The Spanish Steps
I’ve often wondered why people flock to the Spanish Steps, a stairway composed of 135 of the widest steps in Europe, but they are an institution in Rome so never one to miss out on an institution, I took myself off there. I know the popularity of the steps has a lot to do with the William Wyler film A Roman Holiday which starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, just as The Trevi Fountain owes much of its popularity to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and its stars Anita Eksburg and Marcello Mastroioni, but nevertheless, I struggle to see the attraction here when the nearby gardens of the Villa Borghese are almost empty.
Built in the 18th century, this ultra-wide staircase was called the Spanish Steps because although designed by an Italian architect and financed by a French diplomat, it took the name from the Piazza di Spagna at their foot, in turn named after the nearby Spanish Embassy. The steps were built to connect the Embassy with the Trinita dei Monti church which stands in the Piazza at the top of the steps.
The English poet John Keats once lived in the building at the bottom of the steps in what is now the Keats & Shelley Museum to the left of which is Babington’s, the famous tea-house serving homesick Brits since 1893.
The steps may seem the perfect place to tuck into a takeaway, a sandwich or an ice-cream but this is something you must not do. Roman regulations forbids consuming anything on these steps, part of an effort to keep them looking pristine. After the latest restoration this rule is being vigorously enforced.
Rome city buses are too big to negotiate the narrow streets around the Spanish Steps so if you are not going to walk to it, take Linea A (red line) on the Metro and exit at Spagna. The station is right next to the Spanish Steps.
The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world having been featured in several notable films, including the above-mentioned Roman Holiday, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the eponymous Three Coins in the Fountain, and Sabrina Goes to Rome. It is a non-stop photo opportunity from early morning until well after midnight, with a never-ending mass of people milling about, most of them with huge selfie-sticks and a disinclination to make room for others. If you need peace and quiet plan to visit very early in the morning.
The fountain is said to date back to ancient Roman days, to the 19th century BC in fact, when the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome was constructed, at the junction of three roads (tre vie) which give the Trevi Fountain its name.
It is is almost 50 metres across and heavily adorned with sculptures of Roman gods, tritons and horses, and is packed with visitors from morning till night.
Approximately €3,000 is thrown into the fountain every day as people follow the tradition of throwing in coins. Legend has it that a coin thrown into the fountain will ensure a return to Rome, a legend that dates back to the ancient Romans who threw coins in water to ensure the water gods would bring them safely home.
The coins are collected every night and given to the Italian charity Caritas which has a supermarket program giving rechargeable cards to Rome’s needy to help them get groceries.
The streets around the area are lined with trattorias, gelaterias and restaurants, most serving food and drink at reasonable prices, despite its touristic position. Many shops sell wooden toys of the sort we don’t see nowadays, including Pinocchios from miniature to life-size. Nearby Via di San Vincenzo and Via della Dataria will lead you to the Quirinal Palace, as well as the Piazza del Quirinale with its obelisk and fountain of Castor and Pollux.
Most of Rome’s famous sights are within walking distance of the centre but there is a hop-on hop-off bus that leaves from the left-hand side of Vittorio Emmanuel ll every 20 mintues or so and this is an excellent way of getting to know where things are. Vittorio Emmanuel ll and The Colosseum are quite near each other, so can be visited at the same time and the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain can be reached in about an hour from there, taking it at a leisurely pace.