I traveled to Rome in the midst of the pandemic, and I have to admit I enjoyed it! A city that is otherwise absolutely full of tourists, this time there were no tourists anywhere! Only Romans! You go to St. Peter’s Dome, for example, and you’re immediately first in line.
St. Peter’s dome is a real ordeal in normal times because you have to wait in line for hours and hours. You go to the Vatican Museums, you’re first in line. You go to the Colosseum, you are first in line, you enter immediately! Incredible!
What was even more amazing to me is that everything was really normal, with really tiny differences from normal times. The restaurants and cafes were open until 6 pm, after that only take away. Mask must always be worn both indoors and outdoors. And that’s it! Everything is open, all museums, all churches, all archeological sites. There was really no other difference in “what can be done and what can’t be done” compared to other normal times.
To enter Italy I needed a negative test for Covid-19, but to my amazement, no one asked me for it! Neither the airline company while boarding, nor the Italian border services when we landed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
I did the passport control in an instant, and I was already at the airport train station. I was waiting for Leonardo Express, the train that takes you to the center of Rome in 32 minutes, to the main train station: Termini. Trains normally run non-stop.
When buying the train ticket at the airport, be sure to buy a return ticket. This will make your life so much easier when you go back to the airport. The only thing that matters is that you know the date when you will return, but not the hour.
The Leonardo Express train is fast and more expensive. You also have a cheaper version in which you change at Tiburtina station. If you buy cheaper tickets and go to Leonardo Express, you will have to pay the difference. And the controllers check everyone’s tickets on the train.
My Airbnb was in Merulana Street, right next to Stazione Termini. I settled into the apartment at about 8 pm, now I will rest and tomorrow I will set out to discover Rome.
I divide Rome into four parts: Christian Rome with its beautiful churches and catacombs, then ancient Rome with its spectacular ancient monuments. Then Dolce Vita Rome with its beautiful piazzas and medieval center, and the Vatican.
I went to the Vatican first, and as I mentioned before, there were no tourists. Only a few Romans, or foreigners who found themselves living in Rome during the corona. Needless to say, Vatican is the smallest country in the world. When you enter St. Peter’s Square, you have entered an independent state.
By no means will you notice that you are in another country. However in the square, you have a post office, where you can buy Vatican stamps, and send a postcard from the Vatican. In addition, there is a free toilet in St. Peter’s Square, very convenient. And of course, the souvenir shop and bookstore, which are in my opinion, very high quality.
If you come across on Sunday at 12 noon, you will have the opportunity to see the Pope addressing the public. This event takes place every Sunday from the window of his palace. This is Urbi et Orbi. And if you find yourself in the Vatican on Wednesday at 10 a.m., you have the opportunity to attend the general audience as well.
However, for the general audience, you will need a ticket, which is free, but you must order them in advance, and pick them up at least one day in advance. In order to get to the office that issues tickets for the general audience, you have to go through the security check, the same security check that St. Peter’s visitors go through. Which means you’ll have to wait in line for quite some time.
It is certainly nice to take pictures with the Swiss guard. They are simply attractive in their colorful uniforms. And yes, you can take a picture, but still before taking a photo ask if it’s okay.
Saint Peter’s square
The impressive square, which we all know well from pictures and television, was deserted. The fact that it was morning and a working day certainly contributed to that. At the bottom of St. Peter’s Square stands the impressive basilica. Reading Rome, I realized that a few artists will keep repeating constantly: Michelangelo, Bernini, Borromini, Maderno, to name a few.
I also learned that most great works of art are from the 15th, 16th, 17th centuries. So is St. Peter’s Square. This square is a work of art by the great Bernini, from the 17th century. At the bottom of the square is the magnificent Basilica of St. Peter, whose façade is also from the 17th century, and is the work of Maderno. In the center of the square, there is one of no less than 13 obelisks in Rome!
There is one fountain on each side of the obelisk. One is the work of Bernini and the other fountain is the work of the artist named Fontana. A cute coincidence. Two arms of huge colonnades extend from St. Peter’s Basilica on either side of the square and symbolically represent the mother’s hands. St. Peter’s Basilica, as the church, represents the mother.
Thus, the church motherly receives in its arms its children, ie Christians from all over the world who make a pilgrimage to Rome. There are two circles between the obelisk and each one of the two fountains, on which, when you stand and look at the colonnades, it looks as if the colonnades have only one row of columns. In fact, the colonnades have 4 rows of columns each. There are 284 columns and 88 pillars. Above them, there are 140 life-size statues of saints.
Saint Peter’s Basilica
So the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica took one minute. You have to pass through the security control, and the queue is usually very long and the waiting time is very long. But this time, I entered right away. The basilica, however, was not empty. There were people, but very few.
I could take pictures and do sightseeing in peace. The first thing that leaves you breathless is the size of the basilica itself. Controversy continues over whether it is the largest basilica in the world or not. Apparently, it is not. It seems that somewhere in Africa they built an even bigger basilica. And another thing that immediately leaves you breathless is the ceiling.
