Ever since I was young, Rome to me felt like a fairytale. A place that existed in books and in the movies. A place that could only have been dreamt up by the most fantastic imagination. How could it be possible for such a place to exist? I’ll never forget the first time I arrived in the city. The busy streets moved around me, but it felt like I was the only person in the world. I was captivated and hypnotised at the same time.
The Eternal City is a place where history and modernity collide in a glorious spectacle of culture and lifestyle. With its ancient ruins, and winding cobblestone streets, It’s a city where the past is palpable, where every corner seems to whisper stories of emperors and gladiators, of popes and artists, and of a civilisation that has left an indelible mark on the world. I remember wandering aimlessly, feeling like I had been transported back in time to a place where architecture, art, and culture were at their zenith. I stood in awe at the Colosseum, imagining gladiators prowling its every inch, crying ‘Are You Not Entertained!! to a crowd baying for blood. l sat by the Pantheon and thought of everything it must have seen, I watched friends and families take in the Trevi Fountain, and I drank good coffee by the Spanish Steps, thinking about just how good a film the Talented Mr Ripley is. Rome though is so much more than just its ancient past. It’s a city that lives and breathes in the present, where food, fashion, football and music are celebrated in equal delight. I was only there for three nights but even 100 more would never have been enough.
There is, however, a side to Rome that lies beyond the cinema screen and the centre of the city, which is waiting to be explored. Where hidden piazzas exist out of sight, and bustling street markets pulse with the sound of locals. Though the city centre is undeniably incredible, there is a raw, and exciting often unexplored underbelly to Rome, where there awaits a treasure trove of memories waiting to be made. To find out everything this city truly has to offer and what it means to call it home, The Atlantic Dispatch sat down with writer and illustrator, Elisa Colarossi.
Elisa was born and raised in Rome. It is her city and, it is more than simply a birthplace to her. The city has been her friend and is the main inspiration for her art and adventures. She writes, draws and illustrates the life of her beloved cat Stanis and tells stories of Rome, capturing its culture and suburbs, bringing you parts of the city that aren’t in the guidebooks. She shows you what Rome is about, its music, books, movies, its places, people, colours, scenery and poetry. She is also the co-author of Lonely Planet’s ‘Experience Rome,’ and it is clear, that she wants to spread the infinite love of her city. Once upon a time, she lived in Amsterdam, working and getting to know a different culture. It made her realise how much more is going on in the world. But she knew deep down that Rome was always going to be her home again.
‘With its ups and downs, its warm orange sunsets, the graffiti, the seagulls singing, and the garbage trucks at midnight during summer, Rome is home, no matter what.’ Listening to Elisa talk of her childhood in Rome and what the city means to her, is like going back to those days when I thought Rome was just a dream. She paints such a poetic picture of a place which even though I’ve walked its streets, still feels like it’s too good to be true.
This City Truly Makes You Feel at Home, it Hugs You Like Your Mamma Would
I try to convey a kind of Rome I’ve been experiencing and living in since I was a little kid. No domes, cute alleys, or wondrous monuments (which are a signature when talking about Rome), but instead, a more raw, authentic, and unexpected outlook on my city. One that has accompanied me since 1991, the year I was born in this incredible city. Being born in Rome is a blessing! This city truly makes you feel at home, it hugs you like your mamma would, with its ups and downs, its warm orange sunsets, the graffiti, the seagulls singing, and the garbage trucks at midnight during summer, Rome is home, no matter what. I consider my city like a familiar womanly figure always present in my life; when I’m on my own around, walking, biking, or in the car, I never feel alone, Rome has this powerful way of making you feel part of it, even in unconscious ways.
What warms my heart when thinking of past memories is how I would play in the courtyard of my parents’ first apartment, in the Alessandrino neighbourhood, very close to where I live now (Centocelle), trying to look for four-leaf clovers. Something else that came to mind is when I used to go play and enjoy Villa Borghese with my mom and dad, as well as doing groceries at the local market with my mother, observing around, and munching on free samples of pizza Bianca (when you’re little, bakers often give the kids a little slice to keep them busy while the parents are shopping). Simple memories, but full of meaning.
