10 (+1) Reasons to visit Rome and Italy

"Io amo" (I love) by Fausto Leali. Netscape users click on the device to listen.

Travellers to Italy have always speculated on the "fatal spell" of the country, which makes people from all over the world want to visit it. Is it just because "all roads lead to Rome", i.e. because of the attraction of past civilizations, like that of the ancient Roman world, or of Renaissance? Of course these are not the only reasons making Italy so universally desirable. Here is a brief presentation.

(1) In Italy you find more than half (some say two thirds) of the works of art (monuments, sights and masterpieces) of the entire world. They are also extremely varied, as they are expression of an extraordinarily long time range, over 2,700 years, and the result of different societies and political realities. Half of this legacy can be found in Rome.

(2) A typical feature of the Italian civilization is that it was the first to stress the importance of cities. No other country in the world has so many towns, so different, so rich in art and history, and so beautiful.

(3) No other civilization has developed to such extent the importance of human qualities. The Italian civilization has its foundations not only in a very important and fruictful religion, but also in a great secular (non religious) humanistic culture, parallel and competing with the religious.

SanCarlo al Corso and the Vatican

Forest of domes, an ordinary view in Rome. View from top of the Spanish Steps, with San Carlo al Corso and the Vatican more prominent.

The result is an extraordinary richness of works of art, but also a population giving an unprecedented importance to human qualities, even in the smallest details. Realizing it when you will be in Italy will be quite a pleasant discovery. This is probably the most important reason making Italy so seductive, making the Italian writer Luigi Barzini write on the matter "Italy made and still makes unwanted people feel wanted, unimportant people feel important".

"Carrozza" carriage by the Spanish Steps

"Carrozza", carriage by the Spanish Steps

4) Italy is geographically an extremely varied country. You really find every environment: counteless beautiful towns (not only Rome, Florence and Venice, but also Siena, Orvieto, Assisi, Naples, Palermo, Arezzo, Lucca, just to mention a few), unspoilt green hills with medieval towns and inspiring churches (Umbria), magnificent and varied seaside regions (Italian Riviera, the Amalfi coast, Sicily, Sardinia, and 3000 km of coasts), beautiful countryside, inspiring Renassainance painters (Tuscany, the hills and countryside around Rome), many and varied celebrated mountains with stunning views and skiing resorts (the Alps, the Dolomites, the Apennines). There are thrieving plains (the Po plain), unexlored uplands (Calabria), fertile marine swamps (Tuscany and in the Po delta), many impressive active volcanos, myriad of varied islands, some very large and forming a totally different world (Sicily and Sardinia).

(6) Also the Italians are unbelievably varied. There are 21 regions, with different history, usually with different regional idyoms called "dialects" (truly authentic languages dying out), with different mentality, different urban layout, different landscapes, different cuisines, different patron saints, and contrasting political orientations. The 21 regions actually form practically three different countries: North, Centre and South, each claiming supremacy over something, and actually having remarkably different societies and economies. Moreover, there are also regions where completely different languages are officially spoken: Alto Adige where half of the population speaks German, valleys in the Alps in which people speak Ladin (an original language, not to be confused with Latin), uplands in Calabria were Greek Albanian is widely spoken (as they fled from the Turks in the 16th century), the Bergamo province with its Bergamasco (a sort of Germanic language), and Valle d'Aosta where French is the most spoken language.

(7) Cuisine and cooking is a national passion, and is tasteful, healthy, extraordinarily imaginative and varied. As mentioned in the restaurant page, there is no "Italian cuisine", but rather a galaxy of regional cuisines, each contributing to the rightful fame of the broader national one. You will not have to go to some fancy and expensive Italian restaurant to sample the countless dishes. You will find restaurants of all sorts everywhere, and you will discover that the most economic are also extremely good. The Italians will be happy then to explain to you all the nuances of this Mediterranean and natural cuisine.

