On The Road Travel Essays

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It can be very difficult to encapsulate Rome in just a few sentences because it is so big and multi-faceted, and has been so extraordinarily important over a continuous period of 2,500 years. It is certainly the only city in the western world that one can say this about. As you walk or drive about the city the impression is of fabulous confusion: of local workers and hordes of tourists; of the maniacal Roman traffic peppered with death-defying Vespas and of the poor traffic policeman in the Piazza Venezia with the worst job in the world; the jumble of renaissance palaces, famous baroque churches, Roman ruins and modern offices all sitting side by side. There are winding medieval streets, old Roman roads cutting straight as an arrow through the center of town, grandiose Fascist avenues built by Mussolini, all of them inadequate to serve the modern city.

When Rome became the capital of Italy after unification in 1870, it had a population of about 200,000. Now it is over 3,000,000. It is extraordinary that the city manages to cope at all. At its best, Rome can feel magical. As well as being in the capital and biggest city of Italy, you are in the cradle of Christianity and the center of what was once the greatest empire in the world. Famed as the eternal city; the city of seven hills; the city of the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, of St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps. In the 18th and 19th centuries, arrival in Rome was the climax and culmination of the Grand Tour. It still is.


Ancient Rome  Its origins are legendary. Romulus and Remus, abandoned as babies in the river Tiber, were brought up by a wolf. As boys they leave their place of upbringing in search of where they were born. With the help of oracles they come to the Palatine hill and there Romulus marks out with a plough the sacred site of their birthplace. Remus steps over the line and in doing so violates the sanctity of the area. Immediately he is killed by his brother. On this spot Romulus then vows to build a city. The year is 753 BC, the legendary date of the foundation of Rome.

Over the next thousand years, until the heart of the Empire moved to Constantinople, the city of Romulus gradually came to dominate the world.

Kings: 753-510 BC  Not an interesting period and largely shrouded in legend.

Republic: 509-27 BC  This was the age of the greatest internal and external development, when Rome establishes the laws, constitution and military might that underlie its growing power.

Empire: 27 BC-330 AD  The time when Rome leaves its profound and permanent mark on the world.

The period of transition from Republic to Empire is the period that still fires the imagination. This is the age of Julius Caesar and his Gallic Wars; of crossing the Rubicon in 48 BC to declare war on Pompeii; of Caesar's murder at the hands of Brutus four years later on the Ides of March. It is the age of Antony and Cleopatra and their defeat by Octavian at the battle of Actium in 31 BC; Octavian becomes Augustus and the empire is born. (By this time the city's population was maybe 750,000 inhabitants). After Augustus comes a splendid succession of famous or rather infamous names: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero...

All these emperors, and later generations in equal number, left their visible mark on the city of Rome and, of course, all over the vast Roman world, in the form of what are today evocative and spectacular ruins. Their greater legacy, in terms of their impact on the subsequent history of the world, is inestimable.

The Rome of the Popes  When Constantine, in 330 AD, moved the power base of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople, Rome began its gradual decline. In the next century the city was attacked and sacked by invading barbarian tribes. Little by little the Western Empire disappeared. When the Goths were finally thrown out of Rome, Constantinople remained in theoretical charge. In practical politics, however, the effective leader, defender and sustainer of the city was the Pope. In 756 his position was made official by a notorious forged document called the Donation of Constantine. From then on until the unification of Italy in 1870, the Pope, as well as being Christ's vicar on earth, was the ruler of Rome.

The history of Rome under the Popes is complicated and superfluous for understanding the city. It is a story that alternates between corruption and reform, war and peace, stability and uncertainty, power and weakness. Artistically there are two golden ages: the 16th century high renaissance; the age of Michelangelo, Raphael and Bramante; and then later, after the devastation of the wars of religion, the age of the baroque (Bernini and Borromini) which has left the profoundest mark on Rome's modern appearance.

