Hi, I'm Rudy Maxa. Welcome to the Eternal City, the Capitol of Empires, the
place where all roads lead. Coming up, ROMA, on Smart Travels.
Join Rudy for a Grand Tour of the Old World - the people, the places, the
sights and the distinctly European flavors. Our host is syndicated
columnist Rudy Maxa - widely known as public radio's Savvy Traveler. Stay
tuned for some trips, tips and secret places for the traveler on the go.
Rome. To see it is to tumble back in time, and find yourself
standing where Caesar stood, where chariots raced and gladiators battled,
where Western Civilization was formed.
But Rome is no museum Ė in fact, it's alive and well and going strong.
Modern Rome swarms around ancient Rome. In fact, I can't imagine one
without the other.
In Rome, the ancient and modern live side by side. You can
dine in the shadow of a temple to Jupiter, get your bearings on a Roman
column, or glance across a busy square to see archeologists unearthing
ancient frescoes. Itís all in a day in the life of Rome.
Romans are always on the move. The same creativity and
ingenuity that built empires still energizes the streets of modern Rome.
Parking is a creative affair. And driving is controlled chaos. There are
no lanes to speak of and every inch of space is fair game.
They could only put down two subway lines in Rome because they kept digging
up ancient ruins. So, I'm walking to the first destination - that is if I
can get past the modern day charioteers. (he gestures to the wild,
weaving traffic) You have to be decisive when crossing the street here
- don't hesitate, take the plunge . . . but . . .
(starts w/ bravado, then falters) When in Rome, I always do as the
Romans do. . eh, I donít know.
RUDY (to woman)
Scusi, can you help me get across?
Ah si, si, venga.
Having survived the modern streets, Iím headed for Romeís
important ancient ruins: the Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Colosseum and the
Baths of Caracalla.
This was ancient Rome's busy street - the Via Sacra. Victorious
generals rode through the crowds here, standing upright in their gilded
chariots, their cheeks painted red. Carts hauled the booty from the war and
displayed pictures of the battles. A long procession of soldiers and
For hundreds of years, Roman legions swept across the
Mediterranean, amassing an empire that stretched from Britain to North
Africa to Babylon.
The Via Sacra leads into the Roman Forum, the heart of ancient
Rome. Every morning prominent citizens came here to discuss business and
Romans assembled in front of the Curia, or Senate building to
debate the issues of the day. Speakers climbed to the rostrum to voice
their opinions. From this platform Mark Antony may well have called out to
"friends, Romans, and countrymen" to avenge the murder of Julius Caesar.
The forum is ringed with temples. In exchange for good
fortune, the Romans honored their gods with rituals and sacrifice.
Great reading on ancient Rome: The Romans by
The Temple of Vesta housed the sacred fire of Rome and it was the job of the
vestal virgins to keep it lit. Chosen when they were children, the vestal
virgins vowed thirty years of chastity. If they strayed, they were buried
The worst fate to befall the average tourist in the forum is
theft. Pickpockets frequent the area around the Forum and Colosseum, as
well as other areas of Rome. Beware, pickpockets can spot a tourist a mile
I hate looking like a tourist, so I bought one of these - a fake cell
phone. I mean, everyone's got one. It's Roman chic.
If you were chic in ancient Rome, you lived here on the
Palatine Hill above the forum. Then, as now, the Palatine offered a
peaceful escape from the crowds below and splendid views of Rome.
The Imperial Palace stood here and the ruins of houses, sunken stadiums and
courtyards are traces of the great wealth and luxury of the Roman elite.
As ancient Rome became wealthier, people spent a fortune on food and
feasting, sometimes bankrupting themselves. Today, Romans still take their
food very seriously.
Lunch opportunities in Rome abound. If you're short on time,
stand up in a bar and grab a panino - a sandwich often made with ham or
prosciutto and cheese. Join the crowd for a cappuccino, or an espresso.
A tavola calda is like a delicatessen with meats and prepared
foods - it's another great place for a quick, inexpensive snack or picnic
lunch to go.
My favorite, though, is a Pizzeria Rustica where you can
choose from tasty looking squares of mouthwatering pizza. I canít resist
suppli - a fried Roman specialty of rice, tomato sauce and cheese.
Food and fun - that's what the populace of Rome demanded. The
emperors distributed free grain and threw games at the Colosseum to
entertain and pacify the general populace. A typical day in the Colosseum
started with a comic, bloodless battle between women or dwarfs. Then the
games grew deadly. An early afternoon show might feature stalking and
killing hippos. Then gladiators took to the ring, brandishing swords, pikes
or red-hot bars. When a gladiator fell he could appeal to the crowd for
mercy. A sea of waving cloth and upturned thumbs freed the man, but more
often than not the crowd gave a thumbs down.
