Looking back I would have to say that Rome was not what I expected, and that is neither good nor bad. It just was simply different than what I had in my brain of what the city would be like. When you try and classify Rome I think most people put it in the category of one of the biggest cities in the world along with New York, Paris, and London. Certainly Rome is right there alongside those cities. However, to me it had an entirely different feel. London to me was more of a typical American city, as it seemed to have the hustle and bustle that I am use to in a large American City. It also has somewhat of a skyline that is lacking with the other European cities on the list. I felt that Rome despite its size had a very small city feel to it. While there were certainly a lot of people around, it did not feel like a giant city, I think this is what I found surprising about it. There was a down to Earth, small town feel, to the city that I did not expect.
I also think my feelings for the city had a lot to do with the architecture and history of ancient Rome. Everyone knows about the Romans and their Empire, but what I thought was surprising and also very cool at the same time is just how many different generations of history are literally right on top of one another. We would walk down streets where modern buildings stood next to Roman ruins that were next to even older ruins that were still being excavated. Then we would walk down another street of a church that was built in the 1500’s then across the street was a Louis Vuitton store. It was extremely interesting to see this miss match of cultures and generations. I thought it was very cool but it seemed that the Romans were used to it and paid it little attention.
As I said earlier in my Trip to Italy posts I feel that I have seen some cool things in my life, but very few of those would I say that I was blown away and impressed by them. In no particular order the Duomo in Florence, the Temple of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza, and finally the Coliseum in Rome round out my list. This is truly a site to behold and something that I cannot imagine how it must have looked 2,000 years ago. We take for granted that our buildings dominate the skyline, but seeing this thing sitting there I cannot help but think of what it must have been like to come into ancient Rome and see this colossal stadium. They said that at its height it could have held over 55,000 spectators, that is basically the size of a modern football stadium. It was complete with trap doors and there is even a rumor that they flooded the floor of the Coliseum and held reenactments of famous naval battles. However, I have also read that this may not have happened at the Coliseum but another arena. Still that is amazing. There is also an awesome sandwich shop nearby that was amazing! So that certainly made the experience better. Food always makes things better.
While at the Coliseum we also toured the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum which is massive. I was surprised how big this area was, and on the back side there is a horse race track. You could honestly spend most of a day here looking at all the ruins and learning about the site.
The three other most famous sites in Rome, besides the Coliseum, are the Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain, and The Spanish Steps. Sadly when we go to the Spanish steps they were under renovation so we did not get to see them in all their glory. The Trevi Fountain is really cool however it was always packed. If you visit this during the day there will be hundreds of people around trying to get pictures. For most sites this is usually not a problem but this one is basically smashed in between buildings in a small square that it is always extremely crowded. The best time to go is at night the lights bouncing off the water makes for a spectacular photo.
The Pantheon was also really cool. When I was in Paris I also visited the Pantheon there, and I was confused why two cities had a building that had the same name. Later I read that the Romans built theirs first and late the French built one as well. At the Pantheon several national heroes are buried including the famous artist Rafael and Umberto I, who was the king of Italy and was a decedent of the House of Savoy. The Savoy’s are both loved and hated in Italy, but that is a story for another time. I also read that the Savoy’s are among one of the oldest royal families in the world tracing their roots back to the year 1,000. The Pantheon is quite impressive and it is simply amazing how the Romans were able to build such massive structure without the help of modern tools. I guess it goes to show how powerful math and in particular geometry is, and that if you truly understand these principles as Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” (A side note, Archimedes was Greek, but you get the point.) While at the Pantheon we sat in the pews and listened to podcasts by Rick Steves talking about the history of the Pantheon. I would highly recommend this and the best part about it is that it was free! All you have to do is download the podcast and you are good to go. We did the same thing at the Coliseum and were able to save some money there as well.
Some other sites we saw were the Roman capital building which is quite impressive, and is right next to a large group of ruins. Again this makes Rome a very interesting city because of how close history and modern generations cross over. My tiny picture really does not do the building justice, it is massive and is very cool. When we walked up to it we had no idea what it was, to me this was one of the hidden gems of Rome. No one talks about the beauty of the capital building but to me it was on par with the other beautiful architecture that the city had to offer.
We also saw the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), which legend says that you place your hand in the mouth of the carving and if you tell a lie it will be bitten off. We did not get to get a picture right in front of it because it was like 10 Euro or something, so we passed. We also walked by the Mausoleum of Augustus which is where many famous Romans were buried including my favorite Emperor, Claudius. It is mostly an unimpressive structure and you would not notice it unless you were seeking it out, but I am glad I got to see it. I think it is always fascinating to see exactly where history took place and be able to stand there where something famous happened so long ago.
Castl San Angelo built by Hadrian who also built the Pantheon, and some damn wall in England. It is also a famous scene or two in the movie Angels and Demons. I had heard of Hadrian before but I did not realize he had done so much construction during his reign. Sometimes you can learn stuff on trips. We did not take a tour of this castle but it is quite impressive and the bridge that leads to it is also pretty neat as it is adorned with statues of angles.
While walking from site to site we also came across the Largo di Torre Argentina, which is has nothing to do with a South American country. Sadly the glass info plate for this site was damaged and I did not get to read what it was at the time, but I did look it up later. This site is supposedly the exact place where Julius Cesar was murdered, which I think is pretty neat, not that he was murdered but that this is the spot where it happened. Now it is a cat sanctuary, yeah that is correct, cats! Apparently tons of cats just hand around these ruins, pretty bizarre.
The other big attraction in Rome is the Vatican and we just so happened to be there the weekend that Mother Theresa was being canonized as a saint. It was absolutely nuts there that day. There are quite a few different options you can choose to visit, we went with the Vatican Museum, which was cool, but I think we should have just gone to St. Peters Basilica as everyone I talked to said it was amazing. However, if you go to the Basilica you have to pay separate to go to the Sistine Chapel. Whereas it is included in admission to the museum, and we thought that by that point in our trip we would be tired of seeing churches. The Sistine Chapel was quite extraordinary, it is extremely colorful. What is ridiculous is that they, and by they I mean the Gestapo guards, will not let you take pictures in the chapel, and they constantly shush people and even have a loud speaker to tell people to shut up haha. I felt like I was back in high school again, and because I am such a rebel I got a picture, shhhhhh don’t tell. It was quite comical seeing grown men tell others to be quite and not to take pictures. For an organization that is supposed to be welcoming to everyone they sure were quite demanding and strict.
Rome is a large city that does not feel like a large city. We enjoyed our time there and I could possibly go back perhaps to dive more into the history that took place as I find ancient Rome very interesting. But there are so many other places to see that I honestly could not justify it. To close out my Trip to Italy Posts I will give a follow up about what I would do differently as well as any tips and pointers about traveling to Italy or any country for that matter.
Check out my other Posts on Italy linked below.