This article is part of a guide to Rome from FT Globetrotter
A few steps away from Bernini’s Triton Fountain and the famed bars and cafés of Via Veneto — once teeming with stars and paparazzi when Rome was the beating heart of international cinema in the 1960s — there is a hidden rooftop terrace that will always be associated with la dolce vita.
In the relative quiet of Via Ludovisi, the Hotel Eden guards a corner of its rooftop restaurant La Terrazza where the history of Italian cinema was shaped. Among other prominent figures, one of the hotel’s most famous guests was Federico Fellini.
According to the Eden’s staff, the Italian film director (or “Il Maestro”, as he was known) was extremely superstitious and would always sit at the same table in La Terrazza when he granted interviews to journalists. The table overlooks a splendid view of the city whose culture, atmosphere and essence were all beautifully captured by Fellini in his many masterpieces.
It is here that FT Globetrotter’s tour of Rome’s most iconic movie locations begins — with a cappuccino (and its chocolate-powder-inscribed buongiorno) sipped in the sun. Fellini was not the only film legend to stay at the hotel: Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman were regulars and were often spotted taking their twins out on bicycles in the nearby streets and around Villa Borghese. Their daughter Isabella remained so attached to the Eden that she and Martin Scorsese spent their wedding night there too.
For a real point-of-view shot, you only have to walk a few hundred metres from the Hotel Eden to Trinità dei Monti, the square overlooking the Spanish Steps and the centre of Rome.
In a tense moment in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) looks anxiously down to the square. His focus is two women sitting in a café below: Marge Sherwood and Meredith Logue — Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett respectively. They have an appointment with two different men, but are in fact unknowingly waiting for the same man.
The Talented Mr Ripley is set in the late 1950s; a few years before that, Princess Ann — played by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953), one of the most adored Hollywood portraits of the Italian capital — sat on those very same steps. After escaping her institutional duties, the young royal is savouring a gelato when she stumbles upon charming reporter Gregory Peck, who will soon show her the city’s gems on the back of his Vespa.
While the square currently has fewer tourists than usual, it remains a popular film location — just last month, Lady Gaga was spotted there shooting Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. Recently, however, a new breed of stars have started taking over some of Rome’s most photogenic spots: young TikTokers with their spinning skirts and stylish blazers, dancing in sync at golden hour. (Warning: Do Not Cross Their Path.)
In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert embarks on an Italian culinary cure: pasta, pizza and — of course, in Rome — gelato. Our next stop is the San Crispino gelateria, where Gilbert (portrayed by Julia Roberts in the 2010 film adaptation of the book) enjoys an ice cream that remains on the menu today.
Near the gelateria is the set of one of the most iconic scenes in Italian cinema from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960): the Trevi fountain, where a famous line still echoes in the narrow lanes nearby. “Marcello, come here!” says Anita Ekberg to a reluctant Marcello Mastroianni as she splashes around in the fountain in a long black dress.
From the Trevi neighbourhood, walk towards the monumental Piazza Venezia, where the Unknown Soldier lies. This central square is the backdrop to one of the first scenes in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, in which a young Sicilian boy, Salvatore, escapes his war-torn village through his passion for cinema. At the beginning of the 1988 film, we see Salvatore as an adult in Piazza Venezia.
Continue north to Piazza Grazioli and the grand palazzo where former Italian prime minister and one-time film producer Silvio Berlusconi used to reside (he recently relocated to the Appian Way). There are several acclaimed films portraying the tycoon: Antongiulio Panizzi’s My Way (2016), Nanni Moretti’s The Caiman (2006), and Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro (2018).
Keep walking until you reach Piazza di Pietra. In Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Eclipse (1962), young, beautiful Vittoria (Monica Vitti) walks through the square, melancholic and confused after breaking up with her boyfriend. She is hoping to reconnect with her mother, who spends most of her days at Rome’s stock exchange, which at the time was situated inside the Temple of Hadrian, right on the square. Amid the shouts of speculators buying and selling shares, she meets her mother’s broker Piero, played by a young Alain Delon, with whom she eventually falls in love.
