The Wedding Cake (Altare della Patria)

Before the funeral of Vittorio Emanuele II, who died suddenly at the youthful age of 57 on January 9th 1878, the possibility of erecting a monument in honour of the first King of a unified Italy was discussed during the assembly of the municipal council. As King of Sardinia and then Italy for almost 29 years, he had been the protagonist of epic deeds in the eyes of his people. His reputation was heroic, a king heaven sent, a father figure to all.

On March 16th a decree was issued by Minister Giuseppe Zanardelli. It was the green light for a national monument dedicated to the memory of the king. Eight million lire was set aside for the triumphal ark.

Construction of the monument meant that considerable sacrifices would have to be made as regards artistic and archaeological heritage. An entire medieval district was demolished. The convent of Ara Coeli (Heaven’s Altar) was demolished. Paolo III’s tower and the viaduct connecting it to “Palazzetto Venezia” were demolished. Giulio Romano’s home was demolished. Pietro da Cortona’s workshop was demolished. The old “Via della Pedacchia”, “Via Macel de’ Corvi” (crow’s slaughterhouse), and Madame Lucrezia’s alley also disappeared.

On March 22nd 1885, the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone came to pass in the presence of the Italian Royal Family. Sacconi’s project was inspired by monumental classic complexes such as Pergamon’s altar and Palestrina’s temple. The monument was intended to have been an open space, an agora, open to all citizens inside a sort of banked square in the heart of Imperial Rome.

A legoland staircase flanked by two winged lions leads to the “Altae of the Motherland”, which itself supports an “alto-rilievo” (high relief) by Angelo Zanelli. A colossal equestrian bronze of Vittorio Emanuele II by Enrico Chiaradia is the highlight, lowlight, or darklight, depending on your point of view. The grand portico (porch) with columns reaching 15 metres high, and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas – an allegorical representation of supreme victory – were created by Carlo Fontana and Paolo Bartolini.

Today it dominates Piazza Venezia, obscuring much of the Roman Forum. Those of us who have a vested interest in ancient Roman history would pay well to see it demolished. Italians are ambivalent and they have plenty of less than endearing nicknames for their wedding cake, including “English soup”. Either way, tens of thousands of snap happy tourists love it. Mildy disconcerting to say the least.



Rome, whose crest is the Capitoline she-wolf (after the bronze statue portraying the legendary animal feeding the twins Romolus and Remus, founders of Rome), is the capital of the Italian Republic. It is the most densely populated city in Italy and among the main European capitals for territorial extension.

Rome is also the city with the world highest concentration of historical and architectural goods. Its centre, circumscribed by the perimeter of the Aurelian walls, which materialize and document an overlap of almost three thousands years of history, is the unique expression of an enormous historical, artistic and cultural heritage whose influence has spread all over the world; in 1980, together with the extraterritorial properties of the “Holy See” inside the city and San Paolo’s Basilica “outside the walls”, it has been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Rome, heart of Catholic Christianity, is the only city in the world to host a foreign State within its territory – the Vatican City’s enclave: for this reason it is often defined as capital of two States. More than 16% of world cultural goods are located in Rome (70% of the whole Italian territory).

With its 52,000 hectares of rural areas, Rome is also the “greenest” city in Europe. Beside the historical villas, there are many other green areas, and many cultivated plots of land in the outskirts. Protected areas covers an overall surface of 40,000 hectares, and with a surface of 517 square kilometers destined to agricultural use (about 40% of the total municipal territory) Rome is also the biggest agricultural municipality in Europe.

Today Rome is one of the most important tourist destinations of the world, due to the incalculable number of archaeological and artistic treasures, its peculiar traditions, the lyrical beauty of its panoramic views, and the majesty of its parks. Visitors and resident can enjoy plenty of museums (Capitoline Museums, National Gallery of Modern Art, the Vatican Museums, Galleria Borghese, and many others) historical buildings, churches, palaces, the monuments and ruins of the Roman Forum and the Catacombs. Roman fountains and its imposing acqueducts (water system) are also very distinctive elements of the city.

Rome is the third most visited city in the European Union, after London and Paris, and receives an average of 7-10 million tourists a year, which can double on holy years. The Colosseum (4 million tourists) and the Vatican Museums (4.2 million tourists) are respectively the 39th and 37th most visited places in the world. In 2005 the city registered 19.5 million of global visitors, up of 22.1% from 2001, and in 2006 Rome has been visited by 6.03 million of international tourists, reaching the 8th place in the ranking of the world’s 150 most visited cities. Rome has also been nominated 2007’s fourth most desirable city to visit in the world after Florence, Buenos Aires, and Bangkok.


