Businessmen on mopeds and nuns on cellphones. Italy is
a strange place at the best of times and Rome is strangest of all. You
see it in the spectacularly cavalier attitude to ancient monuments, the
traffic whizzing round the Colosseum, the seemingly random addition of
modern architecture to ancient structures and the less said about the driving,
the better! Living in Rome has been described as being in the middle of
an intense love affair, infuriating and irrational, at times it leaves
you almost incoherent with rage, yet at other moments Rome is so incredibly
beautiful it takes your breath away.
Sorry, I had to sneek in a photo of the Colosseum
(complete with anti-war demonstration),
no Rome page would be complete without one.
The truth is more mundane, Rome was founded by a group of farmers living in an area called Latium (now Lazio). At first Rome was ruled by kings, the last (and worst) was Tarquinius Superbus, famous for his cruelty, the Romans quickly tired of him and he was 'removed'.
Romulus and Remus
were raised by a she-wolf.
The Romans decided that 'rule by committee' (Senate) was a good idea, they called it a republic, now everyone could have a say, if they could afford it!
The new republic was surrounded by enemies. The Roman army ate enemies for breakfast and soon vast wealth was pouring into Rome, straight into the hands of the rich. Of course this did cause some friction between the poor (who wanted power) and the rich (who didn't want to share it with them).
This is where Julius Caesar came in, he was rich but stood up for the poor. Caesar was also a great general and highly popular, so popular that the Roman people wanted him to rule on his own. Julius liked this idea so much that he decided to call himself 'Dictator for Life'. The elected Senators thought that 'Dictator for Life' sounded a lot like 'king' and a king was exactly what they didn't want. On the 15th of March 44BC they stabbed him in the back - literally.
The resulting power struggle went on for years, finally Caesar's nephew Octavian came out on top, proclaimed himself Emperor and changed his name to Augustus ('very important person'). He merged all the lands Rome controlled into one vast empire. The thing that the Romans had feared, rule by one all-powerful man, had returned!!
There then followed a string of Emperors, some were good, some were bad and some were completely bonkers. The links below will give you the lowdown on the maddest and baddest of these rotten Roman rulers:-
The Roman Empire was eventually overthrown and Rome's
power over the Italian peninsula began to wane.
During the Renaissance, Florence moved into the limelight,
while Rome sulked further south with only the Pope in residence to compensate.
With Italy's unification in 1870 (it was previously a cluster of city-states)
Rome, the new nation's capital, once again came to the fore as home to
the royal family, the government and the Pope (get back in line Florence).
Rome can be beautiful, this is Ponte Vittorio Emanuele
Today Rome is a halfway house between the industrialized
modern north and the economically backward south, hated by both (I'm exaggerating,
but not by much), and a truly unique city. There are endless sightseeing
possibilities, great shopping potential, fantastic food, and if you know
where to look, there's a kicking nightlife too.
Arco di Constantino
the entrance to the Colosseum
(just visible to the right).
|Find more pictures of Tourist Rome HERE|
Dickens once described Rome as "a miserable place, densely
populated and reeking with bad odours", things have not changed that much.
Rome is one of those places that you either love or hate. Get outside the
tourist centre and even having a pee can be hard work. Being such an ancient
city Rome is a maze of narrow streets which all look incredibly similar
(graffiti, poorly maintained [but obviously once beautiful] buildings,
abandoned cars, the occasional sleeping drunk [with empty wine bottle]
and dog shit), these streets open out into many piazzas (squares) with
restaurants serving pizza, pasta and (once you learn to read the menu)
other delicious Italian goodies, there is also often a church and a few
stalls selling all sorts of stuff.
The Pantheon, the best preserved of the
Ancient Roman monuments.
Transformed to a Christian Church in AD 608.
The interior is beautifully lit by the open
top of the dome.
Despite what anyone tells you YOU HAVE TO SPEAK AT LEAST SOME ITALIAN to get anywhere, English simply does not work outside the centre. Unlike most Asian and many European countries the locals have no interest in learning English, England is where football hooligans come from and (hopefully) return to.
The language difficulty is added to by the fact that shops,
supermarkets, laundries etc. are well hidden and not sign posted, you have
to know where they are and you can't ask because nobody speaks English.
I have spent many hours hunting for places that I knew were there (like
my local supermarket and laundromat) but just couldn't find. Many stores
advertise on street-side hoardings, although the placement of these commercials
is sometimes irrational to say the least (I saw an ad. for my local branch
of Tuo [discount food] outside another branch of the same store fully 30
minutes drive from the one being advertised!).
Rome has new, air-conditioned
comfortable, quiet, reliable trams.
|Getting around is the one thing that is
easy. Rome has a highly developed and efficient public transport system,
if a street is wide enough to get a bus down then a bus route runs that
Find out more about getting about in and around Rome HERE.
Rome also has a number of
not-so-new, hot, rattly, somewhat
Italy is a Mediterranean country (so you've just got to visit the beach only 30 minutes from Rome). This means it is hot, this means that the locals like to siesta in the early afternoon, therefore shops shut between 1.30 and 3.30pm. Most shops shut at 7.30pm sharp,7.31, too late. A lot of shops are also either shut or only open half day on Saturday.
Italy is also a Catholic country (the Pope lives here), so, of course EVERYTHING except churches is closed on Sunday (the tourist district stays open, but do you want to pay tourist prices?).
The combination of these last two factors means that if you have a normal 9-5 job the only time that you can do any shopping is Saturday morning, result, total chaos on the subway, trams, buses and (if your mad enough to drive here) the roads.
Another oddly Italian thing is "Ferie Augosto", at the
height of summer (August) all (and I do mean ALL) Italians go on holiday
or travel to their home town to visit mum and dad. The net result is that
during August Italy is shut...... Just forget about doing anything worthwhile,
I even got told by my local "ferramenta" (ironmonger) to "come back in
September" when I wanted a spare key cut for my front door, the shop was
open and there were people inside, he just didn't want my business. At
least there is no traffic in the city, a good time to learn to drive a
left-hand-drive car (if you are a Brit. like me that is).