My days in Rome, Italy started at 9 a.m. and finished at 10 p.m. It was more than 12 hours of endless walking through cobbled streets. I stopped in-between only for food and drinks. Roma, as Italians call it, is without a doubt a beautiful city with pale white walls and history at every turn.It is not just the Colosseum and Roman ruins that make Rome unique. If you are wandering in Rome, there is a high chance that you will come across disintegrated castles, ruined theatres built centuries ago or dilapidated churches in the middle of the city. This is what I Iiked about Rome. You get your dose of history without paying for it.But hardly anyone goes to Rome just to roam around, do they? For such tourists who come on a week trip with an itinerary to cover length and breadth of Italy, the Colosseum and Roman Forum are obvious attractions. For 12 Euro, valid for two days, you can visit both places and that is money well spent.
Best Time To Visit
Best time to visit Rome is from March to June
How To Reach
Book a Package Tour
I head to the colosseum. The road from the hotel is dingy. I walk past the walls covered in graffiti, the dingy built up streets and wonder whether this is what I could expect from the weekend. Because it is not at all what I had hoped to expect. But as I round the corner, I see it. The colosseum rises out of this mess of buildings, high above them and the contrast between the old and the new is so pronounced, that I see the beauty in everything. All of it. The purpose of the dark to make the beauty of the light more appreciated. The comparison with life is not lost on me.
Go to Piazza Navona, where you’ll find giant frittelle doughnuts and Sicilian puppets that make special presents. Visit the fashionable thoroughfare of Via Condotti, studded with high-end boutiques like Gucci, Celine, Dior and Ferragamo. If you’ve got old souls on your gift list, the nearby Via Margutta and Via del Babuino are known for their antiques.
I began my travel through this iconic city with on the most iconic places, not only in Rome, but also in the rest of the world. The Colosseum is right in the center of the city, which itself speaks greatly of its importance. Also known as the Flavius Amphitheater, it is the largest of its kind in the world. This monument is hailed as the epitome of Roman Architecture and engineering. This UNESCO World Heritage site, housed around 50,000 to 80,000 people in its time and was used for entertainment purposes in the early medieval era (remember Gladiator?) The monument is gigantic with four floors and each floor having around 80 arches each. Due to earthquakes much of the monument has been destroyed, but it still spills splendor and awe. If you think the Colosseum looks magnificent during the day, be ready to be blown away by its night view. The monument lights up the cityscape of Rome and looks like a jewel on the street!
On the west of the Colosseum lies one of the oldest and most important structures of ancient Rome- The Forum. This rectangular plaza strewn with the ruins of various government buildings of ancient Rome was the center of the city often referred to as the 'marketplace'. This place formed a great part in the public life of ancient Rome with processions, trails, meetings, speeches, elections and gladiator matches happening here. It also housed various shrines of Roman Gods and Goddesses and housed The Senate of Rome, the place which gave birth to the Republican government in Rome. There are also structures made by the great Julius Caesar and till today remains a golden ground for archaeologists and historians. This place, although in ruins, remains to be an architectural wonder and resonates the Rome's rich past.
The museums boast one of the world's greatest art collections. They're a gigantic repository of treasures from antiquity and the Renaissance, all housed in a labyrinthine series of lavishly adorned palaces, apartments, and galleries leading you to the real gem: the Sistine Chapel.
The Palatine Hill is very closely knit with the history and mythology of Rome. Rome was built on seven hills, the center most of which is the Palatine Hill. According to mythology, this hill was where the makers of Rome, Romulus and Remus were found by the She-wolf who raised them. Many famous senators of Rome lived on this hill (including the great Augustus Caesar) and thus the word "palace" originates from Palatine. Archaeological data have also proven that the early Romans inhabited this place, giving Palatine hill a strong historical reference. Today, most of this place is covered with Domitian's Imperial Palace that was used for around 300 years. Amongst the buildings is also a museum that houses some of the precious archaeological artifacts from Rome's history.
Trasvetere is the 13th administrative district of Rome situated on the west of the Tiber. This grand square is in many ways the heart of Rome. During the day you will find it filled with tourists and locals spending some quality time, while at night you will find local artists selling their artwork and natives and travelers flocking it's various pubs and bars. Trastevere is always full of life and is a perfect place to end the tour. Not only that, it's narrow alleys and open spaces are extremely photogenic.
Palatino / Palatine Hill
It is the centermost of the famous seven hills of Rome. The Palatine Hill is littered with ruins of palaces and stadiums. Since most of the hill is an excavation site, a good way to understand its significance would be to visit the Palatine Antiquarian Museum on Domitian's Palace.
