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Report 271: The Roman Holiday Holiday

By valerie from New Mexico, Spring 2001

Trip Description: A day strolling around Rome finding the scenes used for the filming of the movie, Roman Holiday

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Rome

Categories: Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

Page 1 of 1: A Stroll Through The Movie Scenes

Roman Holiday, that classic film starring smooth-voiced and handsome Gregory Peck as he cons, entertains and then falls for the beautiful and lively Audrey Hepburn, all amid the beautiful backdrop of Rome. Sigh. A great movie set in a great city. I determined on one of my earliest visits to Rome to find the famed backdrops for this famed and favorite film. Accompanied by my handsome husband, who's not so tall and suave as Gregory Peck - but then I'm no Audrey Hepburn (though who is?) - we set off on our own Roman Holiday. First stop: via Margutta which was where Gregory Peck, aka Joe Bradley in the film, resided in a studio apartment.

This narrow street is to the west of the Spanish Steps and is now largely occupied by artists' galleries and antique shops. It's a longer street than I'd imagined, with an old still-working fountain in the wall and the requisite cascading flower boxes everywhere. Street numbering seemed arbitrary, but we found via Margutta 51 located about half way down the street. There was a metal gate over the carriage doorway barring our entrance to the inner sanctum. We gazed within and took a photo of the stone street sign imbedded in the wall across the way.

Luck was on our side as a resident came home and unlocked the gate, and, seeing us gazing wishfully at the entrance, allowed us to follow him in. He pointed toward a set of steps and then quickly departed. I gazed about and saw that we were already being watched by several residents. One came out onto a little balcony to stare grimly at us. I was feeling quite conspicuous and slightly daunted, but I then realized that my leading man was already at the top of the steep stone staircase to my left, and so I quickly fled after him, the staircase forming a sort of tunnel with apartments above and all around it.

At the top we found the arbor under which our emulated couple, Gregory and Audrey, stood as she was departing after spending the night in his apartment, with more steps beyond it. And, look up there, the little stone balcony over the staircase was also in a scene, with the landlord watching over Our Couple while Hepburn, as Princess Anne, was forced to borrow cab fare from Peck. Through the arbor and up the steps we saw the terrace from Gregory Peck's apartment. We snap a few photos and begin to walk slowly back toward the Spanish Steps. In the movie this street, via Margutta, was bustling with people and cars and scooters and on the corner there was an open-air market, with vendors and lots of activity. We gazed about and saw a combination of tourists of all persuasions, bohemians, men in business suits and several cats sitting lazily in the sun. We take a drink from the fountain and then go more determinedly to our next stop.

At the Spanish Steps we are greeted by a large gathering of people, some sitting on the steps themselves, many posing in the piazza with their telefonini, cell phones, to their ears looking earnestly about them to ensure others are giving proper attention to their bella figura or "good form". One man was apparently not happy with the lack of attention he was receiving and jockeyed for position slightly closer to the fountain in the middle of the piazza. Nearby a group of leather-clad punker-looking guys stood with hair molded into long spikes. Next to them posed a grandmother with a baby carriage. Quite a mix of humanity was assembled here.

We started up the stairs and stopped about half way for a photo, in the approximate area of where Audrey sat enjoying a gelato. No gelato stands in the piazza for us to be refreshed by however, so we continued to the top of the stairs for the view. Here we found laid before us Rome in her splendor on a beautiful sunny day. Below were rooftops and streets and strolling groups. In the distance, the dome of St. Peter's. Bellissima!

Several artists were atop the steps painting watercolors of the scenes of Rome. Hokey, I know, but we purchased a small just-completed painting of the Spanish Steps with the azaleas on them. A small and practical souvenir, we reason. It also gave Bryan a chance to try out his bargaining abilities. He negotiates a good price, but still, we see how times have certainly changed. Audrey as Princess Anne had a thousand lire, with which she purchased a pair of sandals, a haircut and a gelato! We can get a single cup of espresso for this amount, though not in this decidedly upscale neighborhood.

We stand about trying to decide what to find next. We take our cue from the movie of course, where Princess Anne states she'd "like to sit at a sidewalk café, look in shop windows…" and my so husband Bryan, playing his part, properly responds saying "one sidewalk café coming up". We know from the movie scene that the café they visited was next to the Pantheon. We could clearly see the columns in the scene so we embark toward the center of the historical city. As we leave the Spanish Steps we stroll along the famed via Condotti looking in the shop windows, enjoying the displays in Gucci, Valentino, Versace, Ferragamo. Thankfully, at least to my leading man, I cannot begin to afford to actually shop. Some of the merchandise, I think to myself, is dreadful, in which Princess Anne (nor Audrey Hepburn) would be caught dead. In other shops the merchandise, or the extravagant displays at least, is stunning.

We enter the piazza in front of the Pantheon and are awestruck by this rotund structure, still standing and in use after two thousand years. Two thousand years! I am still, at this point, in my "I-can't-believe-I'm-in-Rome-seeing-these-amazing-things" phase. It looks squashed in, this large edifice among rows of buildings and narrow streets encroaching upon it. I try to imagine how it looked when it was built, before the street level was raised, when the Pantheon was elevated atop stairs, alone, a temple to the gods of the Roman world. We move to the right side and find an empty store where, in Our Film, Rocca's was situated. Whether it had ever been a café we do not know, but it sure isn't one now. Empty and shuttered. We gaze back to the piazza toward a sidewalk café but the view is greatly marred by the presence of a McDonald's. Not quite the ambiance we were looking for, so we amble another street over and find a bar for an espresso and pastry.