We will see later that a lot of attention was paid to the ceilings, and that is why in almost all churches, palaces, and so on, the ceilings are very impressive.
Perhaps the most valuable work of art in St. Peter’s Basilica is right at the entrance. As soon as you enter, to the right is Michelangelo’s first work, and certainly one of the most famous: Pieta ’. The Virgin holds the dead Jesus in her arms.
If you look more closely, you will see that the Virgin has a ribbon over her chest that Michelangelo signed. It is also the only time the author has signed on a work. And the other thing that affects the visitor intensely is the youthful appearance of the Mother of God.
In the chapel next to Michelangelo’s Pieta ’is the tomb of St. John Paul II, the very beloved Pope. Originally the tomb was in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica where the tombs of many other Popes are, but it was later moved here. The canopy above the main altar is also impressive, as are the four pillars holding the dome, below which is the main altar.
The pillars are named after St. Longinus, St. Andrew, St. Veronica and St. Helena. On the pillar of St. Longinus is the famous statue of St. Peter, and in the pillar of St. Andrew is the entrance to the Vatican crypt.
Dome of St. Peter’s basilica
First of all, it should be noted that it is difficult to climb the dome of St. Peter, and it is worth considering whether you want to. The lines are usually extremely long and there is a very long wait for your turn to come. Once it’s your turn, you have the option at the box office to take the elevator or stairs. Don’t think you’ll fare much better with the elevator.
Namely, after you get out of the elevator, you have over 300 more stairs to climb, the stairs are getting narrower, and inclined! After all, you are climbing the dome. It is quite claustrophobic, and very demanding on the legs. So think about it! Of course, I’m not talking about 20-year-olds, they will easily “master” the climb to the dome. Also, there is only one elevator and only four people can be accommodated in that elevator, so you have to wait a very long time for the elevator.
But it all pays off when you get to the dome, it’s really impressive! The view of Rome shoots in all directions. Still, you can be a little disappointed because you will not be able to take photos very comfortably, since the iron bars are all around you. On the dome, you are like in a cage, and it’s hard to take nice photos.
Having said a lot of bad things about visiting St. Peter’s Dome, I would like to point out that the view you have is a really great experience, and worth the effort!
This museum is one of the best museums in the whole world. If there is only one museum you should visit in Rome, it should be the Vatican Museums. It is called the Vatican Museums, although this is actually just one museum. It is a complex of many interconnected buildings.
Each building has a name. If you have a little more time in Rome, and you could visit some other museums, my advice is the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini) and Villa Borghese (this is a museum in a villa, so it has a “villa” in the name).
To visit the Vatican museums, get ready for waiting in line for many hours, the crowds are extreme! Also, it gets very hot in summer, so you should definitely have water with you. Once you enter the museum, there are no more problems because you have a cafeteria, and you can both eat and drink. In addition, you can buy tickets online, it will definitely save you some time, and you will be glad you did it. Count a minimum of half a day to visit the Vatican Museums, including break time.
A visit to the museum is organized so that at the end you see the masterpiece of Michelangelo: the Sistine Chapel, and from there you enter the Basilica of St. Peter. It would be good to read a bit about the Vatican Museums before you visit them. That way you will make it easier for you to visit the museum, and also you will not miss pieces of art that you would like to see. I am personally fascinated by the Sistine Chapel as well as the Egyptian Museum.
In addition, Raffaello’s work “Scuola di Atene”, or “Athenian school”, always leaves me breathless, as well as “The Transfiguration”, also by Raffaello. The Galleria delle Mappe is also very impressive to me. The “Laocoon Group” also impresses me, life-size statues, from ancient Greece. Then the “court of the pinecones”, or Cortile della Pigna. These are my priorities and favorite moments from the Vatican Museums.
The Vatican gardens
This is something very interesting. Namely, for many, the Vatican is a notion of secrecy, mystery, and the like. But you also have the opportunity to visit the Vatican Gardens, and get a little closer to the Vatican, go deeper into the Vatican spheres. There are tours every day, you must register online. It doesn’t go any other way.
So you will see the gardens where the Pope walks, you will see beautiful horticulture, fountains, country houses, but also the Vatican government building, as well as Vatican Radio, the Vatican newspapers building are printed, the heliport and so on. Definitely something very interesting!
Via della Conicliazione
This street translated means the street of reconciliation and was built by Mussolini just before World War II. The Vatican was “hidden” in the small streets of the neighborhood called “Borgo”. So when a pilgrim saw St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, the admiration would be enormous.
It also meant, however, that access to the Vatican was difficult, from ambulances to supplies. That is why the construction of this magnificent street was agreed upon.
A covered corridor called “passetto” led from the Vatican City to the Fortress of St. Angel. Using this corridor, the Pope could escape from the Vatican and take refuge in the Fortress of the Holy Angel, in the event of an attack on the Vatican.
Passetto is clearly visible even today. And yes, it was in use for its original purpose: Popes really did use passetto multiple times to escape from the Vatican to the Fortress of the Holy Angel.
