I don’t even know where to begin to tell you about this beautiful city! We visited Rome from February 2 to February 18. The weather, except for a couple of rainy afternoons, was glorious! It was sunny and in the mid-50s to low 60s.
We had a nice apartment that was on a quiet side street near the Roman Forum.
The apartment was in such a great location. We were within walking distance to many of the major ruins. Our host, Enrico, said that Rome is an “open air museum” and how true that is.
I arrived before David did and spent a night by myself. First matter of business was to find a grocery store. Enrico had told me that there was one right around the corner from where the apartment was. When I went to find the store, I discovered that it was closed because a film crew had moved into the neighborhood for a night of filming. Not only was the grocery store not open but it was rather noisy the first night until filming wrapped up around midnight!
I try to keep all things positive….although it was late and I really had no idea where I was in the city, I went in search for a grocery store or a small restaurant to get something to eat. One helpful person gave me directions to a store near the Circo Massimo, which was close by. Well, I never found that grocery store….even after looking for it on a couple of different occasions.
I continued walking nearby the apartment and was rewarded with finding a grocery store and this amazing monument that was flooded in lights.
My first impressions was “Oh My Gosh!!!! What is this place?” It was quite impressive but I later learned that it was also, very controversial with the locals. It appears that the tourist loved it but the locals really didn’t like it at all. It is called Il Vittoriano or Altare della Patria (Alter of the Fatherland).
It was built in 1885, 50 years after the Italy became unified. It is to honor, Victor Emmanuel II, who end the first king of unified Italy. By building this monument, it was hoped that Italians would become more unified as a country rather than identifying to the regions they were from. What the creators didn’t expect was the controversy that this monument would create. It may not have unified the people by giving them a national sense of identity but it certainly unified them in their dislike for the monument.
There were a couple of reasons for the controversy. I believe the most important one was the location. Part of historical Capitol Hill, located behind Il Vittoriano, had to be used as well as an old medieval neighborhood had to be destroyed. The color of the marble used was criticized. It is considered too white and does not blend in well with the surrounding architecture, that is more beige in color. The creative nicknames for the monument are the “Wedding Cake,” “Typewriter,” and “False Teeth”.
The locals may not be fond of this monument but the tourist love it! It is free and open for long hours. At the top of the 242 steps is a wonderful view of the Piazza Venezia and Rome.
It is also the home for Italy’s Unknown Soldier Tomb.
For David and me, it seemed to be our “beacon” in Rome. The monument was close to our apartment and no matter where we were in the city, we were able to see the sparkling white marble and get our bearings of where to walk.
That first night, I walked around the monument for quite awhile – Rome is a very safe city to walk in, by the way….I was out a couple of times at night and never felt I was in danger. Nearby the monument is the Trajan Column….which I recognized because I had seen a special on BBC four years earlier in London about the column. Also, there is a plaster mold of it in the Victoria and Albert museum in London.
The 130 ft column was built in 113 AD and tells the story of the conquest of the Dacian’s (present-day Romania) by Emperor Trajan. There are over 2,500 figures carved into the column.
This column was located in Trajan’s Forum where politics, religion, commercial and social activities took place in this city of over a million people.
Another part of the forum was Trajan’s Market, which at one time, was filled with shops that sold goods brought back from far-flung places that were once part of the Roman Empire. Can you imagine what might have been sold in the market? Perfumes from the Persian regions, red marble from Egypt, spices from India and silk from China. So many new and exotic items to buy.
By this time, I was getting really hungry and fortunately, had passed a grocery store about 10 minutes away. I went there and got some provisions. On my way home, I passed the Teatro Marcello, which looked like a replica of the Colosseum.
On the top level of the ruins, condos have been constructed. I think it would be a very interesting place to spend a couple of nights. I wonder if there are ghost?
Dear friends, that was just my first night….and yes, I fell in love with Rome!
Rome is a great walking city. David and I walked on an average of 7 or 8 miles a day. At the end of two weeks, we had logged 100 miles on my FitBit….I loved walking on the side streets, away from all the tourist and traffic. The main streets were a little to loud for my liking.
