Retracing Famous Movies in Rome
This week, we are staying in Rome – on the invitation of GowithOh who have kindly provided us with a flat in the beautiful district of Trastevere, in walking distance to nearly all of that great city’s many sights.
During our seven-day stay, we will try out a few short and easy walks in the countryside around Rome, but also explore the city itself, searching – as always – for unfamiliar sights and fresh angles.
Today, we will check out some of the locations of famous movies that were shot in Rome.
Most of us gain our first impression of the world’s great cities in a cinema – and our ideas of what these cities are like (and what to expect when we actually visit them) are forever influenced by what we see on that silver screen.
Some cities are rather blasé about their movie star status – none more so than Paris (which did not deter me from dedicating an entire book to the city’s use as a movie set) – but there are others that are proud of the role they play in the world’s collective imagination and positively celebrate it.
Rome, I am pleased to report, falls into the latter category.
There are information panels dotted all over the city, telling you which famous scenes were shot where, providing facts, gossip and even some rather apposite and knowledgeable interpretations of arthouse movies such as Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (that’s the film the panel above is all about).
But then again, few cities manage to combine their history of fodder for lowbrow and highbrow movies, of Dan Browns and Antonionis, with as much grace and elegance as Rome.
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We start our walk at the Piazza del Popolo – for no better reason than that this is the northernmost stage post on our tour and that I am going to take you from sight to sight in a north-south direction.
Please feel free to join in anytime and complete the loop in either direction – or select only those sights that appeal to you, making your own itinerary and perhaps losing your way in the maze of Rome’s side streets. Rome is probably the best place in the world to do this, because something interesting – an antique monument, a Baroque church, an ancient palazzo – is sure to pop up behind every corner.
This may actually be the best way of experiencing Rome, of understanding what makes Rome and the Romans tick: on the one hand, the city appears to be pervaded by a melancholic awareness of having seen better times which will never come back, but there is also an unsurpressable joie de vivre, a determination to have as much fun as possible before things can slide even further downhill – and it is exactly this mix which is also the subtext of all the best films that have been made about the Eternal City.
Walk southwards from the Piazza del Popolo – which, like a good ouverture, introduces some of the motives that you will encounter again and again along the way: an obelisk, some classical columns, two Baroque churches and a palazzo with a beautiful garden – down Via del Babuino.
Turn into the first street on the left: this is Via Margutta, one of Rome’s hidden treasures…
… and the place where Gregory Peck’s character lives in that 1950s classic Roman Holiday, the movie that made Audrey Hepburn a star.
Unfortunately, this house – no. 51 – is currently under renovation, so there is not much to show you. Instead, here is a picture of no. 110 where the director Federico Fellini lived for many years with his wife, the actress Giulietta Masina.
This is a handsome house, surely, and Fellini inhabited almost certainly one of the largest flats in the building, but still, you can’t help wondering how a Hollywood director would react if he were offered this property by his Roman estate agent (“that’s all very civilized and sophisticated, surely, but where am I supposed to put the Jacuzzi?”).
Follow Via Margutta to rejoin Babuino and continue straight into Piazza Spagna for the Spanish Steps on your left hand side. The Steps, essentially a church perched on top of a steep stairway, have been used many times as Rome’s equivalent to Montmartre, a place for romance and visual poetry, not least because there is also an artistic connection (Keats and Shelley standing in for Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec).
Few Roman movies appear willing to miss this picturesque setting – Roman Holiday has a scene here, Miss Hepburn enjoying her gelato, and in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Matt Damon arranges a meeting between some of the film’s main characters in the Cafe Dinelli (at the foot of the steps). (The obsessed pianist in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged also lives in a villa near the Spanish Steps, and the movie uses the romantic settings around the Piazza Spagna to great effect.)
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Climb the stairs, turn right into Via Sistina and left into Via Crispi, following this street until Porta Pinciana where you turn right into Via Veneto. This was once Rome’s most elegant street, but is now firmly in Russian and Middle Eastern hands. The very moment we entered Via Veneto, a Ferrari zoomed past, and we could still hear the roar when the car must have been already three blocks away.
Via Veneto is barely recognizable from the place where Marcello Mastroianni gave the character of the “Latin Lover” an unforgettable personal spin in La Dolce Vita – and where his friend Paparazzo, the over-eager press photographer, gifted the world a new word.
Peek into Harry’s Bar at the very top which has pictures of Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra at the entrance…
… and into Cafe de Paris (where they exhibit a large collection of Fellini pictures who appears to have been a regular).
Both places feature in La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s most celebrated film and quite possibly the most famous movie ever made about Rome and her glamourous tribes of intellectuals and socialites. (It may be quite a leap from here, but let me mention all the same that Via Veneto is also the place where the trials and tribulations in The Lizzie McGuire Movie start.)
At the end of Via Veneto, turn right into Via Vittorio and right – at Piazza Barberini – into Via del Tritone. Cross the street and turn left into Via della Stamperia – where, incidentally, Audrey Hepburn has her hair cut in Roman Holiday (at no. 85).
There is no single building that cries out Rome in a way that the Eiffel Tower cries out Paris or Big Ben cries out London, which is why a series of different motives is generally used to establish Roma as a location – in which the Trevi Fountain has featured heavily ever since, for example in Three Coins in a Fountain, a very popular film in the 1950s (nominated for Best Film at the 1954 Academy Awards) made most famous for Frank Sinatra’s version of the title song.
But then, Anita Ekberg spoilt it all by making the Trevi Fountain her own, taking a bath in the basin in one of the most famous movie scenes of all time. The fountain became a signature for her, or more precisely, for the type of behaviour we associate with a certain type of movie star (Fellini had originally wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part) and no longer for the city of Rome.
Nowadays, of course, Miss Ekberg would have to box three rows of Chinese tourists out of her way before she could get within sniffing distance of the Trevi’s waters.
Turn right into Via delle Muratte and the Piazza di Pietra where the Tempio di Adriano on your left hand side is the home of the city’s Stock Exchange. Only in Rome would a 2000-year-old building be considered as a proper stage for the antics of the city’s fast boys and yuppie capitalists: for men like Alain Delon, Monica Vitti’s stockbroker boyfriend in L’Eclisse.
The piazza in front where we see him and his colleagues congregate for a quick lunch and an ever quicker cup of coffee has changed considerably since the 1960s but is still recognizable (albeit less busy than it is in the film).
If you are interested, you can now turn south to find Alain Delon’s flat from that same movie in the Palazzo Patrizi at 12 Via del Delfini.
But for the rest of us, we shall turn westwards now – for Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the trendy district of Trastevere.