The bridge and the fortress of the Holy Angel
The Fortress of the Holy Angel, as well as the bridge of the same name, are some of the most famous sights of the Eternal city. The Fortress of the Holy Angel is actually the mausoleum of the ancient Roman emperor Hadrian. It was later converted into a fortress, and a safe haven for the Popes in the event of an attack. Today, it is interesting to the casual traveler because of the cafe in the very pleasant and unusual ambiance of this ancient Roman monument.
The Bridge of the Holy Angel is definitely the most beautiful bridge in Rome. You have to come here, and not only to see this beautiful bridge, but also to take a picture of the Vatican. Namely, from this bridge, you have a very nice view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
There are ten statues of angels, the work of the great Bernini. Each of the angels carries some object from the Passion of Jesus. Notice how the angels smile at you. In addition, there are statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, at the bottom of the bridge.
Dolce Vita Rome
This is Rome where Anita Ekberg bathes in the Trevi Fountain and Audrey Hepburn rides a Vespa on the streets of Rome. It is that authentic Rome of today’s Romans, where the Italian flair is intensely felt.
In the evening, the Romans go out here en masse, take walks, always with ice cream in hand. Just notice how many Romans have ice creams as they walk! This is Rome of sweet (dolce) life (vita), where the legendary and indispensable stations of every tourist are located: piazza Navona, piazza di Spagna, piazza della Rotonda, di Trevi fountain, Spanish stairs, to name just a few!
There are countless cafes and restaurants. And no, they are not there for tourists. This part of Rome, which I call Dolce Vita Rome, and in fact the Romans call it Trident, is truly Rome of the Romans.
Metro in Rome
In addition, the center of Rome is quite compact and not at all as large as one would expect for a large European city. The whole city is more or less walkable, and there are many pedestrian zones everywhere.
Plus, public city transport is generally poor in Rome: they only have three subway lines, but the stations are not very practical. The only real benefits of the metro in Rome are stations for the Vatican and the Colosseum.
Buses are means of public transport in Rome
The main mean of public transport in Rome is the bus. It is very difficult for tourists to understand the lines, so they do not use the bus a lot. With a little patience, you can try to study the map of the lines yourself. At each bus station, you have listed the stations through which the bus goes.
You can try asking a local. Italians are generally known as very kind people and people who generally like to talk. The only problem is that they speak English very badly, it is almost a miracle if someone speaks English! But he or she will do anything to explain it to you! Kindness does not apply, however, to waiters in restaurants and people employed in, for example, museums, and other activities most directly related to tourism.
A bigger problem with the bus, than the misunderstanding in English with the Italians, is that the bus is very slow, and more often than not it gets stuck in traffic. It takes you up to two hours sometimes to get from one point to another! So, again, walking you will solve everything much faster!
We cross the Tiber by the Bridge of the Holy Angel, and on the other bank of the Tiber is Ara Pacis. A beautifully preserved impressive “altar,” in honor of the peace that Roman Emperor Augustus brought to Rome. Extremely well-preserved decorations both inside and outside the altar. In addition, there is the Mausoleum of Augustus near Ara Pacis, just restored after it was neglected until now. Now it shines again.
Taking Via dei Coronari we reach the beautiful square of Navona. Street dei Coronari means “rosary street”. Namely, this street was on the way of pilgrims to the Vatican, and rosaries and other religious objects were sold here. Today, this is a street with exclusive shops selling antiques. And so we reach the Piazza Navona, one of the main Dolce Vita Rome squares.
Four Rivers foutain
The fountains catch the eye, there are three of them. At the center of the square stands the Four rivers fountain, the work of the great Bernini. Bernini and Borromini, two great men of Roman architecture in the 17th century, were not on good terms. Borromini built the church of St. Agnes in Agony, across from Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers.
These four rivers are represented in four statues of men. One of the rivers, that is, the man looking at the front of the church facade, has his head turned away from the church. They interpreted this as if Bernini were turning his head away from Borromini. Nice anecdote. At the other two ends of the Piazza Navona, there is on one side the fountain del Moro (Maur, Arab) and the other the fountain del Nettuno (Neptune). The Brazilian embassy has a prominent place in Piazza Navona.
Back for a moment to the church of St. Agnes of Agony. The church, like all the churches in Rome, is very rich and beautiful. There is a relic of the saint here, and an important one: her head.
You should definitely enjoy this square like the Romans. Painters and cartoonists make portraits, that is, caricatures of tourists. Sit in one of the cafes and order truffle ice cream. It’s a specialty! And also, have a cappuccino. Italians, if they don’t drink espresso, drink cappuccino. There’s macchiato too, but that means a drop of milk in an espresso and that’s it. Actually, macchiato means stained. A drop of milk stains the coffee.
Pantheon – Piazza della Rotonda
From Piazza Navona, we go to another beautiful Roman square, piazza della Rotonda. Our way passes by the palazzo Madamma, today it is the Italian Senate.
Right next door is the church of San Luigi dei Francesi (Saint Louis of France). To me, this church is very important and I always visit it again and again because I am a big fan of the chiaro-scuro painting technique. In this church, there are the works of the greatest painter of all times in this technique: Caravaggio. After visiting this church, you arrived at Piazza della Rotonda, where the impressive Pantheon is located. All the streets around this square are full of cafes and restaurants and everything is crowded with both tourists and Romans.
