Rome is steeped in history; mainly and unsurprisingly a history of its Roman ancestors, their achievements and culture. But if you are expecting me to deliver a history lesson you’ll be disappointed! I managed to retain a few key facts from the constant avalanche of information which could have buried me had I allowed it. So instead of cramming my brain with statistics, specifics and actualities, I set out to enjoy it for what it is today rather than delve too deeply into how it happened. I hope you’ll forgive me!
I only had a limited amount of time to see as much as I could; five days to be precise. I chose to take a city tour on a hop-on-hop-off open-topped bus on the first day. That I thought would help me get my bearings. My first impression of Rome was how compact it is; quite small I fact. Not only that, there are no modern buildings at all in the city centre, so different from cities such as London where glass and steel shards punctuate the skyline above the elegant buildings of former times.
I only did a couple of ‘hop-offs’, the first of which to see the Fontana di Trevi – it sounds much nicer in Italian.
It is of course immortalised in the movie Three Coins in a Fountain. It was packed! There were crowds of people; something which I was to have to get used to on my Roman adventure! I threw a few coins over my shoulder into the rippling water and made a wish which I’ll keep private! Someone offered to take my photo. Now I’m not one for having my picture taken, but on this occasion I accepted. Make the most of it, it didn’t happen again!
Quick facts 1 – It was completed in 1762 and the central figure is Neptune, god of the sea. EOL (end of the lesson!)
The Coliseum was literally a few minutes stroll from my accommodation. It was a pleasant stroll too which took me through a lovely park. I rounded a corner and quite unexpectedly, the Coliseum was right in front of me beyond some trees. I had expected it to be big, but the sheer enormity of it took my breath away. It’s probably one the most recognised buildings on the planet, but none of the photos I’d seen through the years could possibly have prepared me for what I encountered. I was however prepared for the crowds! There were hundreds of people there taking pictures of each other, queuing for tickets and generally getting in my way! However, I did a few circuits then ventured inside. It was unbelievable. I don’t think my photos really do it justice. At least with a bit of help from my editing suite editing, I managed to erase the swarms of people in bright coloured clothes which would otherwise have detracted from the scene. Just 20% of the original building stands but it is fairly easy to get an impression of how it would have looked both above and below the arena floor.
Quick facts 2 – It was completed in 80 AD and only took eight years to build. It could accommodate 55,000 spectators who entered the building via 80 entrances. Above the ground are four stories. The lowest story was preserved for prominent citizens and ladies. Below ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.
The Scalinata Della Trinità dei Monti, (get me!) better known as the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna were I have to say a little underwhelming given the fame they enjoy. Basically, there are lots of steps (obviously!) which take you up and up and up, dodging seated people, to the Trinità dei Monti, a French-style church.
Quick facts 3 – It was completed in 1723. There are twelve different but symmetrical flights of steps, 137 steps in all. EOL
I spent the best part of a day at the Vatican, and it was worth every minute. I was warned about the long queue I would have to endure, mainly by the hordes of eager sales folk who try to sell overpriced guided tours which they claim allow you to ‘skip the line’. Well, there was a very long line, halfway around St Peters Square in fact, but it fairly trotted along, and I got to the front in twenty minutes or so. But whilst winding my way forward I was able to take in the magnificence and grandeur of my surroundings, something I’d have missed if I had indeed skipped the line!
My first stop was the viewing platform atop the cupola or dome of St Peter’s Basilica. I had a choice of taking a lift part way, but instead, I opted for climbing the whole way up the staircase which got narrower and steeper as it rose! Thankfully there was one stopping point, and that was on the church roof behind the row of statues which stare down at the square. Needless to say, the view from the top was wonderful.
The Vatican sits at the top of a hill, and the added height afforded by the dome provides one with an unbelievable panoramic view of Rome. After descending I spent a considerable amount of time in the basilica which is I understand the largest church in the world. Words cannot possibly express how glorious it is.
Quick facts – 4. The dome was designed by Michelangelo. There are 551 steps to the top. The staircase is situated between the inner and outer shells of the dome, so the walls are quite slanted. The Egyptian obelisk in the centre of the square was transported to Rome in 37 AD.
Now I’m not as you may have gathered, one for museums. So with it was some trepidation and a premature yawn that I entered the Musei Vaticani. One reason for doing so was that traipsing through the museum is the only way to get to the Sistine Chapel which is at the very end of your trek. But my goodness, I’m so glad I went in. My eyes were immediately assaulted by brightly painted ceilings. I wandered through galleries of incredible sculptures, pictures, carpets, maps and artefacts the like of which I have never seen before and am unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. Whilst the exhibits are mainly ancient there is a little light relief in the modern sacred art section which held me spellbound for ages.
