A Weekend in the Eternal City
The city of Rome, is piled high with culture and ancient sights, including the Colosseum, Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. The energetic and sprawling capital of Italy spreads its wings over seven hills and is a treasure trove of nearly 3000 years of history, culture and art. Home to the smallest state in the world, the Vatican, it not only holds the long lost power of the Roman empire but also that of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope too. Hardly surprising then that Rome had been on our wish list of places to visit as a family for a while, and we were very much looking forward to our weekend in the Eternal City. We not only planned to explore a few of the famous ancient sights but also some of the lesser visited places, away from the tourist masses.
Insight Into Local Rome
Our hotel, the Church Palace, sadly was a complete disappointment despite promising photos and reviews. The location, despite it being outside of the city centre, however, suited us fine, it gave us an insight into local Rome and the restaurants in the area were less expensive and more child friendly than in the centre of town. In fact we enjoyed our dinners at Joseph so much that we ate there on both nights in town. The wood oven baked pizza was delicious and the pasta tasted wonderfully homemade. A restaurant worth a detour to reach perhaps?
Visiting the Famous Colosseum
For Saturday we had planned a day of sightseeing the ancient structures and buildings, starting with the famous Colosseum. Taking the metro a few stops from our hotel, we soon found ourselves at the foot of the walls of the impressive Colosseum stadium – us and hundreds of other visitors. We had deliberately not pre booked tickets in advance, we wanted to savour these ancient monuments more from afar and move on to other parts of the city, saving a detailed exploration for a longer visit in the future. This proved to be a good idea as the tourist line stretched for miles.
Beat the Long Queues
Despite an early arrival and the promise of being able to jump the queues I am sure many pre-booked tourists were disappointed, as the additional security checks now in place mean that queuing is unfortunately obligatory for anyone wanting to get inside the Colosseum and the Roman Forum on Palatine Hill – pre booked or not. If you really want to witness this vast structure from the inside and beat the long queues, I would recommend to visit mid week, off season, and arrive for opening at 8.30, otherwise an exciting visit could turn into hours of standing in line and this rather spoils the fun, especially during the hot Summer months and for younger kids.
The Ancient Colosseum
Chris and Jerome had both been really excited about seeing the Colosseum, this gripping piece of history, part of the cultural, commercial and political centre of ancient Rome. Jerome had recently learned about Roman history in school and was keen to see the amphitheatre, a place where gladiator fought, animals were hunted and of course people were executed in those cruel times of entertainment. Two thirds of the amphitheatre was destroyed over the centuries (it was even broken up to use as building materials) but efforts have been made to restore parts of the structure. Without any doubt there are no words or photos that can compare to standing in front of the ancient Colosseum for real.
Taking in the Expanse and Architecture
Sun rays peeked through the arched windows as we ventured out of the metro’s exit and onto the pedestrian area that surrounds the site. Masses of people, tourists, military guards and harassing vendors surrounded the monument. We strolled around the Colosseum to take in its expanse and architecture. Sadly, the constant pestering by touts trying to sell us anything from souvenirs to bottled water was spoiling our experience, so were the inconsiderate selfie-stick wielding tourists, taking every single angle of the Colosseum as yet another memory to be kept on their phones and shared on social media. However, this is one of the most iconic sights in the world that we certainly would regret to have missed out on if not at least once seen in a lifetime.
Arches of Constatine
Strolling towards the Palatine Hill we passed the magnificent Arches of Constantine, reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The 21m tall triumphal gate is decorated with figures and scenes of long ago battles. Sadly the arches are surrounded by fences and cannot be enjoyed by walking underneath. Turning left up the Palatine Hill we found a long, snaking queue around the block for visitors wanting to enter the archaeological site and palaces, including the Roman Forum and several ancient churches.
Peeking at Palatine Hill
Again we did not possess entrance tickets for the historical ground, but wandering up the road that segments the site we got good chances to peek into the Palatine Hills on several occasions and knowing that we were also stepping on antique roads built thousand of years ago by the Romans under the rule of powerful rulers like Nero, Augustus and Titus, it made us happy to be there. The road up the Palatine Hill ended at a small, but pretty church, and so we returned to the Colosseum before leaving this ancient monument for the quieter streets of Rome.
Walking Along the Side Streets
Our walk then took us past apartment buildings and terracotta coloured churches inthe side streets – we have never seen so many churches in a town. We stumbled on to the little Café La Casetta de Monti for a coffee and sweet treat. Afterwards our legs took us uphill to the Palazzo del Quirinale before moving on downhill to one of Rome’s most popular sights, the Fontana di Trevi.
The Baroque Trevi Fountain
Legend says that the person throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain using the right hand over the left shoulder will return to Rome in the future. The extraordinary sum of 3000 Euros is thrown into the clear, turquoise waters of the fountain every day and the money has been used to support a supermarket for Rome’s less fortunate. The water god Oceanus’ statue stands proudly at the centre of the impressive baroque fountain, which was renovated with the help of the fashion house of Fendi only a few years ago. We all again got annoyed with the selfie crowd almost immediately, but I squeezed myself through the horde to take at least a few pictures for our memory.
The Jaw-Dropping Pantheon
Not far from the Trevi Fountain lies another important monument in Rome’s history, the jaw-dropping Pantheon. The former Roman temple was converted by the infamous Hadrian into its current form and has since been used as a church. Thankfully there was only a short queue for security and the entrance was free of charge for visitors of all ages. Once we were inside the spectacular dome, the largest, ancient unreinforced vault of its kind in the world cannot fail to touch even those usually ignorant to architecture.
Gazing at the Sky Through the Oculus
The round shaped opening, the oculus is open to the sky and natural light beams stream into the otherwise dark room below, casting an interesting spot onto the ceiling and walls. Depending on the time of day and year the light shines onto different zones of the inside, always in a reverse sundial effect. Jerome was fascinated by the light gleaming onto the walls of the Pantheon and wanted to create a giant sundial. It must also be quite captivating to visit the Pantheon on a rainy day, as the raindrops would fall through the oculus onto the chequered floor and drain away through its draining holes.
Our Afternoon Discoveries
The Pantheon was by far the most interesting sight for us in Rome after discovering the site at the magnificent Colosseum. After our visit to the intriguing building we refuelled over a lazy lunch at a local restaurant. Our exploration went on in the afternoon, to observe the dramatic Castel Sant’ Angelo and a brief stop at St. Peter’s Square and Vatican City, but read about that in the following post.
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