When we look at the Pantheon, it is just hard to understand that this building is so well preserved after a few thousand years! The Pantheon is the temple of all the gods. What is interesting is, when you enter the Pantheon and look at the dome you will see a hole and not a small one. The hole is there on purpose, not only for the air but for the light. It is interesting that when it rains, it does not rain through that hole. Some advanced physics!
Have a look at a Pasqualino around the corner at Piazza della Rotonda! These are statues on which residents used to put letters in which they would express their dissatisfaction with local politicians. I think we only find this in Rome and nowhere else! They are also called “talking statues”.
Now we go to the next legendary Roman square, piazza di Spagna “Spanish Square”. When we go from Piazza della Rotonda to the Spanish Square, we pass the most famous Roman pastry shop, Giolitti. It’s always crowded here and everyone comes here for ice cream, especially tourists. Giolitti is said to have the best ice cream in Rome.
Then we reach the square where the palazzo Montecitorio and the palazzo Chigi are located. Palazzo Montecitorio is the Italian parliament, and palazzo Chigi is the seat of the Italian government and the prime minister’s residence. So you shouldn’t be surprised that there’s always a lot of police there. This is also where the main Roman street is, Via del Corso.
It baffles how small the streets of Rome are. You would expect that the capital of an important European country will have large, spacious roads such as Paris, Madrid, Vienna. But no, the streets in Rome are narrow, small. And what makes the situation even more complicated is that more or less all the streets are one-way streets.
Piazza di Spagna – Spanish Square and Spanish Stairs
From the main Roman street Via del Corso we enter the most “chic” Roman street: Via dei Condotti. In this street, there are the most expensive shops and all the most famous Italian high fashion brands. You can only imagine the prices!
Dei Condotti Street takes us to the Spanish square. The Spanish stairs stretch there, before our eyes, all the way up to the church of Trinta ’dei Monti. Everything in this square is impressive, everything is bustling with life.
The square and the stairs are called Spanish because there is the Spanish embassy there. This name has been around since the 17th century. On the hill above the stairs is the Church of the Holy Trinity. Stairs were built to connect the Spanish square with the Church of the Holy Trinity and the district where the church is located.
These stairs are a real feast for the eyes, especially in the spring when the city authorities fill them with flowers. Fashion designers have their fashion shows here, and many companies want to shoot a commercial for their products right here. It all costs a lot!
At the bottom of the Spanish stairs there is a beautiful fountain called “Barcaccia” – a boat. This fountain is the work of Bernini the Elder, the father of the great architect Bernini. Also, all the bookguides mention Keats-Shelly’s house.
These are two young English poets. I personally have never heard of either, but like I said, absolutely all the guidebooks mention that house, and it can’t be missed because it’s right at the beginning of the Spanish Stairs.
It used to be nice to sit on those stairs, both for tourists and Roman youth. For Roman youth even today, the Spanish stairs is the place where they meet and socialize. However, it is forbidden to sit on the stairs. Try to sit down and in no minute will a policeman whistle for you to get up.
We continue towards the well-known Trevi Fountain, and pass by a high pillar, on which there is a statue of the Virgin. Once every year, on Christmas Day, firefighters put a wreath on the hand of the Mother of God.
Fontana di Trevi
We reach the magnificent Trevi Fountain. In the film La Dolce Vita, Anita Ekberg jumped in the Trevi Fountain. That is no longer possible. You are allowed to throw a coin into this fountain, and in fact, it is required of you in some way. It is said that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, with your back turned, you will return to Rome.
A lot of money is collected every day! The locals used to collect these coins in the evening, but now the city government collects the coins from the fountain in an organized way.
It is also interesting to know that not all the windows on the fountain are real! They look real, but are really just an imitation. As some windows already existed, for the sake of symmetry and aesthetics, windows were made, but not real ones!
Kindness, that is, the unkindness of the waiters
You should enjoy the streets of Rome, especially when you have a beautiful stage in front of you, as is the case here near the Trevi Fountain. Rome is an expensive city around major sights, and it is normal for a cappuccino to cost 4-5 euros.
It is not a problem of prices per se, as much as the rudeness of waiters and people who work in tourism. Very often they will roll their eyes if you ask them and a glass of water with coffee. It is a well-known fact that the places that tourists really visit too intensively do not have very friendly service.
Mobile snack bars
There are mobile snack bars throughout the city if you want to buy a sandwich for lunch, for example. That sandwich costs 5 or 6 euros, it has one slice of cheese and one slice of salami and too dry bread. A 0.5l bottle of water costs 4 euros! If I fall for this once, then it is the fault of the system that allows this. But if I fall for this a second time, then it’s just my fault.
There are supermarkets everywhere and you can buy for a few euros a whole lunch, along with water. And keep the bottle with you to refill it! In many places in Rome you have public fountain-taps with drinking water which the Romans call “nasone” (big nose) because they look like that. Here, I really have to commend Rome for this free water system. Especially because Rome can be a very hot city, and not just in summer. By the way, water is drinkable everywhere in Rome!