After navigating through the museum, we finally reached the most important part of it, the Sistine Chapel. The wall on which the much-famed The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo, is painted looms out slightly over the viewer, and is meant to be somewhat fearful and to instill piety and respect for God's power. That piece inspires nothing but admiration. The artwork is astounding and nothing rivals it. But again, the crowd dampened the experience. But, this is where I'll explain to you, the perks of being five-feet tall. I walked right to the back of the room and blocked out the crowd. Once you focus on just piece of art, everything else fades away. It's almost like The Matrix, everything slows down. Concentrate enough and you feel like you're a part of Creation of Man.
St. Peter's Basilica
If there had to be one example to sum up the fury of artistic spirit during the Renaissance it would definitely be the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome. This is the largest church ever built in Rome and is built on the crucifiction spot of the first Pope St. Peter. A lot of famous minds worked on this masterpiece namely, Michelangelo, Bernini, Raphael, Bramante, and Peruzzietc. Built in style with Renaissance as well as Baroque architecture, this church was built during the peak of the Renaissance in Italy. Since it is one of the holiest places for Christians all over the world, this place is flocked with devout Christians and inspired travelers soaking the wonder of art. Basilica is not to be missed, it is one of the greatest buildings of its time!
Vatican Museums & the Sistine Chapel
The museums of the Vatican are by far the best place to experience Renaissance art. A collection that has taken over five centuries to build, it houses 54 galleries, the last being the Sistine Chapel, the roof of which has been designed by Michelangelo. To get here, one must go through the previous 53 galleries, which, given the objects of beauty placed within them, is something nobody would object to.
Piazza Venezia situated in the heart of Rome is a public square with much chaos and traffic. This square engulfs the everyday life of the Romans. Two important monuments are located here. Palazzo Venezia from which the place gets it's name is a palace dedicated to Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice.( This place was a former embassy of Venice in Rome.) Another one is Vittoriano, dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy.
Piazza S. Pietro
Right next to the Basilica is the St. Peter's Square. With an imposing Obelisk in the center and fountains on the axis which was relocated from Egypt, the square looks particularly delightful in the night with the light playing on the water as well as dancing through the columns of the Basilica.
The Roman Colosseum or Coliseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was commisioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian. It was completed by his son, Titus, in 80, with later improvements by Domitian. The Colosseum is located just east of the Roman Forum and was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank. The Coliseum is huge, an ellipse 188m long and 156 wide. Originally 240 masts were attached to stone corbels on the 4th level.
A Roman Catholic church dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola. It offers unique views of the city looking out from the staircase. Once you go inside your eyes will be fixated on the dome. If you look closely, you'll realize that it's not really a dome, but flat. Jesuit painter Del Pozzo painted a trompe l'oeil or optical illusion.
Santa Maria In Trastevere
An excellent example of Romanesque architecture, the Santa Maria Church situated in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome. Designed by architect Carlo Fonatna, this church was originally founded in the 3rd century by Pope Callixtus. Some of the best 13th century mosaics are be found here including Pietro Cavallini's Life of the Virgin. It was the first church in which mass was celebrated openly. There is a tall column near the church which marks an ancient legend that the day Christ was born a river of oil flowed down to earth. The pillar is built on that supposed spot.
Piazza di Spagna
The Spanish Steps is only two stops away from the Repubblica - Teatro Opera metro station. You have to get down at, you guessed right, Spagna metro station! Unfortunately, the church had closed by the time I got there (6.30pm) so make sure that you go earlier if you want to visit the church too! This is another crowded tourist spot, so be prepared to jostle for space with many tourists!After this, I returned back to the hotel. However, if you still have the energy, go for the "Colosseum by Night" tour that I talked about! I have read many reviews that raved about this trip! You will thank me later :-)
Circus Maximus is where the ancient sport lovers would go to seek some entertainment. It was the largest and the first stadium of Ancient Rome. Since Chariot Racing was the most popular sport back then, loved by all Romans, this stadium held chariot races and entertained the Roman Crowd. It could house almost 1/4th of the Roman population. The first king of Rome, Romulus, is said to have held Chariot races here. This huge stadium today signifies the glory of Roman kings as well as the lifestyle of its people. A very significant monument to understand the public life of Rome.
Continue to Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) to find the ancient Ponte Fabriano and the church of San Bartolomeo. In the heart of Trastevere, visit the Basilica of Santa Cecilia and the church of San Crisogono, where remains of a church built in the 4th century were discovered in the early 20th century.
Saint Peter's Basilica
This work of Renaissance architecture is the largest church in the world. The burial site of St. Peter, this church is much revered in Christendom. Even otherwise, the church is an architectural marvel whose design has had contributions from immortalized artists like Bernini, Bramante, Michelangelo and Maderno.
