Having lived here and there, I often get asked questions about life in Italy and one that always comes up is if dolce vita still exists.
What does dolce vita mean?
Literally, ‘dolce vita’ means sweet life, and is equivalent to the English “good life“. Dolce vita refers to the trends that emerged in Rome between the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties; the street called via Vittorio Veneto in particular became THE spot for night owls, thanks to the presence of the most luxurious hotels and clubs open until dawn. From then on, dolce vita continued to evoke a carefree lifestyle dedicated to worldly pleasures.
The term became famous after the release of Federico Fellini’s film “La dolce vita”, with its well known scene of Ekberg bathing in the Trevi fountain. By the way, if you’re in Rome and want to imitate that, don’t as it’s illegal. Even bathing your feet in any fountain in Rome is illegal so just behave, please.
However, if you’re one of those nostalgics about dolce vita, you may want to participate in a tour ad hoc or create your own.
Dolce Vita as a historical period
In the late 1950s, Rome was a lively city that was recovering from the hardships of the Second World War. These were the years of the economic boom, that went hand in hand with the desire to live and enjoy the beauty, climate and entertainment of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The beginning of the Dolce Vita is usually considered to coincide with a private party held at the Rugantino restaurant in Trastevere on November 5, 1958 for the twenty-fourth birthday of Countess Olghina di Robilant. During the party, Turkish-Armenian dancer Aïché Nana improvised an unexpected striptease that was filmed by photographers. All of the rolls were seized by police officers at Robilant’s request except one, with photographs taken by Tazio Secchiaroli. Once published, the photographs gave way to an enormous scandal and led to legal consequences.
Does dolce vita still exist?
Dolce vita does not exist anymore. Or rather it still exists in nostalgics that long for days that are gone. If you go to via Veneto and expect to see the same luxury and snobbishness of the movie, you’ll be disappointed. Other parts of Rome are now renowned for being the spot for high-end fashion, exclusive clubs and luxurious hotels.
The misconception that I often get is that all Italians are carefree and like to do nothing. Or can afford to do nothing but parting and having fun.
However, if you ever traveled to Rome you know it’s a city that warmly welcomes you, where taxi drivers drive amazingly crazily, and has a sort of laid back attitude. Note that I don’t mean people in Rome are lazy, but rather that I found them having a more relax approach to life than other places in Italy.
For some Italians, dolce vita assumed a new meaning that’s in contrast with today’s fast world, as it became synonymous with slow living and enjoying the little things. Nothing more in contrast with the original meaning.
Cover photo: See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons