Rome, the Eternal City, a city of love and beauty. The city is famed for its beautiful ancient relics; the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps. A city whose cobbled streets and ancient architecture have been immortalised by Hollywood, throughout the 20thand 21stCenturies, from Roman Holiday, to the Lizzie McGuire movie, to La Dolce Vita. These movies perpetuate the identity of Rome, as a beautiful city, with wonderful landmarks, incredible gastronomy, and maybe even love around every corner. There is another side to this famed city. Around the corner from the shining monuments and high-end stores, you might not find a man waiting for you on a bright red Vespa, but you will find graffiti adorning the crumbling walls, as you avoid the trash lining the cracked and potholed roads. 

Rome’s identity, shown to the world by Hollywood movies, and supported and perpetuated by Rome’s tourism industry, leads the city’s visitors to a rosy expectation of the Eternal City. The rose-tinted glasses quickly crack when faced with the reality of this magical city. 

One of the streets off Rome’s Trevi Fountain Square, just one of the surrounding streets in disrepair. Photo: Lilly McKenzie

Alice Mcfaul, originally from Northern Ireland but living in London, joined some friends who were going to Rome for the six nations Rugby game in February this year, and had her romantic fantasies of the city dashed.

“I guess I had this big romantic idea of what it would be like…I wanted to spend the time walking around and seeing all the sights. Honestly I was a little underwhelmed in the end which was sad,” she said.

“It was amazing to see all the ruins and I love Italy in general, but thought the streets were dirty.”

Mcfaul admitted her expectations were potentially skewed.

“I think it’s because I put a lot of memory on it without realising…I don’t think I’d go back. I much prefer Venice or other spots in Italy to Rome.”

The Trevi Fountain at night, where thousands of tourists gather daily. Photo by Lilly McKenzie.

Rome’s Hidden Face

Rome is full of metropolitan centres, and getting around seems easy with Rome’s vast public transport system, where metros and busses run constantly. Despite the popularity of these systems, they remain overcrowded and outdated, covered in dirt and graffiti. Tour operator Mr Stefano Donghi knows his beloved city is not perfect, and believes his government should spend the time and money to fix these systems.

“Rome has two faces, and there is a contrast between the two faces. Because Rome, not just in the eyes of the locals, but also tourists, has many, many problems. Because of the economic situation, we cannot afford many problems, like the rubbish around or the public transportation,” he said.

“Everything public is in a really terrible condition…Rome had a big problem because there was a kind of criminal organisation taking advantage of the political system. To obtain power they were taking agreements with these criminal organisations that have under their control, the public transportation, they have the system to recycle the rubbish and everything, and many other things.”

While visitors to the city see the rubbish, and experience the public transport first hand, most do not know the reasons behind what they experience.

Scattered rubbish lines a broken street in Rome. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Getting Lost in Rome

Donghi says the small corners and hidden streets are what make Rome great, and allow visitors to really explore the city.

“Rome is different, because of its history, the richness and heritage. It is possible to see a secret garden in an ancient ex-convent, and being in the city centre of Rome, feeling like you are in the countryside or in Tuscany,” he said.

“Rome has to be discovered, that’s the secret. To know Rome, you have to get lost in Rome. Go get lost in the little streets and roads of Rome because behind each corner you can find something special.”

Traveller Gosia Musińska noticed this on her first trip to Rome too. The Romanian came to Rome without doing research, worried that having expectations would cause disappointment.

“I was a bit afraid that Rome, being a capital and a famous city would not make a huge impression on me, but I still wanted to see it just to have an opinion,” she said.

“I guess what struck me the most, and what makes me say that the city exceeded my expectations, are two things. The fact that Rome is not just a normal city with a couple of historic or touristic spots, it is the entire city that’s the historic spot!”

“There are no new buildings here! I had never been in such a place before – the whole city is a monument, so to say,” she exclaimed.

To Donghi, Rome’s identity is, “a really beautiful woman that has not the chance and the facilities to buy nice clothes, nice make up which could make the difference.”