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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Italy.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Italy.
The Mediterranean is an undisputed haven for island hopping. But while the waters off Greece and Croatia might be increasingly familiar to travellers, Italy is arguably still king when it comes to offshore escapes — and nowhere is this more evident than the cluster of islands sprinkled across the Bay of Naples.
Lunching at Agriturismo Sa Marighedda, a farm restaurant outside Castiadas, in southeast Sardinia, my husband Michael and I couldn’t have been further from the bling of the island’s celebrated, supermodel- draped Costa Smeralda. We’d jumped at the chance to spend a week here, in a house offered by a pair of Sardinian teachers, Giuliana and Mario, and right now we couldn’t have been happier.
The food was no hotel-bland international fare. On Sa Marighedda’s fixed-price menu we had already chewed our way through cured meats, tangy pecorino cheese, olives, grilled aubergines and ‘rustic’ focacce, all brimming with that sunny taste of the Med you can’t replicate back home. Two types of Sardinia’s distinctive pasta in a rich tomato sauce followed: culurgiones, fat oval pillows filled with pecorino, and ridged, trilobite-shaped malloreddus. To wash it down: the local Cannonau red, full of those lovely antioxidants that help the locals live to be 100.
Yes, this was Sardinia, the Sardinia we first visited 35 years ago while researching our first travel guides on the western Med: the fantastically old, mysterious island that existed long before Michelin-starred chefs descended and swanky resorts set about colonising the beaches. Somehow we also managed dessert: pardulas (tiny cheese tarts under flurries of powdered sugar) and seadas (warm, fried cheese ravioli oozing arbutus honey). But it was the scent of the mirto, Sardinia’s famous myrtle digestivo, which really evoked memories. ‘Do you remember when we had all this before?’ I asked Michael.
‘At the shepherds’ feast,’ he said right away, even though it had happened 35 years ago.
“The wild landscapes, vast skies ana simple, stucco ranch style architecture seemed ideal for spaghetti westerns”
The shepherds’ feast was the most magical day of our five-month-long journey. Back then, before Sardinia was a beacon on the package-holiday map, the authentic was all around – you didn’t have to go in search of it. That said, our VIP pass that long-ago day had something to do with the fact that we were travelling with the best accessory you can have in Italy: a cute baby. Doors fall open. Chocolates and bonbons fly out of handbags. People take you in a 4WD to a mountain meadow where you’re the only foreigners, where shepherds slow-roast meat in a pit, as they’ve done since antiquity.
Where a floppy-hatted male quartet cupped their ears in their hands and burst into uncanny, archaic, cantu a tenore polyphonic song, while our baby was passed around, smothered with kisses and stuffed with tidbits. It felt downright Homeric. Isolated for centuries from the mainland, everything about Sardinia – its cuisine, its language, its festivals and music – seemed older than the rest of Italy.
How much of the island would still be the real deal this time round? We couldn’t help wondering what disappointments might lie ahead, as we set off back to our temporary home in Oristano. Initial signs were promising: kilometres of rugged, primeval Mediterranean terrain, and rustic sheepfolds amid tumbles of granite boulders, parasol pines, olive and lemon groves and vineyards. Cork oaks blushed reddish orange where they’d been stripped of their bark. The wild landscapes, vast skies and simple, stucco ranch-style architecture seemed ideal for spaghetti westerns. I could imagine Clint Eastwood in his poncho and Stetson riding over the hill.
“I always wondered why Sergio Leone didn’t film here,” I said. ‘After all, Sardinia is just a ferry-hop from Rome’s Cinecitta studios.’
“I imagine Spain was cheaper and emptier,” Michael replied. “Besides, it would look odd if there was a shoot-out with a nuraghe in the background.”
We had already passed several of these characteristic single or multi-lobed towers: nothing shouts ‘ancient Sardinia’ like them. After the pyramids, nuraghes, built here and nowhere else from about 1500BC to 500BC, were the tallest megalithic constructions ever created, and a mind-boggling 7,000 of them still dot the landscape, often isolated in dramatic settings.
We were headed for a revisit to the daddy of them all: Su Nuraxi, just outside the village of Barumini. In the distance were the hills that gave the region its name, the Marmilla. In fact, before Su Nuraxi was excavated by the Sardinian archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu in 1949, everyone thought it was just another perky protuberance. Local adults warned it was home to an enormous child-eating fly.
