minghetti 4 (tel: (06) 679 0012). Films
are shown in their original language on Monday evening at Alcazar, Via
Merry del Val 14 (tel: (06) 588 0099). Azzurro Scipioni, Via degli Scipioni
82 (tel: (06) 3973 7161), shows Italian classics and modern experimental films.
Many cinemas close for the summer but there are numerous open-air showings,
including Cineporto, Parco della Farnesina, close to the Olympic Stadium
(tel: (06) 3600 5556), and Massenzio, which changes venue annually (tel:
(06) 4281 5714; website: www.massenzio.it).
Weekly showings and details of film festivals are set out in Roma C'č.
Cultural events: Each summer, from June through August, Estate
Romana (website: www.estateromana.caltanet.it)
offers a lively schedule of outdoor cultural events around the city. As home to
the Vatican, religious celebrations are important here. The Pope makes an annual
appearance at the Colosseum on Good Friday evening, and delivers Midnight Mass
at St Peter's on Christmas Eve.
There is nothing
like Ovid's Ars Amatoria (Art of Love) for bringing Rome to life, with
its vivid depiction of a trip to the Colosseum, site of flirtation and grandiose
spectacle. Those interested in political intrigue may turn to I Claudius
and Claudius the God (1934) Robert Graves' portrayal of ancient Rome, or
the more measured tones of Gibbon's History and Decline of the Roman Empire.
The dramatic poetry of Virgil's Aeneid, written in 19BC, evokes the glory
of the Roman Empire, blessed and cursed by the Gods.
The Romantics had
a soft spot for Rome. The tragic tale of Beatrice Cenci, beheaded in 1599 outside
Castel Sant'Angelo for plotting to kill the father who had raped her, inspired
Shelley's play The Cenci (1886). Rome, of course, was the place where Keats
breathed his last.