The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps Review
That icon of postcard Rome, the Spanish Steps (often called simply la scalinata—"the staircase"—by Italians) and the Piazza di Spagna from which they ascend both get their names from the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican on the piazza—even though the staircase was built with French funds in 1723. In honor of a diplomatic visit by the king of Spain, the hillside was transformed by architect Francesco de Sanctis to link the church of Trinità dei Monti at the top with the Via dei Condotti below. In an allusion to the church, the staircase is divided by three landings (beautifully banked with azaleas from mid-April to mid-May). For centuries, the scalinata and its neighborhood have welcomed tourists, dukes, and writers in search of inspiration—among them Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Byron, along with today's enthusiastic hordes. Bookending the bottom of the steps are two monuments to the 18th-century days when the English colonized the area: to the right, the Keats-Shelley House, to the left, Babington's Tea Rooms, both beautifully redolent of the Grand Tour era. For weary sightseers, there is an elevator at Vicolo del Bottino 8 (next to the adjacent Metro entrance), but those with mobility problems should be aware that there is still a small flight of stairs after. In recent years, a low-grade but annoying scam has proliferated in the piazza. This is the "rose scam," where a man comes up to a female tourist with a rose and insists he's giving it to her for free. When she takes it, he waits a couple of beats and then goes to a gentleman in her party, asking for just a few euros for the flower. Often, everyone concerned is too embarrassed not to pay. If this happens to you, simply firmly refuse the rose from the beginning, or hand it back when you're asked for money. Unless you want it, of course!