Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 800 posts

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Love Locks on Ponte Milvio - a Rome tradition from popular teen novels?


These "love locks" seem to be in many cities these days. We saw them for the first time on Ponte Milvio in Rome (above), and assumed that was the only place they were then, and that the idea had spread. 

Above, Moccia with his first book translated
into English.

This year, while reading the first book in Federico Moccia's exceedingly popular contemporary Roman teen trilogy, I learned that Moccia's novels (specifically the 2006 "Ho Voglia di Te") are considered the source of the love locks (or are they?).

In an interview for the New York Times last March, Moccia said the idea came to him when he was in the army. "We had these locks for our bags, and when their service was over, people would attach them to the barracks fence....I thought it would be nice to turn a military thing into its opposite - make love, not war." He takes credit, the article says, for placing the first lock on Ponte Milvio. 

"Dianne, Jerry, Bill, Judy"
We put our own locks on (with good friends visiting from the US) in 2008, not too much later from that first act by Moccia. The locks were already exceedingly popular, with lock salesmen set up on the bridge, as the photos here show.

Bill and Jerry discuss with Judy, right,
which lock to buy - On Ponte Milvio.

Doing a bit of digging, I discovered the "love locks" originated not in Rome but 100 years earlier in Serbia during World War I. Nada and Relja, engaged lovers separated by the war, were separated for good when the young man did not return from the fighting because he had fallen in love with a woman from Corfu. Nada died of a broken heart. The women of the town, Vrnjačka Banja, bought padlocks, wrote their names on them, attached them to the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet, and threw the keys in the river - all to protect their love. The name of the bridge always had been "The Bridge of Love" (Most ljubavi). The whole story is here. 

Cutting off locks on Ponte Milvio (likely
there goes ours).
Since the fad started in the 2000s, bridges all over the world have become burdened with locks, so much so that some bridges developed structural problems and locks are routinely cut off (see photo right). In some places special frames are set up for the locks. Somehow this seems too civilized for me, taking the raciness and perhaps love out of it. Below, a lock frame set in Toronto's Distillery District (October 2021).

Lock frame (I recall it spells out "LOVE")
in Toronto this year.

Moccia's novels continue to be popular as well, something of a mystery to us, though admittedly we're not the target demographic. The author's effort to get published is the best story here. He started writing the first novel, "One Step to You" (in Italian, "Tre metri sopra il cielo") in the 1980s. Failing at finding a decent publisher, he paid a small publisher to release it. The 3,000 copies sold out quickly but then the publisher closed before any reprints were made. Photocopies of the novel circulated and it gained cult status (reminds me of "Peyton Place" circulating in my day), apparently especially among Roma Nord teenagers, where it's set. It's now 2 film versions and multiple translations later. With the large Feltrinelli publishing house behind him, Moccia's books sold over a million copies when released in a 2004 edition. The English language edition of the first book was published just this year; the next two are slated for next year.

Set in northern Rome, which has wealthy enclaves as well as some substandard housing, the trilogy highlights many aspects of that end of the city, including Ponte Milvio itself and cafes and hangouts in the Flaminio district south across the river. To that extent, we enjoyed the novel. 

Ponte Milvio, locks restrained.

The story is a classic: rich girl/poor boy, good family/unstable family, diligent student/truant. It's so outlandish and caricatured that we found it close to laughable. But, could 1 million readers be wrong? Are we missing empathy with teenage culture of the 1980s and 1990s?  

Almost laughable, but this was the closest I
could find to a photo of a woman sitting
backwards - here she appears to be calmly
 going to market on the back of a scooter -
 hardly a racing motorcycle in the dark nights of Rome

Several incidents involve racing motorcycles at night on city streets, with the girl riding backwards behind the guy, tied to him via a belt. Based on the brand of fashionable belts, Chamomile, the young women are called "chamomile." So Step, the truant who has put at least one person in a coma with his fighting, talks Babi, the studious young woman, into being his chamomile. There are other, fairly uncivil acts that take place in the novel (like running out of country restaurants without paying), making us question the source of its popularity. Still, if this sort of teen activity interests you, and many claim it's all based on true incidents, go for it.  We're stopping at the first book.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Behind the Ministry of Transport: Spectacular Villas from a Century Ago


Not long ago (Covid time--in real time, it was May, 2018), Dianne and I took a tour of the magnificent ville and villini in the neighborhood behind the Ministry of the Railroads (and, these days, also the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport). That's the big, white building on Piazza Croce Rosso/viale del Policlinico, just east of via Nomentana (and Porta Pia), the one with the iconic Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane sign on top (still serving that purpose). It's worth going across the street to get a good look at the sign, which for a time served as the front page for this Rome the Second Time blog. 

The steps of the building are a cat hangout, complete with cat ladies (gattare) who dutifully feed the felines.  Birds get in on the action too.

The tour took us north and west, to viale Regina Margarita, and beyond to the outskirts of Villa Torlonia, where Mussolini lived when he ruled Italy.  