When you actually get to the Sistine Chapel you find yourself in quite a small building. It was packed. I was shoulder to shoulder with other members of the shuffling crowd, everyone straining their necks to take in the magnificence of Michelangelo’s ceiling. Speaking is strictly forbidden, although gasping was hard to police! Also, photography was inexplicably not disallowed. I guess they just want to sell more postcards and picture books. so I shelled out 99c for a card and photographed that instead!
Then it was just a matter of leaving the museum by the world famous Vatican staircase and out into the beautiful gardens where I sat for ages trying to take in everything I had seen and experienced.
Quick facts 5 – The tour takes about five hours to complete. The staircase was designed in 1932 by Giuseppe Momo and consists of a double helix, one leading up and one leading down.
One night when I arrived back at my room after an exhausting day walking in the heat of the sun, I flung open my shutters and was suddenly aware of music and laughter coming from the gardens across the way. I decided to investigate! I followed the noise and found myself alongside a basketball court where dozens of couples were busy dancing the tango! I should add that this was 11.30 at night. It was quite bizarre! I watched for ages and when I eventually returned to base at about 1am it was still going strong. I closed my shutters, fell asleep and when I got up in the morning they had gone!
Light relief from the hustle and bustle of Rome can be found high up on a hill in the peaceful setting of the Pincio Gardens. It covers a vast area and everywhere you look you see flowers and small sculpted busts – 228 in all, created in the late 19th century and portraying the good and the great of Roman history. I was able to enjoy live jazz music and indulge in not one but two huge portions of gelato; Italian ice cream. At its centre is a really impressive water clock.
At the southernmost end of the gardens, you can lean on a balustraded wall and stare out across the city with the Vatican in the distance. Truly wonderful. I spent ages there. Down below is the vast Piazza del Popolo. In the middle of the square stands an Egyptian obelisk and at one end the stunning Fontana Della Dea di Roma (there I go again!) – Fountain of the goddess of Rome.
Quick fact 6 – Italian architect Giuseppe Valadier laid out the gardens from 1810 until 1818 in a classical style. The 3300-year-old obelisk in the square was taken from the Sun Temple in Egypt by Emperor Augustus and transported to Rome in the 10th century.
At first sight, the Roman Forum looks little more than a vast area of ruins and piles of stone blocks, but with a bit of imagination and a guide map, it is just possible to see in your mind the Roman Empire coming back to life. The forum was littered with temples, basilicas and triumphal arches. Alongside is Palatine Hill where I walked past and through ruins of ancient palaces and other buildings. At the southern end of the site, I saw Circus Maximus which was the venue for Rome’s famous chariot races.
Quick fact 7 – The Forum Romanum was the centre of activity and the political heart of Rome from 509 BC, and remained so until the fall of the Roman Empire more than 1000 years later. On Palatine Hill, the twins Romulus and Remus were supposedly found in the Lupercal Cave by their four-legged shepherd mother, who raised them.
Before visiting the Victor Emmanuel Monument I was told that it’s not considered to be one of Rome’s most beautiful structures. They say it’s too white and looks like a wedding cake! Well, I thought it was stunning.
Quick fact 8 – It was built as a tribute to the first king of a united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by soldiers at the top of the steps. It was inaugurated in 1911.
In-between visiting these awesome places I also flitted to, from and around most of Rome’s major venues. Here we go!
The Pantheon was built more than 1800 years ago. The name Pantheon refers to the building’s original function as a temple for all the gods.
One afternoon the heavens opened. I’ve never seen rain like it! The street sellers suddenly change from tempting young couples with romantic red roses and produced umbrellas instead!
However, I remained undaunted and walked to Piazza Navona which is said to be the most beautiful of Rome’s many squares. I couldn’t understand why. OK, it’s nice. There are three fountains and a lovely Baroque church. There was a jazz band playing between downpours and the whole place was lined with trattorias.
I used the Metro quite a bit; modern stations, crowded but comfortable trains and plenty of them. Now again a train appeared totally covered in graffiti!
The church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria was just up the road from my B&B. It’s a small baroque church situated at Piazza San Bernardo, opposite the Fountain of Moses. It’s best known for ‘The ecstasy of Teresa’, one of Bernini’s most dramatic works
I walked along the banks of the River Tiber. It was so quiet down there; the busy streets were way above me and I was completely alone. From there I saw the Palazzo Giustizia, Castel Sant Angeles and got a wonderful view of St Peter’s Basilica from a completely different angle
Apart from all that, I enjoyed the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten! A proper pizza with thin crispy crust covered in gorgonzola mozzarella and chicory, another with anchovies Parmigiano salami and basil, flambéed bucatini with bacon and pecorino cheese, fettuccine with salmon cream, antipasti buffet, and bruschetta Pomodoro. I washed it down with jugs of Vino Rosso Della Casa and Birra alla Spina. And ice cream of course!
I returned home aching in every muscle I have, and some I didn’t know I had! I’d walked and climbed, hour after hour, day after day. Most days it was baking hot, one day I got soaked. But every day was special and it was worth every painful twinge! In five days I fell in love with Rome!