By Jim Ferri
I’ve been visiting it for many years and when I was there earlier this month I revisited some places I’ve always enjoyed. But I also became acutely aware of some changes that have taken place that I don’t like.
Here’s my latest take on the Eternal City, both the good and the bad:
1) Like: Capitoline Hill — the Piazza del Campidoglio, redesigned by Michelangelo, is one of Rome’s most beautiful spots. Many people don’t realize that it’s also one of the best spots (and my favorite place) to view the Forum. If you’re standing on the piazza, go around to the back of the Palazza Senatorio where you’ll find a great view of it. Unfortunately, many people, including some tour guides, have become too familiar with this spot.
2) Dislike: “The New” St. Peter’s Square — I’ve always enjoyed St. Peter’s Square and remember when you could just walk up the stairs into the basilica. Today, however, the Square has been turned almost into an armed camp. You must now go through metal detectors and a maze of barricades to get into St. Peters. Yes, I can understand the need for greater security in today’s world, but those speakers and giant TV screens that now hang from the columns….ugh.
3) Like: the Colosseum – one of the great tourist sites in the city has gotten even better. With the discovery and excavation of the well-preserved hypogeum, the underground area where animals were kept and gladiators prepared, you can now see a part of the Colosseum never before seen. And above on the third level is a well-designed museum of sorts, a fascinating exhibit that provides a fascinating perspective of both the Colosseum and ancient Rome itself. It’s worth the climb.
4) Dislike: Gladiators at the Colosseum – although at least they’re kept outside, these guys dressed up as gladiators are now running amuck, preying on tourists and demanding money for photos. Undercover police began to crack down on these thugs a few weeks ago and put some in jail but more needs to be done. Feed them all to the lions, I say.
5) Like: wandering the streets in search of a restaurant – we did have trouble finding a good restaurant a few weeks ago, but only because of the area of the city we were in, and because it was the August holiday. Still, though, I’ve always enjoyed my evenings of discovery, wandering around down little alleyways, poking my head into different restaurants to discover some gastronomic delight.
6) Like: the “Tourist Angels” — Rome’s tourist office guides on Segways. This is a great idea for any city. I saw this woman from the tourist office as she cruised Capitoline Hill on her Segway. She could provide you with brochures and maps as well as all sorts of info about the city from the iPad that’s attached to the handlebars.
7) Like: Piazza Navona – despite it now being overrun with tourists and the restaurants about it not quite of the same caliber they once were, no other piazza in Rome can rival it. It’s still a great place to admire art, whether it be the Baroque fountains or the Renaissance buildings, or just the scores of artists showing their works in the center of the piazza.
8) Dislike: Rome’s transportation system – well, the city fathers had the best of intentions anyway. The new subway line is taking forever to build since every foot dug seems to unearth some new artifact, bringing construction to a halt. The subway cars may be better than they once were, but the city could put some effort into cleaning and sprucing up the stations, and provide better signs for tourists.
9) Dislike: street vendors at major tourist sites – street vendors are fine, just as long they’re kept in check. Around every major tourist site in Rome these days you’re tripping over them and the kitschy stuff they’re selling. And possibly even worse – those carts that sell gelato, paninoteca and other Italian treats, now also advertise hamburgers and hotdogs!
10) Like: the Pantheon – I’m embarrassed to reveal this, but I had been visiting Rome for many years before I stumbled (almost literally) on the Pantheon. The best-preserved ancient building in the city, and one of the most beautiful, its interior is lit only by the oculus in the dome. Originally built as a temple “of all the gods” almost 2,000 years ago, today it is designated as a church and contains the tomb of Raphael as well as several Italian monarchs.