All roads may lead to Rome, but…
For many people, a common bucket list entry involves riding a Vespa in Rome. However, the street where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck rode in Roman Holiday has been closed to private vehicle traffic.
That street is Via dei Fori Imperiali, created in the 1920s when Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini bulldozed a dense residential neighborhood. Buses, taxis and bicycles can still use it, but you and I are no longer allowed to drive our cars (which in Italy these days tend to be Hyundais, Kias and Korean-built Chevrolets) or our scooters (Honda SHs, Kymco Peoples and others with big wheels) on it.
That the street carried as many as 1600 vehicles per hour seems not to matter to Rome’s newly-elected mayor, who at least seems to recognize that Rome’s Centro Storica has pretty much become Disneyland d’Italia. While dense, traffic moved rather quickly when I visited in 2005; so quickly, in fact, that I decided not to rent a scooter. In light of the fact that I really didn’t know where the streets went, it seemed a moment’s hesitation would cause one to be trampled by the herd.
My favorite place in Rome is the Esposizione Universale Romana, or EUR for short. As I recall, you take the Met.ro (yes, that’s how it’s written… it’s short for Metropolitana di Roma) to the Colosseum, then get on a commuter train to get there. The EUR was planned by Mussolini as a sort of World’s Fair of Fascism, set to open in 1942. As you might guess, World War II got in the way, and Mussolini was sent packing the following year.
As I walked from the train station, I kept thinking of how much that part of town looked like San Diego. People on the street looked at me with wide eyes, probably wondering what the hell an American tourist was doing there (we don’t blend in, unfortunately).
The highlight of the EUR is the Square Colosseum (Colosseo Quadrato in Italian), which is pretty much what the name implies. It was being renovated for occupancy by the Italian Ministry of Labor during my visit.
But the object of my quest was an intriguing entry in Rick Steves’ Rome 2005 guide—the Museum of the Roman Civilization (in Italian, Museo della Civiltà Romana).
It felt like something out of a Monty Python sketch. Dour-faced docents waited to lead groups that would never come through exhibits that seemed to be made mostly of stuff that got dug up during the lengthy process of expanding the Met.ro (when anything that might remotely, possibly be an artifact turns up, everything stops until Rome’s Department of Archaeology gives the all-clear). The museum’s signature exhibit is a 1:250 scale plaster model of Rome during the time of Constantine I, but it seemed the idea of cleaning a rather thick layer of dust from it hadn’t occurred to anyone. The whole place had a forlorn, threadbare look to it.
But there were no lines. I got a ticket, walked right in and had the total run of the place. Really, the exhibits are interesting in their own way, and a bit of sprucing-up would go a long way toward making it an inviting place to visit. I hope that’s happened—I haven’t been back to Rome since.