Museo e Galleria Borghese
The Borghese Museum is one of Rome’s most breathtaking buildings. Filled with some of the most important art in the world, your guide will provide a lively and fascinating commentary as you explore the galleries. Built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the early 17th century to show off his extraordinary art collection, the Galleria Borghese is set in one of Rome’s loveliest and largest parks. The gallery also includes some great masterpieces by Bernini, Caravaggio, and Raphael along with many others. The gallery is home to the world’s best ancient Roman and Greek artifacts, including mosaics depicting gladiators in combat and a mysterious sleeping hermaphrodite.
Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
A lesser known gothic church in Rome, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is home to Michelangelo's 'Christ Bearing The Cross' and is guarded by Bernini's beautiful 'Elefantino' sculpture mounted on an obelisk outside. The greatly reworked 13th Century church closes at 7 in the evening and the entry is free. If you are a Harry Potter fan, make sure you get a picture of the outer facade of the 'Grand Hotel Minerva' on the Piazza della Minerva, opposite the basilica. It will continue to remind you of everybody's favourite professor/mentor/cat. Getting there: The Basilica on Piazza della Minerva is 200 metres from the Pantheon on Piazza della Rotonda. Taking the underground metro is the best idea because it is faster and cheaper if in case you are not living near the Centro Storico area. The tickets come for about 1.5 Euros and can be bought from the several machines or ticketing counters at the station. Your stop is 'Spagna' along the A Line and the Piazza is a bit of a walk, about 1.2 kilometres from the station. Beware of pickpockets on the train. You could even take a bus from the Termini Station.
Baths of Caracalla
From the Circus Maximus, I walked down to the Baths of Caracalla. The Baths of Caracalla, named after the Emperor Caracalla, are better preserved than the Baths of Diocletian. You must visit this place if you buy the Archaeological Pass. This is only a few minutes' walk down from the Circo Massimo metro station, along the Viale delle Terme di Caracalla. Once again, there are hardly any crowds here, so the lush gardens be a nice photo-shoot op for you!
Basilica of St. John Lateran
We decided to start the first day of our trip, a Sunday, by visiting the Papal Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran. The basilica was a beautiful white structure with Latin inscriptions and statues of saints adorning its front facade. Its significance is derived from the fact that it is the oldest of Rome’s four major basilicas and also ranks above all the other Roman Catholic Churches – even St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome i.e. the Pope and holds the title of ‘Mother church of the whole world’ among Catholics.
The Protestant Cemetery of Rome
The Protestant Cemetery is an out of the way spot in Rome located in the neighborhood of Testaccio. It is a really serene place to spend a few hours exploring. The cemetery holds the graves of several well known expats and it’s located just within the Aurelian Walls, which allows you to get up close to ancient Roman walls and the pyramid tomb of Gaius Cestius.
Basilica di San Clemente
Discover another Rome beneath the known monuments, where a silent city is revealed underneath the grandiose Renaissance and Baroque architecture. We start at the beautiful Basilica of San Clemente to admire its unique mosaics and crucified Christ in a festival of trees and doves. Not far from the mosaics lies the Cappella di Santa Caterina. A small stairway will take you to the lower basilica, built in the 4th century AD. From here, another staircase leads to the 3rd underground level from the 1st century AD. Some of the rooms were part of an apartment block separated by a passable street from another large building that was perhaps a state mint.
Baths of Diocletian
My tour of Vatican was scheduled for Day 2, so I took the metro from Ottaviano metro station to Repubblica - Teatro Opera metro station. From there, I walked to the Baths of Diocletian, which was accessible by the Archeologia Card. This was one place where there were no crowds and the "ancient scent" still hung in the air!The Baths of Diocletian also features artifacts recovered from other sites around Rome. Most noteworthy are the few Egyptian artifacts found here!
Temple of Hadrian
Built by Antoninus Pius, successor of Hadrian after whom the temple is named, Temple Of Hadrian was much once decorated with trophies and reliefs of the conquests (the relics now lie in a near by museum). Today only the 11 pillars at the north end remain. These pillars were integrated in the 17th century to make a new customs office. Today, there resides the Roman Stock Exchange within it. A superimposition of the modern on the ancient- that is pretty much what Temple of Hadrian is.
Built by Emperor Trajan, this was the largest Imperial hall and was once a center of political and government center of Rome. At that time this forum was an architectural wonder for the world unrivaled by almost no other structure. The entire complex consists of a Basilica, Two grand libraries a temple and a market place. The was one of the last forums built and was an important center of public life. Much of Rome's ancient style of living can be seen here along with some splendid examples of architectural and antithetical beauty.
