Rome has been nearly 3,000 years in the making. Empires have come and gone in the process, bequeathing the world an extraordinary legacy. It has been one of the most important social, political and cultural centres of the western world for much of its existence. Something you can see just by walking around and taking in the wealth of history on display.
Yet today its history seems to be a burden weighing the city down. Everywhere you look there are historic buildings, ancient, medieval and modern, and many of them are in disrepair. Large chunks of Ancient Rome lie scattered and abandoned, too plentiful for all to be cared for equally. Graffiti, and not the good stuff, defaces many walls. The streets feel a bit dirty and littered.
The cost of maintaining all these buildings and cleaning all these streets is, no pun intended, monumental. The city itself doesn’t have the money, Italian state coffers are short of cash, bureaucracy and corruption deter private investment. The result is that neglect seems to hang like a shroud over parts the city. What is true in Rome is true elsewhere in the country.
This is only a small downside for tourists staying a few days, and for large part Rome is a patchwork of vibrant and beautiful neighbourhoods, home to extraordinary historic and cultural sights, connected by a web of atmospheric streets and lovely piazzas filled with restaurants and bars. Really, what’s not to love?
Stuffed full of monuments and monumental buildings there is one that seems to impose itself upon the city like no other. Surprisingly, it’s not the Colosseum. The giant white lump that squats impassively in the Piazza Venezia, and which seems to split opinions between revulsion and admiration, is the Altare della Patria or Il Vittoriano. It is clearly visible from any of Rome’s seven hills.
The Altar of the Fatherland, with its glaringly white marble, certainly seems out-of-place. ‘Flamboyant’ might be the kindest way to describe its architectural style; ‘wedding cake’ if you’re less kind. A medieval neighbourhood was demolished to make way for it. Although it was opened in 1925, there is a whiff of Mussolini’s Fascists about it. Unsurprisingly, it was in this piazza where Il Duce delivered his speeches.
The views from the top are dramatic though. Even if you don’t want to wait at the end of a long queue for the elevator to the roof, it’s worth the climb to get the views half way up. You can see the Colosseum, sweeping views down the river and, straight ahead, the Via Del Corso. In this city of winding streets, the Via Del Corso is as straight as a die – all the way to the Piazza del Popolo and the Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo.
A walk along the Via Del Corso, with side trips into the maze of streets on either side, offers a fascinating glimpse of life in Rome, ancient and modern. Whether its the towering Marcus Aurelius Column in Piazza Colonna, nearby Piazza di Monte Citorio, Piazza di Spagna with its Spanish Steps (closed for repair currently), or innumerable other streets and squares, this is a fascinating area.