or Things To Do, While in Rome
1. The Pantheon
If you are only going to see one landmark in Rome, make it the Pantheon. Located near the Piazza Navona on the northeast side of the city proper. Built around 120 A.D., as a great temple to all the Gods of Ancient Rome, the Pantheon is the best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings. To step inside this domed rotunda is truly to step back in time. Originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, and dedicated by the emperor Hadrian, this building was consecrated (and thus saved) as a church in the 600s. My several visits to the Pantheon represent one of those awe-inspiring, pleasures that I shall not soon forget. My advice is not only to visit but if able, observe the Pantheon in different lights. Daytime, Dusk, and Nighttime will give you three entirely different perspectives.
2. The Coliseum
If you love history and marvel at ancient architecture, then Rome is definitely your nirvana. Being able to “live” history – to go where historical characters were, to feel what they felt, to see what they saw. Both the Pantheon and the Coliseum, allow you to do just that. It is truly an amazing feeling to step inside an ancient structure and to know that people have been standing in that exact spot for thousands of years before you. The Coliseum is located near the ancient center of Rome, and although not as well-preserved as the Pantheon, is still a marvel to behold. Commissioned by the emperor Vespasian in the 70s A.D., the Coliseum was originally used as a sports complex where gladiators fought. When Constantine took over Rome and began to Christianize the empire in the 600s, he outlawed all forms of gladiator games and blood sport. Following this time, the Coliseum was abandoned and stripped of many of its treasures. This destruction reached its peak with Mussolini who removed its marble facades and metalized ornamentations and base metals which has resulted in a very weakened structure, and continues even into present times. Only today the culprit is pollutions (of all types) especially from nearby traffic (even though the streets immediately next to it are now closed) such conditions continue to threaten the very survival of the Coliseum. This building represents an important link in our human heritage and world history, it is an honor to be able to step back in time and still admire the work of the ancient Romans. I will never forget my visit to the Coliseum . The weirdest thing was when I was admiring one of the replica (actual people) Roman Guards attired in authentic looking period regalia talking with passer-bys and posing for pictures with them, only to hear the ringing of a cell phone which he promptly answered and began a conversation in Italian.
3. St. Peter’s
Perhaps there is no greater living testament to Rome’s storied past, than St. Peter’s. Over two thousand years of Roman and Christian history are represented and found in the history of St. Peter’s. The history of St. Peter’s begins with St. Peter himself. History tells us that St. Peter (one of the original twelve disciples and founder of the Church) was crucified around 65 A.D. in Nero’s Circus. It is said that he was buried nearby in a small cemetery on Vatican Hill. This spot is thought to lie directly below the current dome of St. Peter’s and is marked by a magnificent baldacchino. In addition to its history, St. Peter’s is also the largest, most important, and most famous church in all of Christianity. It is the home of the papal seat and the center of the Catholic Church. Finally, St. Peter’s rivals the greatest art museums in the world with the depths of its treasures. Artistic masterpieces and architectural design by such greats as Michelangelo, Bramante, Bernini, and Maderno grace its halls. Not being Catholic, I had no pre conceptions of what I would find upon my arrival. We were very fortunate for my spouse and I were able to actually celebrate mass with the pontiff as he addressed the multitude and received his blessings. While it did not move me to convert, I must say that it was definitely a highlight of our many travels in life.
I have visited St. Peter’s several times during my stays in Rome and each time I am amazed by its sheer size. It never fails that each time I went, I also noticed new details and new pieces of art that caught my eye. Also, be sure to take in and appreciate the wonder of St. Peter’s square. It is a truly beautiful exterior space, wonderfully designed, and each time I see it on television, I can’t help thinking – I was there! Two things that you might wish to do while visiting at St. Peter’s that I would recommend are: Climb the dome – most of it is done through elevators, but you do have to climb some stairs. At the end of this climb one is offered truly remarkable views of St. Peter’s square and Vatican city, plus allows you to get up close and personal with Michelangelo’s handiwork (he designed the dome). I also recommend that you Visit the Vatican on the day when the pope is giving his papal audience. Of course you should always know that even though you visit on a day “scheduled” for an audience, doesn’t necessarily mean it will occur, as they can never be sure until the very last moment if it will actually take place. Which kind of adds to the mystique of the entire event.
