Audrey Hepburn, I have decided, is my favourite tour guide. After all, her films are a veritable showcase of some of the world’s most glorious cities. Funny Face turns the spotlight on Paris, My Fair Lady opens audiences’ eyes to the wonders of London. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the perfect tribute to the Big Apple, chronicling a young woman’s dizzy existence in a New York brownstone apartment.
None do the job as well as that 1950s cinematic classic Roman Holiday though – which, despite its age, is better than any guide book at capturing the spirit of the city and the adventures that can be had for the first-time visitor to Rome.
The Italian capital is also allowed to shine in the film, alongside Ms Hepburn who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the young Princess Ann.
Ann (who is fed up with her stuffy, over-scheduled life) decides to go AWOL and live out her dreams of normality during twenty-four hours in Rome. Along the way, thanks to a sleeping drug and a none-too-keen taxi driver, Ann falls into the hands of Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck.) Joe is a journalist who eventually recognises the Princess, then hears cash registers ringing in his ears as he realises he can capture the incognito Princess’s exploits for his local paper.
The well-known and well-worn tourist sights are all there in Roman Holiday – the Forum, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, Castel Sant’Angelo and the Trevi Fountain – but so too is the equally famous Italian charm. Think amorous hairdressers and crazy Italian taxi drivers – Mama Mia!
Here is your guide to retracing the steps of Audrey’s Roman Holiday. Silk scarf and Vespa scooter optional.
The Roman Forum
Having escaped from behind the Embassy walls in a truck, Princess Ann promptly falls asleep on a public seat near the Forum. It is here that Joe Bradley finds her and assumes she is a drunk. Visit the Forum today and you’ll find the same benches where Ann decided to curl up for the night. The Roman Forum can be found on Via dei Fori Imperiali and entry is free. You can spend a few hours wandering through the ruins and imagine the stirring speeches, violent sacrifices and roaring celebrations that would have occurred centuries before. To get there take Metro Line B: Colosseo – or it’s a five minute walk from Piazza Venezia.
The Bocca della Verita
Roman Holiday’s most memorable scene takes place here at “The Mouth of Truth”. Legend has it that when anyone sticks his or her hand into the mouth of the large metal plate, they quickly realise that anyone who is a liar will have their hand bitten off. In reality the Bocca della Verita is simply a fancy metal plate covering the mouth of an old drain outside the Chiesa di Santa Maria (Church of Saint Maria). So where did the legend come from? Rumour has it that a priest once kept a scorpion behind the drain to bite the hand of liars! Open daily from 9am til 5pm. To get there take Bus 170 to Via del Teatro di Marcello or it’s a five minute walk from Piazza Venezia.
The Trevi Fountain
In an attempt to be a bit daring and remain unrecognised, Princess Ann finds a barber near the Trevi Fountain and decides to give her long tresses the chop. Desperately trying to find the Princess, Joe tracks her to the fountain where he attempts to steal a young child’s camera so he can start capturing the Ann’s adventures on film.
The Trevi Fountain first gained popularity through another classic film, Three Coins In The Fountain. These days there is a constant flock of tourists ready to throw coins over their shoulders. Legend has it that if you throw one coin over your shoulder with your right hand you are destined to revisit Rome, two coins and you’ll have a fling with an Italian, three coins and you’ll marry an Italian (start saving those pennies!) The Trevi Fountain can be found at Piazza di Trevi. The nearest Metro station is Piazza Barberini or take Metro Line A: Spagna.
The Spanish Steps
After her hair cut, Ann walks up the Spanish Steps, buys her first gelato and haggles with a florist. The Spanish Steps is also the place where Joe pretends to run into the Princess and then invites her to spend the day with him. The Spanish Steps are notorious in Rome as the city’s main pick-up joint. During the day the Steps are covered with tourists and vendors selling flowers, jewellery and artwork. Just remember to haggle! At night, things become really interesting as the steps fill up with young, Italian Romeos doing their best to look suave. It’s impossible to walk away without at least a marriage proposal or a rose. Get there on Metro Line A: Spagna.
Princess Ann causes major havoc on a Vespa round the Colosseum after having champagne with Joe and his friend Irving at Rocca’s Sidewalk Café. The most famous of Rome’s historical remains, the Colosseum was built in 80BC and is the former arena for competitions between gladiators and various wild beasts. (It’s also rumoured, though unproven, that it was in the Colosseum that the Christians were offered up as snacks to the lions.) While it’s free to look at the Colosseum from street level, you’ll have to pay at least 9000 Lira to go any higher up. The Colosseum can be found on Via dei Fori Imperiali. Take Metro Line B: Colosseo or one of numerous buses.
Did you know?
Roman Holiday was a huge hit in England thanks to the coincidental news from Buckingham Palace that Princess Margaret had also fallen in love with a commoner – Captain Mark Townsend.
During the scene at the Bocca Della Verita (the Mouth of Truth) which is shown in the trailer below, Gregory Peck ad-libbed the part where he pretends his hand has been bitten off. So Audrey’s look of horror is genuine!
For more on Audrey’s Rome see The Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, London, New York and Rome (Harper Collins) now also available in ebooks in four easy volumes.