In 1870, Vittorio Emmanuele II, marched into Rome and proclaimed it the capital of the new kingdom of Italy. The Pope was stripped of all his political power. Outraged, he excommunicated all those responsible and locked himself in the Vatican, declaring himself a prisoner. Only in 1929 was the Roman Question resolved when Pope Pius XI and Mussolini signed a treaty allowing the Pope to rule over the tiny Vatical State, politically independent from the rest of Italy. From then on, the Vatican City, right in the heart of Rome, has been a state within a state, with its own radio station, newspaper, post office, currency, telephones, train station and heliport. Its army was disbanded in the 1970s but the Swiss Guard from the canton of Valais still remain, in their colorful uniforms designed by Michelangelo. It is the only state in the world whose official language is Latin. It has approximately 1,000 inhabitants. Including its external possessions like St. Peter's Basilica and the Pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo (in the Castelli Romani, south of Rome) it occupies 109 acres, making it the smallest state in the world. Its head of state is, of course, the spiritual leader of the global Catholic community of about 500 million people.

The Modern City  These two cities, ancient Rome and the Rome of the Popes, sit sometimes uncomfortably together in the center of a modern 20th-century metropolis. The endless cars and buses, the grandiose streets of the Mussolini era and the impressive but ridiculous monument to Vittorio Emmanuele (nicknamed the typewriter or the wedding cake) sometimes clash with the more subtle surroundings of earlier generations. The warm colors of the cityscape accentuated by the cypress trees and umbrella pines, as seen from the Pincio or the Gianicolo hills, don't want these kinds of intrusions. But as the capital of Italy, Rome has mushroomed from a city of 200,000 to 3,000,000 people and has had to adapt. Incidentally, three quarters of that population live in the new suburbs. Most people work in the service sector; banking, tourism, transport, the civil service etc. There is next to no heavy industry and little light industry. It has had to convert itself from a provincial town into a national capital with all its attendant bureaucracy and construction. The conversion of Rome into a major international metropolis has left scars but it has also succeeded in creating a unique city of astonishing style, panache and vitality.

The elegance and sophistication of the Via Gregorian and the Via Vittorio Veneto rival Milan. The bars and restaurants of Trastevere give this old and traditional corner of Rome an exciting and bohemian atmosphere. Throughout the city one fountain after another produces a magical effect. "These fountains provide light by day and music by night" (Emile Male). There aren't many cities in the world where an ice-cream and a walk, a passegiata, make for an unforgettable experience. The center of the acclaimed Italian film industry Cinecittà has given rise to glamorous movie stars and their attendant paparazzi, and to internationally famous film directors such as Bertolucci, Antonioni, Fellini and Pasolini. Marcello Mastroianni lived in Rome. Monica Vitti is a Roman, as is Sophia Loren who once told the world "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." In 1960, Rome was the Olympic city. In football, Lazio and FC Roma are hovering on the edge of the superstardom more associated with Juventus or AC Milan. Finally, Rome is beginning to establish itself as a fashion center in the league of New York, Milan or Paris (note especially Fendi). Once again in Italy, all roads lead to Rome.


Capitoline Hill  There are actually two museums on the Capitoline Hill, the Capitoline Museum and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, flanking the Piazza del Campidoglio, which Michelangelo designed. Both have examples of ancient sculpture but the most impressive collection is in the Capitoline: Dying Gaul, Cupid and Psyche, the Faun and the nude and voluptuous Capitoline Venus. The She-Wolf of the Capitol, the Etruscan statue of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the mythical wolf of Rome, is located in the Palazzo.

The Piazza itself was designed in 1538 by Michelangelo. The equestrian statue in the middle of the square is Marcus Arelius (2nd century AD), the philosopher-emperor.

Roman Forum  This is the most evocative and vivid of all the sites of the ancient city. For eight centuries from the beginnings of the Roman Republic to the declining days of Imperial Rome (approximately 500 BC to 330 AD) this was the nerve center of the political life, the social life, the economic life and the religious life of the city. The site was abandoned after the Barbarian invasions and excavated in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most impressive of the ruins are the Arch of Septimius Severus, the six perfect columns of the Temple to Antonius and Faustina, the three fluted columns to the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Julius Caesar, and the Temple of the Vestals.

