Rome has lived as a city in one form or another with living, breathing and sometimes dying citizens for over 3000 years of unbroken history. This has left magnificent unique footprints of those that went before around every corner, etched into the history, crafted in the buildings, painted and chiseled into the art making the very landscape of Rome a tapestry of ancient and modern civilization unlike any other place on earth.
Vatican City and Saint Peter’s Basilica
On the North side, not just a city, but a country unto itself, Vatican City cannot adequately be explored in multiple days, although if one is all you have, this needs to be on the list and is included in most tours. Here you will find Piazza San Pietro where thousand’s gather each week to receive the Pope’s blessing, a Vatican museum and library, the papal alter, the Basilica both home and guardian to more art per square foot than most museums in the world, and of course the Sistine Chapel adorned with Michelangelo’s frescoes. Seeing all the Vatican offers is a struggle, stunning artwork with rich histories are so plentiful that in a short period of time your senses feel stunned and dulled; it is akin to arriving at a Tuscan Chateau for an afternoon of wine tasting after a downing a six-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor. You simply can’t appreciate the subtleties after hours of spent browsing such awe-inspiring masterpieces in such close proximity.
You have seen the iconic images many times, so the actual structure will present no actual surprise, it is what you expect, although the size is still impressive when you are standing next to the Coliseum, but the violence of the history reaches inside you, standing in both awe and horror this is an experience that you will feel to your core. In the opening days alone over 5,000 animals, and 2,000 men perished for Roman Citizen’s entertainment and pleasure. To collect revenue, and control access, iron gates have been added that detract from what once was.
“The Coliseum is unlike any work of human hands I ever saw before. It is of enormous height and circuit, and the arches build of massy stones are piled on one another, and jut into the blue air, shattered into forms of overhanging rock. . .The copse-wood overshadows you as you wander through the labyrinths, and the wild weeds of this climate of flowers bloom under your feet. The arena is covered with grass, and pierces, like the skirts of a natural plain, the chasms of the broken arches around. But a small part of the exterior circumference remains-it is exquisitely light and beautiful; and effect the perfection of its architecture, adorned with ranges of Corinthian pilasters, supporting a cold cornice, is such as to diminish the effect of its greatness. The interior is all ruin.” Percy B. Shelley 1818
The Forum was for centuries the center of Roman public life; the site of triumphal processions, speeches and elections as well as criminal trials, even gladiatorial matches. Also serving as a nucleus of commercial matters and trade.
Massive in size with the largest dome ever constructed out of concrete and the most intact building in Rome, completed 125 CE as a tribute to Emperor Augustus’ Son-in-Law, a pagan structure that survived the Catholic purge due to being gifted to the Pope Boniface IV and converted into the present day Church of Santa Maria of the Martyrs under Pope Boniface IV. Thousands of bones were removed from the catacombs and placed beneath the altar as part of the transformation from a pagan shrine to Catholic Church. Located between Vatican City and The Coliseum it is possible to incorporate into a tour even if you have only one or two days in the Eternal City.
Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain
Rome not only has risen and fallen with history, but its geography also rises and falls throughout the city streets. The most famous, and magnificent stairway in the city traversing elevation changes is the Spanish Steps, constructed between 1723 and 1726 with three separate landings honoring The Father, The Son, and Holy Ghost.
Trevi Fountain completed in 1762, a monument defined by the successor to Baroque architecture, Rococo. Rococo architecture styling characterized by excessive ornamenting, and. embellishments. It is hard to classify any of Rome’s pre 19th century buildings as not having excessive ornamentation and embellishments, especially when compared to such ordinary buildings that dapple American cities, however can notice the difference when studying the architecture of the city. Rococo interiors were marked by similar trimmings, tapestries, bravura mirrors, frescoes, and polished parquet flooring.
All of these sights are as magnificent as you have read, but Rome itself is a crowded throng of three million full-time residents, low lying buildings on bustling streets laden with miniscule compact cars, motor-scooters driven by well-dressed professionals donning the latest fashions, designer suits affixed with bright silk scarves and fine crafted leather boots each armed with a gleaming brain bucket and passionate desire to weave through cars, buses and pedestrians alike, blasting off the line at speeds that would make Richard Petty proud. When you throw in the numerous monster buses, motor coaches as well as taxi drivers that are paid by the minute, and drive accordingly, plus a couple hundred thousand absent minded tourists and exceedingly narrow streets, it is little surprise that about every 15 minutes you hear the tell-tale distinct modulating scream of a European ambulance siren signaling another mishap somewhere on the streets of Roma. (In English we call it Italy and Rome, in Italy they call it Italia and Roma.)
With the seemingly unlimited access granted to many of the major monuments of Rome, the streets can seem empty, even spacious by comparison. Lines are everywhere. The halls of the Vatican Museum are one solid throng of humanity stuck together, shoulder to shoulder like sardines in a can. Even off season, the Sistine Chapel becomes so crowded that unless you arrive very early you will have to squeeze yourself off the moving line of people to just pause a moment to appreciate the genius that was Michelangelo.
Many tourist destinations around the world, cater to America tourists, however modern day Italians tend to view the mass of tourists in general as superfluous. Further, as a group, American’s are by no means the largest group of foreigners you will find in Italy, and we are ascribed no particular graciousness, yet any English speaking resident is generally happy to answer questions. Do be warned, we found well over 50% of the free advice to simply be wrong, which I attribute to a lack of clear communication skills as oppose to some sort of malice.
Rome does live up to the legend in every respect, yet it is important to arrive with a clear understanding of what you can except while visiting Rome so that you will not be disappointed with the reality you discover.