In the previous article I explained that the first journey through the streets of Rome was aimed at providing enough material to highlight a one or two-day exploratory session depending on the speed with which the traveler felt comfortable at processing the sites. Now keeping to the same efficiency of steps taken and the need to catch the highlights along the way, this article will give a plentiful, but not an exhaustive list of great sites and experiences waiting to be seen.
The last article left off near the city center for the sightseeing portion of the day and I recommended that Trastevere a quaint neighborhood across the Tiber as a perfect place to catch a great night scene of wine bars and restaurants, gelaterias, bars and artesian type shops. Hopefully after a good dinner in Rome (of which there are many) you’ve been able to rest you feet, get some sleep and head out for another day of perusing the wonders of classical civilization.
Today the journey begins in the heart of the historic center. This is a great place to start because no matter where you are staying in the city these are the most famous sites to see and public transit arrives from every corner of town. The well known and easily recognizable Piazza Venetia is a magnificent square which is crowned by a pearl white marble monolith known as the altar of the fatherland. One might be confused for a moment, isn’t this the site of ancient ruins and centuries old market stalls, temples and streets? Indeed all this and more lies just in the shadow of this impressive structure, but the Vittorio Emanuele monument as it is known, bears witness to the enduring spirit of Italian art and architecture that perdures even until modern times. The monument houses a museum, provides a great panorama of Rome from up top and is a great testament to national pride and creative prowess.
Just behind this giant structure one can see vast open spaces which are several floors below the modern roadway. You are now in the heart of the ancient forum. The roadway covers the ancient path known as the Via Sacra that served as the way of Triumph, an ancient main street where parades were held for emperors and victors, kings and dignitaries. One of the most impressive aspects of this whole section is to see how ornate, founded and active this ancient metropolitan was. The ruins are well preserved with open sections of streets and floors readily visible. Even when roofs and walls are gone many of their graceful columns remain standing as fixed as the pride of the people who built them. A journey to this spot is really to understand the words of Poe when he said: “The grandeur that was Rome.”
The modern street level gives quite an advantage to the traveler who may not have the time nor the desire to explore the entire forum by foot. One can see from both sides of the road the majority of the excavations while should one have a greater time and interest to spare, one could easily spend a whole day amidst the ruins for a fee of 12 Euros, with any number of tours or audio guides for an additional fee of 4 Euros. As the roadway continues one can see the ancient monument which is one of Rome’s most recognizable symbols looming in the distance: the Colosseum. This structure is as impressive today as it must have been centuries ago for those arriving to Rome from across the empire and beyond. The structure not only bears witness to the great engineering feats of the Romans, but also shows that the human passion for sport, games and entertainment is something that has accompanied us always. The exterior is by far the most well preserved part of the building; many renovations are ongoing on the interior section. Those for whom a visit to Rome would not be complete without a venture inside might wish to buy the twelve Euro ticket or for an even better deal get the joint forum and Colosseum entrance ticket for 13.50 Euros valid for two days. In all honesty from a visitor who has been inside and out of both the forum and coliseum, there is not much more to be gained by exploring these great wonders up close and for a fee. It remains understandable that some might wish to get inside, but realistically there is so much more in the city both ancient and modern that one could spend time visiting.
One great tip for those wishing to explore the wonders of Rome up close and underground lies just a few meters behind the Colosseum. Simply head East on Via Labicana for 500 meters until you reach Via Labicana 95 and Piazza San Clemente. Here you have reached the impressive church of San Clemente. The current beauty of the upper church with its famous mosaics is a well known site in Rome. The definite mystery and treasure about this place is actually in what lies beneath. For a small entrance fee in the gift shop one can embark on a self guided tour through the levels of construction excavated beneath the modern church. This spot is a great way to experience an underground excavation without long lines or being forced into a pre arranged tour. The first level down one can experience the outline of an early Christian basilica with statues and artwork to see. The level beneath this takes one right into an ancient Roman street, a perfectly preserved temple of a Mithratic cult and storerooms of an ancient Roman home which s kept quite cool by an underground spring. The San Clemente Scavi tour is one of the more fascinating and accessible in Rome.