The Roman Suburbs are the Most Precious Thing in my City
As a famous sentence states “Roma, non basta una vita”; a life isn’t enough! But we’ll make it work! My own ideal day in Rome is made of authentic food like supplì, pizza rossa, and maritozzi, hunting treasures at second-hand markets and vintage shops, strolling around neighbourhoods out of the centre discovering street art and new atmospheres for my photography and, my writing and lastly a good old aperitivo, Roman style, with a Spritz or a beer in the piazza or at old local bars. For anyone Coming to Rome for the first time I, obviously, highly suggest a well-deserved visit to the most wonderful staples in the centre (Colosseum, Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain to cite just a few), but I also warmly invite them to just get a little peak at neighbourhoods such as Garbatella, Testaccio or Pigneto, to experience and savour a more authentic, local Roma.
I consider the Roman suburbs the most precious thing in my city, without taking anything away from the centre’s majestic, jaw-dropping historical treasures. Suburbs or as we call them in Italian “periferie” are something to be proud of! Full of flaws but rich in consistency, the Roman suburbs perfectly impersonate one of my favourite idioms “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Periferie differs a lot from the aesthetically pleasing setting of the centre; architecturally we cruise across decades of styles depending on which area of Rome we are in. Almost every suburban neighbourhood has historical value, from the Acquedotto Alessandrino that passes by one of the busiest streets of Rome (Via Palmiro Togliatti) to the many tower-named neighbourhoods conquering half of the new metro C. Some of my favourite things to see in the suburb that really are worth the trip are Villa Gordiani in between Centocelle and Largo Preneste, where you can enjoy a wonderful bike ride while admiring its grand mausoleum, the eye-catching street art of Tor Pignattara, Quadraro, and Pigneto and venture into the Caffarella Park, encountering bunnies and farm animals always down for a little cuddle. There’s so much to do and see, I could write an encyclopedia!
The Roman people Make the Culture of Rome
I think of local culture in general as a treasure chest. You get to understand and comprehend the many multifaceted facts it holds. From music to food, to ways of sayings and behaviour. Every city has its own little anecdotes and hidden things that only natives can be proud (and lucky) to know, and that’s what I try to convey through the work I do: a movie, a sentence, an actor, a famous tv scene, a song, a place or a specific bar, Rome tells its story through so many things, year after year. Roman culture gives life to an incredibly fun and colourful concoction with its rough and hilarious dialect, the jokes and the camaraderie. But also the moodiness, the don’t worry, just do it later” attitude, the kindness and the willingness to help and make you feel at home. The Roman people make the culture of Rome. From the Romans, you can grasp the whole vibe of the city, which I can describe with three words and nothing else: laidback, loud and alive.
“What warms my heart when thinking of past memories is how I would play in the courtyard of my parents’ first apartment, in the Alessandrino neighbourhood, very close to where I live now (Centocelle), trying to look for four-leaf clovers.”—Elisa Colarossi
What Truly Inspires my Photography and Filming is the Daily Life
I try to show a different side of Rome with my photography when strolling or biking around: unveiling a new and different Rome. I feel like this city needs (and deserves) to be shown for what it really is. With its many flaws and eye-catching features, the enormous size of the city leads to many interesting and fascinating sides worth exploring. What truly inspires my photography and filming is the daily life, the detail, and the architecture. I could spend hours looking up at buildings! Don’t get me wrong, I love to spend time in the centre, but for me, nothing beats the raw beauty of the suburbs.
Stanis is the Most Roman Cat There is
Stanis is my best friend, my muse, I could say my everything. Thanks to him I started my drawing venture again! During the quarantine in Rome, we all had a lot of time on our hands and I was naturally drawn back to my pencils and colours. My art started to go big and Stanis (the main character of my artworks) became a little superstar as well! Deciding to capture his adventures happened immediately after the quarantine was ended officially; it was like a well-deserved comeback to real life! Stanis is the most Roman cat there is and with his adventures in the eternal city, I love to show how a cat would live, following the lifestyle of the Romans. The joy he brings me every day is countless. What my art, my photography and my writing have brought into my life is astounding: Stanis and I truly couldn’t be happier!
Thank you to Elisa Colarossi for her time. To learn more about Elisa please follow her social media here: @romangalgoesaround
To see and purchase her incredible illustrations please visit here