Across the Via dei Fori Imperiali from the Roman Forum are the ruins of forums from all periods of ancient Rome: The Forum of Trajan, the Forum of Julius Caesar, of Augustus, and of Nerva. Buried beneath the street itself are the ruins of the Forum of Vespasian.

Arch of Septimius Severus  Built in 203 AD to celebrate victory in the eastern provinces. The statues on top of the arch represent Septimius and his sons.

Temple of Vesta and House of the Vestal Virgins  Vesta was the goddess of fire; the Vestal Virgins the keepers of the eternal fire in the temple. The girls, six of them at any one time, were chosen from noble families at the age of ten. They performed their sacred duties for 30 years. If they broke their vow of chastity or let the fire go out they were buried alive.

Colosseum  The Flavian Amphitheater, so-called after its initiator, was opened by the Emperor Vespasian in 80 AD. Its familiar name, the Colosseo, is derived from the colossal statue of Nero which stood near it. Here naval battles (naumachiae) as well as the gladiator contests took place.

Vatican City  A sovereign state since 1929, Vatican City is the location of the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel.

Piazza Esedra and Piazza della Repubblica  Located at the end of the Via Nazionale and not far from the railroad stations, this square (which is still generally referred to by its old name "Esedra") is famous for the beautiful fountains of the Naiads — one of the largest in Rome.

Quirinale  The Quirinale was once the residence of the Popes, and is now the residence of the President of the Republic. Many artists, including Bernini and Maderna, had a part in its decoration. When the President is in residence (his flag flies from the Quirinal on those days) there is a marching band to accompany the changing of the guard at 4:00 pm. It is worth watching because of the festive, relaxed nature of the occasion, in stark contrast to images of fascist Italy.

Piazza del Popolo  This is another of the famous places in Rome. The obelisk in the center is the largest, and the second oldest in Rome. It was brought from Egypt to Rome by Augustus to stand in the Circus Maximus. Nero is said to be buried to the left of the piazza near the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The inner face of the Porta del Popolo was designed by Bernini.

Castel Sant' Angelo  This immense castle was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD to be his tomb. Until the time of Caracalla, the Roman emperors and their families were buried inside. In the Middle Ages, it was transformed into what it is now — a papal fortress. During these times, the Pope was never completely secure in Rome. Germanic emperors from the north were always free to invade the city, and so the Popes had to have a place of refuge in case of attack. Thus, a secret underground passageway was dug between the fortress and the Vatican gardens. That tunnel is still intact. It was used more than once in the Middle Ages, and tradition still requires that a Swiss guard stand at the Vatican end of the tunnel with the key in his possession at all times. The castle now houses a museum, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Angelo, which among other exhibits contains one of the largest collections of military hardware in the world, ranging from the Stone Age to the present.

Ponte Sant' Angelo  This is the famous and much-photographed bridge crossing the River Tiber at the castle. The twelve statues on the bridge were by Bernini, and are thought to represent the twelve apostles. Of the original statues, Bernini himself sculpted 5, and his pupils did the other seven. The authorities found them so beautiful that they asked for another set to put on the bridge and took the originals to a museum. Of the replacement statues, Bernini sculpted seven and his pupils five (the numerical reverse of the original proportion).

Via Sacra  The most famous street in ancient Rome, the triumphal way down which victorious generals, dressed as Jupiter, would ride standing on a chariot and receiving the plaudits of the Senate and the people of Rome. They were on their way to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill to give thanks for his protection.

Curia  The house of the Senate in the Imperial age. The earlier republican Curia, from the time when the Senate really controlled policy, no longer exists. The Senate that sat in this building still advised on policy and gave their opinions, but were more or less powerless in the face of the Emperor.

Lapis Niger  A mysterious area of black marble. According to Roman legend this sacred place was the tomb of Romulus, the founder of Rome.

Temple of Saturn  The largest temple in the Forum. Saturn was the god of agriculture. His festival, which took place here in late December, is interesting. On the Saturnalia, all distinction between master and slave was temporarily abolished, schools and businesses were closed and presents were exchanged. The origin of the Christmas holiday.