The den of the fly turned out to be the interior of a nuraghe tower, a huge three-storey structure surrounded by a rampart and four other towers. In 3D reconstructions, it looks like a medieval castle surrounded by a dense Hobbit village of round houses.
While elsewhere, on the coast, the holiday crowds would be rolling up their beach towels and heading for happy hour and ambient sounds, we felt wonderfully alone in the island’s historic embrace: we were the only ones there for the 7pm tour, the last of the day, when the rich light played on Su Nuraxi’s colossal basalt boulders. I had forgotten how complex it was, with narrow passages, stairs and massive corbelled vaults built within the thickness of the walls. As we emerged near the top it was like standing on the shoulders of giants.
At daybreak, the sun was already scorching as I coasted into the Tuscan village of Spergolaia on a rusty silver cruiser. I passed cream-coloured stucco buildings, stables, and cattle chutes before arriving at a dirt lot where an athletic-looking Italian man in his 30s, dressed in a pristine tan gilet, a white shirt, and dark riding breeches, was bending over to put on a pair of leather boots. He looked quizzically at me and my bike. “Buongiorno,” he said.
“Buongiomo,” I replied, and asked if a horseback ride with the butteri was scheduled for that morning. He nodded. As this would be my first time, I asked him how difficult it would be. “Impegnativo” he said. Challenging. I’ve been riding since I was a little girl, but I’m no pro. Still, there was no way I would be deterred from riding with Italy’s very own cowboys, which I’d been dying to do since learning about them when I lived in Rome, two decades ago.
The butteri are the cattle breeders and horsemen of the Maremma, a rugged coastal region that stretches across southern Tuscany and northern Lazio from the coast to the plains. Their way of life dates back to the spread of agriculture during Etruscan times. But beyond Italy, few are aware that among the celebrated vineyards, hotels, and restaurants that now dot the countryside between Florence and Rome, a vibrant cowboy culture has existed for thousands of years—and is today struggling to survive.
The man in the lot directed me across the road to the main stable of the Tenutadi Alberese, a state-owned, 10,000-acre ranch six miles from the Maremma coast. There I met Stefano Pavin, a 51-year-old buttero with golden hair and sun-bronzed skin who was placing military-style scafarda saddles on a row of Maremmano horses, a bay-coloured breed indigenous to the region. Pavin wore a stylishly simple outfit—straw hat, olive-green cotton work shirt, khaki pants, dark brown riding boots—typical of the butteri, whose sartorial preferences have inspired fashion designer s like Dolce & Gabbana. A pair of Italian visitors and l would spend the next four hours helping him and two other men check fences and move a herd of is foals from a hilly pasture to the salt flats on the other side of the ranch.
Because of the low wages and physical demands of their work, the butteri have been in steady decline, a trend accelerated by Italy’s economic downturn. Fewer than 50 are thought to remain in the Maremma. Most earn a living raising livestock, making wine, and producing organic grains, olive oil, and meats for Slow Food purveyors. Pavin is one of two full-time cowboys at the Tenutadi Alberese, where he cares for 70 horses and 450 cows. “Being a buttero is away of life, not a fashion style,” he said as he rode beside me. “It’s not easy. There’s the extreme heat and the cold, and getting thrown on the ground and stomped on. The weak go away.”
There are about two dozen associations in Italy dedicated to preserving butteri culture. In spring and summer, several stage spettacoli, in which horsemen demonstrate their gallantry before a paying audience by performing elaborate dressage routines and cattle drives in traditional costume. Working farms have also adapted to modern times by embracing tourism. The Tenutadi Alberese now offers farm stays, some in historic buildings like the Villa Fattoria Granducale, built as a fortress by the Knights of Malta in the 15th century. For US$65, the ranch also invites experienced riders to show up in Spergolaia on any workday at 7 am, as I had done, to accompany the butteri as they go about their morning chores.
