A perfect place to just roam

WHEN it comes to Europe's dazzling tourist attractions, Italy easily competes with any country. But Rome, many insist, holds the trump card.

The scale of the city is grand. The history and its buildings, rich. And, for the visitor, the sidewalks and the serpentine cobblestone lanes are pedestrian-friendly.

Eyes are magnetised by the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the magnificent piazzas, the catacombs and the sepia tones that bathe the city's crumbling elegance at sunset.

If tourism has a birthplace, scholars trace its evolution to the Eternal City.

The world's first guidebook was complied in the 4th century AD. Called The Curium, it listed the great buildings of the city and recommended a sequence for visiting them.

To a certain extent, Rome was designed for the tourist trade. In his brief to architect Bernini, Pope Alexander II directed that the city's portals and piazzas should be designed to impress.

Rome is also one of the great walking cities - no sane person would want to drive.

Though public transport is adequate, walking allows the visitor that serendipitous experience that follows when the map indicates a left turn, but you go right.

Film-makers have always been under Rome's spell. Thanks to their work, armchair travellers have 'been' to Rome without leaving their home town.

Fans trailed the late Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in Roman Holiday.

Cooling off in a gurgling fountain never looked so inviting as when the late Anita Ekberg tested the waters of the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita.

While images of the curvaceous siren cloud any appreciation of the stone structure, urban architects owe some thanks to Pope Clement XII.

The Papal leader was responsible for commissioning Nicolo Salvi to create the majestic Piazza di Trevi.

The golden age of Italian cinema at Cinecitta, formerly known as 'Hollywood on the Tiber', is over. The studio now operates at a quarter of its original capacity. Open to the public, a visit is a must for movie buffs.

Part of the set for Cleopatra remains and the place positively bristles with reminders of director Federico Fellini.

It is impossible to visit the Circus Maximus, a stroll from the Colosseum, without thinking of the chariot race from Ben Hur, even though the film was not actually shot at that location.

One of the most spectacular ruins is the Colosseum, where lions once devoured Christian martyrs.

It is now the home to hundreds of feral cats, content to dine on what they can scavenge.

Even if the quality of the feline predator has dropped, the sense of history is still powerful.

The splendour of the art and architecture of the Vatican had more to do with the temporal glorification of the Papacy, but the sights do not disappoint.

There is plenty to see. Around St Peter's Basilica is the Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling by Michelangelo. Be prepared for long queues Let the visitor be forewarned: little business is conducted between noon and 4 pm. Lunch is a leisurely affair usually followed by a nap. Shops re-open in the late afternoon and close around 8 pm.

Drinking espresso or cappuccino (which Romans drink in the morning and serve lukewarm) at a cafe or bar is a delightful way of catching your breath during a walking tour.