PIAZZA DEL POPOLO – PINCIO – VILLA BORGHESE
Nearby is the piazza del Popolo with the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. To me, this church is an indispensable stop every time I go to Rome, and again the “culprit” is Caravaggio and his works on display in this church. But I also love this part of Rome. Above Piazza del Popolo is Pincio.
Pincio is a lookout point from which you have a nice view down to the city, and there is a nice cafe up there. There is no nicer thing than in nice weather drink a coffee on Pincio and watch Rome! In addition, here on the Pincio hill is Villa Borghese, a huge park, a true oasis of peace and greenery! Although there are many such beautiful oases in Rome, Villa Borghese is my favorite!
In Villa Borghese, there is, in my opinion, one of the top three museums in Rome (in addition to the Vatican Museums and Capitoline Museums). This is Galeria Borghese. If you have time, be sure to visit this museum, you won’t be sorry! However, to visit this museum, you need to book in advance. You only enter in predefined groups. You cannot visit this museum on your own.
At the bottom of Rome’s main street, Via del Corso, is Piazza Venezia, and that’s where ancient Rome begins. In fact, when the altar of the homeland “Il Vittoriano” was built, there were a lot of controversies because this really impressive, but a modern monument, hid ancient Rome.
Namely, right behind the altar of the homeland is the Capitoline hill, the Forum, the Palatine, that is, the heart, the very center of ancient Rome. Either way, we can’t help but notice that the altar of the homeland is really impressive. And next to the altar of the homeland is the palazzo Venezia or the Palace of Venice. It is interesting because of the window and the balcony we see.
It was Mussolini’s office. The light would be on there until late into the night, and all night long. It was so the people can see diligent Mussolini was and how he worked all night. As it is called the Palace of Venice, which is located in the square of Venice, then it is quite logical that the church next to the Palace of Venice is also called the Church of St. Mark, patron saint of Venice. We are somehow completely in the Venetian spirit in this square.
Capitoline hill – Campidoglio
Behind the altar of the homeland stands the political center of ancient Rome, the Capitoline hill. We will see the inscription SPQR all over Rome, but on the stairs of the central building on the Capitoline hill this inscription is especially noticeable. It stands for the Senate and the Roman people (senat e populesque romano).
Impressive stairs with two large statues of mythological creatures Dioscuri, designed by no else than Michelangelo, we come to the Capitoline Square, which has lost its ancient appearance. Regardless, it is very interesting for several reasons. First of all, in the center, there is a large statue of Emperor Mark Antony. True, this is a copy, but the original is there, in the Capitoline Museums.
It’s actually one museum, but there are two buildings, to your left and to your right. As I mentioned before, if you have a little more time in Rome, this museum should be one of the top three museums you should visit in Rome (in addition to the Vatican Museums and the Galeria Borghese).
If you are not interested in a museum, I give you an idea of where to drink coffee with one of the most beautiful views in Rome: the terrace of the coffee shop, right in the Capitoline Museums! The view is truly unforgettable and it will pay off every penny you pay to enter the museum, as you will still have to pay for a museum ticket to get to this café.
To the left of the central building on the square, which is also the Roman city administration, we go to see a beautiful view of the Roman Forum, the central square of ancient Rome. When we turn past that building to go towards the forum, we will see a famous Roman she-wolf with Romulus and Remus. Convenient to take a photo. However, this is also a copy.
The Capitoline Hill was the center of the political life of ancient Rome where the administration, the government, and the senate were located. The whole political life of ancient Rome took place right here.
As we descend from the Capitoline hill (Campidoglio) towards the forum, on our left side we can visit Cercere (prison) Mamertino. In this prison, St. Paul and St. Peter were imprisoned during their stay in Rome. For Christians, this is certainly a very evocative place. Here you can also see the imprint of the head in the wall of St. Peter, as well as the pillar to which the saints were tied. In addition, there is a spring of water here, which is said to have been used by St. Peter and Paul to baptize the prison guards.
Forum – Foro Romano
This is the main square of ancient Rome and was the center of public life. Anyone who wanted could come here, from walkers, vendors, political activists. There are even the remains of a stage/rostrum, from which people who wanted to express their opinion publicly spoke.
The backbone of the forum is the sacred street of Via Sacra. I have to admit that one needs a little imagination to imagine what this really looked like. Namely, there are a lot of remains on the Forum, but there are no well-preserved constructions. In addition to the holy road, Via Sacra, we can also see the remains of the Basilica, and here we will learn that the basilica in the time of ancient Rome did not mean what it does today. The basilica in the time of ancient Rome was simple – an indoor market!
It is very interesting to learn a little about Vestals as well. Here on the Forum, you will see the remains of a vestal temple, the Vesta priestesses. Their task was to maintain the eternal fire, the fire was not to be extinguished. If it were extinguished, they would be buried alive. Ugly fate.