We cantered across the fields, making sure the rough-hewn chestnut fences were still intact. We visited a watering hole for the horses, passing a herd of robust gray-and-white Maremmana longhorns, before continuing along rocky switchbacks, through a grove of olive trees and into a meadow where the reddish-brown foals were grazing. This terrain was inhospitable marsh, rife with malaria, until Mussolini drained it in the 1930s. Today, it is still fierce. “I wear a straw hat to protect myself from the sun and a long shirt to protect myself from the horseflies,” Pavin said. He swung his uncino, a hand-carved wooden stick with a hook on one end that he uses to open gates, herd cattle, and train horses.
There was a rumbling of hooves as the foals dashed up the hill. Pavin spun his horse around in pursuit, his uncino resting casually on his shoulder. I followed gleefully at a full gallop, crouched low in the saddle, holding the reins in one hand. After falling behind, I caught up with the group at the gate to Maremma Regional Park, a protected 25,000-acre nature reserve. Inside, we followed a meandering dirt path through Mediterranean pines, grassy meadows, and the occasional cow pasture—a landscape that felt untouched by time.
We posted speedily, passing the Tower of Collelungo, a crumbling 13th-century stone lookout. The path gave way to sand dunes, which we crossed to reach our final destination, the Spiaggiadi Collelungo, a pristine gray-sand beach that was completely deserted. I followed the butteri into the emerald waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. As the horses splashed in the shoals, we gazed at the islands of Giglio and Elba and the Monte Argentario Peninsula on the horizon. Even with all that’s changed for the modern butteri, the view was as breathtaking as it must have been for their ancestors when they roamed the Maremma so many centuries ago.
That’s what we thought, but no, this is war.
Ok, it’s not exactly war, but a re-enactment of an historic battle between the victorious yet humble village folk and a despotic lord – instead of using more historically accurate weaponry like swords, the actors use oranges.
It’s thought that the use of oranges came about after young women decided to drop oranges from balconies on high onto boys below that they found attractive… but ignoring the nonsensical sequence of events that got us here, the festival is a colourful, entertaining, vibrant spectacle watched by over 100,000 spectators. It’s not possible for just anyone to take part in the actual battle, however; you need to register to be part of the regiment of foot soldiers.
Sure, but be warned, being anywhere near the town square while the oranges are being launched will put you at risk of copping a juicing.
Aside from dapper gondoliers cruising the city’s canals, there are few images as iconic to Italy’s water-circled city as the masked partygoers at the world-famous Venice Carnevale. Officially recognised as a festival from the Renaissance period, Carnevale was a licence to indulge in heedless pleasure, with masks to protect participant’s identities. However, when all this licentiousness became too much, the King of Austria outlawed the festival and it was only in the 20th century that Venetians brought the party back..
With bells on. More than three million visitors crowd Venice’s cobbled streets during Carnevale for the chance to be a part of the festivities.
Not all participants are masked, but donning a disguise certainly amps up the fun. If you’re stuck for inspiration, check out the costume parade on stage in St Mark’s Square – the winners each day go head to head for the title of festival finest on the last day of celebrations.
The festival goers that are suspended hundreds of feet above the ground in those colourful hammocks are called slackers, and they’re not your usual festival slackers; these guys earned their name from the slack wire helping to prevent them plunging to their deaths. The fiesta is a chance for lovers of the sport to meet up in a totally non-competitive environment.
Completely understandable; the aim of the get-together is to not only give enthusiasts a chance to hang out (boom boom) but to gently introduce newbies to the sport. Don’t feel pressured to get high (bam) – the festival organisers put on musical entertainment, an outdoor cinema, food stalls and yoga lessons for those not into the high life. At night there’s a dance party that even the slackers get in on.
A well-designed trip to Rome offers the traveler the chance to live history, not just to view it. Six properties in the Eternal City do just that by offering their guests a way to experience the past, while enjoying 21st- century comforts.
Margutta 19, which opened July 1 this year, is Alberto Moncadas latest project. Under the umbrella of Rome Luxury Suites, Moncada also owns Babuino 181, the suites at Margutta 54, and Mario de Fiori 37 ; he is also the general manager of the Fendi Suites. Moncada says that Rome does not have enough luxury accommodation; hence, he keeps opening unique local properties in neglected historic buildings.