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine  The last of the great Forum buildings, built in the early 4th century, first by Emperor Maxentiusm, then finished by Constantine after he defeated the former in battle. This was a place for the public to stroll, shop or just escape the weather. Today in summer they hold symphonic concerts here.

Pantheon  The inscription in the portico of the Pantheon reads that it was built by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC. The present building is actually a little later, built either by Trajan or Hadrian in the early 2nd century AD. In the 7th century, it was consecrated as a church and was restored in the renaissance. (On the capital of the last column on the left you can see the bees, symbol of the Barberini family of popes who were responsible for the restoration and who left their bee symbol scattered all around the city.) Along with the Maison Carrée in Nimes - beautiful but nothing compared to this - the Pantheon is the best preserved building from the ancient Roman world. Only from the interior can you get an idea of the grandeur and drama of the building. The dome is made of solid concrete and is supported on walls 20-ft thick. Natural light comes in through the great hole in the middle. Any rain falls away along the gently sloping floor. The building is 142-ft high, the same as the diameter of the dome, so the proportions make for a perfect hemisphere. (Incidentally, until the 20th century, this dome was the biggest in diameter in the world.) The church contains two important tombs: of Vittorio Emmanuele II, first king of Italy, and of the painter Raphael.

Baths of Diocletian  In the enormous bowels of one of the imperial city's most opulent bathhouses are now displayed masterpieces of antique art, including rare paintings, which you may not see in your art history books because they have only fairly recently come to light — thanks to accidental excavations during construction of the subway. Located on the Piazza della Republica.

Galleria Doria Pamphili  Situated just north of the Piazza Venezia, this rococo palace welcomes visitors just four times weekly. The family which gave history the likes of Andrea Doria, Pope Innocent XIII, and the present queen-in-exile, Marina Doria, is still in residence there.

Villa Giulia  Built as the country retreat of Pope Julius III in 1553, this building houses Rome's Etruscan Museum, and contains jewelry, Etruscan statuary, tombs, and other treasures from the Romans' mysterious predecessors in Italy.

Basilica of St. Peter  This is the center of Catholic Christendom. Inside see St. Peter's Throne; Arnolfo di Cambio's bronze statue of St. Peter with the foot worn smooth by kisses, Michelangelo's "Pieta," and more. Take the elevator to the roof, then climb 900 steps to the lantern and a view that stretches all the way to the sea.

St. Mary Major  Santa Maria Maggiore is a church built in the 5th century AD. It is one of the five main basilicas of the city. It contains magnificent mosaics, some dating from the 5th century.


Piazza Navona  One of the liveliest and most beautiful squares in Rome. In ancient Rome it was Domitian's athletics stadium, hence its oval shape. No archaeological traces remain. It is dominated by the massive baroque church of Sant' Agnese by Borromini (1653-57) and the glorious Fountain of Four Rivers by Bernini in front of it. The church is supposedly built on the site of an old brothel where St. Agnes was forced into prostitution. One day, suddenly and miraculously, her hair grew to cover her naked body, hence her sanctity, hence her canonization. The four rivers, representing the four inhabited continents, are the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia), the Plata (Americas) and the Nile (Africa). They are surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk. The Nile is shielding his head with his hands, so the story goes, for fear that the ugly and badly built Borromini church will topple over any minute and land on top of him. Bernini and Borromini were not good friends apparently. In fact, the Nile is shielding his head from sight because the source of the Nile was as yet undiscovered. Note the coins on the river Plate symbolizing the wealth of the recently-discovered continent. This square is always lively with locals and tourists, street performers, caricaturists and hawkers. There are plenty of expensive cafes and bars. The chocolate extravaganza Tartuffo from the bar I Tre Scalini is world famous and delicious.

