This is the first post out of a trilogy. The second post will be dedicated to my experience in the Vatican and the last one will be more pragmatic and describe how I was able to visit Rome on a budget- it is more affordable than you might think!
They say better late than never, which certainly is the case with my Rome visit. By the end of my weekend I was asking myself, how come I haven’t been here before?
The flight from London Heathrow to Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport (Fiumicino Airport) lasted less than 3 hours and I took a shuttle from the airport which took me to Termini station in the city centre in around 45 minutes. Alternatively, I could have taken the Leonardo Express Train, which takes around 38 minutes, which I did on the way back to the airport. The price for both is the same.
My extended 3 day weekend in Rome involved 2 nights at the 4 Seasons Hostel, located only a short walk from Termini station. As soon as I checked in, I headed straight to the Spanish Steps as I had booked a free city tour, scheduled for 17.00pm. There is a morning 09.30am slot too and I would warmly recommend that you take the tour- it lasts around 2 hours. Please note that appropriate attire needs to be worn as the tour includes entrance to multiple Churches, so short skirts, pants and sleeveless shirts are not allowed. My guide happened to be Flaminia, who is a local art historian and a proud Roma citizen. Flaminia is really knowledgeable and I was able to learn a lot in a short period of time.
One thing, that I managed to appreciate throughout the tour is the importance and power of the roman aqueducts, as unlike London you can drink water almost everywhere!
The Spanish steps were built in 1725 as a practical and elegant way of connecting the Spanish and French communities living there, respectively Piazza Di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top. Both squares are overlooked by the Trinità dei Monti church. The view from the top of the steps is spectacular, in my case it was extra special as the sun was just setting down. The Spanish Steps were depicted in the 1953 movie “Roman Holiday”, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Heck, which consequently popularised the site. A short 2 minute walk from the top of the steps leads to Villa Medici; however our tour started from the bottom of and we headed to Sant’Andrea delle Fratte basilica church.
The Sant’Andrea delle Fratte church is dedicated to St. Andrew and is the home of the “Angel with the Crown of Thorns” and the “Angel with the Scroll” by Bernini and also depicted in the work of Dan Brown. The angels were originally commissioned for the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, but were considered too valuable to be exposed outside by Pope Clement IX and were later moved to the church and replaced with copies on the bridge.
Further, I was able to see the Galleria Collonna, now known as Alberto Sordi. This shopping arcade, inaugurated in 1922, is an economical symbol of the new Rome, a new democratic society not only rationed by religion and reflects a major change in mentality. Two other arcades were inaugurated earlier than the Galleria Collonna across Italy, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan (next to dhe Duomo di Milano) and Galleria the Umberto I in Napoli. These three galleries located in the North, Centre and South are extremely symbolic and portray the societal secularization as well as the unification of Italy as a state and one people.
The Piazza Collonna is adjacent to the Alberto Sordi Galleria and the home of the Marcus Aurelius Column, erected in 193 AD to celebrate a military triumph achieved by the emperor and modelled on Trajan’s Column. The column is as authentic as it can be considering its age and only the base and top have been restored. This area in fact is one of the oldest parts of Roma, and located next to the Piazza Colonna is Piazza di Monte Citorio and the home of the Obelisco di Montecitorio. The obelisk dated 595-589 BC originates from Heliopolis (City of the Sun or the City of Helios), which is one of the oldest cities in Egypt and was brought to Rome by Emperor Augustus in 10BC.
I have watched the 1963 blockbuster “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, where the story is mostly focused on Mark Antony and Cleopatra like the name of the movie suggests, but not much is revealed around the figure of Emperor Augustus. However, I would warmly recommend that you spend a moment reading about Emperor Augustus. I found his biography truly inspiring, more so the legacy of Augustus lives today and that is why we have the August in the calendar. His illustrious reign established a regime that lasted nearly 1500 years and up until the decline of Byzantium and the fall of Constantinople (nowadays Istanbul) in 1453. Both his adoptive surname, Caesar and his title Augustus became the permanent titles of the rulers of the Roman Empire for fourteen centuries after his death. In many languages, Caesar became the word for Emperor, as in the German Kaiser and in the Bulgarian and subsequently Russian Tsar.
