ITALY: The Lay of the Land

Entire university courses are devoted to studying Rome’s cityscape, which may seem chaotic at first, but in fact was a masterpiece of urban planning, perfectly laid out to make the most of each approach to a monument. Don’t expect the geography of Italy’s medieval cities, where everything revolves around a central cathedral. Rome is a mosaic of ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque structures dotting either side of the Tiber River, and each neighborhood has its own particular importance. The oldest and most orthodox way to refer to Roman geography is by its seven hills: the Aventine, Capitoline, Celium, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal. Romans still use these names to refer to an institution now located there: Il Quirinale is the president’s offices, Il Viminale is the Ministry of the Interior, Il Campidoglio (Capitoline) is City Hall, and so on. Referring to the hill will usually work if you’re describing a general area of the city center, but it will only get you so far when flipping through the classified ads for apartments.

REGIONAL DIALECTS: ROME Roman dialect, known as romanesco, or pejoratively as romanaccio, has hundreds of colorful expressions. Here are a few of the more polite ones, what they sound like they might mean, and what they really mean. Parla come magni. Sounds like: Talk like you eat. Means: What are you trying to tell me? Semo a cavallo. Sounds like: We’re on horseback. Means: We’re in good shape. Nun stamo a venne li fiori ‘n cima a la collina. Sounds like: We’re not selling flowers on the hilltop. Means: Let’s stop wasting time. Te stai a allarga’. Sounds like: You’re extending yourself. Means: Stick to things you know. Stai popo a sgrava’. Sounds like: You’re giving birth. Means: You’re exaggerating. Sta ‘n campana./Stai manzo. Sounds like: Stay by the bell./Stay beef. Means: Stay on your toes. Nun c’e trippa pe’ gatti. Sounds like: There’s no tripe for the cats. Means: We’re broke./There’s nothing left. Stai a guarda’ er capello. Sounds like: You’re looking at the hair. Means: You’re being too picky.

Officially, the city is divided into 22 rioni (districts), which can be found on government maps and in erudite city guides. They were imposed upon the city about a century ago, after Rome became the capital, and they never gained the name recognition of, say, Paris’s arrondissements. Sometimes, they can sound downright awkward. For instance, if someone were advertising an apartment on Via della Croce, they would much sooner refer to the area as della Croce or even Piazza di Spagna than use the official rione, Campo Marzio. Some official rioni names, however, are very commonly used, especially Prati, Trastevere, Testaccio, and Monti. Instead, classified ads and the average Roman will mention the closest subway station, if there happens to be one nearby, or else the closest square”such as Popolo, Navona, or Bologna”or, in some cases, an ancient road, such as Appia, Cassia, or Flaminia.

ITALY: The Lay of the Land Photo Gallery

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