Going to Italy has always been a dream of mine. I was fortunate to spend 3 weeks in this country recently and as they say “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. So of course this is what I did! I drank copious amounts of Italian wine and devoured delicious pizza and pasta every single day. Undoubtedly I adhered to the local customs!
The country is renowned for pizzas and pasta; prosecco and limoncello; fast Italian cars and men; incredible architecture and art; villages perched atop mountainsides and steep coastal cliffs; and history that takes you back to B.C.
The entrée to this boot-shaped country, is the capital and eternal city of Rome, or as the locals call it Roma. When in Rome there is so much to see and do that it literally sends your head into a spin. So unless you plan your intended sightseeing itinerary it is easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the wonderful historical landmarks and buildings.
We arrived in Rome around 4pm in the afternoon after spending what seemed hours trying to find our luggage off our flight from Abu Dhabi. For around €50 you can grab a taxi from the airport that takes you into the city. Our choice of accommodation was a small Airbnb apartment in the area of Manzoni, around 800m from the Colosseum. As it turned out this was a great location to see all the sights of Rome.
Our first morning we arose early with the anticipation of a big day of sightseeing and headed for the Colosseum before the crowds swarmed in. Possibly one of the most ancient and iconic amphitheatres in the world, the Colosseum stands large and proud, surrounded by an entire city of Roman ruins.
It was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son, Titus, in AD 80, with later improvements by Domitian. The amphitheatre was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank.
Standing in the arena you picture the throngs of thousands of Romans who came to see the ghoulish entertainment of gladiators fighting against man or beast. Archaeologists dug up bones underneath the Colosseum that consisted of human, lion and bear. Get here early in the day to escape the long queues and then spend as long as you like strolling around this magnificent arena.
Adjacent to the Colosseum and only a short walk away is Palatine Hill, the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It was once the home of emperors and the site of temples, and was at the centre of Rome’s most important myth – the legend of Romulus and Remus. It stands 40 metres above the Roman Forum and after performing a circuit of the Palatine Hill you will get a great birds eye view down onto the the ruins of The Forum. Admission for both Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum are inclusive under one ticket.
This ancient Roman city, that is incredibly well laid out and planned, is very well preserved. Originally a marsh, the Romans drained the area and turned it into a centre of political and social activity. The Forum was the marketplace of Rome and also the business district and civic centre. The most ancient monuments at the Roman Forum are from the first kings of Rome, dating back to the sixth century BC. Monuments and basilicas followed regularly with emperors trying to outdo their predecessors, the last being added around 600AD.
Once we exited this vast Roman city of old, we entered the Colonna Traiano, with more ruins to observe and the impressive huge statues of ancient Roman rulers, such as Caesar, Trajan and Augustus.
A short walk down this avenue you will come to the magnificent Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele in Piazza Venezia. It is a bombastic monument built with sparkling white marble decorated with numerous symbolic statues, sculptures and murals, created by artists from all over Italy. At the centre of the monument is the colossal equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, the ‘Father of the Nation’ and at the foot of the statue is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
One of the cheapest and easiest options to see the remainder of Rome is to grab a ticket on the Hop on Hop off Bus. We purchased a two day pass for around €30 with City Sightseeing Roma and after seeing the ruins around the Colosseum we set off on the bus staying on the bus whilst it did an entire loop of the city.
On the second loop we got off at the designated stops and saw more of the iconic sights of Rome. Places like:
A short walk off the bus through some narrow streets in the centre of Rome we followed the crowds to the infamous Trevi Fountain, a jewel of water and stone. Such an enchanting sight to see for real after seeing the old movie “Three Coins in a Fountain”, it was as expected, packed with tourists. We found it was very difficult to get anywhere near it to grab a photo, let alone throw a coin in the fountain! But when in Rome it is a must see.
Another short walk, in the other direction we came to the top of the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, or Spanish Steps. Set high on a hill overlooking Rome, the views are magical and then there are all those steps to negotiate to Piazza di Spagna at the base. The Spanish steps were built in 1723-1725 in order to link the the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the king of France, with the Spanish square below.