Leave Piazza Navona by the small street opposite Sant' Agnese on to the Corso del Rinascimento. The building in front of you, the Palazzo Madama, is the home of the Italian Senate. Cross over, turn left and immediately right to follow the palace round on the Via del Salvatore. This opens out on to Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi. The church of San Luigi is famous for its three superb paintings by Caravaggio depicting the life of St. Matthew. Caravaggio (1573-1610) was a baroque artist who lived something of a maverick and avant-garde life. He was forced to flee Rome in 1605 after killing a man in a street brawl. He spent the remaining years of his life in and out of various prisons before dying of a fever aged 37. The murder took place just a couple of blocks up the continuation of this square north, the Via della Scrofa. The victim owed Caravaggio money after losing a bet on a tennis match.

Fontana di Trevi  Rome's most spectacular fountain, especially when lit up and when the music is playing. Throw a coin over your shoulder into the waters to ensure your return to Rome, and another one for a wish to come true. The water supply, 17 million gallons a day, comes from an ancient Roman canal built by Agrippa in the 19th century BC, bringing water from a natural spring 13 miles away (Acqua Vergine). This fantastic Rococo creation by Nicola Salvi, dating from 1762, decorates the end of the canal. The central figure is of Neptune, who is carried on a shell by two horses through the raging sea. The two figures on either side of Neptune are Health and Abundance. There are many ice-cream places on the square here.

Piazza di Spagna  In front of the column on the left is the old Spanish embassy from which this square gets its name. The column itself, from 1857, celebrates the establishment of the papal doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. The church at the top of the Spanish Steps is the French church of Santa Trinità dei Monti. The steps themselves are in the form of three successive flights representing the trinity and are designed to exaggerate the height and splendor of the scene. From the terrace at the top there is a lovely view of Rome. During the day there are buskers and hawkers on and around the steps. In April and May the steps are decorated with flowers. The house on the right at the foot of the steps is the house where John Keats lived and died in 1821 (containing memorabilia of Keats, Shelley and Byron); the house on the left is the Babington Tea Rooms, est. 1896, very stylish and devastatingly expensive. The boat fountain in the middle, the Barcaccia, is by Bernini's father. Note again the Barberini bees at either end of the boat.

Via dei Condotti  The Via Condotti has numerous smart shops (though the smartest are in the Via Gregoriana and Via Sistina off the top of the Spanish Steps) and, at no. 86, the Caffè Greco. This venerable café, opened in 1760, is famous as the meeting place of artists, writers and musicians such as Goethe, Wagner, Berlioz, Keats, Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Byron, Liszt and Hans Christian Andersen.

Via del Corso  This is one of Rome's main streets and gets very busy during the day. It was the old Roman road to the north; the Via Flaminia. It gets its modern name from the great riderless horse races running the mile-long way from the Piazza del Popolo at the top of the street to the Piazza Venezia at the bottom. These races were the highlights of Carnival week. In the evenings, the road would be covered with a thin layer of sand, then at 11 pm, four firecrackers would go off at the Piazza del Popolo and the horses would then set off to the cheers and screams of the spectators lining the pavements. For 400 years, until they were stopped in the 19th century, these races were undoubtedly the most famous sight in Rome.The main aim of the 18th century Englishmen on the Grand Tour was to arrive in Rome just in time for Carnival in order to watch the races. Nowadays the Via del Corso is lined with shops, e.g. the Rinascente department store, government departments, offices and old 16th- and 17th-century palaces.

Piazza Colonna  The column in the middle was erected in the late 2nd century AD in honor of Marcus Aurelius. Like Trajan's Column from a couple of generations earlier, this illustrates, in the form of relief sculptures spiraling up the column shaft, that emperor's victories in battle. Marcus Aurelius (who was much more of a thinker than a fighter anyway) no longer stands on the top. In the 16th century, he was moved out in favor of St. Paul.

Via Lata  The Via Lata has a cute fountain called Il Facchino tucked against the wall around the corner. It is of a water-carrier holding a barrel with water pouring out into a basin. The figure is apparently based on a real-life water-carrier who used to drink too much wine, so as a punishment he now has to make do with water until the end of time. The last palace on the right is the Palazzo Bonaparte where Napoleon's mother used to live.