Thus refreshed we continue along on our script, toward the Trevi Fountain. (The scene filmed at the Trevi, where Joe Bradly is desperately trying to get hold of a camera from a child while Princess Anne gets her hair sheared, was actually staged before the Spanish Steps and sidewalk café scenes, but we're thinking of our feet. We decided to go more "orderly": according to a map.)

We arrive to find the requisite hordes of visitors tossing their coins into the fountain - for a return trip to Rome as another movie has it - accompanied by a number of locals milling about posing, strolling and chatting. Some are eating lunch here. We are slightly disappointed to find that access to the fountain itself is denied, so we can't climb in or swing from the sculptures as the children did in Roman Holiday. (Did they ever really allow that?! We were amazed to see it in the movie!) We toss in our coins, mindful of the desire to return, and continue along in the direction of the Lungotevere road.

The Lungotevere stretches along skirting the Tiber River, with some beautiful pastel sun-dappled buildings fronting it on either side, some stretches are like a tree-lined boulevard, though traffic is, at all hours, heavy and noisy here. We reach the Ponte Sant'Angelo and see the great round fortress Castel Sant'Angelo across the river, which served as a backdrop for the scene where they dance on the barges on the river. We walk down the stops next to the bridge toward the river, and instead of barges we are greeted by an odiferous pungent stench which is of human origin and extremely strong. I hold my breath, snap a photo and flee back up the steps to better enjoy the view sans odor. Bryan goes down as far he can toward the riverbed, it's depths having plunged very low and the water having a very brown color. We wonder if the barges were merely a backdrop set up for the film or a real diversion for Romans at the time. Either way, it was a charming scene with the floodlit Castel behind.

By now I'm starving, and we cross the river and walk south to Trastevere for pizza al taglio and gelato. I gaze about at the beautiful stone buildings, with flower boxes, shutters half opened to the breeze, young and old alike sitting in the piazza or strolling. One older woman is stooped over an old water fountain, filling her many bottles and placing them into her handcart. I see my leading man is up and ready to continue.

Back on the centro side of the Tiber along the Lungotevere we reach the Mouth of Truth, located within the courtyard of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. By now my feet are hurting and I'm wishing I'd had the advantage Audrey enjoyed of scootering about on a vespa, or maybe a ride in one of those cute miniscule cars like Eddie Albert drove. In the shaded courtyard we get in line behind a group of cute Japanese school kids to have our turn at placing our hands in the lion's mouth. Most guidebooks list this as a former sewer cover; one internet site said it may have been a type of mailbox cover, into which denouncers could place letters and evidence against enemies of the Republic, though I think they have it confused with the lions' mouths of Venice. My main thought as I place my hand through the stone mouth is, I hope there aren't any spiders or other crawly things back there! As we are departing a tour bus arrives to disembark a large number of tourists. This sight has become widely popular, even fifty years after the movie, due to that famous scene where Gregory Peck pulls his hand out, with his arm up his sleeve, completely astonishing the young Audrey Hepburn.

We meander through the Forum, where Princess Anne first met Joe Bradley, and gaze at the amazing structure of the Colosseum. We'd already visited it on our previous visit devoting half a day to it, so we enjoy the view of its immensity and its sheer presence after 2000 years and continue along up past Trajan's Market, past the gleaming white memorial to Vittorio Emanuele northward to the Palazzo Colonna. This palace was used for interior scenes at the end of the movie, where Audrey Hepburn's character is holding a press conference and discovers the true identities of Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert. The immense great hall looks fascinating and grand, but we get no glimpse of it. The palace is now a museum, which is only open on Saturdays.

Our wish was to find the Wall of Wishes, a memorable scene with tablets affixed to part of the ancient section, each commemorating a wish fulfilled. We can find no such memorial listed in any guidebook or on the internet. I had sent an inquiry to a Rome Expert, but she did not know of the location either, saying that it was either destroyed or had been staged solely for the movie. Thus defeated in our final quest for scenes, we stroll hand in hand, my handsome husband and I, back toward our hotel. As we slowly make our way through the narrow alley-streets I look about at the architecture, the shop windows, the colors and think, charming, that's the only word I could think of for it all. I find myself completely charmed by Rome, not only as depicted in the movie, but also as it is today, with its beauty and piazzas and little artisan shops and gelaterias and noise and bustle and graffiti and grime and water fountains and flowers. We had a memorable dinner that evening at an osteria where the owners remembered us from a previous visit. (Since then they've become friends and we have more reasons to desire to return to Rome.)

On the flight home I chat with several of the other passengers, everyone is expounding on the cities and sights we've all visited. All ask the same question: What part of Italy did you enjoy the most? For this trip I have to echo the convicted statement of our heroine and say, "Rome. By all means Rome".

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Read the script for Roman Holiday online

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