How to visit a city made for cinema

“Rome is the most wonderful film setting in the world.”

At least that’s what the most famous Italian director, Federico Fellini, said. And he’s one of the stars of a three-hour walking tour that has a distinct film focus.

I meet my guide, history buff and cinephile Ruggero, in Piazza del Popolo, People’s Square. Foreigners entered the Eternal City here during the Roman Empire, when one of the greatest films of all time was made, he tells me – although Ben-Comment (1959) was actually shot at Cinecitta, aka “Hollywood on the Tiber”, a huge studio outside Rome.

Just off the square, we descend a cobbled lane, Via Margutta, which is surprisingly cool and calm on this hot afternoon. “When you want to escape the crowds, come to Via Margutta,” says Ruggero.

We walk past the high doors of a house where Gregory Peck and a runaway princess played by Audrey Hepburn hid from the paparazzi in roman holidays (1953). The word “paparazzi” comes from another iconic film from that era, Fellini’s The sweet life (1960), in which a photographer named Paparazzo pursues the film’s two stars, Swedish beauty Anita Ekberg and Italian idol Marcello Mastroianni.

Fellini also lived in Via Margutta, with neighboring artists such as Picasso and Reubens. And while roman holidays inadvertently promoted the idea of ​​vacationing in Italy to a new generation of Americans, his film popularized the notion of “the sweet life”.

“La dolce vita is now synonymous with Italy,” says Ruggero, “but it only became a reality after the war when the American Marshall Plan helped the Italian economy recover, businesses began to thrive and people were suddenly able to afford to enjoy life in ways that hadn’t been possible before.”

Leaving Fellini Street, we turn right and right again and enter Caffe Canova, a restaurant that looks like a film set or a museum. As Ruggero orders me a crema di caffe – a Roman iced coffee made with espresso, cream and ice – I admire the marble statues crammed into this former workshop of 18th-century sculptor Antonio Canova. There are headless torsos, heroes in loincloths, nearly naked deities, all dwarfing the tables of diners seated below them.

At the foot of the Spanish Steps, where Matt Damon meets Cate Blanchett under false pretenses in The talented Mr Ripley (1999), we discuss the months-long Grand Tour pilgrimages to Italy once made by wealthy young Britons. Then we pass Babington’s Tea Rooms, on one side of the famous steps, which has been serving tea, scones and sandwiches to tourists since 1893; Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton also used to hang out there during filming Cleopatra (1963).

Movies such as Angels and Demons (2009) and Eat Pray Love (2010) should probably take credit for the constant crowds at our next stop, the Trevi Fountain, but it’s irresistible. After renovations in 2015, it’s as gorgeous as a resort pool, the water so clear and sparkling it makes you want to frolic like Ekberg in The sweet life (although unfortunately this is strictly prohibited since the introduction of new tourism laws in 2019).

Our final stop is the Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple built in 118 AD that later became a basilica and featured in Peter Greenaway’s 1987 cult classic. The belly of an architect. It’s also very crowded, but the crowds inside are overwhelmed by the magnificence of its 43-meter-tall dome, the largest in the Western world. As we pass the tombs of long-dead kings, Ruggero points out the resting place of King Umberto I’s wife, Margherita, for whom the simple Italian pizza with tomato, mozzarella and basil was created in 1889. Pizza, movies – what’s not to love about a tour that’s a walking highlight reel of Rome?

THE DETAILS

ROUND

Urban Adventures’ Rome Highlights 3-hour walking tour is $100 per person; you must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination to participate. See www.urbanadventures.com

AFTER

traveller.com.au/Italy

Louise Southerden traveled as a guest of Urban Adventures.

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