At this point no doubt lunch time is approaching. The best option is to head back towards Piazza Venzia where the day began and to move from there towards the famous Trevi fountain. It is not recommended to eat right by the fountain nor in Piazza Venezia itself as the tourst traps are abundant. The five minute walk from Piazza Venezia to the Trevi fountain will take one through the neighborhood of the Piazza Santi Apostoli or Via della Pilotta side streets. These side streets are great options for restaurants and one will find an abundance of great local places to eat for a reasonable price.
The Trevi fountain like all Roman monuments is not just famous, but it is impressive. The fountain is a three dimensional scene of marble, an impression of the power of water is plain with the roaring torrent that fills the fountain every second and capturing of a scene from the sea creates an atmosphere of excitement and romance for many. The Trevi fountain can often be quite crowded, but it is definitely an essential part of the Roman experience and it is easily accessible from the heart of the city.
Ever faithful to our efficient path around Rome the next stop is not more than fifteen minutes walk from the Trevi fountain. The next stop is Via Condotti. This street is an impressive sight even for those who might not be moved by the world of fashion. It is a street of one stop shopping, all the big names, many of which are Italian, have big shops along this bustling street. One can see the delight for the avid designer label fans as they enter this wonderland of fashion. For the frugal shopper this is certainly not the place to buy, but a wonderful place to look on and dream. The beauty of this street is that amidst all these shops a distant hill looms with a grandiose set of stairs crowned by an exceptional looking church, it is the familiar sight of Piazza di Spagna.
Piazza di Spagna is so named because it is home to a magnificent palace which serves as the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. This is a picturesque square which is always abuzz with activity. Visitors, vendors, shops and tours are constantly passing through. The huge stairs which ascend from a fountain at the center of the square up to the scenic church on a hill called Trinita dei Monti are long and wide. This makes for a great resting spot, at least the hundreds of tourists resting their weary legs seem to think so. The stairs give a great view of the whole square, Via Condotti and beyond. Piazza di Spagna is a great spot for photo opportunities in the square itself as well as from atop the staircase where one can get some unobstructed views and snapshots of the Rome skyline.
Just heading north from Piazza di Spagna five minutes one can reach Piazza del Popolo. This is one of the more spacious squares in all of Rome. Many concerts and festivals with fireworks are held here throughout the year. The square has some unique identifiers such as its central colonnade which supports an Egyptian obelisk. There are twin churches on one end of the square which symmetrically mirror each other for a fascinating effect. The back wall that cuts into the hillside has some impressive figures and scenes of mythology represented. The Santa Maria del Popolo church is particularly noteworthy as it has a few Caravaggio paintings of its own on display year round.
Since you have made it thus far, don’t stop now! You’re in the right place to take a load off and relax. Just adjacent to Piazza del Populo is the famed Villa Borghese. This park and series of rustic villas sits atop a large hill overlooking Rome yet it is only steps from putting you right back in the city. The park is adorned with classical monuments, fountains, tree lined roads and many place to sit and relax in the shade. For a respite in nature, there no place so peaceful and green and as close to the city as this park is. The park has many refreshment stands, vendors and cycling rentals. This is a great place to exercise if you are staying nearby and above all it is served by various methods of public transport which fan out all over the city.
So our final tour of one or two days has come to a close. By no means have I covered all the possibilities one could see and do. If one has more time or a desire to explore beyond there are any number of daytrips possible from the Termini, Tiburtina or San Pietro train stations among others. Further explorations in the city itself would definitely include the major basilicas of St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul outside the walls, all gigantic churches filled with art and treasures worth exploring. Rome was not built in a day as the saying goes, and so one shouldn’t be disappointed if you don’t see it all in one or even several days. The experience of Rome is one that never fails to impress and it is one that will hopefully make your return a top priority.