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Roman Forum

Fountains gush in the shade of obelisks, water music mixing with the gypsy fiddles and accordions. Moped exhaust erodes great Bernini sculptures, sprawling in the squares. Cats twine around the ruins, devouring plates of pasta. A knife vendor pedals a whetting stone on a cobbled street. Nearby, an elderly woman lowers her lapdog in a basket, the rope stretching and swaying down three stories.

The streets are alive. This is no frozen tableau of monuments. This is the Eternal City. La bella Roma.

Caesar Augustus found a landscape of bricks and left it marble. Ever since, the Romans have been cheerfully draping it in wet laundry, football flags and graffiti. Buildings stack haphazardly, Renaissance consuming Medieval, ancient frescos flaking in basements. They quarried the Forum, pastured cows there, then reverently excavated it as a national treasure. Everything – and nothing – is sacred.

The city is dense and complex, frighteningly so at times. It’s easy to be content with the incomparable Pantheon and Forum, the majestic Colosseum, St. Peter’s, Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Villa Borghese.

Yet Rome’s beauty is more than skin deep. Small surprises, intimate moments, emerge from the vibrant tapestry: a romping impromptu dance in a hidden piazza, a forgotten statue wedged into modern plaster, the spiky cypresses guarding Keats’ grave.

Take time to explore the real bella Roma. Leave the souvenir shops behind, venture down ivy-veiled alleys, flanked by cobblers, puppeteers and artisans. Singe your fingers on roasted chestnuts, hot from a paper cone. Haggle in the Sunday flea market, lost in the surging crowd, lulled by the chants: "Not stolen, not stolen. Beautiful things, not stolen!"

Wander along the muddy, neglected Tiber, now blonde, now emerald. Listen to the bells cascading, overlapping, catch snatches of opera hurled into the midnight air. Smell the citrus, carried on soft breezes past Romanesque arches. Taste the sharp espresso, the hot slabs of pizza, fresh from wood ovens. Watch the sunset stain the city golden, the ruby glow of Chianti, scarlet poppies washing over the ruins.

Make the city your own, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did: "Tis the centre to which all gravitates," he wrote. "One finds no rest elsewhere than here. There may be other cities that please us for a while, but Rome alone completely satisfies. It becomes to all a second native land by predilection, and not by accident of birth alone."

This guide is merely a springboard for discovering Rome and her surroundings, plunging past the tired tourist routes, experiencing Italy’s beauty. The book draws heavily on the experience of natives and American expatriates, including my two years in the capital. May your own visit be as wonderful. Buon’ viaggio! – Amanda Castleman

The books are aimed at traditional travellers who want to explore. What makes the series unique is that the books also cover adventures. However, these are not of the extreme variety and suit any able-bodied traveller: walking tours, bike trips, watersports, nature tours, wildlife spotting.



Rome's Protestant Cemetery

Updated February 2004

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