The last part of the day would be best suited to roam in Centro Storico. The so-called historical center is quite small and constitutes only around 4% of the city area. In the closing years of the Roman Republic, an open-aired theatre was built. Named after Emperor Augustus's nephew Marcus Marcellus, it is called the Theatre of Marcellus. This ancient edifice was one of the most important theatres in its times. You can ask your guide to give details about the formation of the Gate of Ottavia. One of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings is the Pantheon, which was built 1800 years ago. The name Pantheon refers to the building's original function as a temple for all the gods. The forty-three meter high dome is the remarkable feature of this structure. You can then walk to Piazza Navona to cover the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini. Trevi fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Baroque is the most artistic period of Rome, which was embellished with sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, and music around 1600. Taking Carlo Maderno's lead, Da Cortona, Bernini and Borromini created outstanding, major works of art. Try to cover as many of these great architectural world as you can. Most of it includes churches as during the Baroque period the Roman Catholic Church took artistic control in almost every respect. Besides churches there are numerous palaces, piazzas, and fountains that you can see. Make sure you have a guide and have some material with you with information on the many artists and their display of art here.
Santa Maria del Popolo
To the north of Piazza Del Popolo, this church was one of the earliest and richest Renaissance structures. It was built in 1099 and houses works of various famous and iconic artists and sculptures like Raphael, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Caravaggio, Alessandro Algardi. According to a legend, this area was haunted by Nero's ghost and the church was built to Exorcise his ghost. The interior of the church is adorned with many of Bernini's famous works along with other artists.
Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Next, marvel at the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Saints John and Paul), with its monastery and bell tower built upon the imposing ruins of a temple dedicated to the emperor Claudius. After a lovely walk past the gardens, still cultivated today by the nuns, explore some of medieval Rome and the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), where chariot races kept the Roman Empire entertained.
Monte Testaccio. This is an ancient man made mountain of pottery which today is surrounded by clubs and bars. Only in Rome will you see this happen and I love it. By day you can go play on monte testaccio and climb up all of this old amphora from all over the ancient world: Spain, Africa, Greece and Egypt, and then later you can go back to the same area to go to bars and clubs and go to the Macro, one of Rome’s brand new Modern art museums. Now I realize that this is once again history but I think a mountain of pottery deserves its own spot.
Santa Maria in Montesanto
This is one of the twin churches in Piazza del Popolo along with Santa Maria Del Miracoli. Built in the 17th century, this church includes the handiwork of three great architects. Started by Carlo Rainaldi, continued by Gian Bernini and finally completed by Carlo Fontana. Literally meaning the Holy Mountain, this is also called as the Church of artists because of the weekly mass conducted here by artists. Referring to Mount Carmel in Israel it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The two structures are considered to be twin structures because they look similar, but if you look closely you will find this one to be much different than the Santa Maria of Miracoli.
A major portion of ancient Rome lies in deep slumber about 9 and 15 meters underground. With less scope of excavation in the deeper sections we have to rely on the catacombs, scavi, and crypts on religious sites to decipher the life in classical times. The famous Catacombs of Rome are the ancient burial places which are made of underground passages. The original Roman custom was cremation, after which the burnt remains were kept in a pot. But around the 2nd century AD, burial of unbound was being practiced. Christians also preferred burials. Wall graves were dug and were usually laid out vertically as it could contain one or more bodies. Another way was to have burial rooms containing graves all for one family. It gives you a chill when you descend into the realm of those dead and still dwelling here. Capuchin Crypt behind Piazza Barberini is where you can see the bones of thousand Capuchin monks. You’ll find skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order. There are six total rooms in the crypt. These would be the spooky highlights of your tour. The interesting history of the Basilica of Saint Clement makes it a key point to visit. Travel Trip- The Catacombs of St. Callixtus are closed on Wednesdays.
Talk about location and this one is pretty convenient while visiting Rome. Situated a stone’s throw from the top of the Spanish stairs, it provides a good place to start exploring the city of seven hills. Of course there is the Hassler Roma and Hotel de Russie as also the Inglaterra but if you know of these and can afford them without breaking a sweat (or a sizeable bank) you can skip to the next point. o Tips: Try and avoid anything and everything touristy which can be tough because the locals don’t really let you in on things to do. Even recommendations on sites that seem reliable can often land you in some crappy joint. Sometimes classic joints have lost their original charm (Dar Poeta for pizzas is good but not superb and Checco e Carretiere pasta is highly overrated for the price they command and the sloppy service they dish out) and sites may fail to show the updated version. Read around as much as you can. I will share some links I found useful.