There are seven hills in Rome and many, many stairs. It is believed that Rome was founded on Palatine Hill by Romulus on April 21, 753 BC. Have you heard the story of Romulus and Remus? They were the children of the vestal virgin Rhea Silva and Mars, the Roman god of war. Their great-uncle, Amulius, was battling with Romulus and Remus’ grandfather, Numitor, for control of Alba Longa, a city 12 miles south of Rome. Amulius wanted the twins killed and ordered his servants to drown them in the nearby Tiber River. However, instead of killing the young babies, the servants placed them adrift in the river where they were found by a she-wolf. The she-wolf nurtured Romulus and Remus until
they were discovered by a herdsman and his wife. They took the twins home where they were raised among other shepherds and hills people. Eventually, they learned of their true heritage and killed Amulius and restored their grandfather, Numitor, to the throne of Alba Longa.
Romulus and Remus returned to the hills overlooking the Tibers, where they had been set afloat, to establish a city of their own. They could not decide on which of Rome’s seven hills to settle and a fight broke out between the brothers. Romulus killed his brother Remus. Romulus proceeded to settle Palatine Hill fortifying it against enemies. With the acceptance of the people, he became king.
This area and the nearby Roman Forum was one of David and my favorite places. It is believed that this is where Romulus founded Rome. During the Republican period ( 509-44 BC), many affluent Romans lived on Palatine Hill. During the Empire era (27 BC – 476 AD) it was the emperors who resided in their palaces here.
This was a display, in the museum on Palatine Hill, showing the different areas that the Romans got their marble.
Much like the Trajan area, the Roman Forum was a political, religious and market area. During the 7th century BC, it was the center of Rome and as the Roman empire expanded, it became the center of the civilized world.
In the background, to the right of the Colosseum is the Arch of Titus. This Arch honored the Roman victory over the land of what is now Israel in 70 AD. This arch was built by 50,000 Jewish slaves brought back after they were conquered.
Basilica of Constantine
These arches are only one-third of the Basilica that was the Hall of Justice. The actual hall was the size of a football field decorated with inlaid marble, statues, fountains and a gilded bronze ceiling.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
This temple was begun in 141 AD by Emperor Antoninus to honor his deceased wife, Faustina. In 161 AD, it was renamed after the death of Antoninus to honor them both. Later, the temple was converted to a Catholic church. During the medieval period, stairs were built to the doors but as you can see, there is now a huge gap of about 20 ft preventing anyone from entering through the front doors.
Temple of Romulus
Based on a coin from 307AD, showing this building, it is believed that Emperor Maxentius dedicated this temple to his son, Valorous Romulus who died in 309AD. In 527, the temple was converted to a Christian church.
The huge doors are made of bronze and our guide said that once a year, the doors are opened by the original key….again, can you imagine???? I would not want to be responsible for the care of the key for the rest of the year!
House of the Vestal Virgins
This is where the Vestal Virgins lived in a two story building. There were six of them and were from noble families. These “physically perfect” (I wonder what the criteria was for someone so young?) young girls were chosen by lottery at the age of 10 to live 30 years under a vow of chastity. It was a huge honor and at the end of her commitment (or sentence), she was able to marry. She was given a large dowery and a statue in her honor. Woe to the girl who broke her vow!!! She could be punished by being paraded through the streets of the Forum and then buried alive. Her lover would possibly be flogged to death.
In wrapping up this segment on the Roman Forum, I am sharing a photo of the Forum at night by a full moon.
In the foreground are the columns of the Temple of Saturn which is the oldest temple in the Forum built in 497 AD. In the background is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and in the far back right hand side is the Arch of Titus illuminated for the night!
David and I really enjoyed our time here at the Roman Forum but arrived later in the afternoon than we had planned. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see all of the ruins. I was able to get a glimpse of the Temple of Julius Caesar, where his body was burned after his assassination but I didn’t get a picture because of the angle of the sun. Julius Caesar who ruled from 100-44 BC changed the Roman Forum. He removed the market stalls and built larger, more majestic buildings. Julius Caesar walked where I walked….I am in awe!
Talk about an amazing accomplishment of engineering. This structure is over 2,000 years old. It was built by 60,000 Jewish slaves from 70 AD to its completion in 80 AD. It was built as a gift to the Roman people by the Flavian dynasty to improve their popularity with the people. It was also built to provide a place for entertainment and to showcase the Roman’s engineering ability.
