In the Eternal City, Walk in a Roman's Sandals

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By Giovanna Dell'Orto
Associated Press
Sunday, October 5, 2008

The light splashes liquid gold over marble columns in the Roman Forum and the faded facades of baroque palaces in the distance. Nearby, a heated dialogue resonates in the hearty Roman intonation that infuses everyday interactions with playful theatricality.

I am standing in the center of Rome, amid its absurd profusion of gorgeous monuments, historic sites, religious wonders -- and everyday contemporary life.

A man on a scooter drops off dry cleaning next to a 1,900-year-old temple. A woman in extravagantly high heels heads to her office, housed in 17th-century papal palaces.

This is why Rome, majestic and down-to-earth, has a hold on me like no other city. Every turn down a cobblestone street reveals yet another magnificent piece of art and history that feels decadently ignored and singularly mine.

Trying to get in all the sights is virtually impossible; I didn't make it even when I lived here a few years ago for six months. Now that I barely manage a weekend a year, I have developed my own walking itinerary of favorite spots. Here is my personal pick of what to see in Rome if you have only two days. Best of all, every site listed here is free, except for the Vatican Museums (about $20, free the last Sunday of the month, http://www.vatican.va) and the Roman Forum, which includes the Colosseum (about $16, http://www.romaturismo.it).

· Caput Mundi: Let's start in the morning at Piazza Venezia, the logistical center of the metropolis that a couple of millennia ago called itself, and for centuries indeed was, caput mundi, the "head of the world."

Climb the grand ramp up the Capitoline Hill to Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, then walk to the terraces on either side of Rome's town hall. The heart of the Roman Republic and Empire lies in ruins at your feet, a sweeping vista of muscularly carved arches, columns, statues and basilicas.

Imagine yourself in the power center of the ancient world by walking down the length of the Roman Forum along the Via Sacra, the sacred way. I'm oddly, movingly reminded of this city's breathing history every time I see the faded wreath of fabric flowers lying in front of the Temple of Caesar at the reputed site where his assassinated body was cremated. I circle around the Colosseum, inaugurated in A.D. 80 before a crowd of about 50,000 spectators and for 300 years the site of bloody battles between gladiators and beasts. Then I head back along Via dei Fori Imperiali.

On the right are the Imperial Forums, built as the Roman Forum started to be too tight for the growing empire. The most impressive ruins are at the end, as you reach back toward Piazza Venezia. The Mercati Traianei were Rome's mall, with some 150 shops along several floors, and just past them rises the 98-foot Colonna Traiana, a column whose spiraling bas-reliefs depicting Rome's campaigns against eastern European tribes are a masterpiece of Roman sculpture.

I always stop for lunch just across Piazza Venezia, down Via del Gesu. When I want to sit down to such classics as saltimbocca (thin veal slices rolled with prosciutto and sage), I head to Enoteca Corsi (Via del Gesu 87).

If I feel compelled to keep going, I step into any of the compact, family-run grocery stores, such as the Tiberi brothers', a couple of doors down from the enoteca (Italian for wine shop), for a slice of pizza bianca -- chewy, crusty pizza dough -- filled with arugula, mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto crudo.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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