Romans are great moaners: they moan if their streets are full of holes and if their route is blocked by road works; they moan if their administration is complacent and if weekends and summer months are log-jammed with crowd-drawing, city-sponsored events; they moan if the glorious palazzi that adorn their city fall into disrepair, but inevitably find any fresh lick of paint to be the wrong colour.
To listen to them, you'd think that your chosen holiday destination was beyond redemption. But this incorrigible complaining is a foil. In actual fact, Romans share an unbounded passion for their city.
History has left them much to be proud of. First of all, there are the vestiges of 500 years as caput mundi, hub of the ancient world's greatest empire. Considering the ravages that followed the fall of the Roman Empire – brought about by barbarian marauders, by the passage of time and by Romans themselves, on the look-out for handy building materials in times of hardship – it's a miracle that anything remains, let alone monuments of the magnificence of the Colosseum or the Pantheon.
Then, there is the heritage of the great popes of the Renaissance and Baroque. We've concentrated on their antics in particular. Sybaritic and nepotistic, arrogant and irascible, grasping and corrupt – these towering figures endowed Rome with an artistic and architectural wealth that few cities can match. Their motives were far from pure. Much of the papal treasure trove was subsequently carted off, by imperial troops after the devastating Sack of Rome in 1527 and by Napoleonic troops when that imperious Frenchman swept into this metropolis almost 14 centuries after the fall of the earlier Empire. But despite this, today we're still left gasping in awe in front of what remains of the fruits of papal mismanagement.
Romans grow up in the midst of this. Little wonder, then, that they develop an innate sense of their city's superiority. When city luminaries announce year-on-year growth in tourist arrivals, they do so not so much in triumph, but rather bemused that anyone would not want to visit. In past decades, this self-satisfaction led to a complacency that meant that visitors were expected to accept the city, warts and all... even without the traditional Roman steam-letting activity of moaning about its drawbacks.
These days, however, the Rome of the visitor is a far more streamlined affair, with long-running museums polished up and a swathe of new ones to keep the most demanding of frequent visitors happy.
Not that these latter would find themselves at a loose end anyway. There's something about Rome that gets under the skin of some people, enticing them back again and again, whatever its drawbacks. As they will tell you, there's always something to be discovered, and, above all, always something to sit and observe in this marvellous city where contemporary life weaves itself so effortlessly and beguilingly into the magnificent historical backdrop.
In fact, the only thing that might disturb them is that Rome is now trying a little too hard. It's laudable, certainly, that city hall is striving to iron out some of the Eternal City's eternal chaos. If they manage to make the traffic run smoothly, to provide a public transit system suitable for three million people, to cut red tape and bureaucratic headaches, then our hearty congratulations to them. But what sets Rome apart and gives it its unique charm is its eccentricity, its crankiness and, of course, its ramshackle loveliness. Is there a danger that in a headlong rush towards modernity, Rome will cancel its own unique identity? We hope not. We draw comfort from the fact that Rome wasn't built – and nor will it be redeveloped – in a day.