Featured, Italy, Photo Documentaries

Rome Then and Now

19 Comments 30 August 2012

1956 Italians entering the Vatican

1956 Italians entering the Vatican – no metal detectors!

My parents recently did a European trip which included Germany and Italy. They had a great time and enjoyed all of the cities and sites…except Rome. This was really surprising since I find Rome to be one of the coolest cities in Europe. How could anyone think that Rome – a city with so much history and character – is awful? Sure, traffic is bad, there’s too much shopping, and it’s crowded…but isn’t that every popular city in Europe? I asked my dad what he didn’t like about Rome and he said it was too crowded. Coming from the man who refused to wait in line at Disneyworld (which meant endless trips on the ‘boring’ rides), this didn’t surprise me.

However, while going through old slides with my father later that week, I realized that it was more than the crowds that soured him about Rome. Amidst all of the family photos of my brother, sister, and me were even older photos of my parent’s wedding and honeymoon. However I was stunned when I came across the photos of my father in the army. He served  in the 11th Airborne from in the mid 1950’s luckily missing WWII and the Korean War. He was stationed in Augsburg Germany, but the pictures I found were of his ‘leave’ in Rome in 1956.

I looked at these old grainy images in amazement; this was not the Rome I knew. This was Rome before air travel became affordable. Before millions of people from all countries and all walks of life could get on a metal ‘bullet’ and fly to Rome for a few hundred dollars. Before a few hundred dollars was considered a ‘cheap ticket’. Before we were bombarded with images of Rome on our televisions sets, computers, and phones. This was my father’s Rome – undiscovered.

An empty Trevi Fountain 1956

An empty Trevi Fountain in 1956

I stared in amazement at the completely empty Trevi Fountain. In contrast to my photos of the Trevi Fountain from my travels this summer with my niece, it’s a completely different experience.

Tourist take up every square inch of Trevi Fountain

Tourists now take up every square inch of Trevi Fountain 2012

The Coliseum was no exception either. It was completely empty and my dad roamed around it without waiting in line or even seeing other people. In contrast I don’t think I was ever able to take a photo without people in it at the Coliseum.  My niece and I even tried to recreate the photo of my father there – three generations of Otts at the Coliseum.

Coliseum in 1956

Coliseum in 1956

Coliseum 2012

Coliseum 2012

My dad at the Coliseum

My father posing in the nearly empty Coliseum 1956

Me at the Coliseum in 2012

Me at the Coliseum in 2012

Coliseum generations - my niece in 2012

Generations of Ott’s at the Coliseum – my niece in 2012

There were no lines at the Vatican and certainly no metal detectors – you could just walk in.

Vatican 1956

Vatican 1956 – people just walked in through the front door!

Vatican 2012

Vatican 2012

The traffic was light and parking was simple.  Crowds were nonexistent and the river was a bit more dirty.

Arch of Constantine 1956 - no gates

Arch of Constantine 1956 – no fencing and no people

Arch of Constantine 2012

Arch of Constantine 2012

Piazza della Republica 1956

Piazza della Republica 1956

Piazza della Republica

Piazza della Republica Now

Spanish Steps 1956

Spanish Steps 1956 – practically empty

Spanish Steps Rome

Spanish Steps – always filled with people now

Piazza Venezia 1956

Old cars parked outside of Piazza Venezia

Piazza Venezia Now

More green space and less cable cars wires – Piazza Venezia

Pyramid of Cestius 1956

Pyramid of Cestius 1956

Pyramid of Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius view from the cemetery 2012

Tiber River 1956

Tiber River 1956

Tiber River Rome

The Tiber River looks a little more inviting today

My father in 1956 at Trevi Fountain

My father in 1956 at Trevi Fountain

Me at Trevi Fountain

Me at Trevi Fountain – in my father’s footsteps…

No wonder why my father didn’t enjoy Rome. The Rome he saw was not the one he remembered. It had changed drastically.