When finished, the colosseum could hold 50,000 people and performances were free to all Romans. Food was provided as well and some festivals as well as the games could last for up to 100 days. As most of us know, the games were battles with gladiators, fights with wild, exotic animals and death of Christians. Other entertainment were mock sea battles, where the area would be flooded for the reenactment and dramas were performed.
This photo shows the inside of the colosseum. There were 80 gates for the spectators to enter. It was so well organized that they could fill and empty the place much like our stadiums today. In the basement area, where there were a network of tunnels, 32 animal pens to keep the wild animals and 80 vertical shafts to lift scenery for the plays to the stage and the people/animals as well.
Gladiators were basically slaves but the successful ones were treated as “rock stars”. I believe that after 6 years, if they survived that long, they could retire but many opted not to because they enjoyed the accolades showered on them. There were even female gladiators but that practices was ended in the 1st or 2nd century. Those darn Romans didn’t want women to have too much power….just my humble opinion!
This cross was placed where the emperor used to sit. It was placed there to honor the memory of Christians who died in the colosseum. Across from where the emperor sat, there was a special seating area for the Vestal Virgins. Sailors used to raise awnings to shade the spectators. Sailors were used because it was much like raising sails on the ships.
After many years of use and sadly deaths of people and animals….it is believed that 500,000 people died and over 1 million animals, the colosseum gradually declined. The cost for the gladiator fights was exorbitant partly from providing the wild animals. Natural disasters of fires and earthquakes added to the decline. People stole items from the building….statues made of precious metals were melted down, the marble that covered the walls were removed for other buildings, the stones that had fallen due to the earthquakes were used to build other buildings throughout Rome….the steps of St Peter’s Basilica are made from colosseum’s stones. It was scheduled for demolition but fortunately, it was saved as a tribute to the Christians who horrifically sacrificed their lives for their beliefs.
I am grateful that someone had the foresight to save the colosseum from destruction. Today, over 4 million people visit it every year!
****Just a side note, if you are visiting the colosseum and are contemplating a guide, do your research. We had a 48 hour Rome pass that allowed us to visit one major site for free and receive discounts on museums. We decided to use our pass for the colosseum…which was good because that also included the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (kind of a two for one). It also allows you to pass the long lines and go right in. Anyway, we were going to get an audio guide once inside the colosseum. Outside, we were approached by a guide…who I thought for whatever reason, worked for the Roman Department of Tourism. He offered a guided tour and when I asked about the audio guide inside, he claimed that there wasn’t one….NOT TRUE!! There is a booth that rents them right inside. So, we paid 15 euro each for the tour…that was not to be more than 12 people.
The tour of the colosseum was good….after we were instructed to exit and wait at that gate and the guide for the Roman Forum would come….we waited and no one showed. Others were waiting, questions were asked of another tour company and eventually, someone showed up to take us on the tour. By that time, there were about 50 people. I didn’t sign up for that….so, went to see if I could get half of my money back. We had lost valuable time waiting for someone to show up and then to have the tour be 50 people…not what I paid for.
I found the manager of Ludus Magnus (the tour company) and I feel that they might have refunded my money but were unable to locate the man who sold us the tickets….so, my advice to you is:
- Research, research, research….if you want a tour, then figure out what company and set it up before you head to the colosseum.
- If you do plan to pick up a tour at the colosseum, then take a photo of the person’s badge (front and back) who sells you the tickets, just in case you need to find him/her.
- Remember that there are audio guides inside to rent.
As it turned out, we hooked up with another tour guide from the company and had a good tour but lost precious time and didn’t get to see all of the Forum.
Capitoline Hill or Capitol Hill
This is another 2000 year old building….and very well preserved. My guide book said that just before the fall of Rome, the Pantheon had been converted to a church and the barbarians left it alone and it wasn’t dismantled by the local for other buildings.
There are two kings and one artist buried in the Pantheon:
This is a model of Capitol Hill that was on display in the museum located in the building on the right side of the piazza. I am so glad that I took this photo because none of my pictures really give you a good understanding of the layout of Capitol Hill. This Renaissance piazza was designed by Michelangelo in 1538.