Moving on, next I saw the Pantheon, one of the most prominent buildings in Rome. The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa to celebrate the successful outcome of the battle of Actium in 31 BC were Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated. Marcus Agrippa was one of the most prominent statesman and military figures at his time, as well as a close friend of Emperor Augustus. Inside visible today is the first dome, built without cement and just stone blocks. It is absolutely phenomenal to see such a well preserved ancient architectural masterpiece and one that it is still in use today. The Pantheon is the final resting place of King Victor Emmanuel II, Queen Margherita of Savoy who was the wife of the subsequent King Umberto I, the world famous Raphael as well as many others. Queen Margherita was loved by everyone. During a visit in Naples, a local Chef baked a pizza, which included the colours of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). Hence, the Pizza Margherita was born as it was named after the queen and as a sign of patriotic homage.
Further, I visited the Sant’Ignazio Church. An interesting fact about this church is that one of its domes in fact is a flat canvas painted in a diagonal perspective, thus resulting in an optical illusion. You can take photos of the dome, but not during mass.
Lastly that day, I visited Fontana Di Trevi. The area is overcrowded, but spending some time here and taking a couple of snaps until you get that perfect one is a must when in Rome!
I dedicated the most of the next day to the Vatican, but you can read more about this later this week. However, I managed to pass by Castel Sant’Angelo and the bridge mentioned earlier.
After, Castel Sant’Angelo, I headed to Piazza Navona and the Colosseum, but before that had a quick bite at V.I.P (Very Italian Pizza), and the pizza was really tasty.
On the way to the Colosseum, I treated myself with a gelato from Giolitti. Giolitti is the oldest gelateria in Rome, founded in 1890 and still owned by the same family. The secret recipes make the Giolitti gelato a real delight and I would enthusiastically recommend the champagne flavour, which it seems to me has real alcohol in it! I chose the piccolo, which as you can see is fairly grande or at least to my standards and costs only 2.50! What a bargain!Be sure you pay at the counter first, before joining the queue, which was slightly confusing.
Originally designed for crowd-pleasing entertainment such as fighting wild animals and watching gladiatorial contests, the Flavian Amphitheatre was built on the site of the artificial lake in front of Nero's Golden Palace (Domus Aurea), by the emperors of the Flavian dynasty. The original name, Amphiteathrum or Amphiteatrum Magnum, was changed to Colosseum in the late Middle Ages probably due to the presence of the renowned Colossus statue erected by Nero. Construction of the amphitheatre began in 72 AD, later to be inaugurated in 80 AD by Titus only finally to be completed by Domitian and restored several times until the 5th century. By the 6th century the Colosseum, had lost its original function and was used for other purposes, even being abandoned at times, until it became recognised as an archaeological monument, and urban landmark of extraordinary evocative power standing out from the surrounding landscape. According to one of my apps, which has a pedometer function, it took me 758 steps or almost 600 metres and 06:35 minutes to make a full circle across the Colosseum. In reality, this may be less as there were fences around it, but never the less this ancient structure is huge and truly impressive!
The Colosseum concluded my sightseeing plan for the day before I headed for a much craved rest, which turned out to be rather short. Again more about this in the last part of the trilogy, which will be available later this week.
On my last day, I took a walk around the city. Went to see Fontana Di Trevi for the last time and throw a coin, before heading to the Musem of the Risorigmento. It is an impressive military monument and taking a moment to go all the way up to the top is worth it as the view is spectacular.
Little did I know that I would later find “Mercaro di Campagna Amrica Circo Massimo” a fantastic Farmer’s Fresh Food Market. In fact, I would recommend that you visit this market first before heading to the Colosseum, the adjacent Roman Forum or even just for shopping to be honest as the food is great and the prices affordable.
After discovering this hidden gem, I headed to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill before concluding my trip and heading back to the airport. Yes, you can see quite a bit from behind the fences, but I would definitely recommend that you enter the Roman forum. The ticket price was 12 euro and if I had to choose between entering the Roman Forum and the Colosseum I would choose the former, but by no means demeaning the experience of going inside the Colosseum.
Here at the Roman Forum, I actually started to grasp the concept of what the word empire really means. My personal recommendation would be to do a walk around the top of the hill before heading to the museum and heading to the base of the hill. This will allow you to imagine how the area looked in ancient times and then compare to the computerized models available in the museum. You can then head to the base of the hill and explore the rest of the Roman Forum.
Over the 3 days, I covered more than 80 kilometres on foot. Yes, you read this correctly! However, I still feel that there is so much more to see! Rome, I look forward to my next visit!
What about you my dear Geo Glimpse Travel reader? Have you been in Rome before? Feel free to share your experience!