Then the Earth Moved is set in the Abruzzo Mountains. In late April, I decided to combine a holiday with research and investigate Rome. The balmy twenty-one degrees on arrival contrasted pleasantly with fifteen and a cool wind at Bristol Airport, so that set the tone.
I know Italy well, but this was my first visit to the capital, putting ruins high on my list, a true thrill for anyone interested in history. And there were some great ruins – although the Colosseum, overflowing with tourists, isn’t ideal from the romantic point of view. To escape the crowds, I headed to the Palace of Domitian on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Circus Maximus.
An overwhelming place, it would offer many opportunities for dalliance, I thought.
St Peter’s was most impressive, and I loved the Castello Sant’Angelo, but for a romantic stroll, the gardens around the Villa Borghese scored highly. Towards the end of that day, from the nearby Piazza del Popolo, we wandered along Via del Corso towards the Piazza Venezia, stopping to eat gelato. Wafts of garlic and tomato from Rome’s many restaurants met us at every corner. People-watching, I imagined incorporating all this into a novel.
An early train on Saturday carried us 30km to the fabulous Ostia Antica. Drizzly weather meant few tourists, and we strolled along ancient roadways, initially having the 250-acre site almost to ourselves.
An alternative to Pompeii
Ostia is more than double the size of Pompeii, with a superb amphitheatre, temples. beautifully-intact mosaic floors, baths with running water, warehouses, rows of shops. And – a plus – no dead bodies. Work continues to uncover the buried city. A naval base, constructed in the 4th Century BCE to protect Rome and the goods brought from overseas, it was abandoned when the river silted up and the Saracens attacked repeatedly.
Grain was the major import from all over the Roman Empire – enormous grain jars stand half-buried in the ground. And did I mention the cafés and bars? Roman blocks of flats – there are many, alongside the palazzos – had no kitchens, so ordinary people ate from street vendors or in cafeterias. Pictures of the menus adorn some of the walls.
Those Roman bars aren’t serving lunch nowadays. I’d go outside the walls into the village, where we got three sandwiches and cups of coffee for just seven euros. Huge value, especially when coupled with the legendary Italian welcome.
So is Rome a City of Love?
Of course it is – and lovers abound. To set a romantic novel here, I’d couple the capital with odd-ball Ostia Antica. I’ll have to have a new heroine because Isla, who seems to have won the heart of everyone who has read the book, is now settled with her Edmondo in Fortezza. But I’m considering her new sister-in-law for the role. A tough banker working internationally, she is due some love and attention.
Mary Georgina de Grey, May 2023
For the first book set in this wonderful country, see Then the Earth Moved, published 20th March 2023. Available on Amazon and other platforms.