From here, walk to the Pantheon, a building that has been in continuous use throughout its almost 2,000-year history, transforming itself from Roman temple to Catholic church — and, in recent years, a movie set. In a scene from 2009’s Angels and Demons, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a professor of religious iconology and “symbology”, rushes to Raffaello’s tomb in the Pantheon, convinced that a cardinal will soon be murdered there. (More than five decades earlier, Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann sipped champagne at the G Rocca café, admiring the majestic building opposite.)
About a 10-minute walk from the Pantheon is Piazza Mattei, home to one of the city’s most peculiar fountains, with bronze turtles around its upper basin. Here, in Ferzan Ozpetek’s Facing Windows (2003), Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) — who feels stuck in a stale marriage — has a drink at the café overlooking the fountain with her lover and a mysterious old man who has lost his memory and whom the couple are trying to help.
Nearby, on the banks of the Tiber, we find something a little more high- octane: 007. In Spectre (2015), after a long car chase through the streets of Rome, James Bond (Daniel Craig), pursued by the hitman Mr Hinx (played by former wrestler Dave Bautista), ends his race on the banks, catapulting himself out of the car and leaving his Aston Martin to perish in the river.
Nearby, a no less charming character, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), walks by the river in one of the most iconic scenes of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, the acclaimed 2013 film highlighting the decadence and frivolity of Rome’s contemporary upper class.
With the Tiber’s stunning bridges in the background, Gambardella’s lines echo: “I didn’t want to be simply a socialite, I wanted to become the king of socialites. I didn’t just want to attend parties, I wanted to have the power to make them fail.”
The Oscar-winning movie begins with a view of Rome from the Janiculum hill, the top of which is dominated by the Acqua Paola fountain. You can reach it by walking through the Trastevere neighbourhood from the Tiber and making your way up the hill behind.
Before lunch, it’s worth swinging by Via Dandolo, which director Nanni Moretti zips along on his Vespa in a 1993 film beloved by Romans: Dear Diary. In 1849, the battle against the French that marked the end of Mazzini and Garibaldi’s Roman Republic took place here — mentioned by Moretti as he whizzes by.
From here, head towards Scarpone, a traditional Roman restaurant in the Monteverde neighbourhood, for a bowl of paccheri all’amatriciana or carciofi alla romana for lunch. En route you’ll pass by 45 Via Giacinto Carini, where the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini lived.
After lunch, walk a few steps from the restaurant for some fresh air at beautiful Villa Pamphili, the largest landscaped public park in Rome. Here, Franco-Italian director Valerio Mieli, in his 2018 film Ricordi? (Remember?), tells a love story that intertwines the memories of an unnamed couple at different points in their lives. Among the pine trees, they meet again after they have broken up.
Take your time to stroll back down to central Rome and explore the Testaccio neighbourhood for the final part of our cinematic tour. Ignorant Fairies, Ozpetek’s Italian Golden Globe-winning bittersweet comedy about friendship and homosexuality, is set here.
In the film, the world of Antonia (Margherita Buy) is turned upside down when her husband dies in a car accident — and she soon discovers that he was leading a double life. Ozpetek showcases his neighbourhood, which is one of the few central areas still considered truly authentic by locals.
While in the area, head to Mercato di Testaccio for Roman street food accompanied by a glass of wine or a spritz. For more a more substantial meal, go to Checchino dal 1887, a family-run restaurant known for local specialities such as coda alla vaccinara, an oxtail stew often found in the trattorie of Testaccio.
But the film tour isn’t over yet. Just outside the trattoria is the setting for a scene from Big Deal on Madonna Street, the film that launched a glorious strand of Italian comedy. The scene shows a clumsy attempt by Cosimo (Memmo Carotenuto) to steal a woman’s purse. The 1958 caper, directed by Mario Monicelli, is considered a masterpiece of Italian cinema.
Additional reporting by Chiara Sgreccia and Fadi Musa
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