Rome is one of the most filmed cities on earth—and its signature set location is Trevi Fountain, a romantic, 85-foot-high baroque masterpiece depicting the god of the sea, Neptune, and his Tritons.
In the Hollywood classic Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), three American women toss coins into its picturesque waters and make wishes for love. Soon afterward, all three become involved in passionate romances, to the Oscar-winning title song immortalized by Frank Sinatra. In the equally iconic Roman Holiday (1953), a princess traveling incognito (Audrey Hepburn), slips into a hairdresser in front of Trevi Fountain to get a more fashionable, short haircut, tailed by her freewheeling guide-for-the-day, Gregory Peck. Hepburn must return to her official life as a princess in the final scene, which is shot near the fountain in the Palazzo Colonna. But perhaps the most brilliant use of Trevi Fountain comes in Federico Fellini’s classic, La Dolce Vita (1960), as Anita Ekburg frolics in its pool after dark, watched agog by Marcello Mastroianni. The couple then slips from the fountain to the smoky clubs of Via Veneto in scenes that would define Italian glamour to the outside world.
Most of the interiors were actually sets created in the famous Roman film studio, Cinecittà. This vast “cinema city” on the outskirts of Rome was also where most of the “sword-and-sandal” classics set in ancient Rome were shot in the 1950s and 1960s, including Ben Hur (1959), Quo Vadis? (1951), and the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra (1963). In recent years, the studio has been revived for films as diverse as Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) and the HBO series Rome (2005).
For Romans themselves, perhaps the most beloved cinematic portrayal of their city takes place at the end of another Fellini movie, Roma (1972), when the characters hop on Vespa motorcycles and drive in a deafening pack through the city at night. The floodlit monuments of Rome flash past, not as tourist sites but as the essential fabric of Rome, bringing its majestic history effortlessly to the present.