USA: Rome, Georgia - Mussolini's gift.

The Eternal City, Part 2: This American incarnation of Rome struggles to hold a candle to the original, but it offers something you'd be hard pressed to find in the Mother city: a present, and a plaque, offered by Mussolini.

Why visit? 
Rome, GA offers a bit of respite from the monotony of North West Georgia: some architecture, maybe some fine dining, and a whiff of urban sophistication here in the rural South.

And then of course there's Mussolini's gift.

Spend the night in the most charming hotel in the region and relive the city's grand old days before returning to the dour reality of strip malls and fast food.   

In North-West Georgia, about an hour's drive from Atlanta. Map.

THE DREARY CORNER of Northern Alabama and Georgia is a bit of the armpit of the Deep South. It's not necessarily offensive, but there's no particular reason to hang around and linger, in this forgotten triangle between the cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Atlanta.  Cotton used to be King, and like many communities, Rome, GA initially thrived on the cotton trade.

Founded by European Americans in 1834, they baptised it Rome in a flash of ambition, and because the city's setting, with seven hills and a curvy river, reminded them of The Eternal City. And it's true: if you squint your eyes whilst looking at Google Maps, the bend of the Etowah river follows roughly the same curve as the Tiber, with the city comfortable centered on the blob-shaped land in between.

Perhaps the city's founders were hoping some of the glamour of Rome would rub off on them, and in the 1920s they found a willing supporter in Benito Mussolini, Italy's fascist dictator.

Il Duce never actually visited the US, but he did send his well wishes to the Italian capital's namesake in the New World. With it, he sent a bronze copy of the Capitoline Wolf, the statue that symbolizes Rome's foundation, with Romulus and Remus being breastfed by a she-wolf. New Rome's citizenry gladly accepted the gift- before World War II, Mussolini wasn't necessarily seen as a bad guy in the US- he was perceived as someone who makes the trains run on time and stuff like that. Hey, we bet that if he were still around, America's current president would be sending flattering tweets to him...        
The replica of the Capitoline Wolf was sent as 'as a forecast of prosperity and glory, (...) sent from Ancient Rome to New Rome during the consulship of Benito Mussolini in the year 1929.' And those words, in suitably impressive Latin, are still inscribed on the plaque that accompanies the statue, placed in front of the town's City Hall.
Interestingly, the plaque also contains the symbol of Mussolini's party, the fasces, from which we derive the word fascism. Although not quite on the same level, can you imagine if Hitler had sent a Teutonic gift proudly inscribed with the swastika, and some US town were still giving it pride of place? 

Rome's main street, called Broad Street, warrants a brief look. Like many historical districts across the US, it's fallen on hard times, as people moved to the 'burbs and the shopping action moved to desolate strip malls. There's been a concerted effort to resuscitate Broad Street. Shops like Riverside Gourmet and Do Good Boutique as well as an excellent second hand bookstore offer a whiff of urban bohemia that's generally hard to find in a rural setting.
Some of the buildings are interesting in their own right- including a large former Masonic lodge. The Masons seems to have a strong presence throughout the South- their symbols pop up everywhere.  Why? We have no idea... 

Should you choose to spend the night, there's only one hotel that makes sense for those looking for some kind of history, character and charm (and if you don't, how the heck did you end up on our site?) The Claremont House, built in 1882, is your chance to stay in a historic Southern Gothic home. It's a very welcome change from the boring chain motels and flophouses speckled along Georgia's backroads.
The Claremont house is walking distance from Broad Street. There are a few more historic homes in the area- although when staying at the Claremont, you have probably already seen the cream of the crop!

Should you want to stretch your legs a little more, historic Berry College, just outside the city limits, offers a number of trails on the extensive campus. Don't expect anything close to the Apennines, but it's quiet and peaceful, and the air is clean. 

Getting there: 
They say all road leads to Rome, but that is not quite true in this case. The only way to get to Rome is, you guessed it, by car. We searched extensively, but there doesn't seem to be a single form of public transport to get you to Rome. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes from Atlanta, and a similar distance from Chattanooga.

Useful links:
We've already provided links to the most exciting activities and businesses in town, but the official Georgia's Rome Office of Tourism website has the officially sanctioned lodown on the towns sights and sounds. In bocca al lupo!


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