On a Roman Holiday Trail

Rome is romantic for offering a wild ride to strangers and lovers as it did in Roman Holiday.  
Roman Holiday 1
With Rome as the backdrop, Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann rendezvoused with adventure, freedom and romance in the 1953 mega flick Roman Holiday. Photo by: MarsBars/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (film strip), Noriokanisawa/iStock /Getty Images Plus/Getty Images (background)

“Rome! By all means. Rome!”

Princess Ann’s proclamation of Rome as the place she’ll always cherish was brought to life by Audrey Hepburn in William Wyler’s runaway hit Roman Holiday. Also a runaway in this Vespa-gelato-adventure-filled 1953 romantic comedy was Ann herself, who longs to postpone her royal duties for a day of freedom in the city. Scoop-hungry stringer Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) ferries the “hot princess,” falling for her along the way.

Beginning backwards will take you to Palazzo Colonna, where Ann chooses duty over love at a climactic press conference. One of the city’s oldest and largest private palaces, it is packed with baroque architecture, ceiling frescos, and spools of history (a cannonball wedged in the Great Hall’s marble stairs invokes the 1849 siege of Rome).

With that sombre moment out of the way, you can flick on a pair of rose goggles and dive into the duo’s day trail. Start at the Arch of Septimius Severus—a marble triumphal arch at the northwest end of the Roman Forum—where Bradley finds the princess half-in-slumber after her escape from the embassy. Close by are the ruins of the Temple of Saturn, its eight surviving pillars standing tall like spectres watching over the city.

Roman Holiday

Castel Sant’Angelo has served as a mausoleum, a fortress, a museum, and as the backdrop for the Princess Ann’s lush night of dancing. Photo by: Jose m. Alvarez/Moment/Getty Images

The Colosseum can never be too far away when you’re in Rome, so of course the largest amphitheatre in the world makes an appearance in the lives of our one-day lovers. Its 2,000-year-old history weaves in the glory of an invincible architecture and the violence of gladiator battles and animal hunts.

Playing the tourist in a city like Rome is as rewarding today as it would have been for Hepburn and Peck, but what’s in it for an incognito wanderer unless it comes with a haircut and an epiphany? It is in a barber shop by the Trevi Fountain that princess Ann realises her lust for liberty, allowing the barber to trade shoulder-length curls for a trendier short crop. While you will not find Mario Delani’s barber shop, the travertine fountain still stands mammoth-magnificent, thronged by coin-tossing tourists hoping for its magic to rub off on them.

Ann’s appetite for change also leads her to her first gelato, bought from a street vendor and enjoyed at the Spanish Steps. The sweeping stairway links the Piazza di Spagna at its base with the 16th-century church of Trinitàdei Monti at the top. Neighbouring the erstwhile residence of English poet John Keats (now a museum) and Babington’s Tearoom, the Spanish Steps have long inspired dreamers and drifters. Ann is a bit of both as she mulls over the tender possibilities Rome presents in the frame of a single day. “Sit at a sidewalk café and look in shop windows, walk in the rain—have fun, and maybe some excitement.”

  • Sohini Das Gupta travels with her headphones plugged-in and eyes open. While this doesn't stall the many accidents that tend to punctuate her journeys, it adds some meme-worthy comic relief. She is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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