Looking at these pictures of the then and now made me realize just how much air travel has changed the world.

The question is – has it changed for the better or worse?

Your Comments

19 Comments so far

  1. christopher says:

    as usual interesting and for the most part well informed

  2. I love this post. Great idea and really cool seeing your dad’s old pics (Kodak instamatic??) and comparing them. Travel is great…but the conundrum is it brings so many tourists!! 😛

  3. Linda says:

    I loved this, partly because I was thinking of doing a similar one! The first time I went to Rome was in 1967, so perhaps it was a bit busier than the city your dad saw, but not much I think. I certainly have a blurry picture of me throwing my coin into Trevi surround by – no-one! I remember walking straight into St Peters, and sitting quietly in the Cistine Chapel admiring the art. That certainly was a shock when I finally went back in 1997! I also wandered around the Colesium unsupervised and saw much more than on my second visit (although I understand that they now have guided tours to the places which were out-of-bounds for a while?). Oh, and my pictures from the Spanish steps show those gorgeous planters full of red flowers we used to see in the movies (can’t remember what type of flower they were now). My son is a big movie fan and wanted to eat ice cream there, like Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, but it’s no longer allowed. Overall, I had to accept that life has changed, and the beautiful thing about Rome is that a lot of it can’t change, because it is protected, but patience is most certainly needed!

  4. I really like the comparison pictures. It is amazing how much things have changed. I just pulled out my pictures from my first trip to Rome in 1994 to see how they compared. It was definitely less crowded in 94.

  5. Unfortunately your father experienced what many of us do as we get older, that returning to places that were last visited many years previously seriously damages our perception of them. The problem is now a days we all want to travel but hate the accompanying crowds!

  6. Brian says:

    Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing a little history with us.

  7. Very interesting to see these older photos compared to modern-day Rome. It is great that “far-off places” are more accessible to us, but that can also definitely change a place.

  8. Dave and Deb says:

    A little different back then. Great comparison Sherry. I love Rome!

  9. Lisa says:

    So true. I love the comparison shots and the pics of your dad! Priceless.

    One piece of caption clarification. The pics marked “The Vatican” are really of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Right? Of course The Vatican is just out of sight of the photo.

    Great work as always, Sherry. You are my inspiration.


  10. I love how your old and new pictures tell a story! It’s amazing that you have had the opportunity to visit some of the same places your father has visited. What a great story to document for future Ott generations! :)

    Sally Stretton

  11. Love the pics! It brought back some good memories from I was there, my second country on my first-ever trip out of the USA. So fun!

  12. Mike says:

    You did a good job by comparing the older photos with the news. I enjoy seeing the differences and improvements of some spots of Rome. Hope you do that in other article of yours.

    • Sherry says:

      Sadly I only have old photos from my Dad’s time in the service – and these are the only ones of a place I’ve been to! Since I’m only using photos I ‘own’ it limits me! Glad you liked the post though!

  13. Eva says:

    Oh, I wish to visit the historical coliseum one day !!!

  14. Sam says:

    What an incredible difference! I’ve never even considered the impact of the accessibility of travel, cheap airfair, fast trips on the places we visit. I was in Europ last year with http://www.travcoa.com and it was just like in your modern pictures. Now I’m yearning to see it in your father’s years! Great post :)

  15. marvin nubwaxer says:

    yeah, and california’s population has tripled since 1950. wah.

  16. Jason says:

    Nice nostalgic series there. It’s a shame that so many European countries have to survive off of mass tourism to survive. Tour operators and the mindset they bring have pretty much turned all these lovely cities into a Disney World type of amusement park for tourism. I dont know if you have been to Venice lately, but it is borderline unbearable nowadays as it feels like a huge amusement park rather than the gem it is hidden behind the line barricades, gelato and pizza kiosks, postcard stands and carnival mask shops. Mass entrance at 9am and mass exodus at 6pm.

  17. Richard says:

    Good stuff, very interesting

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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