- Last Updated: 2:06 AM, November 24, 2009
- Posted: 5:03 PM, November 23, 2009
INTRODUCTION Rome is one of the world’s greatest cities, but on first glance, you might not notice. It’s grimy; noisy and traffic choked; the sidewalks groan with people; and shops and museums can seem to shutter on a whim.
On the other hand, it’s hard to walk 100 yards without spotting something familiar from a history book — maybe a headless statue, fenced in by tidy metal railings, sitting unassumingly by a main thoroughfare. Those casual ruins are vestiges and reminders of the fact that this is the crucible of western civilization as we know it. Christianity has been nurtured and raised here for centuries, while the ancient Roman systems, from sewers to civic organization, were used as the basis for much of the modern, secular world.
On the western side of the river Tiber sit two main hoods: the Pope’s independent city-state, Vatican City, and Trastevere, the appealing scruffy and warren-like, working-class hub. On the other, you’ll find more recently spruced-up neighborhoods. Like the enormous Termini rail station and Lower East Side-like Monti. Or the gleaming retail zone in and around the main north-south artery via del Corso. Then there are the hills of the Capitol and the Palatine (Rome was actually built on more than just seven hills, but it’s hard to blame the ancients for miscounting when they had to battle through that numerical system).
But the place where you’ll like spend most time is the Centro Storico, or historic center, the hump which juts west into the river Tiber. This is where Rome most resembles the city of the movies: cobbled streets, tall and dark-windowed palazzi, squares appearing suddenly and grandly from out of nowhere and lines of laundry dangling precariously between buildings even today.
And fret not — you will get lost, map or no, but that’s half Rome’s charm. Make sure not to rush and enjoy ambling through the alleys that have stood, largely following the same grid, for more than two thousand years. The Eternal City, indeed.
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