The graceful stairway brings you between two large statues of men with horses welcoming you to the entrance of the piazza.
To the left of the entrance stairway, are something like 214 stairs that lead to the Basilica Santa Maria en Aracoeli (The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Alter of Heaven). Now, I know that I took photos of these stairs because I knew that I would be writing about them in this blog….where those photos are of the stairs and the outside of the church is a mystery to me!
David could not walk pass these steps without going up them at least once….by the end of our trip, he walked up those steps 9 times, while waiting for me go through a museum! It was his personal exercise challenge….of course, I couldn’t let him show me up, so I would march up over those stairs right next to David!!! It was our “Italian Stairmaster” workout!
From the center of the piazza, you can see the brilliant white marble of the monument Il Vittoriano, the brick facade is the Basilica Santa Maria en Aracoeli and one of the two buildings that houses the Capitol Hill museum.
The Basilica, at the top of the stairs, had a very plain facade. The inside was a surprise at the grandness of it and the lovely chandeliers that were hanging along the arches.
This is one of the side alters.
You could walk through the Basilica and take a side door out to the piazza.
The building in the background is the palace for the mayor of Rome, who by the way, is a female in her 30s!!! Take notice how Michelangelo, through his design of the rectangular columns and high stairway to the entrance, makes the building look like it is only one story.
Capitol Hill Museum
Interestingly, this was the only museum that I visited while I was in Rome. I chose this one because they were advertising an exhibit by El Greco. Once inside, I discovered that the El Greco exhibit was all of one painting, The Annunciation. El Greco lived in Rome from 1570-1576 but never received the acceptance of the community! He eventually moved to Spain where he his talents were more appreciated.
This museum, which is over 500 years old, is located in two buildings, opposite of each other, in the piazza. I visited the museum located in the Palazzo dei Conservatori building. Upon entering, you are in an open courtyard that houses the remains of the colossal statue of Constantine, which used to be housed in the Basilica of Constantine in the Roman Forum.
The museum offers statues, paintings, tapestries and restored rooms from the apartments in the palace.
It is interesting all the little tidbits of trivia that you can pick up wandering through the museum for a couple of hours.
David and I spent two full days exploring one of the smallest country in the world! It is grand and magnificent and much improved since I was there 40 years ago…at least the museum. When I visited Rome for a day, 40 years ago, I rushed through the museum to see the Sistine Chapel. There were 4 color paths that you could take to ultimately get to the chapel. Due to time being precious, I chose the shortest path to follow. I remember rushing past tables of items that had been gifts to the Catholic church and/or Pope piled on top of each other with a tag saying where they were from. I was amazed that the items were just sitting there, unorganized and displayed in a better manner. I, also, remember noticing the ceilings as I rushed through the museum how ornately they were painted. Honestly, by the time I reached the Sistine Chapel, I was kind of disappointed because I had been looking at ceilings that were decorated with glorious paintings the whole way to the chapel!!
The Sistine Chapel was restoration began in 1980, so back in 1978 when I was there, the colors on the frescos that Michelangelo had painted were dull from the years of candle soot and smoke used in the chapel. I was anxious, after all these years, to return to see the Sistine Chapel, especially since I had seen pictures of the vibrant colors that were uncovered from the restoration.
The first day, we spent a good four hours going through the Vatican’s museum. I was pleased to see the major improvements to the museum. The awe-inspiring pieces of art were well displayed. The ceilings were still decorated with splendid paintings but arriving at the Sistine Chapel, my breath was taken away.
There were mosaics throughout the museum….on the ceilings, floors and a special display of miniature mosaics on items that are used everyday.
For centuries, this statue symbolizes the aesthetic perfection that Europeans aimed for.
The rooms and halls of the museum were just an appetizer to one of the most remarkable pieces of Renaissance art. It is the Sistine Chapel, the personal chapel for the pope and upon the ruling pope’s death, where the cardinals meet to elect a successor. It was painted from 1508 – 1512 by Michelangelo who was commissioned by Pope Julius II.