Vestals were chosen as girls and did not live badly. They had large houses, with gardens, swimming pools, and so on, but they had an obligation that the fire in the temple should never be extinguished.
The spacious Via dei Fori Imperiali (the street of the imperial squares) separates the main Roman square (Foro Romano) from the imperial squares (Fori Imperiali). Each emperor wanted to add the stamp of his reign to Rome by upgrading the main square. And at the bottom of the street is the magnificent Colosseum.
The Colosseum could even be filled with water and could have simulations of battles at sea! And those who have not been to Rome know the Colosseum and have heard and seen it in the historical movies of gladiator fights.
Yes, cruel battles were fought among the gladiators at the Colosseum. There were also battles with beasts. Yes, a lot of blood was shed in the Colosseum. From this perspective, it is amazing that people wanted and loved to watch such spectacles.
The Colosseum was built to entertain the disgruntled population. “Bread and games” is a term from Rome, and that term is a comment by a chronicler of the time on the Colosseum. The Colosseum was built in the 1st century AD. It was started by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son, Emperor Titus.
Contrary to popular belief, Christians were not tortured in the Colosseum.
Next to the Colosseum is the best-preserved ancient Roman triumphal arch, the Arco di Costantino, or Constantine’s triumphal arch, from the 4th century. Between the Capitoline hill and the Colosseum, next to the Roman Forum, on a hill stands the Palatine. It was named after the palaces, as this was the richest quarter of ancient Rome.
Emperors lived here, as well as the highest and richest social class in Rome. On the Palatine hill too, you will have to let your imagination run wild for a while to imagine how magnificent and rich the residences of the inhabitants of this quarter must have been.
For the Forum, Capitol and Colosseum you need a ticket, which costs 12 euros and includes these three locations. It is best to buy a ticket online to avoid crowds and waiting in line, and the ticket is valid for two consecutive days.
Closeby is Circo Massimo, a large stadium where horse-drawn carriage races were held in ancient Rome. The horse racing scenes we see in Ben Hur’s historical movie used to take place right here.
A little further are the impressive Caracalla Baths. The baths were public baths, but much more than just a swimming pool. It was also a place for socializing, it had many facilities, a gym, reading rooms, saunas, but also very nice pools, porches, gardens. Caracalla’s baths are still very impressive today. In fact, they are the largest structures preserved from ancient Rome in Rome.
Only the Colosseum and the Pantheon are better preserved, but the Pantheon is much smaller. Concerts and other events are held here, and if you are in Rome when there are events at Terme di Caracalla, take advantage of it. The ambiance is truly impressive.
Aventino is a hill above Circo Massimo. It is absolutely worth climbing that hill for two things. First, this is where the famous keyhole is, through which St. Peter’s Basilica with its dome can be seen. It is the square of the Knights of Malta. At number 3, it’s the Priory of the Knights of Malta, you’ll already see quite a queue for that famous view. And another thing that is very interesting on the Aventine is in the church of St. Anselm, where every Sunday at 8 o’clock Mass is sung in Gregorian chant. Something unforgettable!
Beneath the Aventino hill is church Santa Maria in Cosmedin famous for the “mouth of truth”. You put your hand in its mouth and say a lie, it will chop it off.
The city of Rome is simply teeming with churches, and at every turn, you can see monks and nuns of various orders, but all Catholic. It is clear that Rome is the center of the Catholic denomination. You don’t need to be a believer at all to be enchanted by the beauty and richness of these churches. The works of art of the great artists of the Italian schools of painting, sculpture, and architecture are simply endless.
Let’s start with the church of St. Peter in Chains (in Vincoli), which is located near the Colosseum. Michelangelo made a statue of Moses that is known all over the world today, primarily for its “horns”. These “horns”, however, were meant to represent the rays of the sun. Moses is surrounded by Lea and Rachel, matriarchs from the time of Abraham. Just across from Moses we see the exposed chains with which St. Peter was bound.
Very close to the church of St. Peter in Chains is the church of St. Clement. Few people visit this church, but this church is a real historical treasure. Rome never ceases to surprise.
First of all, this is a church on three floors, and each of the floors is from a different time period. As soon as you enter the church, the so-called “Cosmatesque” pavement will catch your eye. Cosmati is an Italian family that specialized in making mosaics. The style is truly recognizable.
Here we have the whole floor in Cosmati mosaics! Then we go down to the lower floor of the church, and discover new surprises. First of all, here is the tomb of St. Cyril (not St. Methodius).
Saints Cyril and Methodius, Slavic brothers responsible for the spread of Christianity. That is why we have a memorial plaque of all Slavic countries. We go down another one level deeper both physically and historically and here we have new surprises in the structures and the preservation of those structures. There is one ancient Roman house, so we can imagine what one house looked like in ancient Rome. There is also a shrine to the god Mithras.
We are now on St. John Lateran Street, which leads us straight to one of the most important basilicas not only of Rome, but of Catholicism in general, St. John Lateran.
