How can we understand what Rome is today, when no one has been able to understand what the city was before? Some speak of the City of the Caesars; others the Rome of the Popes. But neither really existed. Not outside the neat categorisation of historians and tour guides. Understanding Rome requires living and breathing her atmosphere, wandering off her beaten path.
Uncovering the Rome of yesterday and waking up to the Eternal City of tomorrow.
Any journey starts in the streets. The winding cobbles of Trastevere still radiate a paradoxical ambiance of tradition and cosmopolitanism. Historically, this was an ancient neighbourhood for Rome’s immigrant population. In Rome today, people from all walks of life and every corner of the world amble its shaded alleyways. Exploring during the day; sheltering in its hidden bars by night. Art devotees make their pilgrimages – often to the Villa Farnesina, home to Raphael’s frescoes.
Cross the river at Tiber Island – a healing site since the 3rd century BC – and sojourn in the Jewish Ghetto.
Where else but Rome today could the columns of a 1st century amphitheater stand nonchalantly alongside a Jewish Synagogue? The architecturally baffling Jewish Ghetto is a homely retreat for Rome’s food-lovers. Carciofi alla giudia are the order of the day, accompanied by polpette della nonna (grandmother’s meatballs – familial tradition is sacred here). They energise you for a saunter into the historic centre. And an encounter with its monumental characters.
Pass by the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. These old friends you’ll meet later. Seek out something new and immerse yourself in Rome today.
Rome is a sprawl, but its centre is small. Too many crowds congregate under the shadows of its ancient monuments, especially in summer when Rome’s cobbles start to cook. Take refuge in a sanctuary unknown to tourists. Discover artisan secrets, guarded for generations, in an atelier a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona.
Experience a reception within a royal palace near Via del Corso, passing time in the company of nobility, whose family have held influence in Rome for centuries and will continue for generations to come.
Gaining an appreciation of Rome today means understanding the city’s past and looking into the city’s future – not among the herds of tourists, but with Romans who have lived their entire lives in the Eternal City.
The Gardens of the Villa Borghese spring to life in April – their beauty blooming until late in the year.
Visit Rome today and you can forget she was once nothing but a handful of hilltop villages. A few hundred archaic settlers ready to adapt to survive. The story is familiar: Rome’s villages became a city; the city became a republic; the republic became an empire. And when empire collapsed, the West collapsed with it. Each successive chapter in Rome’s history left a literal and physical. The streets you walk today stand metres above the ancient level, so much so that you forget the greenery and open spaces that once existed.
Rome’s green spaces evoke a kind of pathos – that new life can still spring from a city so old. Few places are more evocative than the Via Appia Antica.
Today and tomorrow stand side by side on the Via Appia. In the shade of Rome’s famous umbrella pines, the Via Appia’s tombs and monuments flourish with life, unkept weeds and wild flowers. This is the Eternal City at its best. Away from the crowds, in the stunning Roman countryside, and on one of the world’s oldest roads. Walking, cycling, or driving down it yourself in one of Italy’s iconic cars all create their own unique memories.
And this is ultimately what Rome is – a city made up of memories woven together by threads of experience. Which has endured for millennia and will continue to endure for millennia to come.