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It’s hard not to be seduced by the city's movie-star looks and charisma
02.03.16 - 10:07 -
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Starstruck in Rome
The Pantheon is in the centre of the city, surrounded by shops and restaurants. :: SUR
Contrary to perceived wisdom regarding Rome’s intense traffic and fearless scooter riders, exploring central Rome on foot is a pleasure. In any case Rome’s underground metro is fairly limited in reach for visitors, with only a few stations in the centre. Unsurprisingly I suppose, since digging under the former heart of one of the world’s largest ancient empires, surely must throw up so many archaeological surprises and obstacles as to make construction a real headache. Yet for the visitor that’s a benefit in disguise as it obliges you to walk the historic streets of central Rome, immersing yourself in the action of day-to-day life of the Eternal City.
Movie magic
I was spending my day as an unashamed tourist, taking in the sights. Coming from the Pantheon, I was making the half hour walk north, along the Via di Ripetta, an ancient thoroughfare that runs close to the River Tiber, up to the Piazza del Popolo. Parked up along the side of the street were large white film production trucks and motorhomes. I stopped to ask a member of the crew what was being filmed, and was told it was the sequel ‘John Wick 2’, starring Keanu Reeves.
Stumbling across film crews or even movie stars is not so uncommon in Rome. As one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world, she is a favourite with film directors and cinematographers. This time last year the crew and stars of ‘Spectre’, the latest James Bond film, were also in town, shooting dramatic scenes including the memorable car chase alongside the Tiber, ending with that beautiful Aston Martin DB10 falling into the river!
However reports in the media at the time suggested that the producers found Rome to be in a sorry state with unsightly graffiti and litter in the streets, so allegedly they worked with the city authorities to give the city centre a spring-clean!
City restoration
Whether those stories are true or not, I certainly found Rome last month to be looking sparkling in the winter sunshine. A day of exploring had included a chance to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain which has recently been unveiled after a total restoration. Looking at the dazzling travertine baroque carvings was a little like looking at a Las Vegas-style replica, since it now appears like new! The Colosseum, completed in A.D. 80, has also recently undergone a multi-million euro restoration, giving this iconic structure an unfamiliarly fresh and clean look. The authorities even plan to extend the restoration with a new arena floor, replacing the remains that were removed in the nineteenth century.
One place that probably remains in need of some loving restoration is the Circus Maximus. The scene of the epic chariot race in the 1959 blockbuster ‘Ben Hur’, starring Charlton Heston, this ancient Roman arena has recently been considered too fragile to have hosted the visiting film crew for the ‘Ben Hur’ remake, to be released this year. Yet do visit it; to be awed by its size and to lose yourself in thoughts of ancient Rome.
Location, location
Watching films is a wonderful way to prepare for a visit to the Italian capital. Enjoy again William Wyler’s romantic 1950s perspective, in ‘Roman Holiday’ (although don’t expect to sit on the Spanish Steps: they are closed at the moment for renovation). Fellini’s 1960 classic ‘La Dolce Vita’ is of course one of the most remembered; or more recently watch the 2009 film ‘Angels and Demons’ that races at frenetic pace from one iconic sight to the next; from the Pantheon, Piazza de la Minerva, up to Piazza del Popolo, across to St. Peter’s Square, and back to Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona. So popular was that Hollywood film that tours are still offering you the chance to explore the ‘The Path of Illumination’.
Yet to be honest sight-seeing in the ancient city centre is a pleasure to do on your own. Take a map, or use your smartphone and head out in search of your favourite movie locations. There will surely be plenty of surprises along the way, from finding unusual little shops almost hidden in side streets, to a stop at a bustling coffee bar, or a tempting distraction of lunch in a family-run restaurant.
For me one of Rome’s most remarkable sights is the Pantheon; it truly is living history. I loved the extravagant, eccentric films of Peter Greenaway; and his 1987 ‘The Belly of an Architect’ celebrated the beauty of Rome’s ancient, baroque and renaissance environment. Since then I’d always wanted to visit this two thousand year old temple, with its huge, evocative Corinthian columns and that vast dome, with its oculus, open to the sky. One can’t help but be spell-bound by the building’s scale, and the history. It’s said to be one of the very best preserved buildings from ancient Rome; a remarkable place. Off-season, if you get there early in the day or a little before closing you are likely to avoid crowds – what’s more it’s free to visit.
Cinematic view
The day was drawing to a close and I had reached Piazza del Popolo. I was finishing my sight-seeing with a view across the city as the light faded. At this time of day it’s impossible to avoid the mass of tourists who also want to share the sunset, but it’s still worth it. Taking the steps up from the east side of the piazza, I reached the edge of the Villa Borghese Park, and a balustraded terrace that offered a truly cinematic view out across the domes and spires of Rome.
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