Margutta 19 is set in an old palazzo on Via Margutta, the street where the movie “Roman Holiday” was filmed. The Moncada family has lived on Via Margutta since Albertos great-grandfather turned the cobblestone lane into what is known as Romes “Artists’ Street” — it was home to Picasso, Stravinsky and Fellini, among many others.
Twelve of the eventual 16 deluxe and classsic suites are available, with some overlooking the back garden and others the charming narrow street lined with art galleries. A large and private garden suite will be ready in early fall. We visited less than a week after the hotel opened and found a well-run operation with very few glitches. To book or ask questions, contact Manuel Barone.
Of Moncadas properties, this is the only one with a full restaurant and bar area (Babuino 181 has a rooftop space for cocktails and breakfast). Operated by Moncadas cousin, Alberto Gaido, and his partners Luca Burnacci, Leonardo Stabile and Mario Esposito, along with Michel in-starred Chef Angelo Troiani, the Assaggia ristorante and bar have tasting menus that recall the recipes of an Italian nonna (grandmother). Though guests may order full-sized dishes, the tasting menu offers the guest a collection of family-style flavors, including some rarely seen outside a home kitchen.
Much like Babuino 181 and Fendi Suites, the suites at Margutta 19 are decorated in refined neutrals, with a functional partial wall separating the bedroom and sitting areas. A Classic Suite, such as No. 104, sleeps two and has two full-sized French doors overlooking the garden, one with a Juliet balcony. There are wide-screened TVs facing each side of the suite. The six Classic Suites range from 420 to 475 square feet; and face the garden.
The Deluxe Suites are slightly larger (529 to 580 square feet) and sleep three between a king-sized bed and a sleeper sofa. Deluxe Suites are available facing either the garden or Via Margutta; ask for one with a terrace with room for chairs. Margutta 19 offers one nonsuite room, Deluxe Room No. 403, which has an internal view. A 540-square-foot Garden Suite with its own 430-square-foot terrace will be available in September 2017.
The bathrooms at Margutta 19 are spacious, lined in travertine, and offer free-standing tubs, double sinks and separate showers.
If Alberto Moncada is the man with experience, Alessandra Di Segni Zarfati is the talented newcomer who has begun her hospitality career with a six-floor Baroque palace overlooking Piazza Navona.
The Fitch Borromini welcomes guests to sleep in the frescoed palazzo designed by Borromini and renovated for Pope Innocent X Pamphilj (Pamphili) in the mid-1600s. The discreet entrance at Via Santa Maria di Anima 30 doesn’t prepare a visitor for the view from the restaurant and many suites, where the storied piazza is laid out below. (Film director Ridley Scott was expected to shoot from the hotel on the day we visited; “Angels and Demons” was shot around the fountain in front of the hotel).
Like other historic properties in Rome, the rooms and suites are not identical, but use the space available within the bounds of preservation regulations.
At almost 1,400 square feet, the Heritage Royal Suite (No. 32) combines five rooms to sleep nine guests; it includes the Orologio Room, a living area where the authentic clock mechanism for the adjacent St. Agnese Church is located. There is a small, private terrace and two full bathrooms. The suite, much of which overlooks Piazza Navona, would work for a family group or group traveling together for leisure or a wedding.
Other suites overlooking the Piazza Navona include the Pamphilj 2 (No. 21), which sleeps four, two in the bedroom and two in the living room (king-sized sofa bed), in a total of about 900 square feet. The Navona Suite (No. 31), which sleeps four in about 500 square feet, also overlooks the piazza. There is a bedroom and double living room with queen-sized sofa bed. Pamphilj Suite 5 (No. 51) on the fifth floor overlooking the piazza sleeps three. The 500-square- foot suite contains a bedroom with king-sized bed, two living rooms (one with a sleeper sofa), and one bathroom with shower.
There are other rooms and suites with views of the medieval Tor Millina and the Via di Santa Maria dellAnima. The Donna Olimpia Suite (No. 24A) features a frescoed ceiling and original 17th-century floors, one bathroom with bathtub and shower, and a king-sized bed. It shares an entrance and can be connected to Donna Olimpia 2 (No. 24 B), which is also frescoed in the living room and includes a queen-sized bedroom, walk-in closet and bath with shower.
Note: Some bathrooms in the hotel have tubs, while others have only showers. Ask for your preference.