The ceiling has the story of the Creation from nine scenes in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. On the wall, behind the alter, is Michelangelo’s Last Judgement that he painted in 1535 to 1541.
I was awed by the vibrant colors that surrounded me as I walked into the chapel. The restoration made such an improvement over the dull and darken colors that I remember from 39 years ago. We spent at least an hour absorbing the grandeur of Michelangelo’s creation from so many years ago.
St Peter’s Basilica
As I type this, I realize how weak my vocabulary is….even with a thesaurus!!! I have no new adjectives to describe the beauty of St Peter’s Basilica….it is majestic, awe-inspiring, beautiful, magnificent, grand, glorious, splendid and impressive to name just a few!
I cannot believe that I have been blessed to see this moving statue of Mary holding her crucified son, Jesus not once but three times in my life. When I was 9 years old, my mother and I went to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The Italian pavilion had The Pieta on display. I remember seeing the statue for the first time as if it happened yesterday. The lighting was very low and the statue was in front of, what appeared to be, a wall of black velvet. It was so dramatic. Slowly, as we stood on a moving beltway, we passed by. It was this small-town, little girl’s first introduction to fine art. This five minute event changed my life and made me hungry to learn as much as I could about art and the famous masters.
My first visit to the basilica, 39 years ago, gave me my second opportunity to view The Pieta and this trip, I had the pleasure of sharing the experience with my husband, David. Michelangelo carved this statue at the young age of 25 in 1499. It is his only piece of work that he signed. He signed it because he overheard people giving other artists credit for his creation. He was upset and quickly carved his name in down the sash of the Virgin Mary. Later he regretted his impulsive ways and vowed never to sign another piece of his artwork.
You may or may not be able to tell from my photos but this statue is protected by a piece of bullet-proof glass. In 1972, a unstable man believing he was Jesus and Michelangelo attacked The Pieta with a hammer and did extensive damage. Thankfully, it was restored and is once again, on display but with protection to prevent any further attacks.
These are the steps, at least the first 321, that lead to the dome where you can look down into the church. If you prefer, you can take an elevator. We decided to walk for the exercise!
Another 231 stairs took us to the cupola at the very top and gave us an impressive view of the Vatican grounds and the city of Rome.
The day after visiting St Peter’s Basilica, we made our way back to St Peter’s Square to see the Pope. When he is in Rome, the Pope gives audience to people on Wednesday. During the winter, it is held inside and tickets are free. On Sundays, he gives a blessing to the crowd in St Peter’s Square at noontime.
We walked over and went through security, this took about an hour. It wasn’t as crowded in the square as I thought it would be. It was kind of funny because I posted on Instagram that we were waiting to see the Pope and I posted the photo below to show what a great spot we scored!
It was at the request of Pope Julius II, who was an admirer of the Swiss soldiers, to serve as his personal bodyguard. He initially requested 200 soldiers but only 150 were available. After marching for 3 months, those 150 soldiers arrived in Rome on January 21, 1506.
On May 6, 1527 during the Sack of Rome, 147 Swiss guards were killed defending Pope Clement VII who escaped to the fortress Castel Sant’ Angelo. Here he was protected by the remaining 22 guards.
Today, there are 110 Swiss Guards who protect the Vatican. Every year to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who protected Pope Clement VII, new recruits are sworn in on May 6. They have strict requirements to become a guard at the Vatican. They must be male and Swiss, Catholic, have served for at least two years in the Swiss Army, be at least 5’9″ tall and have an impeccable reputation. Most guards serve for two to three years before returning to Switzerland.
Each statue on the bridge was a work of art.
The Piazzas and Fountains
Much of the charm of Rome is wandering the narrow, cobblestone streets and happening upon a piazza (square) that is surrounded by outdoor cafes and usually has a fountain as a centerpiece.
The day that we visited Piazza Navona was a dreary one. To get out of the rain, we stopped at the Restaurante Panzirone on the square. David had a bottle of carbonated water and I had a coffee.
Piazza della Repubblica
This piazza was designed in 1538 for a grand entrance into the northern gate of Rome. The obelisk in the center is 108 ft (36 meters) tall and was brought to Rome by Augustus from Egypt. It is very old…Augustus was emperor of Rome from 27 BC to 14AD!
