Rome’s Termini: bigger, better, bella

This item appears on page 12 of the May 2008 issue.

Rome’s Termini is a rather lovely train station. Really! It once was awful, but now it’s rather fine.

I first visited the station about 10 years ago, on a rainy January day. On the Eurostar Italia, my companion and I arrived at the dirty station, where litter gathered in doorways and on the tracks. I needed a coffee, but there seemed to be no open cafés. Everything was shuttered. Suspicious characters with scruffy beards followed us with their eyes.

I walked along the grimy platform to the ladies’ room, where I opened the toilet stall door to find a hole in the floor rather than a toilet. Someone must have allowed her cows to use the toilet; there was no other excuse for the filth.

“I’ll wait,” I said to my friend as I slammed the restroom door behind me.

These were my memories of the Termini, which I recalled upon landing in Rome in May ’07. I was leading a college student group, and our hotel was two blocks from the train station.

Imagine my surprise as we entered Rome’s remodeled Termini! Sun filtered through the glass walls and all was clean and bright. Sleek billboards advertising designer goods, colorful shops and coffee cafés lined the main ground floor. A flight of stairs led to an underground shopping mall with clothing stores, boutiques, sporting goods shops and a small supermarket.

How handy this new Termini was for us visitors to Rome. As we entered the station for the metro on our way to the Forum’s ruins one morning, one of my hungry students — who missed breakfast — grabbed a roll and cappuccino. At the end of a long day of sightseeing, we popped into the market for cheese and little boxes of wine. On my final day in the city, I bought a fabulous pair of eyeglass frames at an optometrist’s office, the same frames I saw earlier at the boutique near the Spanish Steps.

There was, however, the same cast of creeps hanging around the Termini that I recalled from years ago, an assortment of homeless, wayward and indigent folks just milling around. Entering the Termini, my group held tightly onto bags and wallets. In the evening, shady characters loitered by the front of the station where the buses arrived and departed.

Inside, even as late as 1 a.m., the railway terminal was well lit and open; it felt safe. Outside by the buses it was a different matter, so the group exited through the side entrances to walk the short stroll back to the hotel. But such a scary situation is normal at any city train terminal in any country. It’s how the place is managed that matters.

The Termini’s renovation took years to complete at a cost of millions of euros. The station sees the foot traffic of millions of people each year, and to accommodate these travelers — mainly traveling on trains like the Interregional, the Intercity and the Eurostar Italia — the Termini offers a tourist information booth, a metro police station, luggage deposit, a bookstore with English texts, and handy automated ticket machines (where shiftless loiterers look for unsuspecting tourists, so watch out).

Above the gleam of renewal, there was a rare sight each evening. Thousand of white birds swirled above and around the Termini, caught up in its light and air currents. All night long, every night for the seven nights I was in Rome, they flew in a graceful circle — bright spots against a dark sky. I asked several people to explain the phenomenon. No one could. Still, it was rather wonderful.


Longmont, CO