A gorgeous large square in central Rome featuring three fountains surrounded by cafes and restaurants and beautiful buildings. It features important sculptural and architectural creations and it is built on the site of the former Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD. It’s a lovely spot to sit and rest your tired feet for a while.
The Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) was an ancient Roman circus dedicated to horse racing, built in the centre of Rome. Nestled in the valley between the Palatine and the ‘Aventino’, it is remembered as the site of games since the beginning of the history of the city.
Directly opposite Circo Massimo are the absolutely glorious Roseto Commulae or Rose Gardens. The Roseto was the site of Rome’s Jewish cemetery for centuries, before being presented to the city in the twentieth century. It is definitely worth a stroll through these extensive rose gardens where you will see every type and colour of rose.
Tiber River & Isola Tiberina
We jumped off the bus at the Circo Massimo stop and strolled along the Tiber River and across to Isola Tiberina, a small island ringed by the river. During the plague of the 1600s, the entire island was transformed into a quarantine hospital. The island was an excellent place for this purpose because it offered guaranteed isolation from the rest of the community. The scenic river is fringed with large Sycamore trees and it is a very tranquil and pretty walk.
You need almost an entire day to see everything in the Vatican City and the lines are endless so get here early in the morning. We arrived here before 9am and decided to pay for a guided tour that enabled us to jump the queue and head into the museum. For around €40 it was well worth the money spent, as the tour guide knowledge of the city was excellent and she spoke perfect English.
The museum is mind-blowing with centuries old marble statues, mosaics, tapestries, murals, ornate furnishings and artefacts absolutely everywhere. The hallways holding these exquisite pieces of art go on forever and then the piece d’resistance, the Sistine Chapel awaits you at the end of the tour. You get a stiff neck from sitting in the chapel in complete silence, as there is no talking allowed, looking at Michelangelo’s masterpieces on the ceiling.
St Peter’s Basilica adjoins the Sistine Chapel and you can rejoin the queues to have a look inside, or do what we did and exit the Vatican City and capture this magnificent cathedral with it’s iconic dome from St Peter’s Square.
Campo di Fiori
We found this charming area by accident, after visiting the Vatican, and strolled leisurely through cobble-stoned streets with little cafes and nice shops. The Piazza Campo di Fiori was infamous for being the place where executions were carried out, but is now a bustling marketplace, that transforms into a nightlife centre in the evening. It is one of the most vibrant parts of the city and is a lively cultural and commercial centre.
Castel Sant ‘Angelo
This castle sits on the Tiber River in a lovely area with a few market stalls outside. The cylindrical shaped Castel Sant ‘Angelo was built in 123 AD by Emperor Hadrian as a monumental tomb for himself and his family. It became a defensive bastion during the time of the barbarian invasions and since then there were many popes who used it.
The heavily marble statued Sant ’Angelo Bridge, is protected by the reassuring gaze of ten beautiful angels that carried symbols of the passion of Christ. This bridge then takes you back to the Rome city side of the river.
If you roam through the narrow cobble-stoned streets and laneways of central Rome there are plenty of wonderful shops from designer clothing labels, to Italian leather handbags, beautiful Italian shoes, souvenirs and gift shops.
There are literally thousands of restaurants (ristorantes, trattorias, pizzerias, osterias and caffes) in Rome. It can get confusing knowing the difference between these bars and restaurants, so here’s the lowdown:
Rome was a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you look there is history, beautiful architecture and art. Although it is an extremely busy and crowded tourist city, that attracts billions of tourists every year, it is a must see when travelling to Italy. To me it was like a buffet loaded with the most delicious treats that I could simply not resist. I had to gorge myself on every sumptuous morsel until my cup runneth over!
Have you been to Rome? What did you love about it?
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Kathy Shade is a 50 something year old who is married with 2 children who has spent most of her life being a housewife, mother and working as an Accounts Administrator in the public school system. She enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, movies, travelling, cooking and blogging! Her friends would describe her as being a 'have a chat' with an outgoing personality and zest for life. Kathy also has a great love of shopping and is known for her bargain hunting prowess!