I arrived in Rome a little bleary eyed and with a very sore neck! After getting up at 3am to catch a train to catch my early flight, I had slept awkwardly for most of the flight over. After an easy 50min bus journey to Termini station in Rome and a 10 minute walk, I met Anne-Gaelle and friends outside our hostel, Mia Lodge.
We walked over to the Colosseum part of town and had a bite to eat, then ventured into the Roman Forum. This is the best way to avoid the lines of the Colosseum, as you can buy a combined ticket to both at the Roman Forum office, then walk straight into the Colosseum later on.
An excavated site, it is often referred to as the Forum Magnum or just the Forum, it contains a scattering of ruins of several ancient government buildings, and many temples. It was originally just a marketplace but from the second century BC the conquering Romans needed to give a much bigger impression of authority and wealth. In came law courts, offices and enormous public buildings with grandiose decorations and thus for centuries the Forum became the center of Roman public life. It has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world.
We were standing in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, two of the seven hills that Rome is famed for. After exploring the Forum, we walked up the Palatine Hill – the place where Rome began. According to Roman mythology, this hill was the location of the cave where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa. Excavations have estimated that humans have lived in this area since 1000BC. We had a great view of the Colosseum on one side, and the Forum on the other.
Before we had our guided tour of the Colosseum, we each had a delicious serving of gelato. After skipping the lines, the tour only lasted about 15 minutes, but we did learn some interesting stuff! The most impressive was that it was built in eight years – which is probably less impressive when you realise how many slaves they must have had. During it’s time it could seat 50,000 people which, through a clever network of hallways, could be filled within ten minutes. Entrance was free, with a membership, and there was a strict seating plan to keep the sexes and social classes apart. The arena floor has been reconstructed in one part, and you can still see all the shafts and trap doors below it that hid the exotic animals.
Afterwards we walked to another area for an aperitif and dinner; unfortunately the restaurant we ate at was nothing to write home about! I did manage to stay primal with a vegetable soup followed by veal with artichokes. We later had a wine with a colleague of mine at a local bar that flowed out into the cobbled streets before going home to rest – an exhausting day!
The first thing we did on Sunday morning was visit the Capitol museum (Musei Capitolini), which dates back to 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze statues to the people of Rome. Subsequent popes contributed to the collection with objects found during excavations of Rome. When Rome was made the capital of Italy in 1870, more works were found as new urban districts were being built and sites excavated.
The museum contains many ancient sculptures, a vast collection of busts of ancient philosophers and emperors, paintings and magnificent frescoes. In some parts of the museum we were walking on actual ancient mosaic floors, that were taken from the ancient Roman port of Ostia, now a large archeological site. We saw a bronze statue of Lupa, the she-wolf mentioned earlier, with the two boys nursing.
You can’t visit Rome without visiting the famous Trevi Fountain, started in 1732 when Pope Clement XII called for designs for a magnificent fountain to mark the end of an aqueduct. Starting in 19 BC spring water was transported to Rome by this aqueduct – the only aqueduct to pass underground along its whole route into the city and the sole survivor of barbarian destruction and other horrors of the early Middle Ages. These days you can barely see the fountain due to the hoards of tourists, eating their lunch or gelato in front of the glistening (chlorinated) water.
Next on our journey was the Pantheon – built by Hadrian around AD 119-128, it was originally a temple to the classical gods and remains in such good condition because it was converted to a church. The diameter of the dome is exactly equal to the height of the whole building, giving it the capacity to hold a perfect sphere – a set of rules from Roman architect Vitruvius.
We headed down the main shopping street with the high-end shops, where I bought a pair of high-end shoes. Okay, just regular shoes. Afterwards, we climbed the steep hill towards Villa Borghese, the city’s most central public park. At the top there is a fantastic view of Rome. We bought a beer and relaxed under a shaded tree on the grass for a while. The park is huge, and we walked around it before heading into the city for dinner.
We had some drinks then dinner at an Osteria; I had a Roman dish of white fish wrapped in paper, with sliced courgette, fried breadcrumbs, and fresh mint. It was delicious! The others all tried some of the different Grappa, but I have already had my fair share on other trips to Italy. Grappa is a grape-based brandy, often consumed after dinner. It can be quite strong!
Our final morning we had breakfast as usual; a coffee and pastry. We visited the church near our hotel, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest Catholic Marian Church in Rome. One of the confessional booths inside had someone who could speak 8 different languages!
We got the underground to the Vatican – luckily, we had booked tickets online for our visit, so we managed to skip the huge lines outside. We spent the morning visiting all the museums – they display works from the immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries, including Raphael in the Stanze and the jaw-dropping Michelangelo in the Sistene Chapel. There are artifacts from Etruscan and Egyptian societies as well as ancient maps and tapestries lining the corridors – you need a lot of time to explore!
No visit to Rome is complete without a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. This time we hadn’t booked, and the line was far too long to go in so we only viewed it from the outside. According to Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and also the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. Strong historical evidence suggest that Saint Peter’s tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the current basilica began in 1506 and was completed in 1626. It took a bit longer than the Colosseum!
- Book online for the Vatican if you want to avoid the lines
- Buy your Colosseum tickets at the office for the Roman Forum
- Try some of the amazing gelato, found all over the city!