Toilets in Rome
When touring these four major Roman basilicas, be sure to take advantage of the fact that each has a toilet. The lack of toilets in Rome is so pronounced that this is a real problem for many tourists! Even McDonald’s isn’t exactly popular in Italy, so you don’t have it around to use it for a toilet either. Be sure to use the toilet whenever you have the opportunity. Opportunities for toilets in Rome are rare!
St. John Lateran
In addition to the magnificent Basilica of St. John Lateran, here we have of great interest the Lateran Palace, the baptistery, the holy stairs, Aurelius’ city walls, as well as the Church of the Holy Cross from Jerusalem. A very interesting neighborhood.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is one of the four papal basilicas in Rome, and it is technically in the Vatican City State. This is also the cathedral of Rome, and the Roman bishop is the Pope.
As soon as you enter the basilica, you will be blown away by how big and rich in art it is. The ceiling is stunning! We have already concluded that the ceilings in Roman churches are always very richly decorated. Dramatic splendor is how we could describe the Rococo style. The name of the style sounds nice, but it’s little known to me.
Here, in Rome, we find that style in this basilica, in the central nave, in the pillars. The apostles are made in the Rococo style. Each apostle holds in his hand what he is known for. Thus St. James holds a staff because he is the protector of pilgrims, St. Peter has a key, St. Andrew has a triangle because he is the protector of architects, and so on.
Above the altar are the most important relics in Rome, in golden statues: the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The cloister is very beautiful and, it is worth a visit. Entrance to the basilica is free, but the entrance to the cloister costs 3 euros. To me, the most beautiful detail is again the “cosmati” decorated pillars in the cloister. I really like that mosaic decorating technique.
Next to the Basilica of St. John Lateran is the Papal Palace. The Pope lived here until the great schism in the 14th century when the Popes moved to Avignon.
Upon the Pope’s return from Avignon, the Popes decided to live in the Vatican, and this palace no longer served its purpose. Today, this is a museum you can visit, but you must book a visit in advance. The sovereign state of the Vatican was agreed in this palace in 1929, and a valuable detail is precisely the book where that treaty was signed. There is also Mussolini’s original signature, as he was a signatory on behalf of the Italian Republic.
Worth visiting is the baptistery located at the back, and there is one of the 13 Roman obelisks. What is even more interesting is the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, across from the basilica. Here the faithful climb up on knees to the top of the church. These stairs are believed to be the stairs from Pilate’s court, these would be the stairs Jesus walked on.
The stairs are covered with wooden planks. When you get to the top of the stairs, you can see through the window a valuable icon depicting Christ. This important icon is said to have been painted by St. Luke but completed by an angel, not by St. Luke.
The Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem is an important church for Christians and thousands and thousands of pilgrims come here. It is located above the palace of Empress St. Helena, from the fourth century. Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine who allowed freedom of religion in the Roman Empire, brought from the Holy Land (Israel) many relics associated with Christ.
Many relics are housed in this church, especially those related to Christ’s Passion, including a piece of plaque with the inscription from the cross, two thorns from Christ’s crown, one nail, and what the church was named after – a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
All around we have very well preserved walls of Aurelius from the third century, and nearby we have a magnificent gate, the entrance to Rome – Porta Maggiore from the first century. These walls surrounded the whole of Rome, and everything that was outside the walls would be called that way: “outside the walls”.
The Santa Maria Maggiore basilica
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is at one end of Via Merulana, and the Basilica of St. Mary the Major is at the other end of that street. This is one of the four papal basilicas in Rome, and this basilica also belongs to the Vatican, not Italy.
This church is the first church dedicated to Our Lady, after the Council of Nice in the 5th century. After this church, churches throughout Christendom began to be named after Our Lady. But this one is the first, that’s why it’s called Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary the Major, the Highest).
Legend has it that Pope Liberius heard a voice in a dream to build a church in honor of Our Lady at a place where he would see in the morning that snow had fallen. However, it was August. In the morning, snow fell there, but only at the place where the church was to be built. That is why on August 5 still today we celebrate St. Mary of the Snows. Once a year, firefighters sprinkle artificial snow here, and once a year, rose petals are released from the roof of the basilica.
It looks like an Orthodox church because it is somehow all in gold. Still, it’s very impressive as soon as you step into it. Again, the ceiling is stunning, but in this church, you will be especially amazed by the mosaics in gold colors above the altar. The most important relic this church has is part of Christ’s cradle.
When you take the straight street from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to Rome’s main train station, Termini Station. A lot of shady people stay on this side of the station all day, but it is not dangerous to pass here during the day. At night, however, avoid this area.
In front of the Termini station, there is a large complex of Diocletian’s Baths. It is not possible to visit them from the inside, but from the outside, you can see them quite well.
Here is the Palazzo Massimo, one of the three parts of the Museo Nazionale Romano. If you have the time, it is definitely worth a visit. What was more interesting to me was the church of St. Mary of Victory, Santa Maria della Vittoria, because here is one of the most famous works of the great Bernini: the ecstasy of St. Teresa of Aquila.
I head down towards the Qirinale, the presidential palace, and think about how rich in art this city is. There is simply no end to the art. For example, here, next to the Church of St. Mary of the Victory, there is a magnificent Renaissance fountain, then the Church of St. Susanna, and a little further towards the Presidential Palace we have an interesting little intersection with a fountain on each corner.