Piazza Venezia  You are now facing the enormous, bizarre and bright white monument called the Vittoriano, known also as the typewriter or the wedding cake. This monumentally insensitive structure was built between 1885 and 1911 in honor of Vittorio Emmanuele II, the first king of Italy. The statue of the king himself is 52 ft high. His mustache is 3 ft long. At the feet of the statue is the tomb of the unknown soldier, constantly guarded by two soldiers. The plain-looking renaissance building on the east side of the square is the Palazzo Venezia, most famous as the offices of Mussolini who used to make his demagogic speeches to the populace from the balcony overlooking the square. The Piazza Venezia is the hub of the modern city of Rome.


The Appian Way  This was one of the earliest of the great Roman roads which later stretched all over the empire. It was built in 312 BC by Appius Claudius and led to the town of Capua. Later the road was extended as far south as Brindisi and formed an important route to the empire in the East. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Appian Way was no longer used until the time of Pope Pius VI, when it was opened again to traffic.

The monuments along the Appian Way are connected both with pagan and with Christian Rome. Today it is probably most famous for its associations with the Catacombs, although originally the road was lined with the tombs of wealthy pagan Romans.

Catacombs  The origin of the word is uncertain. Perhaps it comes from the Latin word cumbere, to lie or recline. Catacombs were in fact cemeteries, and not hiding places for Christians. The bodies were buried wrapped only in shrouds with a layer of lime in between. There were no coffins and they were laid in the numerous shelf-like compartments lining the underground galleries. It is generally thought that the Christians chose to dig these vast burial places in order to be able to accommodate as many graves as possible. The Catacombs were located outside the city walls since Roman law, for reasons of hygiene, did not allow burial within the city boundaries, except vestal virgins and later, emperors. Thus, the Catacombs were in no way illegal resting places for Christians. It was only during the persecutions of the later emperors that there was any danger of the bodies being desecrated by pagan Romans. Funeral rites were celebrated in small chapels in the Catacombs, many of which were decorated with primitive paintings. Look in particular for the sign of the fish which symbolizes Christ. The Greek initials of the phrase "Jesus Christ Son of God, Saviour" spell the Greek word for fish, icthys.

Of particular interest is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella. A great circular tomb, it was the only one of its size built for a woman. Cecelia Matella's identity is uncertain, but she was probably the daughter-in-law of Crassus, the "Rothschild" of the Roman Empire, who financed Julius Caesar in his campaigns. Crassus' part was played by Sir Laurence Olivier in the film Spartacus. In the Middle Ages the tomb was the fortress of the Caetani family. Travelers were stopped here and made to pay a toll for proceeding along the road. It was an excellent strategic spot, being situated on the highest point of the Via Appia. After the tomb, the road is lined with cypresses and smaller Roman tombs. Thanks to the 19th-century sculptor Canova, the remains of some of these monuments have been left in their original position and not placed in museums. (Some of the most valuable items are actually in the Capitoline Museum.)


Although winters in Rome can be very chilly, summers are hot and humid, particularly in July when temperatures may exceed 100º F. Spring and Autumn tend to be the mildest and most pleasant months to visit as the humid heat gives way to mild breezes. Rain is most common in the month of November. The grape harvest (vendemmia) takes place in Autumn when the leaves begin to turn vibrant shades of red and gold.

March  Temperature 47ºF to 63ºF
Monthly Rainfall 2"

July  Temperature 67ºF to 85ºF
Monthly Rainfall 0.5"

October  Temperature 55ºF to 73ºF
Monthly Rainfall 3.2"

January  Temperature 45ºF to 55ºF
Monthly Rainfall 2.5"

Synchronize your watches  Local time is 6 hours ahead of E.S.T. If it's 2:00pm in New York City, it's 8:00pm locally. Please note that Italy changes to and from daylight-saving time a few weeks before the U.S., so time differences still vary in March and October.

