World ? Europe ? Italy ? Rome

Rome: Introduction

Rome is a city of vivid and unforgettable images: the view of the city's silhouette from Janiculum Hill at dawn, the array of broken marble columns and ruins of temples of the Roman Forum, St. Peter's dome against a pink-and-red sunset, capping a gloriously decorated basilica.

Rome is also a city of sounds, beginning early in the morning with the peal of church bells calling the faithful to Mass. As the city awakens and comes to life, the sounds multiply and merge into a kind of urban symphony. The streets fill with cars, taxis, and motor scooters, all blaring their horns as they weave in and out of traffic; the sidewalks become overrun with bleary-eyed office workers rushing to their desks after stealing into crowded cafes for the first cappuccino of the day. The shops lining the streets open for business by raising their protective metal grilles as loudly as possible, seeming to delight in their contribution to the general din. Before long, fruit and vegetable stands are abuzz with activity as homemakers, maids, cooks, and others arrive to purchase their day's supply of fresh produce, haggling over prices and clucking over quality.

By 10am, the tourists are on the streets, battling crowds and traffic as they wind their way from Renaissance palaces and baroque buildings to the famous ruins of antiquity. Indeed, Rome often appears to have two populations: one of Romans and one of visitors. During the summer months especially, the city plays host to a horde of countless sightseers who converge on it with guidebooks and cameras in hand. To all -- Americans, Europeans, Japanese -- Rome extends a warm and friendly welcome, wining, dining, and entertaining them in its inimitable fashion. (Of course, if you visit in August, you might see only tourists, not Romans, because the locals flee the summer heat of the city. Or, as one Roman woman once told us, "Even if we're too poor to go on vacation, we close the shutters and pretend we're away so neighbors won't find out we couldn't afford to leave the city.")

Despite all this chaos, Romans still know how to live the good life. After you've done your duty to culture by wandering through the Colosseum and being awed by the Pantheon, after you've traipsed through St. Peter's Basilica and thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you can pause to experience the charm of the Roman evening. Find a cafe at summer twilight and watch the shades of pink turn to gold and copper before night finally falls. That's when another Rome comes alive; restaurants and cafes grow more animated, especially if you've found one on an ancient hidden piazza or along a narrow alley deep in Trastevere. After dinner, you can have a gelato (or an espresso in winter) and stroll by the fountains through Piazza Navona, and the night is yours.

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