The enchantment of the Eternal City is sure to capture the heart of every visitor and leave them spell-bound at the contrast and yet perfect blending of a modern city side by side with the enduring monuments of its ancient counterpart.
For here surely, is the cradle of Western civilisation, founded about 743 BC, which has seen the rule of many kings, emperors and Popes up to the signing of the Treaty of Conciliation in 1929 – which harmonised Church and State — and to the establishment of the new Republic of Italy in 1946.
We may gaze at the Colosseum constructed between 72 and 80 BC and marvel at the architectural foresight of the Roman Emperors, then continue down the Avenue of Imperial Forums — where many pages of history have unfolded — to the Piazza Venezia, dominated by the gigantic monument to Victor Emanuel II, the statue of which alone took twenty years to complete.
Many will sigh in wonder when standing in St. Peter’s Square and seeing for the first time the magnificent Basilica dominated by the immense Dome of Michelangelo. We shall all admire the picturesque costumes of the Swiss Guard and glance towards the Papal Chambers in the hope, if we are there about midday, that the Pope may appear for the Blessing.
Passing down the Via della Conciliazione we come upon the massive fortress of Castel S. Angelo with its beautiful bridge built by Hadrian in 134 and one of the oldest in the city.
We are sure to be delighted as we look towards the unique Spanish Steps rising to the Church of SS. Trinita dei Monti. Then we must go to the Church of St. Peter-in-Chains, marvel at Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses, visit the Basilica of St. Mary Major and make an all too brief tour of the treasures in the Vatican Museum. Make time to drive through the Borghese Park, see the Foro Italico and go to Tivoli to watch the playing of nearly 400 fountains in the Gardens of Villa D’Este and to visit Hadrian’s Villa. Then there are the delightful Castelli Romani and the Alban Hill towns, but at least we must…
Do as the Romans do
…And eat (and, of course, drink!) in the intimate atmosphere of a typical Italian ristorante or a smaller trattoria. Perhaps we may even find time for an aperitif in the sun at a pavement cafe on Via Veneto and go to the Opera at Caracalla or to a night club after touring the city, beautifully transformed at night by its floodlit fountains and monuments. But whatever has impressed us most in this city of romantic past and bustling modern life one thing is certain; we shall leave all too soon and echo in our hearts the words of Longfellow:
“There may be other cities that please us for a while, but Rome alone completely satisfies”
And we shall throw our coins in the beautiful Trevi Fountain and long for the day when fortune may bring us back again.
Shopping in Rome
Whatever you have in mind, you will find an abundant assortment in the shops, if only you know where to look. Even if you are only a window-shopper, the Via Condotti, leading out of the Piazza di Spagna, will delight you with its collections of dazzling gems, and fashion from the latest collections. But most of us will probably make more modest purchases of a kind that will help us to take back a breath of Italy in our luggage. There is choice enough of such typically Italian goods, and most of them can be bought within walking distance of the main hotels.
In many ways Rome is a feminine city, and it is simple enough to select gifts to please a woman. In the Via Frattina we shall find pure silk scarves of every hue, and gloves at astonishingly modest prices, both in leather and fabric, tinted to match any ensemble. Also in Via Frattina are shops which specialise in bags and table-mats in woven straw, and beautifully embroidered table-linen. One of Italy’s best-known handicrafts is her stamped and tooled leather work. In the Via Sistina there are several shops dealing in leather boxes and cases of every shape and size, dyed in rich, deep shades, with traditional emblems in gold. Women will find handbags, compacts and vanity-cases in richly decorated leather, and for men there are suits, hats, shirts and belts.
If there is time, you can have exquisite shoes made to measure. And on the Piazza di Spagna you will find costume jewellery, embroidered handkerchiefs and other personal items. Many towns and villages in Italy, like Vietri, near Naples, live by making hand-painted pottery and ceramics. Their vases, jugs and bowls can be bought in many shops on the streets we have mentioned or in the Via Francesco Crispi.
For embroidered silk blouses, or men’s silk shirts and ties, we could go the Via del Tritone or the Via del Corso. And on the beautiful Piazza Navona, where an annual Christmas fair is held in what was once the Circus of the Emperor Domitian, there is an old world coppersmith’s where you can buy charming souvenirs in copper and brass. For those with little time to spare, Rome offers several large department stores. But do remember that Italy’s finest products are often found in tiny specialist shops down narrow, cobbled streets, where the window display may be no more than a yard square.