A little lower we reach the Presidential Palace. I definitely recommend everyone to come to this lookout. The lookout in front of the entrance to the Quirinal is one of the most beautiful in Rome, and the city all the way to the Vatican can be seen very clearly.
In addition, here too there is one of those 13 obelisks in Rome.
Catacombs and Via Appia Antica
A little outside the city, there is an archeological park called “Via Appia Antica”. It is the best preserved ancient Roman road. It is truly impressive to see this paved road from ancient Rome. It led all the way to the town of Brindisi to the south, about 500 kilometers long. In addition to the road itself, there are a lot of ancient Roman monuments on both sides of the road, as well as cypresses and other trees on both sides of the road. In general, the whole park is deep in nature so there is a really wonderful atmosphere.
This is a completely pedestrian zone on weekends, but even when it’s not a weekend, there are very few vehicles, so you can always really enjoy it. On weekends a lot of Romans come here for a walk so it might be better to avoid the weekend. Bus number 118 brings you here. The stop to catch it is right next to the Colosseum, next to the entrance to the Palatine Park.
Before you reach the old Roman road Via Appia Antica, you pass three large catacomb complexes. St. Sebastian, St. Callista and St. Domitila. Visiting the catacombs is certainly an amazing experience. The catacombs were nothing else but cemeteries for Christians. Contrary to popular belief, Christians did not hide in catacombs. No one could be buried within the city walls of ancient Rome. That is why the catacombs are outside the town.
However, if you go to visit all three catacombs, it will be a little too much for you: everything, in the end, will turn out the same. Just visit one. My personal favorite are the catacombs of the Holy Callistus. The catacombs of St. Domitila are the largest. St. Sebastian’s ones are great too.
I would like to emphasize how beautiful the view of Rome is from the hill of Gianicolo, be sure to try to save some time to go to Gianicolo. It’s very simple, the climb starts along Via della Conciliazione, which leads to the Vatican. And then after observing Rome from Gianicolo, head down to the very beautiful district of Trastevere. At the Gianicolo lookout, you can buy coffee, ice cream, water, because there are mobile snack bars. Return then in the evening to this lookout, to watch the sunset over Rome.
The central statue is the great Italian military leader Garibaldi, and from it branch out much smaller statues of people, soldiers. They are called Garibaldini.
- Campo de Fiori is a real authentic Italian square, a great place to have a coffee or an evening aperitif:
- Trastevere is like a small town and town. That’s what it looks like, that’s the feeling. If you didn’t know you were in Rome, you might really think you’re in some other nice little Italian town. All the buildings in Rome are painted in pastel colors;
- St. Paul outside the walls (San Paolo fuori le Mura) is the fourth papal basilica in Rome, and if you are a Christian it will be interesting for you to visit it. You will need to go by subway, and the station is called San Paolo;
- Visiting the churches of the Christian order of the Jesuits will absolutely dazzle you with the splendor of those churches! They are located at the middle of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and the churches are Gesu ’, Chiesa Nova, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Sant’Andrea della Valle, Sant’Ignazio di Loyola all close to each other. Yet the most lavish of these churches is Gesu ’;
- try the world-famous Roman sauce “arrabbiata” in Rome. Arrabbiata means furious. In addition, artichokes, as well as boar dishes, are especially popular and typical of Rome;
- the church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, when the nuns practice singing with the organ. Unforgettable! Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of singers;
- take a walk through the Jewish ghetto, between Campo de Fiori and the Tiber;
- do you have extra days? Visit Hadrian’s Villa in nearby Tivoli, or the large ancient port city, full of the excellently preserved buildings of Ostia Antica;
- Domus Aurea, the extravagant residence of the extravagant Emperor Nero. Be sure to visit it if it is open, as it is more often closed to the public than open;
- visit the Terrazza delle Quadrige (top of the altar of the homeland), the view of the whole of Rome is just spectacular;
- EUR, a quarter as Mussolini envisioned to match European capitals. You will have an interesting walk through the architecture of that infamous period of Italy;
- The Palazzo Altemps Museum, as well as the Palazzo Massimo alle terme, are two museums that you should definitely visit if you have a little more time in Rome. These two museums are on my ranking of museums in Rome number 4 and 5. Museum number 1 are the inviolable Vatican Museums, museum number 2 are the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini), and museum number three is the Galleria Borghese;
- Tempietto, the hidden gem of Bramante, next to the Spanish Academy at Gianicolo hill. And the view from the lookout on Rome is beautiful!
- Castel Gandolfo is a great idea for a trip outside Rome as well. You will see where the Pope’s summer residence is. Beautiful little town, beautiful gardens, beautiful view of Lake Albano. And only 40 minutes by train from Termini station;
- San Lorenzo fuori le Mure, St. Lawrence outside the walls, another very attractive basilica. This is one of the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome, so it would be interesting to Christians. Other pilgrimage churches are, in addition to this, the four papal basilicas, as well as the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and the Church of St. Sebastian.