A Slow-Food Approach to Touring Rome & Understanding its Culture and History

A Q&A with Peter Hatlie, Author and Editor of People and Places of the Rome Past: the Educated Traveller’s Guide

26 September 2019

Any experienced traveler knows the anticipation and thrill of exploring a new city.  And the greater the city—take Rome, for example, one of the world’s premier tourist attractions anywhere—the greater the chance for an amazing, even life-changing experience.  But how to get the most out your visit to Rome?  This book has an answer to that question that is different from that of hundreds of other travel books and thousands of travel agencies.  Our recommendation is: Take it slow; go below the surface of things; and use this book as an invitation to study and reflect upon the great city of Rome while experiencing its unparalleled cultural and historical riches first-hand.  If you are familiar with the deep satisfaction that a slow-food restaurant can bring in comparison to whatever eat-and-run experience you’ve encountered lately, apply the same logic to your next trip to Rome.  There is a difference, and that difference matters. Read on to learn more.

Q: What does this travel book about Rome do that others don’t?  Arguably it represents a new genre of travel literature, combining practical advice about tourism with rich descriptions of important sites, monuments, and works of art.  In addition, it explores the creative forces behind Rome’s rich cultural heritage.  Each of the book’s eighteen chapters is dedicated to a significant historical figure whose life in Rome has left a lasting footprint, be it a monument, a great work of art, or a tangible memory of great ideas and remarkable things accomplished.  Men and women are included in the list of biographical subjects, as are important people from all walks of life—artists, writers, politicians, churchmen and pilgrims. In a sense, the book is a cross between a tourist guide, an encyclopedia and a scholarly endeavor.

Q: What was the inspiration for the book?  Two things actually.  First, it is the outcome of a really successful team-taught course at my university’s study-abroad Rome campus. The course was taught on-site—that is, in churches and museums, on archaeological sites, and along the city’s alleys and streets—every week for over a decade. The course was so well-received over so many years that, well, it was a no brainer to consider turning into a college-level travel book.  Second, in my own travels to the some of the worlds greatest cities—Athens and Istanbul, Amsterdam and London, Stockholm and Copenhagen—I looked in vain for just this sort of guide book. I wish someone would write this same kind of book for those cities, too.  But for now, at least I am confident that such a book exists for Rome.

Q:  We know that the book about the history and cultural heritage of Rome.  But what is its scope and what expertise underpins its research and narrative?  Think of the book as a series college-level lectures, taking the reader to all major tourist sites along with a lot of less-known ones, and covering the history of the city from its origins in the eighth century BCE through the nineteenth centuries.  Each of the eighteen chapters is written by a college professor who has lived and worked in Rome and has special expertise.  The list of contributors includes four theologians, five professors of comparative literature, two classics professors, two historians, two art historians, and two philosophers.  So the book is ultimately about Rome from an interdisciplinary perspective covering all major sites and many lesser-known treasures, and dipping in and out of almost all major historical epoch’s of Rome’s three thousand years of lived history.

Q: Who is the target audience for the book?  The title of the book pretty much gives this question away.  Our target audience is people who like to read and explore the world to the fullest, and who like to engage in serious ideas and get under the surface of things.  They could be college professors, doctors, lawyers and other professionals longing for the kind of depth one encounters in college humanities classes.  College students themselves might profit from this kind of book in a class setting.  More generally, if the book is brought to Rome and used as a tourist guide, I can imagine someone sitting down to read it in the quiet of a church pew located in one of Rome’s great basilicas or sitting on a park bench outside of one of the city’s great museums or archaeological.  Also, it would be a perfect book to read last thing at night or first thing in the morning—say at the breakfast table—before heading out to explore Rome itself.

Q: Do you think the book will have appeal within the crowded market of tourist books about Rome?   Everyone whom I’ve talked with about the book’s concept has reacted positively so far, and the book itself is also well-written, accessible, and really attractive to the eye—full of beautiful photos, among other things.  Early sales figures are also promising, so I’m hopeful that it will be a book that appeals to its target audience and maybe beyond.  Once again, people who want to take enough time to get away from the crowds and probe the depths of Roman culture and history should like this book?

Q:  What’s next?  Another book on Rome? I’m currently finishing a strictly academic publication about an ancient city on the outskirts of Rome which, though once prominent, is now completely lost to time.  The city is called Bovillae, and it was a prominent suburb of Rome from the first century BCE through the second century CE.  Once I finish that project, I intend to explore whether the concept of People and Places is scalable to other cities.  Athens, Istanbul, Amsterdam and Paris, alone, would offer great material for a book like this one.

by Peter Hatlie