4. The Roman Forum and Palantine Hill
Unlike the Pantheon and the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Imperial Forums, and Palantine Hill are ruins. They no longer exist in the original magnificence. Still the ruins leave behind important clues about what once was and with a little (well at times a lot) of imagination, you can still picture what once was and imagine yourself walking amongst Rome’s ancient rulers and elite. If you plan on visiting the ancient ruins, I highly recommend that you purchase one of the many Guide Books that offer insightful maps, diagrams, and pictures that allow you to make sense of the ruins and to get your bearings. From these maps, we were able to identify many of the ruins and to have a much better understanding of exactly what we are looking at. The ruins are not labeled or marked in any way – without a guide you will be lost! But if you read ahead and come prepared, a visit to the ruins can be a great historical and archeological adventure. The Roman Forum is the most famous of the Roman ruins and is a must see site in Rome. The Palantine Hill also includes many famous ruins but is not as fully excavated or as popular – it is a great quiet place of a picnic. In both places, I was amazed by how close you are allowed to get to the monuments and how unregulated both places are. You are truly allowed and able to wander at will amidst the ruins.
5. San Clemente
This is one of the truly remarkable evidences of how Rome has historically evolved over the ages as most of the buildings were merely built right on top of other construction of prior periods. Here in San Clemente, you can truly see the different layers of Roman history. First you enter into a medieval church built in the 1100s and decorated with frescoes that date from the 15th -18th centuries. The current church is beautiful – but what is even more wonderful is what lies beneath it – three older structures, each taking you further back in time! Find the staircase in the back right corner of the sacristy and descend into the ruins of a fourth century Christian church. Even more remarkable, descend further to find the ruins of two ancient Roman structures – one an ancient house with three rooms dedicated to the worship of the Persian god Mithras, the other an ancient warehouse. This church is just so incredible. It is genuinely hard to describe it. While the lower levels are somewhat dark and somewhat wet, it is really amazing to be able to descend through history and see for yourself the layers of Rome’s history. This is a favorite stop for many visitors and can be found offered in some of the better tours of Rome. Be sure to ask, as it is truly a marvel to experience. It is somewhat not as well-known and off the beaten path, so you can often explore it without having to fight the crowds.
6. Piazza Navona
The Piazza Navona sits upon the ruins of the ancient Circus Domitianus. The present day piazza is ovular in shape and owes its shape to the ancient race track that once occupied the space. The Piazza is marked by three beautiful fountains, the most famous being the center fountain by the great Bernini. The center of the fountain is marked by a tall Egyptian obelisk and surrounding it are four figures representing the great rivers of the world. Another famous landmark in the piazza is the church of Saint Agnese. The facade of St. Agnese was designed by Borromini. Legend says that Bernini designed one of his figures in the fountain (the one covering its face) as a reflection of his thoughts on Borromini’s design – the two were great artistic rivals.
All around the Piazza are restaurants and cafes. (And ATM machines in case you are wondering). Also there are many hotels within a few blocks away from the Piazza, which is good since this is another place you may find yourself visiting and trying the various cafes often. We had dinner there almost every night and lunch there on our first day. It is a nice open busy place to dine and people watch and is conveniently located to both the Pantheon and the Vatican.
7. Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps
These two sights are situated somewhat close in proximity to one another. Both are famous and beautiful, and both should be seen. The Trevi Fountain is probably one of the most noticeable and photographed places in Rome short of the Coliseum. So you should anticipate when visiting either of them to find they will be extremely crowded and it was hard to appreciate either due to the large masses of people. For background purposes, Trevi Fountain is a large sculptural fountain in the Baroque style. The fountain is famous for the legend that if you throw a coin into the fountain you are sure to return to the Eternal City. The Spanish steps are another famous landmark and familiar Roman image are located in the Piazza di Spagna. For location and directional purposed the Spanish Steps are situated due North from the Trevi Fountain.
8. Capitoline Museums
The Capitoline Museums are located aptly at the top of the Capitoline hill in the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo. Pay particular attention to the square in front of the Palazzos as you approach the museum. This square is called the Campidoglio and was designed by Michelangelo. The museum contains many ancient sculptures from Rome, Greece and Egyptian periods. It also contains a picture gallery. My favorite part was the exhibits of the fragments of a giant colossal statute displayed in the museum’s courtyard. It also makes for memorable backdrop for photo opportunities standing next to the giant head, foot, and hand. Also, please be warned that the Capitoline Museums are not well-marked. It is very difficult to know what you are looking it so it might be advisable to buy a guidebook. Another important point: the Capitoline Museums overlook the Roman forum so it is wise to plan to visit them together. Some of the best views of the Forum for pictures are taken from the museum. I really enjoyed my visit to the Capitoline Museums.
9. Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
Unlike the Capitoline Museums, the Vatican Museums exhibits are well-marked and it is much easier to know exactly what you are observing. The Vatican Museums are vast and contain many treasures collected over thousands of years. Please know that the Vatican Museum is comprised of several different parts and can laterally take days to see in its entirety, so I would advise you to be aware of the magnitude of just what is involved, and plan your time to visit accordingly. The Vatican Museums are located in the papal palace and the most famous room inside the museum is the Sistine Chapel. As many know, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel contains Michelangelo’s most famous fresco painting. Expect to encounter extremely large crowds and lines to view the chapel. But believe me once you are inside you will appreciate the wait. However, the Vatican Museums holds many treasures and famed pieces of art. While it can become quite crowded and a bit uncomfortable, I feel definitely it was worth it. I certainly would not have wanted to go to Rome and not have seen the Sistine Chapel.
10. Cafes, and Restaurants
Maybe this might sound strange to you, but one of my most favorite things to do when travelling is to learn how the people live, work, and play in various lands. Part of my culture seeking desires includes the surety of sampling as much of the local food fare as possible. And if you should like Italian Food as much as do my wife and I, not only have you journeyed to the correct destination, but as they say when in Rome, you should make like the Romans do (and Eat)! You will certainly find, that it doesn’t get any better than this. Even though I find myself in the Italian Cuisine capital of the world, you might think me odd, that one of my most favorite things to order when I go to Italy is pizza. Because pizza in Italy is so not like what our Americanized palettes have been accustomed to on this side of the pond. For those of you who are real pizza lovers, it is entirely appropriate for one person to eat the entire large metal pan of pizza served to you by oneself. It genuinely pleases the wait staff and cooks seeing folks enjoying their food when eating. So as they say in Rome, Mangia!!
Practical Matters Regarding Your Visiting Rome
Rome is a large sprawling city and its sites are spread out over a rather large area. The ancient center of Rome also lacks a good subway system. As in many other ancient cities, every time they dig to build one they run into more ruins! For that reason I recommend walking, taking buses, and taking taxes. If you choose a nice central location for your hotel like( the Piazza Navona), or Center City, you can walk to many of the major sites. Also, we found that taxis were very inexpensive and reliable. If I had it to do over again, I would take more taxis.
When visiting Vatican city, it is good to know that the compound as well as all properties belonging to the church, are actually considered sovereign territory, with its own laws, customs, and even police force. So it is just good to understand and respect the dignity and position that the church holds especially in visiting the various church properties while in Rome.
People in Rome are friendly and most speak at least a little English. We spoke very little Italian (other than Hello, Good Bye, and Thank You) and had no problems getting around. We normally visit in May or in Late September and early October, and I recommend traveling to Rome in either spring or fall. This will allow you to avoid both the large crowds and the heat of Roman summers. Also if travelling to Rome during the summer months, and Air Conditioning is important; you should be sure that your prospective Hotel is so equipped. It’s also advisable to phone ahead to be sure it is working. Expect smaller accommodations (after all, your are still in European influence), and remember to bring the appropriate converter plug-ins for your electrical powered personal items.
Finally, I recommend reading about both the history of Rome and the art of Rome prior to visiting. I had read several books on the city prior to my visit and I think it really enriched my experience. By doing so you will not only gain a leg up on your sightseeing efforts, but you will certainly find your visit to this ancient city much more greatly enhanced.
Question: What are your favorite places to see, or things to do when in Rome? Please drop us a reply in the comments below!!
For more information on Rome and other interesting destination travel choices available, contact Mike via email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can tweet (or follow) Mike at http://www.twitter.com/cruisewithmike . To “Join” our Travel Club go to http://meetup.com/Sun-Cities-Travelers-Group/ Mikes web site can be found at www.mberryhill.cruiseholidays.com . Follow Mike’s blog (or subscribe to it) at http://www.cruisewithmike.com (or merely click on the subscribe button above to have daily delivery to your email). View all of Mikes uploaded Flickr Photo Galleries at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cruisewithmike/ . Mike also edits his own twice daily e-newspaper called “The Compass Headings” you can see (or subscribe to) it free! at http://paper.li/CruisewithMike
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