What better after a little slaughter, than a bath?
Unemployment in ancient Rome was high and individual dwellings
were pretty wretched. So everyone - rich and poor - whiled away the hours
in public places.
These baths, the Baths of Caracalla, were fed by an
engineering marvel, the famous Roman acquaducts. Here Romans followed an
elaborate ritual of hot and cold baths. Roman bathers socialized, exchanged
dinner invitations and sipped wine in these luxurious surroundings which
were decorated with more gold, marble and mosaics than any other building in
Rome. At the baths, Romans could exercise at the gym, browse in the art
gallery and library or visit the snack bar to feast on treats like dormice,
small fat rodents with hairy tails. Hmm.
Donít expect to find maps or written info at any
of Romeís ruins. Bring your own.
I've left ancient Rome to join a couple of friends for a more modern snack,
a gelato and a caffe.
By the way, if you order "un caffe" in
Rome you'll get an espresso. And you order your caffe' here - in a bar,
which is really a cafe. It's confusing. If you sit down for your
refreshment, you'll end up paying double for it. (shot from his pov)
But ah, it's worth it. I love taking in the sights and listening to the
No matter where you stop, you're never far from one of Rome's
Fountains are the music of Rome. Some are still fed by ancient Roman
aquaducts. In ancient times, fountains provided the public water supply.
Today they still offer welcome relief from the hot Roman sun.
This piazza, the Piazza della Rotunda, is
one of my favorites. In fact, this is my favorite section of Rome - the
historic center or centro storico.
The gem of the Centro Storico is the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was a temple dedicated to the gods of the seven
planets. The interior is much the same as when it was built in the second
century by the inventive emperor Hadrian. The Pantheon was preserved
because it was converted to a Christian church in the 7th
century. The opening in the ceiling is a window to the heavens . . .
My favorite walk in Rome winds through the back streets from
the Pantheon to the Teatro Marcello.
From the Pantheon start wandering toward the river. Delightful surprises
pop up as you wind your way through narrow streets.
There's Piazza Navona and its famous fountains by the 17th
century artist Bernini who left his lively art in the streets and churches
Nearby at Campo dei Fiori, literally the field of flowers, youíll find a
fruit and vegetable market every weekday morning.
At the large square the Largo Argentina, archeologists continue to uncover
ancient temples from the 5th century BC.
The Largo is also known for its clerical outfitter shops and the selection
here is divine.
Hidden away in these back streets is one of Romeís most charming fountains.
The turtles werenít part of the original 16th century design.
They were added later by none other than the artist Bernini.
Our route ends at the stately Teatro Marcello, an ancient theatre, which in
typical Roman fashion was converted to a palace in the 16th century and now
houses luxury apartments. Wherever you go in Rome, youíll take in one of my
favorite sights: Romans.
What do you think? Do I look Roman now? Whaddya say - a thumbs up?
My friend Paulo has agreed to drive me across town and show me the driver's
perspective on Roman traffic.
Cursing is an ancient tradition around here and Roman cursing
is as creative as Roman driving. Paulo just said "mortacci tua" which means
"a curse on your ugly dead relatives."
Enrico mutters "imbecile" to a driver.
Imbecile (IMBECHILE) What could that mean?
Our wild ride takes us across town to one of the most
fascinating churches in Rome.
Layer upon layer of history, that's Rome. Just scratch the surface and
you'll find something totally unexpected. Nowhere is this more clearly
illustrated than here in this church, San Clemente.
The facade is from the eighteenth century, but step inside and
you're in a medieval church . . . .
with glowing mosaics that are 900 years old. The mosaics are
some of the most unusual in Rome as they depict a living cross that grows
from a vine and symbolizes salvation. Doves symbolize the apostles . . .
and the drinking deer represent baptism.
But there's more - a door in the back of the church takes you
down to the 4th century Christian church which was pillaged by
Normans and buried under rubble. On the wall is one of the first examples
of written Italian - as it happens, it's an example of early cursing. (refer
Down again and further back in time. A narrow circular
stairway leads to a 2nd century mithraeum where members of a mysterious cult
sacrificed bulls to the Persian god Mithra.
And back here begins an even older labyrinth of Roman streets
and buildings. The ancient tunnels reverberate with the sound of rushing
water Ė an underground network of ancient reservoirs and aquaducts. A
century ago, a child fell into the water here. He was swept five miles
outside the city before he was found - dazed but alive.
Iím taking the bus to the next destination Ė the Vatican. The
bus in Rome is the major form of public transportation - and really quite
easy to use.
