Rome Curiosities

Here are some things you might see as you wander around Rome: 





When you travel to Rome, you'll see the letters SPQR almost everywhere. If you look down, you'll see them on manhole covers; if you look up, you'll spot them on buildings. The letters appear on pamphlets and papers, menus, taxis, on public buildings and other sites toremind us of Rome's once-great strength as an empire and its place today as the Eternal City.

What do these letters mean? SPQR is short for a Latin phrase - Senatus Populusque Romanus, meaning the "Senate and the People of Rome". Through these letters we are reminded as to whom Rome truly belongs: the people.

The words were symbolic of Rome's identity as a state belonging to the people and the Senate, whose members were selected by the Roman citizens. So important was the marking SPQR, that the very letters inspired foreign nations and protected Roman citizens from harm based on their affiliation with the great city. 

Gattare, or cat ladies


If you wonder why there are so many cats around Rome and why they are all so fat, the answer is that in Rome there are a number of women who are devoted to the feline world. The gattare, or cat ladies, feed, spay, and otherwise care for all the cats that they find, including the great number of felines abandoned by their owners during summer vacation. The most famous gattare location is an excavated area under the street in Largo Argentina, just inside a sacred archaeological site. Here, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was stabbed by his rival Brutus. Even though most 20 centuries have passed since Caesar's murder, the gattare believe that his spirit surely lives on in some of the aristocratic cats who rule over the ancient temples with vengeance and pride.

Actually these cat ladies work hard to collect needed funds for food and medicines, and also manage to attract a certain number of volunteers. The location has one great advantage: it is a tourist attraction because of the historical and archaeological significance of the ruins, although many tourists seem more interested in the cats than the ruins! If you are interested in the roman cat sanctuary, the link is

Italian coffee and coffee culture


Italian coffee, caffè, is great. Italians used to make the coffee at home with a MOKA or macchinetta del caffè, a kind of little pot made of three parts, placed directly on the stove. But mostly we drink una tazzina (little cup) di caffè in bars.

Here the coffee is called espresso, and it tastes a little bit different than the home made variety (the secret is supposedto be high pressure and high temperature of the water used to make the coffee).

Having a coffee is a ritual, an occasion for meeting people. It is curious to know that, even if the coffee often is enjoyed while standing at the counter for just a few minutes, ordering a cup of coffee is a science! There are a multitude of variations, and this list doesn't include all of them:

  • espresso (the most common, a plain cup of coffee)
  • macchiato caldo (with a drop of hot milk)                               
  • macchiato freddo (with a drop of cold milk)                                                  
  • corretto (with a dash of liquor)
  • doppio (double dose of coffee)
  • ristretto (narrow coffee, it is stronger but even smaller than a plain).
  • lungo (double dose of water)
  • al vetro (in a small glass instead of a cup)
  • con panna (with whipped cream)
  • decaffeinato (decaf)
  • freddo (iced, during the summer)
  • americano (with too much water!!!!)

Don't get confused by other drinks prepared with

  • cappuccino (a cup of coffee with steamed milk) *
  • latte macchiato (a big glass of milk with a drop of coffee)
  • caffé-latte (a big glass of coffee and milk)

*Remember: Italians only order cappuccino in the morning or as a break in the afternoon: we never have it before or after a meal. Ordering a cappuccino after lunch, immediately signals that you are a tourista !

Pasquino, a talking statue


"Pasquino" is the most famous of the "talking statues" in Rome and symbolizes the great sense of humor of the Romans. Actually Pasquino is a very badly preserved torso of a 3rd century BC figure, discovered in the fifteenth century near an old barber shop whose owner was called Pasquino.

The statue stands in a small square just behind Piazza Navona, called Piazza Pasquino. Since 1501 this statue has talked. Late at night the barber would post satirical posters arguing against the arrogance and corruption of the government, and especially the pope, on Pasquino. In the morning everyone could read these political statements before they were taken away by the police.

The posters with poems and jokes were called "pasquinate", and even today Pasquino is always decorated with satirical messages referring to the current ruling class. The authors, of course, remain unknown.


To know more:

Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth)

The Mouth of Truth

If you visit the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (a beautiful church with a wonderful medieval atmosphere), you will first see a line of people with cameras, under the church portico, waiting to get close to a big stone face with open mouth. The legend says that if a lie is told while holding one's right hand in the open mouth, it will bite you.

Probably this idea originated in the Middle Ages, when the Bocca was used to see if wives suspected of infidelity were telling the truth. This spot became famous in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday as the place where Gregory Peck flirts with Audrey Hepburn. It is curious to know that originally, in the fourth century BC, this stone face was probably just a masque-shaped manhole cover, and was placed in the church portico
only later.


Sora Mirella

During the hot Roman summer, you will see at streetcorners small chioschi (stands) selling Grattachecca. This is the Roman name for granita.

Scraping a big block of ice with iron grattugia, thin layers are produced, which are then covered with your favorite fruit syrup or even pieces of fresh fruit.

The most famous grattachecca is the SORA MIRELLA, in the Lungotevere Anguillara, near the Ponte Cestio.