Prick the soil with a needle, said the poet, and you uncover the bones of heroes. Rome has inherited such wealth from its millennial history that you will find traces of far-off events and civilizations in every street and square, underlying the bustle and brio which are the hallmarks of modern urban Italy. The very manhole covers in the pavements bear the letters SPQR – the ‘Senate and Populace of Rome’ of the history books. You see what Romans think of themselves when you look at car number plates. Two letters, Ml for Milan, GE for Genoa and so on, identify the licensing city. Vehicles of Rome have ROMA spelled out in full. For little more than a century Rome has been Italy’s capital, but for 20 centuries and more it was the capital of western civilizations, arts, laws and religious faiths. It was never a productive city but it gathered in the talents and products of other cities and lands. It does so today, as a glance at the fashion, silk, leather and antiques shops along this walk will show you, especially in the Corso and Piazza di Spagna areas.
Rome rises among seven hills (the growth of the city has made them less conspicuous) and across seven architectural strata from scores of ancient temples and 100 km of early Christian catacombs to the imperious Fascist monuments of this century. These are only the start of the best places to visit. Each layer is decked with the adornments of its era in stone, glass and paintwork. One large book on the palaces, fountains or churches would have to be a mere catalogue of names. Our walks can only help you to sample the flavour and sharpen your appetite for deeper explorations. Ask not why they call it the Eternal City. The French traveller Ampère said you might get superficially acquainted with Rome in ten years, but twenty would be better.
‘In any rented room, sleep is impossible; it costs money to rest in Rome’ – Juvenal, about AD 100. In some parts of Rome, and especially in the area covered by our Villa Borghese walk, the best hotels tend to be expensive, claustrophobic, electrically lit all day, subject to background noises and short on parking space. In our selection, we try to avoid some of these disadvantages.
If you prefer to stay centrally, the district around Via del Corso has a fair range of hotels. The station area and Via Veneto are something of a gamble: some very seedy places are mixed in with some very elegant (and expensive) ones. Parking is almost impossible and the streets can be noisy day and night.
The Aventine area, some distance from the city centre, has quieter, roomier modern hotels on the slopes of the most southerly of the seven hills. Also a sound choice for modern hotels in quiet locations is the suburban area north and west of the Vatican. The Metro (Linea A) runs out to Ottaviano through this district, so you can be in central Rome within minutes.
By air: Leonardo da Vinci airport, or Fiumicino (30 km West of city centre) caters for international flights. It is linked to Termini station by bus, which takes 70 mins and costs 9€, and by the Leonardo Express train, it takes 30 mins and takes you into the centre of Rome for only 11€. In the airport main building you will find a tourist information office, a bureau de change, a post office and all the major car rental desks (www.adr.it). Ciampino airport (18 km South East) handles charter and domestic flights.
By rail: Termini station in the centre of Rome is, as the name suggests, the end of the line for national and international trains from all directions. It has a tourist information office. Tiburtina station, a junction between north and south Italian lines, is where you may arrive if using the motorail services. Ostiense station serves Ostia, Viterbo and Naples via the Pontine route. Roma Nord station serves Viterbo. Prenestina station serves Avezzano and Pescara (www.trenitalia.com).
By road: You will probably enter Rome from the Autostrada del Sole (A1), which goes down the length of Italy from Milan to Reggio Calabria. On the outskirts of Rome it joins the main ring road (Grande Raccordo Anulare). Taking your car into Rome is not advised: the central car-parks are expensive and usually full; street parking, even in spaces set aside near hotels, exposes the vehicle to damage from auto-thieves.
Bus tickets, or books of tickets can be bought at news kiosks or tobacconists, bars or on the bus – exact change only though. They are valid for 90 minutes and you time-stamp them in a machine on board. Most services start from and terminate at Termini station: signposting at bus stops is very clear and easy to understand. An electric minibus, No. 119, serves the central area.
The Metro or underground railway is fast and efficient but not too popular with foreign visitors – you see little of the city as you travel, of course. Its geography is simple, a T with one line (Linea A) crossing the city west-east from the Vatican to the Appian Way and the other (Linea B) going South West from Termini station to the EUR zone on the way to Ostia lido. The two lines join at Termini station.
Neighbourhoods to avoid
Rome is not the world’s safest city. Many inhabitants live on their wits. Where tourists gather there also are the touts and hawkers offering everything from street plans to shoe shines, from plaster saints to young girls ‘very fresh, very clean’. Best have nothing to do with them – while one is telling you how much he admires the British/Americans/Dutch his accomplice may be slitting your back pocket. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers follow the flow of newly arrived strangers. In places well populated by tourists, however, there is always a high-profile police presence. Both sides of the Tiber near the lsola Tiberina, the west bank of the Tiber in Trastevere and ill-lit streets all over the city should be approached with caution after dark. You should avoid walking alone. There is much to be said for getting up at six and sightseeing until mid-morning, when the air is fresh and the undesirables have not yet surfaced. Gypsy children are a real curse.