Photographic book

Inhabitants of Rome


Roman people
Roman people

The knowledge that Rome is eternal, that nothing lasts but nothing changes, gives rise to the local watchword, pazienza (“patience”). In this overcrowded, understaffed city, pazienza is demonstrated everywhere, every day. Except for brief, lowering, summer-lightning flashes of an underlying volatility, the Roman is apt to be cheery and courteous, a little less operatic in his reactions than many other Italians.

In Rome, as in the rest of Italy, all children are godsends and are demonstrably, publicly loved, patted, petted, cuddled, and kissed. Unmonied families make sacrifices to provide the biggest possible dolls and the flashiest possible tricycles. This continues far into life, with the man playing the role of adored but respectful princeling to his queen mother and imperious but indulgent king to his wife and children. In society outside the family the important thing is bella figura, or keeping face. Thus the dottore (the only degree the university of Rome gives is the doctorate) salutes the street sweeper as capo (“chief”), a gesture of respect called for by the uniform.

For 1,000 years, to be a citizen of Rome was to hold the keys to the world, to live in safety, pride, and relative comfort. Today there is still considerable pride in being a Romano di Roma, a Roman Roman. Among such are the “black nobility,” families with papal titles who form a society within high society, shunning publicity and not given to great intimacy with the “white nobility,” whose titles were conferred by mere temporal rulers.

Both Romans and visitors alike continue to congregate at the café tables ranged on the plane-tree-shaded sidewalks of the Via Vittorio Veneto, a street of grand hotels, airline offices, and government buildings.

Laid out in 1887 from the Villa Borghese gardens to the Piazza Barberini, it runs downhill in a dogleg. During the 15 or so years of peak prosperity in Italian filmmaking, about 1950–65, international film celebrities abounded, and clouds of beautiful career hopefuls drifted among the tables, making the Via Veneto one of the most intriguing—in both senses of the word—streets in the world. The street remains a fashionable thoroughfare, gaily and expensively animated until long after midnight.

At the same hour, less glittering Romans can be found in the Piazza Navona, on the flat plain in the bend of the Tiber that was the Campus Martius of classical times. The piazza retains the shape and some of the remains of Domitian’s circus (ad 81–89), which remained intact until at least 1450. This is far more typical of central Rome than the Via Veneto, a mere centenarian and therefore a new street. Mussolini’s regime cut some new routes through the city, mainly to render historic sites more accessible, but modern streets are rare in the historic centre.

The inhabitants who consider themselves the most nobly Roman of them all are the people of Trastevere (Across the Tiber). They have been in their neighbourhood for a very long time, although they are of neither pure nor primordial stock. Trastevere was the quarter for sailors and foreigners, whereas the founding fathers eastward across the river were soldiers and farmers. In the Middle Ages a number of palaces were the homes of powerful families, and palaces continued to be built during the Renaissance (the Palazzo Farnesina) and even in the 18th century (the Palazzo Corsini). Some authorities—not all from Trastevere—claim Sta. Maria in Trastevere as the oldest church in Rome, pointing out that under the empire the district was the home of Orientals with alien religions, among them a goodly number of Jews proselytized by SS. Peter and Paul. It is said that Alexander Severus (reigned 222–235) permitted Christians to foregather at this site under the leadership of Pope St. Calixtus I, and it is recorded that Pope St. Julius I either raised or rebuilt a church there in 341–352. Today’s church is largely 12th-century Romanesque, with a beguiling mosaic facade. Over the millennia the area has lost little of its vigour. The people have maintained the earthiest of Roman accents, and their taverns have remained generally faithful to simple fare, robust wine, and the unison bawling of irreverent songs. One of Rome’s few secular statues—a top-hatted marble effigy of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, a 19th-century satirical dialect poet—stands near the Ponte (Bridge) Garibaldi.

Most of the streets are still narrow and without sidewalks, appearing only on the most detailed maps and baffling taxi drivers who do not live there. Every 100 paces or so the haphazard cobbled lanes open upon some surprising, small plaza with a church, a palace, a cloister, or a group of cafés. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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