Scootering in Rome

When I first moved to Rome, I had never been on a scooter in my life, to be honest I was petrified of them. I was fine on my Raleigh Boxer zipping round the streets as a kid, but any form of motorbike was out of the question. Once in Rome, I met a girl who’s only form of transport was a scooter, and so whenever we would go out I was forced to perch on the back and cling on for dear life. Despite the fear, it was a great way to see the city. If you are brave enough to open your eyes you get clear view of everything around you, the sites, the smells, the sounds and of course that feeling of freedom as we’d ride on the pavement to avoid the traffic, even if they were blocked by those pesky pedestrians…

After a while I got used to riding pillion whilst my girlfriend would confidently zip through gaps with only centimeters to spare on each side and speed round corners using her stilettos as a counterbalance. It was fun. It was only a matter of time before I plucked up the courage to have a go myself, and as it turned out it wasn’t half as bad as I thought. Despite being surrounded by a thousand Evel Knievels, you feel surprisingly safe on a scooter, everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing, and once you get used to it you discover that there really is no better way to get around. Parking is never a problem, they are cheap to run and it doesn’t cost too much to hire one. Of course, there are many horror stories of people who have had accidents on scooters abroad, they are a dangerous form of transport and I would really only advise hiring one if you have previous experience, Rome is not the place to learn how to drive a scooter. However, if you know what you are doing and with a little bit of common sense, awareness and confidence, the back of a scooter can be a great way to see the many beautiful sites of Rome.

If scooters really aren’t your thing, then there are other mobile site seeing options. When in Rome Tours offer bicycle, Segway, and rickshaw tours on request, all great alternatives to the scooter experience.


Destination: Rome

“What’s Rome like for a long weekend away?” I’m often asked this, and I always answer the same way, “For a long weekend away it’s rubbish”. You see, coming to Rome only for a long weekend is frustrating, there’s just too much to see and do in just 72 hours. It would be like walking into a room and being presented with the world biggest free buffet, full of delicacies from all over the world, but only having enough time to butter a bread roll before being ushered out again. Beautiful site, great experience, but if only you’d had more time…

As a weekend destination, Rome really does have it all, we all know about the amazing beauty and charm of the main cultural sites, but seriously, you could spend a whole day having a tour around the Vatican museums and still want to go back for more in the morning. The first time I went into the Colosseum, I didn’t want to leave, it really is that magical. Book a tour of the Roman Forum and let your guide reconstruct Roman life as they walk you around those cobbled, ancient streets. You could easily get lost in your imagination and spend hours there.

As night time falls, it get’s worse. There are so many restaurants to choose from, so many dishes you will want to try as you pass through the bustling streets of Trastevere, mouth and eyes wide open as you spy other peoples dinners as they eat ‘al fresco’ on the outside tables as you make your way to your chosen restaurant. After dinner, you could head down to the river and enjoy a cocktail and the open air cinema, or you could pop along to Gregory’s Jazz Club at the top of the Spanish Steps. If Jazz aint your thing daddy-o, then there are always the bars and clubs of Testaccio, San Lorenzo or Pigneto.

And then there are the other pleasures. Sitting on the bench outside Caffe Peru (just off Piazza Farnese) having breakfast takes up at least an hour and a half. Not because the service is terrible, Salvatore the owner wouldn’t allow that, but because it’s the best place in Rome to sit back with a coffee and watch the world go by. How about a stroll through Villa Ada, one of Rome’s lesser visited parks? It’s absolutely beautiful. A day trip to Anzio? Tivoli? Castelli Romani? Where are you going to find the time?

No, a long weekend in Rome just isn’t enough. With two main airports that cater to both the main and low-cost airlines and thousands of excellent hotels and beautiful apartments to rent, you have no excuse not to come again and again. I should know, I came here for a long weekend 11 years ago and never left.


Rome bans food

Yep, you read it right. The mad insane mentalists who populate the steaming pile of bureaucratic dog turd which besmirches the people of Rome and their beautiful city, have passed yet another unfathomable law.

From now on, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and many other places in Rome city centre will be patrolled by food hating numpties in uniform. In any another city it would be normal and acceptable to see tourists milling around monuments while eating an ice cream, a sandwich, sweets, or drinking from a can or a bottle.

Not here.

One of Rome’s many police forces now have the right to fine anyone caught eating or drinking anywhere near Rome’s famous landmarks.

The madman mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, passed the law. His ‘Polizia Roma Capitale’, a distant relative of Mussolini’s Blackshirts, will be dishing out meal tickets with a smile.

Comments, please.

American English AS Roma

A few months have elapsed since the official website for AS Roma underwent surgery. It looks great and by all accounts is firing on all cylinders. Imagine being a born and bred Romanista (a Roma fan, tifo). One day you wake up, log on, and visit your team’s website in a different language. English is default, to be precise.

Now we all know how many English football fans have been stabbed in Rome since Heysel. We all know that raw hatred between English lads and Roma fans will never leave us, and no one really understands why ‘British casual’ shop Stretch markets our culture so successfully to those who gave Rome the name ‘Stab City’ back in 2007.

They want to be English by any and all means possible, which means adopting the music, the fashion, and the swagger. One has very good reason to ask why Jekyll and Hyde Romanisti target their perceived nemesis, typically in groups versus a lone Englishman (or family, as has been documented on several occasions), when European football brings them face to face with something they can’t even copy correctly let alone aspire to be.

So, back to the new American owners of AS Roma. Do they have any clue about the population of their own Curva? No. None. Great website, built for new American soccer fans, not Roma ultras in Rome.