Having wandered through various corners of the globe, I’m often approached with inquiries about life in Italy, and one query that perennially surfaces is whether the essence of the “dolce vita” still permeates the Italian lifestyle.

So, what exactly does “dolce vita” mean?

Literally translating to “sweet life”, dolce vita encapsulates the sentiment of the English expression “good life”. It originated in Rome between the late fifties and early sixties, with the iconic via Vittorio Veneto emerging as the epicenter of nightlife. Luxurious hotels and clubs that stayed open until dawn turned this street into the haven for night owls. Dolce vita encapsulated a carefree existence dedicated to the pursuit of worldly pleasures.

This term gained widespread recognition following the release of Federico Fellini’s film “La dolce vita,” featuring the iconic scene of Anita Ekberg bathing in the Trevi Fountain. However, a word of caution: attempting to recreate this scene in Rome is not only discouraged but illegal. Even dipping your toes in any fountain in the city is against the law, so let’s all behave.

For those nostalgic about the dolce vita era, you might consider joining a specialized tour or crafting your own homage to this bygone lifestyle.


Dolce Vita as a Historical Epoch

In the late 1950s, Rome was a vibrant city rebounding from the aftermath of World War II. This period coincided with the economic boom, fostering a desire to relish the beauty, climate, and entertainment that Rome had to offer. The inception of the dolce vita is often linked to a scandalous private party held in Trastevere on November 5, 1958, marking the twenty-fourth birthday of Countess Olghina di Robilant. A spontaneous striptease by Turkish-Armenian dancer Aïché Nana at the Rugantino restaurant was captured on film, leading to a scandal that reverberated across the city.

Does Dolce Vita Still Exist?

In its original form, dolce vita no longer exists. Nostalgia is its only refuge, cherished by those yearning for a bygone era. Expecting to encounter the same luxury and snobbishness depicted in the movie along via Veneto might leave you disappointed. Other parts of Rome now claim the spotlight for high-end fashion, exclusive clubs, and luxurious hotels.

Contrary to a common misconception, not all Italians lead a carefree life of leisure. The reality, especially in Rome, is a welcoming city where taxi drivers navigate the chaotic streets with unparalleled skill, and a laid-back attitude prevails. This isn’t to suggest laziness; rather, Romans seem to embody a more relaxed approach to life compared to other places in Italy.

For some Italians, dolce vita has taken on a new meaning in contrast to today’s fast-paced world. It has become synonymous with “slow living” and finding joy in life’s simple pleasures. This reinterpretation stands in stark contrast to the original definition, creating a unique dichotomy that mirrors the evolution of Italian culture over time.