Spend a day in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood and you’ll see just how multicultural the Eternal City is becoming. Once famous for its spice market at Piazza Vittorio, the neighborhood has fast become a multiethnic stomping ground.
In fact, finding a true Roman restaurant or a local shopkeeper is hard to come by in this area, now that Chinese, Indian, African, and Middle Eastern restaurants have moved in (a typical example: The Syrian restaurant Zenobia, perched on Piazza Dante, even includes a weekend belly-dancing show).
Homegrown and locally produced, the Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio is a perfect picture of the neighborhood’s growing ethnic population.
Made up of 16 musicians from Brazil, Senegal, Tunisia, Cuba, Argentina, Hungary, Ecuador, and Italy, the troupe was founded in 2002, and got its start in the ramshackle district just steps away from Rome’s Termini train station and, by 2006, had a documentary made about them; today, they play at festivals around the world.
With a big push to modernize parts of Rome particularly lacking in the luster department, visitors will notice some new and novel aspects to the city skyline. First, that former eyesore, the Tiburtina train station, was completely overhauled, to the tune of some €330 million, to become the new avant-garde Tiburtina Stazione, the first rail hub in Italy to handle super-high-speed (Alstom AGVs) trains.
Even more buzz has been generated by Rome’s first-ever skyscraper, the EuroSky Tower. Located in the distant EUR suburb, the 28-floor building (to be completed in 2013) will be the first to launch Romans into orbit for high-rise luxury apartment living (it’s eco-sustainable, replete with solar panels, biofuel power, and channels to deliver rainwater to plants and flowers). Feathers were ruffled when Vatican officials worried that the skyscraper would clash with St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome’s tallest building.
Located by the Tiber River, the grandiose new “Ponte della Musica” bridge has now “bridged the gap” between the worlds of sports and music and arts: it connects the Foro Italico area (home to Rome’s stunning Stadio Olimpico and Stadio dei Marmi) with the Flaminio district (Parco della Musica and the MAXXI museum). Designed by British star-engineer Buro Happold, the eco-friendly ponte can be used by pedestrians, cyclists, and electric buses.
Last but not least, the new convention center of Rome—EUR Congressi Roma—is expected to dazzle when completed by the end of 2013.
The renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas whipped up a vast design centered on the “Cloud,” an airy futuristic structure that floats in a showcase of steel and glass. City officials have high hopes.
After playing a prominent role in politics for nearly two decades, controversial tycoon Silvio Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister at the end of 2011. To put a new government into place and turn the country’s severe economic crisis around, Mario Monti—a multitasker whose background runs the gamut from professor to economist to president of the prestigious Bocconi University—was appointed not only as the new prime minister but also, due to his formidable expertise, as minister of economy and finance.
Wasting no time, he raised taxes, cracked down on tax evaders—and made a number of enemies, especially among Italians who weren’t so fond of how austerity hit their pocketbooks.
Complicating matters further, Berlusconi couldn’t stay out of the ring for long. A general election at the end of February 2013 included both Monti and Berlusconi as candidates. (Conveniently, a judge ruled that Berlusconi’s need to campaign for the new election impeded his ability to show up in court, thus postponing his trial for charges of paying for sex with a minor until after the election.) In the surreal world of Italian politics, the elections also include Beppe Grillo, a well-known Italian comedian. The result of the election was inconclusive, with no candidate gaining a clear majority, thus providing no real measure of where Italy stands today on austerity … or on the willingness of Italians to forgive and forget Berlusconi’s many past transgressions.
Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world in February when, without prior announcement, he declared that he planned to step down at the end of the month. The last time a pope resigned, the year was 1415—and the purpose was to end the Western Schism, where there were three people all claiming to be pope simultaneously. A conclave was held in March to choose the new pope: Pope Francis, who hails from Argentina, making him the first pope from the Americas.
When it comes to train travel in Italy, the competition is growing fierce.
Thanks to the introduction of “Italo,” Italy’s first private railroad (owned by NTV and operated by the president of Fiat), rail travelers now have a new alternative to the state-run TrenItalia.
NTV is the first operator in the world to use the new Alstom AGV train, which currently holds the highest speed record for trains and will service various big cities around Italy, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Bologna, Naples, and Salerno.
