Rome, the capital of Italy, with its more than 2000-year-old history, is replete with emperors, gods and goddesses, popes and artists each having several tales, myths, and legends woven around them. From ancient archaeological sites to churches and museums adorned with renaissance and baroque artwork, to pizzerias and bistros offering myriad foodie experiences, to shopping malls selling haute couture, to street artists at their creative best-this vibrant city doesn’t cease to captivate and amuse one and all.
Our trip to Rome was an award my husband received for excelling in his work and for meeting his numbers. As his ‘significant other’ I was entitled to join him on this award holiday. Having been on several award holidays in the past, this ‘Roman Holiday’ has been by far one of the best. ‘The Eternal City’ as Rome is rightly described, is built upon seven hills with the Tiber river flowing through it. Strolling on its cobbled streets flanked by monuments and historical buildings, one gets the feeling of exploring an open-air museum steeped in history, art and architecture, which merits its inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are a plethora of options available to experience Rome. You could hire a Vespa and explore the various sites immortalized in the romantic comedy movie ‘Roman Holiday’ starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. A hop on hop off bus sightseeing tour is another option, where you can watch the city’s major attractions from double-decker open-top buses. A cruise on the Tiber river, especially at night with the city and its architectural gems lit up, is recommended for the die-hard romantics. Walking is an attractive option, as one can explore at one’s own pace, admire the monuments, stop and sip some coffee at a roadside bistro, watch street artists, enter a church.
We took a couple of guided walking tours of the city. One of them was to the Colosseum, a Flavian amphitheatre, which could accommodate 70,000 spectators at a time! The Gladiator movie does provide glimpses of this magnificent structure, with its fascinating but bloody history. Emperor Vespasian commissioned the making of the Colosseum in 70 AD. The palace of Nero was demolished and in its place, came the arena for the gladiator games.
Tigers from India, lions from Africa and other wild beasts were imported to be a part of these games. Entry was free to the public, who came to watch these fights between gladiators and wild animals, prisoners and beasts as well as gladiator and gladiator. Since there was no television in earlier days, people came and attended the tribunals in the forums and watched the execution of prisoners in the Colosseum as a source of entertainment. Several gladiator schools came up which trained men to become gladiators. Bets were laid by spectators on which school’s gladiator would win. For four centuries, the Colosseum was in the spotlight, but later it was neglected, with parts of the Colosseum being used by the poor for constructing their homes.
Next to the Colosseum was the Arch of Constantine, which was built to commemorate the victory of Constantine over Emperor Maxentius.
The Roman Forums are located near the Colosseum, in a small valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. They were once the city’s sociopolitical, commercial and religious centre. Today they are in ruins, but in ancient times they had temples, basilicas and government buildings. Via Sacra is a sacred route used for the victory rituals and other state-level ceremonies. The way still has the original cobblestones. The Temple of Julius Caesar is in the forums, where he was cremated. We could see the eight columns of The Temple of Saturn, which was also a state treasury. Near the forums are Arco di Settimio Severo and Arco di Tito, two triumphal arches, which were built to commemorate the city’s victory. It’s a maze of ruins, and without a guide, it would have been trying for us to understand the meaning and significance of these structures or even locate them.
The Palatine Hill, located close to the forums, was where the emperors and aristocrats lived. It has the Stadium of Domitian, the Flavian Palace and House of Augustus (Rome’s first emperor). The panoramic aerial views from the hill more than compensated for the walk uphill.
The Trevi fountain, which is Italy’s largest Baroque fountain, is very touristy and we found hordes of tourists trying to click a selfie here. Legend has it that if a person tosses a coin over his/her shoulder, with the back facing the fountain and makes a wish, then they will return to Rome again. It was a ritual in earlier times for soldiers to toss a coin and make a wish that they could return home safely after the wars and battles.
is a 2000-year-old temple dedicated to all ancient pagan gods. Built by emperor Marcus Agrippa, it was converted into a church in 609 AD. It has survived against all odds and is Rome’s best-preserved ancient monument, as well as the world’s most architecturally perfect building. Pantheon is an engineering marvel, especially the dome with an oculus/ hole in the centre which has been the inspiration for several other buildings. Designed in such a way that on the 21st of April, sunlight filters through it and passes through the grille above the door illuminating front courtyard! Artist Raphael and several kings and poets have been laid to rest here. We couldn’t go inside the Pantheon as it was Palm Sunday and prayers were still in progress. The square outside was filled with tourists engrossed in watching and listening to a musician play the double bass. There is never a dull moment in Rome with something or another stimulating and overpowering your senses.
Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s famous squares built on the ancient Stadium of Domitian. The square is home to the baroque Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and three fountains. The most famous and largest is Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers representing the four continents as were known then- Africa’s Nile, Asia’s Ganges, Europe’s Danube and America’s Rio Della Plata. The piazza is a hotspot with several outdoor cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
Well, after all that walking and sightseeing we certainly deserved a sumptuous meal. And there are lots of options to pick and choose. If it’s the ice creams and gelatos, in all the rainbow colours and assorted flavours, you will find several gelaterias (gelato parlours). The aroma of freshly baked pizzas, wafting from the pizzerias is another pull. You can even devour your favourite comfort food of pasta, cooked al dente to perfection, sautéed with a choice of sauces and fresh ingredients. And for those who like to experiment with local cuisine, the options are limitless. What’s more, if you want to try your hand at cooking some authentic ‘italicious’ recipes, you can sign in for a cooking class.
Rome, replete with all its attractions, seduces you and you fall so madly, deeply in love with it, that you can’t escape its spell and want to visit it again and again. No prizes for guessing if I tossed a coin in Trevi Fountain!
Nearest Airport: Rome has an international airport. Several international flights from major cities in India can take you to Rome.
Where to Stay: You can check for hotels on the net depending on comfort and budget.
Travel Tip: It is better to book tickets online as there are serpentine queues for tickets and entry. There are various options for Rome tours available, and you can pick and choose depending on what you want to see. The advantage of booking online is that you will be able to skip the lines and enter quickly. We used the Viator App for bookings. A combo tour of the Vatican and Colosseum Walking Tour cost us $128 per person.
This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, Sept 2017.