(8) Since its very origin, the Italic civilizations (the Greeks, the Etruscan, the Latin, the Byzantine, and naturally the Italians), have always given an unprecedented importance to style, harmony with nature, good taste, and beauty. In no other country they are a popular and common heritage. The Italians since ancient times have been harbingers of style, fashion and art. Ferraris are not only the fastest cars, but also the most beautiful. Italian is also the language of music (presto, piano, forte, allegro etc.).

(9) The Italians are accommodating from a human point of view, and are savvy and sensible people in ordinary things of life. Yet, if you are an educated person and you like to explore countries in depth, you will understand why the European scholars consider Italy the most complex, intricated - and intriguing - European country (forget the silly sterotypes!). You will be mesmerised  finding out the meaning and the historical reasons of the countless achievements or sheer aspects of the Italian civilization. You will discover the form of pleasure of knowing more about the Renaissance society, about Leonardo's and Michelangelo's lives and about their contrast, about the well organized ancient Roman society, the organization of the Church etc, the fashinating history and organization of the Serenissima (the Venice Republic), and so on. You will be surprised to know that the Italians define themselves "People of Poets, Saints and Explorers". So you see, the reality is different from the silly stereotypes viewing the Italians as latin lovers, mafiosi and provincial. In everyday life, you will frequently meet in Italy very educated and erudite people.

(10) The weather is usually good and sunny most of the year. In most places the air is clean and balsamic.

You will hence understand why this land of expressive, vibrant and imaginative people has given pasta and pizza, Verdi and Pavarotti, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo, Dante and Machiavelli, Catholicism with its saints and martyrs, but also Fellini, Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, an outstanding sense of style and "Dolce Vita" (sweet life), and countless other charms - among which one should not forget the Italian women -.

... and - wait! - there is one more reason to visit Rome! Let's call it the 10th + 1 reason: Rome doesn't end with the historical centre ("centro storico"), although the latter is the largest in the world. All of its 50 or so quarters have a distinct character and personality. It is often debated in Rome which is best, where life is nicer, and so on. The peripheral quarters are not shabby and inexpressive suburbs. They contribute to the broader Roman culture, and they are the typical setting of Italian movies (think about those of Pier Paolo Pasolini, of Fellini, of the neorealist movies after WW2). Many anedocts are developed in Rome about each quarter, and most of them are also beautiful, or intriguing to say the least. You have wonderful views from Monte Mario, you can enjoy walking along the mannerly Parioli quarter, staying in Testaccio and its popular atmoshpere, etc.

If this was not enough, the surroundings of Rome are extremely charming and beautiful. There are a thousand places around Rome, in any direction. There are 13 Roman "Castles" or poetic villages including Tivoli heading south, three lakes (in opposite directions), two rivers (Tiber and Aniene), the Etruscan towns north of Rome (Cerveteri, Tarquinia etc), the charming seaside localities (Ladispoli, Fregene etc.), the mountain villages and resorts (Monterotondo, Terminillo), the poetic countryside with its villages, and - just a little further - Cassino with its Abbey, Ostia Antica etc.

"Mamma Roma" of Pierpaolo Pasolini, with Anna Magnani (poster)

"Mamma Roma" of Pierpaolo Pasolini, with Anna Magnani. The director shot his movies in Rome's peripheral quarters

This is why many come to visit Rome, and never leave. You feel like living in a world in miniature, with myriads facets, countless things to see, to do and to undergo, and you experience kaleidoscopic sensations. When we  - native or adoptive Romans - leave Rome we discover our sensuous attachment to the town. Although our favourite sport in town (since the old ages) is to complain about it, when we leave we repent having done it, and we just want to come back. All other places seem tedious, life anywhere else seems made of useless picky rules, all other people seem not having the tolerant bonomie of the Romans.
Actually, Romans are endowed with a unique pro, which you will hardly find anywhere else. More than "tolerating", they fully accept anyone, no matter where you come from, your political ideas, the colour of your skin, your profession, and no matter if you are rich or poor. You can come from a distant planet, and have revolving aerials on your head, and the Romans will accept you just the way you are. Don't count on being left alone though: they will love knowing you, and they will ask you innocently and respectfully the brand name of the aerials, and if they work well or not...


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