Exceptional iron work

I no longer remember much of anything of the details of the buildings we saw. Most were constructed between 1900 and 1920--that is, before modernism became a force in Rome and elsewhere--and are usually described as being in the "Liberty" style (a term not used in the United States, where "late Art Nouveau [transitioning into Art Deco] would suffice). I thought they were extraordinary when we toured, and nothing since  has changed my mind.

The tour was sponsored by a group we've joined several times: Turismo Culturale Italiano, as part of their "Conosci Roma" ("Know Rome" series). They call these magnificent residential structures "I villini Eclettici e Liberty" (The Eclectic and Liberty small villas--one might question the "small" here). The villas give testimony, per the organization, "to an era capable of producing splendid works."

The above two close-ups of Villino Ximenes illustrate its
categorization as "the first flowering of Art Nouveau" in Rome.

Enjoy the photos (I've included only a sample--didn't want to spoil "reality"). Should you get to Rome and want a sense of how the city's wealthy lived a century ago, find the Ministry of Transport, and enjoy the walk. Walk the small streets that include via dei Villini (street of the small villas), via di Villa Patrizi (the rococo villa that morphed into the Ministry above), and the crossing streets. Then go onto viale Regina Margherita itself.

These were not all the aristocratic wealthy, but more the new class that arose from Italy's new 1870 (in Rome) statehood and all the government buildings and jobs that were suddenly proliferating in Rome. Those high-end bureaucrats needed places to live, and populated this area just outside the Walls of Rome and yet very near the state buildings (including that for the Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, which is just outside the Walls). Some families with royal titles built in the area as well, ensuring they were close to the sources of  power in the country's new capital. This surfeit of moneyed people built dozens of these buildings "of great richness and decorative and architectural fantasy." Even the names of the villas and their patrons are exotic: Franknoi, Hout, Nast-Kolb, and Ximenes, for example.

The two photos above are of Villino Ximenes (1902), facing viale Regina Margherita itself (the only building in floral Liberty Style of the early 1900s, according to some scholars). Villa Berlingieri, also on viale Regina Margherita, was designed by Pio Piacentino, helped by his young son Marcello, both of whose work we've admired elsewhere in Rome, and who would later design in the Modernist style.

In front of one of the villas, we found this woman, walking her cat on a leash. Years ago we tried that. It didn't work. We did discover that it IS possible to drag your cat on a leash. 


Saturday, October 2, 2021

Reading Rome: online map projects bring the 18th century to the 21st

"Giambattista Nolli's magnificent 1748 map of Rome, a milestone in the art and science of cartography and arguably one of the most accurate, beautiful and celebrated maps of Rome ever created." 

This ode to "La Grande Pianta di Roma 1748," above, is from James Tice of the University of Oregon. More importantly, for all of us missing Rome and anyone who misses 18th-century Rome, it's the introduction to the web site

In collaboration with Dartmouth, Stanford, and Studium Urbis, Tice and his colleagues have created a superb interactive map of both Nolli's Rome and modern Rome. By clicking on the "Layers" at the left of the website, you can add modern buildings or street labels, or even fountains and rioni to your map view. All landmarks (even small ones) have detailed information on the edifice's (if it is one) history and, if missing, what happened to it. 

The website also imports information and views from Giuseppe Vasi, who, in 1763 (he was Nolli's contemporary) published a guidebook for tourists. Dear to the heart of us walkers, Vasi's tourist tome (it complements his "magnum opus" on Rome of the day) breaks the city down into 8 walking itineraries. The website "" gives an outline for those itineraries, along with Vasi's plates and details on the buildings - whether extant or destroyed. You can leaf through Vasi's magnum opus on another site ( or follow the itinerary through's separate Vasi layers, as below.

Above in light green is Vasi's itinerary on Day 3, from Piazza di Spagna to Chiesa e Monastero di S. Lorenzo in Panisperna (in Monti). Part of the explanation of Vasi's plate for the last reads:  [the street angle] "argues for its [the church's] having been there before Via Panisperna was cut through. This is indeed the case: S. Lorenzo was an early Christian church, many times restored and largely redone in the 1570s. The 1551 Bufalini map shows that originally the church was approached by a street coming in from the left and parallel to the church façade. By Nolli's time that street had disappeared."

Vasi's plate at left (and on the website); a tourist photo below of the church and convent today.
Clearly a lot of armchair traveling - of the best kind - is available through this amazing map project.
Once you are 'inside' Nolli's maps, it's hard to stop looking, reading, and layering.

PS - We first learned about this mapping project in a Zoom lecture series sponsored by the American Academy of Rome - during Covid lockdowns. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Gaetano Vinaccia's Glorious Tower


This corner tower, a few blocks north of the Vatican at the angle formed by via Trionfale and via Tommaso Campanella, is surely among Rome's most elegant and harmonious structures, a stunning mix of classicism and modernism.  