Bus tickets and route maps are available at Tabbacci or
You can also buy postal stamps or francoboli at a Tabacci.
The bus stops are called fermata. On the signs, an arrow shows the
direction the bus is headed, and the stop you are standing at in shown in a
Enter where it says Entrata, and validate your ticket in the
My bus ride takes me to another country - Vatican City.
Occupying 109 independent acres within the city of Rome,
Vatican City is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and home of the Pope.
The Basilica of Saint Peter's is a magnet for pilgrims and
tourists from all over the world. The church is dedicated to the apostle
Peter who was the first Bishop of Rome. All popes are his spiritual
American writer Henry James wrote that entering the church
"seems not so much a going in somewhere as a going out." The inside is
enormous, ornate, dramatic - the very definition of Baroque.
For centuries, architects have been copying the famous dome
designed by Michelangelo. The US capitol dome is an example.
Next door to the Basilica is the Vatican Post Office. Vatican
City has its own coins, stamps and postal service. If you have a postcard
to mail - mail it here. The Pope's mail is more reliable than the Roman's.
Nearby, unflappable Swiss Guards having been protecting the
Pope since the 16th century. They still wear Renaissance
uniforms designed by Michelangelo.
A hefty walk from Saint Peter's Basilica will bring you to the
Vatican Museum. Its most notably artistic treasures are from the ancient
world and the artists of the Renaissance. Pick up a map and plan your visit
well to avoid overload.
The Sistine Chapel is the jewel of the museum. The ceiling is
Michelangeloís vision of the creation, original sin and the Flood. Flanking
the Biblical scenes are portraits of prophets. At the center, God gives
life to Adam in a scene that mirrors the artistic process.
Wandering the streets around the Vatican, you can find just
about every religious souvenir imaginable.
My shopping mission this trip to Rome is to bring home a bottle of fine
At the Enoteca Parlamento, the only problem is there are too
many great wines to choose from. Fortunately thereís help. Describe the
type of wine you like and ask for a recommendation and a sample.
The wine shop is not far from Rome's shopping hub - the area
around the Via del Corso.
The long straight street that served as a racetrack in the
18th century is now lined with boutiques. The Via Condotti, which runs from
the Corso to the Piazza di Spagna is a shopping mecca with top of the line
boutiques and designer shops.
When youíre all shopped out, the Spanish steps are a great
place to have a seat and do some tourist watching. The area has attracted
foreigners ever since the 19th century. The poet Keats lived in
the Piazza, right next to the steps.
For more peaceful shopping and wandering, visit Trastevere,
Rome's left bank.
In ancient times, emperors built suburban villas in cool, shady Trastevere.
Today itís a warren of narrow streets dotted with antique and specialty
One unique little place is Polvere di Tempo, a shop
that sells, among other things, time. Owners Adrian Rodriguez and Mariana
Nye handcraft almost all the items in this magical little shop.
As you wander the streets of Rome, you can take refuge from
the heat in the cool, dark churches. Santa Maria in Trastevere is a 12th
century church built over a fourth century basilica and one of the oldest
churches in Rome. It may well have been the first place Christians could
worship in public. Bring some change for the coin operated lights in
churches - it's well worth it.
When itís time for dinner in Rome, itís a good idea to get
away from major tourist areas. Ask a local for advice. Ristorante usually
offer a more formal setting, trattoria are more casual and less expensive;
and the hostaria is traditionally a locals hangout with no menu.
There are plenty of great restaurants in Rome, but I'm in the mood for one
of those scrumptious thin crust Roman pizzas. This is a Pizzeria Forno a
Legno which means wood oven pizzeria.
The most popular Roman pizzas are the margherita, plain
cheese, the funghi - with mushrooms, and the capriciosa - artichokes,
prosciutto, olives and egg. Hmmm hmm.
After dinner, thereís no better tradition than a gelato and no better place
to indulge than Giolittiís, Romeís pre-imminent gelato establishment.
A warm Mediterrean night, Italian gelato and fabulous fountains. Piazza
Navona is lively at night.
It's an Italian tradition to stroll around the piazza after
dinner and enjoy the sights.
At night the monuments begin to glow and Rome turns up the magic.
Rome leaves you with so many impressions - the energy and life of the modern
world and the splendor and ingenuity of the ancient one. There's a sense
of timelessness here - but then of course it is the Eternal City.
As they say - "When in Rome . . ." Nothing makes you fit in more than your
own Vespa. What do you think Ė is it me?
All right, I need a thumbs
up here. This could be suicide!
Imbecile, oooh - Mama mia!