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Tuesday June 19th 2018

Gangs Of New York | 2002

Gangs Of New York film location: Villa Borghese, Rome
Gangs Of New York location: Amsterdam and Jenny visit uptown ‘New York’: Villa Borghese, Rome | iStockphoto

The opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s epic, operatic story of the beginnings of modern New York in the mid-19th century, as Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) leads the Dead Rabbits gang to war feels so savagely primitive that the door opening onto a snowy city square comes as a sudden shock. If the whole sequence seems like something from the subterranean world of Fellini’s Satyricon, that’s not entirely by chance.

The recreation of New York’s Five Points district was built at the same studio, Cinecittà Studios in Rome, and designed by Dante Ferretti, who worked on the films of both Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini. None of the film was shot in the real New York.

Five Points was a real Manhattan district, standing at the intersection of Mulberry, Anthony (now Worth), Cross (now Park), Baxter and Water Streets. According to Charles Dickens, who visited in 1842, “This is the place: these narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth... Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays.”

There’s nothing left of the old neighbourhood, which stood in the area north of the present NY City Courthouse.

There’s little in the way of real locations in the slums of Five Points, but once Vallon’s vengeful grown-up son Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) follows lightfingered Jenny (Cameron Diaz) uptown to the smart end of town, a couple of stylish Roman locations are seen.

The lavish family mansion robbed by Jenny, where Amsterdam retrieves his necklace, is the Institute Marymount Nomentana, Via Nomentana 355.

The tree-lined walk in which they try to figure out if they can do business together is Villa Borghese Park in Rome, with the Meridiana Pavilion behind them. Villa Borghese is a large landscape garden containing a number of buildings and museums, including the Villa Borghese itself. The gardens were laid out in 1605 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V and a patron of sculptor Bernini). In the 19th century much of the garden was remade as a landscape garden in the English style. The gardens were bought by the commune of Rome, given to the public in 1903, and are open to the public.

The famous Spanish Steps lead up to this park, and there is also entrance at the Porte del Popolo by Piazza del Popolo. The gardens are home to the Gallleria Borghese and its art collection.