Designed by architect and engineer Gaetano Vinaccia (1889-1971), whose buildings also grace via Nizza, via Gaetano Donizetti, via Claudio Monteverdi, and via Gaspare Spontini, it was completed--as the facade still reveals--in the 7th year of Fascism, 1930. It is the most distinguished element of a larger complex--all designed by Vinaccia--that occupies an entire block within 4 streets: via Trionfale, via Tommaso Campanella, via Giordano Bruno, and via Bernardino Telesio.  For many years--and perhaps still--the complex served mainly as an underutilized parking garage for the public security section of the Ministry of the Interior.  

The third floor (4th, if one includes the ground floor) presents three statues: In the center, a reproduction of the Farnese Hercules; on his left, Apollo del Belvedere; and on Hercules' right, a young man with a palm tree in hand.  Architectural historian Paolo Grassi suggests that the statues together represent victory over adverse forces, and the peace that follows.  The floor above the statues was once occupied by a Sabaudian (House of Savoy) shield, apparently removed after the proclamation of the Italian Republic in 1948.  The iron rods that once held it in place remain.  

The ground floor is special: a grand door of wood panels, flanked by fluted columns, covered by an elegant curved roof.  The top floor is special, too: a grand circular terrace that in its early days sported a steel flag pole of sufficient size to support and display a 15-meter flag.  In October 1930 the terrace was a favored vantage point from which to celebrate the building's inauguration--an event attended by Benito Mussolini.  

Although labeled a "minor architect," there has been some effort to elevate Vinaccia's standing because of his architectural approaches and theories, including the use of solar and the exploration of microclimates in urban settings. He bears the name of a luthier who is considered the creator of the acoustic guitar - a century earlier. While having exactly the same name, we haven't been able to confirm he's from the same family as those luthiers who produced the still famous, and still selling, Vinaccia guitars and mandolins.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Immersion in Rome: Sari Gilbert's new mystery "Deadline Rome: The Vatican Kylix"

If you want to immerse yourself in Rome but can't get there yet, Sari Gilbert's 2021 mystery novel, "Deadline Rome: The Vatican Kylix" is a perfect way to do it. 

Set mostly in Trastevere, Gilbert's novel features a British archeologist turned journalist and part-time detective, Clare Phillips, whose knowledge of Rome's news and police systems is deep and fascinating.

The story opens with a kidnaped young man, who has a head wound, and follows shortly with Clare and her archeological buddy discovering an ear in an Etruscan tomb, where they are picnicking near Tuscania. We've been in some of those tombs - and one can picnic in them - many are simply open. And Tuscania is a gorgeous town in northern Lazio. Hopefully that will  prick your appetite for this delightful book.

Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri

You can follow Gilbert's attractive protagonist as she scooters around Rome and its environs, interviewing everyone from bishops to tombaroli (grave thieves - those who plunder ancient graves for valuable artifacts). For those who watched the British TV series, "Fleabag," you'll be pleased to note there's even a hot priest in the mix.

Enjoying Tuscania

Gilbert's novel intertwines several historically important stories: the questionable provenance of ancient relics, in this case a signed Greek wine cup or the Kylix; corruption in the Italian banking system; and the anni di piombo, or "years of lead," in which kidnaping for political and monetary gain was a plague in the country - the novel is set in 1980. The author, a retired American journalist with years of experience in Rome, adroitly uses these historical themes to remind the reader of critical facets of contemporary Italian history. 

The proposed unveiling of the Kylix reminded us of a big show of recovered artifacts in the Carabinieri headquarters in Rome. Clare visits some of the same places we did, and interviews officials we - mostly unsuccessfully - tried to interview. - photo right; our post here.

On a more playful level, Clare traipses around Rome (as noted, by scooter, but also on foot, and by car), taking the reader to specific streets and locales that evoke the Rome of Romans, not of tourists. Her favorite barristas, coffee bars themselves, small restaurants, pasta, all are a delight to anyone who loves Rome. And if you don't know a specific street, you can get out your Google Map (or Tuttocitta') and follow along. She also slings the Italian slang, some of which was new to us, but some of which we were pleased to see on the page, including "conosco il mio pollo" - "I know my own chicken" - i.e. I know of what I speak; let me do it.

One complaint might be that Clare is a little too attractive, especially to the Italian men; though I suppose Gilbert might say, that's her Italian experience. One gets a little weary of Clare constantly being noted for her good looks, and those good looks opening doors for her. And a mystery fan with whom I spoke thought there were a few too many characters and that it was difficult to keep track of them all. That wasn't my experience. In any event, these are small criticisms in a wonderfully written book with a good mystery at its heart (you'll note I haven't spoiled it for you). I'm looking forward to more from Gilbert. 

At the bar/cafe Ombre Rosse, in Piazza di Sant'Egidio,
where Clare lives.


Gilbert's book is available on Amazon and elsewhere.