5th October 2014
I wake up incredibly excited, this morning I have a 9am guided tour ticket for a Cinecitta Studios tour.
Mercifully easy to get to (for me, a simple ride on the Metro A line,) the studios entrance is sited directly outside the metro station named after it. Keen as I am, I arrive ridiculously early. As soon as 9am arrives I wait for the doors to swing open, giddy with anticipation. No doors swing open. In fact, I have to wait 20 minutes for a member of staff arriving for work to let me in. I hand over my e ticket, hoping I haven’t missed my 9am tour. In fact, I am the first tourist of the day and there is no 9am tour. I will have to wait until 11am for the guided tour in English.
My heart sinks, I had carefully planned my day on the assumption that I would be finished at Cinecitta by 10.30. Undeterred, I fill my time looking around the on site museum.
You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has never seen a movie filmed at Cinecitta. The studios were a favourite of La Dolce Vita director Federico Fellini and played host to many international productions such as Ben Hur. The exhibitions here are imaginative and suitably gorgeously presented. You can wander through huge screens playing archive footage on loop and gawk at iconic costumes up close.
So far so good, but I am impatient for my tour which is the real reason that I’m here. 11am rolls around and ironically the tour won’t be in English after all as I am the only person in the group who isn’t Italian. Our guide, Francesca, offers to translate for me after each stop but I can’t help but think that I should have just gone on the Italian tour at 10 to try and salvage my itinerary.
Still, Francesca is a brilliant guide and really does make sure I’m not left out. We wander through a set of a street made for Gangs of New York directed by Martin Scorsese. Having not seen the film I listen politely, but in the distance I can see the top of a fake temple and my heart actually starts to beat faster.
This is why I’m here, the massive set built for the massive HBO series “Rome.” I watched both seasons of the show absolutely rapt, and have since re watched each episode about once a year, usually all in one go when I’m sick. It may have taken some liberties with historical accuracy, but it was a bloody entertaining retelling of the fall of the Roman Republic and I LOVE IT. I appreciated the small details that were included, easter eggs for the Classics nerds in the audience. The massive sets always looked incredible on screen and I was about to see them up close.
Francesca laughed when she saw how ridiculously excited I was and allowed me to explore the “Forum” by myself whilst she spoke to the rest of the group. This is the closest to a Willy Wonka golden ticket I have ever gotten. After years of walking around ruins, exploring such a detailed reconstruction of the Forum was thrilling. I may never have a time machine, but The “Rome” sets are a pretty good alternative.
Unfortunately huge swathes of the massive set were destroyed by fire, I would have loved to have seen Atia’s villa or some of the Alexandrian set. To ease the regret we were treated to a sneak peak at a set for a new biblical film. Filming was due to start the very next day, so every last prop was in place. The set was a recreation of Nazareth for a movie called “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” and because the actors and crew were due to arrive the next morning to begin filming, photography was strictly forbidden. It will be fun to watch the movie in 2016 and know that I was walking those streets even before the cast saw it.
Late but fizzing with happiness, I head up toward the Parco degli Acquedotti (Park of the Aqueducts) which, despite being close, five successive locals can’t point me in the right direction towards.
I had attempted to buy some international mobile data to help me with this part of my trip which was decidedly well off the beaten tourist path. Unfortunately my phone company wasn’t playing ball so I couldn’t access Google maps and my guide book only dedicated a few lines of text and no maps to this area on the edge of the city. Still, as I have already resigned myself to the fact that my itinerary is in tatters, I take a gentle stroll through
the park (when I eventually find it) and am gratified by the elegant remains of two of the famous aqueducts that provided Rome with fresh water. The Aqua Felice and the Aqua Claudia are truly beautiful. Apparently 99% of tourists never get this far, illustrated by the complete lack of information signs or maps.
I followed a path north that quickly ceased being picturesque and started to resemble the kind of track where you imagine you’d be likely to find a corpse. When I go back to the aqueducts on my next trip it will bloody well only be with internet connection and the most detailed map known to man. I recommend a visit, but be more prepared than me!
I head to Colli Albani Metro station where there is a bus terminus. Bus #664 leads from here to the Villa of the Quintilii but buses are far less frequent than I’d been led to believe. Cursing my luck for the third time that day, the bus finally arrives and I’m on my way even further out from the city. Fortune hasn’t completed abandoned me, however, as although I’d arrived at the Villa far later than planned it turns out that dusk is an absolutely beautiful time to see the ruins in their glory.
The suburban villa was built in the 2nd century AD by the Quintilii brothers, consuls executed by the Emperor Commodus in 182AD. Commodus then seized the property for himself and expanded it. It’s easy to see why Commodus coveted the villa from what there is left, the ruins are palatial and the site offers beautiful views of the countryside beyond the edges of the city.
A bumpy return bus trip to Colli Albani and a metro ride later I am back home in Prati, ready for a huge helping of porcini risotto and an early night.