Money, money, money  The Italian unit of currency is the Euro. As throughout Europe, there is no better way than to use your ATM card to withdraw money in the local currency whenever you need it. You will never have a problem locating a suitable ATM machine. If you do need to change dollars (cash or traveler's checks) into Euros, try to do so at a bank. You can expect a slightly higher rate of exchange for traveler's checks and you should always keep your passport handy. Bureaux de Change tend to give a slightly worse deal. Some shops, especially tourist ones, will accept American currency or traveler's checks as payment but be advised that you will almost certainly be getting a worse rate than you would from a bank. The same goes for hotels that are willing to change money for you, and even if they will do it, it's usually cash only, not traveler's checks. Bank opening hours are 9am to 1:15pm and 2:30pm to 3:30pm Monday through Friday. During non-banking hours, head for the Cambio in the main train station.

The joy of servitude  Restaurant checks almost always include a service charge, but it is customary to round up to the nearest Euro or 5 Euros or leave 10% on top of the service charge already included.

The mailman cometh  Mail service to and from Italy is reliable and inexpensive (unless you are sending a parcel overseas). You can purchase postage stamps (francobolli) at post offices or Tabacchi. Hours are generally 8:30 am to 1:30 pm. The main post offices (via Pelliceria, 3) and 8 Post office (via Pietrasanta 53) are open 8:15 am to 6:00 pm.

Please wait while we try to connect you  As usual, the golden rule is never to call home from your hotel. It will cost a fortune. Telecom Italia public telephones are easy to find. They accept telephone cards (carta or scheda telefonica) that can be bought in at any newspaper kiosks and tobacco shops.

The access code to put you through to an ATT operator from Italy is 172 1011. For MCI it is 172 1022.


Walking  In the historic city center, the easiest way to find your way around if you are not familiar with the maze of streets is to follow the yellow signs marking the routes between the sights. Signs on a silver-gray background indicate general landmarks.

Metro  Although thirty years in the making, only two of the more than ten projected lines of Rome's Metropolitana (subway) have been completed — archaeological finds buried below the city's streets have caused countless delays. The Metro lines start at the main railroad station (Termini). Linea B (the first to open) goes to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, then to the Circus Maximus, the Baths of Caracalla, the Pyramid, St. Paul's Outside the Walls, and the E.U.R. district. Linea A (which opened 17 years after Linea B) stops at the Piazza della Republica, Barberini at the foot of the Via Veneto, the Spanish Steps, and Ottaviano (the jumping off point for the Vatican museums, St. Peter's, and the Castel Sant'Angelo). Tickets for the Metro are good for a simple journey with no transfers. They can be obtained at tobacco shops (tabacchi).

Buses  Tickets can be purchased in tobacco shops or at green kiosks at major stops. You enter at the back, validate your ticket in the machine, and exit in the center.


Typical Roman meals consist of fresh produce of the season, pasta and seafood from the Mediterranean. Start with appetizers (antipasti) such as deep-fried cod filets (filetti di baccalà), mozzarella-stuffed rice croquettes (supplì) or one of the many different pasta dishes (primi piatti). A popular pasta choice is pasta all'amatriciana, served with a sauce of bacon, tomatoes and onions. The main course is usually some kind of meat or fish served with a side dish (contorni) composed of hot or cold vegetables or salads. Vegetables are often eaten cold, marinated (sott'olio) or broiled. Most restaurants have a kind of buffet table where you can go help yourself to a wide selection of side dishes (contorni misti). Try a dessert made of mascarpone cheese, coffee and chocolate (tiramisù), a crostata di ricotta, a lemon flavored ricotta cheesecake or a dish of genuine gelato — see if this isn't the richest, creamiest and most flavorful ice cream you have ever tasted.


Most shops follow government-set hours, approximately 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, then a "riposo," and open again from about 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Everything is closed Sunday and (in summer) Saturday afternoon. In August, Italy in general is on skeleton crews and many shops lower their shutters for the whole month.


New Year's Day (Jan 1)
Epiphany (Jan 6)
Easter Sunday/Monday (late March/early April)*
Liberation Day (April 25)
Labor Day (May 1)
Ferragosto (August 15)
All Saints' Day (Nov 1)
Immaculate Conception (December 8)
Christmas Day (December 25)
Santo Stefano (December 26)

* These dates will change according to the date on which Easter falls.


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