In Rome, the high-speed trains will use Rome’s new Tiburtina station rather than Termini.
The leader among Rome’s “It” neighborhoods is Pigneto, the working-class area once immortalized as the backdrop for Roberto Rossellini’s magnificent Academy Award–nominated Rome Open City (Roma Città Aperta).
Set in the northwestern part of the city on the other side of the Porta Maggiore walls, Pigneto has come a long way since the black-and-white days of the 1950s. This hot new quartiere has undergone a major transformation into a colorful hub for hipsters who tuck into the many wine bars and bookshops along main drags like Fanfulla da Lodi and Via del Pigneto.
To channel the days when legends Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti spent time filming here, enjoy an aperitivo at the historic Bar Necci (Via Fanfulla da Lodi 68), where Pasolini once filmed scenes for his 1961 Accatone (an award-winning look at how a pimp living in the slums of Rome attempts to go straight).
Another young neighborhood, San Lorenzo, is set just a stone’s throw away from the Termini train station. Just beyond the city walls near Via Tiburtina, Rome’s new “Left Bank” district is filled with students and a young bohemian crowd, thanks to its proximity to La Sapienza University. The area has an alternativa feel to it, with its plethora of starving artists, tattoo studios, and hippie musicians. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you could easily get lost in this maze of dark narrow streets, many now lined with underground cafés, bars, hip restaurants, and pubs with live-music venues.
Called the “Campo Marzio” (Field of Mars), this time-burnished district is the city’s most beautiful neighborhood. Set between Via del Corso and the Tiber bend, it’s filled with narrow streets bearing curious names, airy piazzas, and half-hidden courtyards. Some of Rome’s most coveted residential addresses are nestled here. So, too, are the ancient Pantheon and the Renaissance square of Campo de’ Fiori, but the spectacular, over-the-top Baroque monuments of the 16th and 17th centuries predominate.
The hub of the district is the queen of squares, Piazza Navona—a cityscape adorned with the most jaw-dropping fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, father of the Baroque. Streets running off the square lead to many historic must-sees, including noble churches by Borromini and Caravaggio’s greatest paintings at San Luigi dei Francesi.
This district has been an integral part of the city since ancient times, and its position between the Vatican and Lateran palaces, both seats of papal rule, put it in the mainstream of Rome’s development from the Middle Ages onward. Craftsmen, shopkeepers, and famed artists toiled in the shadow of the huge palaces built to consolidate the power of leading figures in the papal court. Artisans and artists still live here, but their numbers are diminishing as the district becomes increasingly posh and—so critics say—”Disneyfied.” But three of the liveliest piazzas in Rome—Piazza Navona, Piazza della Rotonda (home to the Pantheon), and Campo de’ Fiori—are lodestars in a constellation of some of Rome’s most authentic cafés, stores, and wine bars.
Getting Here and Around
To bus it from Termini train station or the Vatican, take the No. 40 Express or the No. 64 and get off at Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a two-minute stroll from either Campo de’ Fiori or Piazza Navona, or take little electric No. 116 from Via Veneto to Campo de’ Fiori. Buses Nos. 87 and 571 link the area to the Forum and Colosseum. Tram No. 8 runs from Largo Argentina to Trastevere.
In spirit, and in fact, this section of the city is its most grandiose. The overblown Vittoriano monument, the labyrinthine treasure-chest palaces of Rome’s surviving aristocracy, even the diamond-draped denizens of Via Condotti’s shops — all embody the exuberant ego of a city at the center of its own universe.
Here’s where you’ll see ladies in furs gobbling pastries at café tables, and walk through a thousand snapshots as you climb the famous Spanish Steps, admired by generations from Byron to Versace. Cultural treasures abound around here: gilded 17th-century churches, glittering palaces, and the greatest example of portraiture in Rome, Velázquez’s incomparable Innocent X at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Have your camera ready—along with a coin or two—for that most beloved of Rome’s landmarks, the Trevi Fountain.
One of Rome’s handiest subway stations, the Spagna Metro station is tucked just to the left of the Spanish Steps. Buses No. 117 (from St. John Lateran and the Colosseum) and No. 119 (from Largo Argentina) hum through the neighborhood.