In 2005, newspaper headlines around the world announced that Rome was replacing its cobblestones with asphalt—cobblestones that have been in place since the 17th century. On July 25, 2005, USA Today said, “Besides the obvious shortfalls—the stones are pothole-prone and expensive to replace—the vibrations from cars and buses passing over them pose a danger to the monuments and palaces that line the Italian capital’s streets.”
Known locally as “sampietrini” or “little stones of St. Peter’s,” most of Rome’s dark gray cobblestones are about four inches square and produced from volcanic rock from the hills around Rome. They’re beautiful to look at and certainly add a lot of atmosphere to an already charming city. From what I’ve seen, Rome has replaced cobblestones mostly on the main thoroughfares but has wisely left them in place in the Centro Storico and near the tourist attractions.
I usually love the cobblestones in Rome. I don’t like cobblestones when the material binding them to each other (cement?) has worn away and they become, literally, stumbling blocks. I’ve tripped on cobblestones a million times (no exaggeration) in my month in Rome. I also don’t like cobblestones when they’re wet, because they become quite slippery, especially the ones in the middle of streets that allow automobile traffic. The worst cobblestones, however, are those in Campo de’ Fiori at the end of the day when the farmers market garbage makes them downright dangerous, unless you’re a pigeon. (You could be a pigeon, I suppose. I’m a Duck after all—a proud University of Oregon Duck, but I digress.)
Most automobiles in Rome drive very fast. I have no idea what the speed limit is in Rome, but it can’t be less than 100 miles an hour (I am exaggerating now!). Buses are no exception. That’s a great thing when you’re trying to get somewhere fast. It’s not such a great thing when the road is paved with cobblestones. When buses travel fast over cobblestones, passengers get jiggled and jarred until you’re sure that your teeth will fall out and all of the bones in your body are broken! The 271 bus that passes the Colosseum and then flies south down the cobblestoned Via di S. Gregorio is especially guilty of excessive jiggling. Beware!
The best shoes for walking on cobblestones are thick-soled flats. Many Italian women don’t believe this and wear ridiculously high heels. Many of them teeter s-l-o-w-l-y down the street, often catching their heels in the spaces between the cobblestones. Others stride confidently, as if they can’t believe the cobblestones would dare mess with them. Still others compromise and wear high-heeled wedges so their heels can’t get stuck between the cobblestones. I wear fairly thick-soled Merrill flats when I go for my walks or play tourist. When we go out in the evening for a nice dinner, I wear thinner-soled, dressy flats, and I always regret it, but we women must make sacrifices for style, you know.
[I know the photo of the woman in medium high heels is blurry, but you try taking a picture of a woman in high heels while you’re carrying four grocery bags and feeling like a voyeur!]
If you come to Rome, take my advice and pack a pair of sensible shoes and a pair of nice flats for special events. Leave your four-inch heels in your closet at home, and walk in comfort. Men, you’re on your own!