To the right of the obelisk is one of Rome’s ancient Renaissance churches, Church of Saint Maria of Popolo. This was really a sweet church. It can boost of having two Caravaggio’s brilliant works of art.
Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps
There are more than 900 churches in Rome. We went into many and each had something unique and beautiful about them. I will highlight a few…
Basilica of St Peter in Chains
This church was built in the 5th century to house the chains that held St Peter while he was imprisoned.
Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere
I have saved the best little church for last. It was in one of our favorite neighborhoods of Rome – Trastevere. Trastevere is located across the Tiber River, on the same side as the Vatican. Located on Piazza di Santa Maria, it is one of Rome’s oldest churches and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The Tiber River and Trastevere Neighborhood
I really enjoyed walking along the Tiber River. Although the trees were bare this time of year, it was still a very pretty walk…I would imagine even more so on a warm summer night with the stars sparkling overhead and a full moon shining down. Just another good reason to return to Rome in warmer weather.
This bridge is Pons Fabricius, the oldest Roman bridge in Rome. It was built in 62 BC! It connects the west side of Rome to Tiber Island, a small piece of land in the center of the river.
There are two of these marble pillar with the four heads and is the reason the bridge is nicknamed the “Four Headed Bridge.” The heads are of Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, which is why he has two heads so he can look into the future and the past. The two columns were moved in the 14th century from the nearby Church of St Gregory. On Saturdays, the bridge is a lively place with vendors selling arts and crafts and musicians entertaining with their music.
Continue walking over the island and taking another bridge that leads you to the west bank of the Tiber River into the neighborhood of Trastevere. This neighborhood had a different feel to it from the others that we had visited. Maybe it felt like a neighborhood from long ago, where families lived and died. The local grocer knew your family tree better than you did because he had been there forever and watched everyone grow and families expand. We stumbled on a small restaurant that had prepared dishes on the counter. You made your choice and paid by the weight. There was a lovely assortment of breads and sweets as well. It had been in business since the 1800s. We ate there a couple of times and loved the casual atmosphere. We ate lunch with the locals…the workmen in their work coveralls eating lunch and washing it down with a glass of wine, served in a regular glass. Darn if I can find the name of the place!
It had the narrow streets and didn’t seem as touristy, although there were museums, shops and on the weekend, street fairs. It was a great place and when we visit again, would consider staying in this area.
Odds and Ends……
Remember at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had been looking for the local grocery store but it was closed due to the filming that was happening. I did find the store the next day and met Lorenzo, a very nice young man who worked behind the deli counter. He spoke excellent English and when it wasn’t busy – which wasn’t very often – I chatted with him. He said that he learned English from a gentleman who lived in the neighborhood when he was younger. Everyday, he would go and visit the man who taught him a little each day. Later, he dated a young woman from Los Angeles for 5 years and had been to the states a few times. That relationship ended and ladies….he is available. He can make a mean sandwich and claims to enjoy cooking….that makes him “a keeper” in my book!!!
When I think of Rome, I will always remember the amazingly tasty and big Golden Delicious apples. They were amazing….I always wondered where they came from, was it somewhere in Rome or were they imported? I never did find out. Golden Delicious are my favorite. When I am in the states, I eat one a day….that continued while I was in Rome!!
The horses, that pulled the carriages, all wore these interesting coverings over their ears. We finally asked someone why and we were told that it was to protect them from small insects that could fly into their ears.
David needed a haircut and we visited this “traditional” barber shop. It was called “The Machete”….which made me pause….David, do you really think you want a haircut from “The Machete?” It was an interesting place…I believe they offered to do tattoos, as well!
Villa Borghese Gardens is a lovely park to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is on 197 acres and offers rowing in a small lake, riding a bike or just strolling throughout the park.
I had one night that I went to the Opera House to see the performance of Sleeping Beauty Ballet. It was glorious! I had great seats, too!
There you have it….my trip to Rome. I probably could write another thousand words but I really need to stop writing. I need to get some rest because I leave tomorrow for Nepal, for two weeks and then Dubai for a week. I am so excited to be able to cross Kathmandu off my “bucket list”…..
Until my next post, I wish you blessings!