Rome

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I am pitifully poorly travelled in Italy; my trip to the gorgeous Amalfi Coast a couple of years ago was my first foray into this beautiful country, and it left me desperate for more. As such, two weeks ago, I boarded a plane to Rome in order to finally see the sights that had impressed upon my imagination the romance of Italy since childhood; the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, the lavish churches, the narrow winding lanes, the endless, surprising piazzas, the hilltop vistas…I couldn’t wait!

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As the wonderfully named Leonardo rapid train from the airport neared the city, I had my first gasp of amazement as I realised we were passing through the almost two thousand year old Roman walls, around which are clustered the distinctive stone pine trees that so conjure up visions of the Italian countryside for me. On exiting the station, we hopped on a tour bus to enable us to quickly see the main sights and gather our bearings for the days ahead, and every turn along the streets had my eyes growing wide in awe. The beautiful streets lined with ochre buildings that were centuries old, and decorated with gorgeous carvings gave way onto squares with lavish churches, Roman temples, Roman monuments and gushing fountains. Medieval houses nestle amidst Roman ruins; modern day shops and restaurants stand side by side with buildings their thousand year old ancestors would still recognise. History lives in Rome in a way I have never seen it truly live elsewhere; the Romans’ footprints are everywhere, their cultures, traditions, every day habits, still in plain view. In London most evidence of this time has long been buried, but in Rome the colossal, indestructible edifices have been left standing, in varying conditions, a living testament to their belief that their Empire would stand forever.

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I saw so much beauty that I thought I was at risk of developing Stendhal syndrome; there really was too much to take in. I was lucky to be visiting with a friend who not only reads Latin, but is an expert in Ancient Rome, so I was wonderfully well informed as we trotted through the streets of the city. In terms of favourite sights, there are simply too many to mention; of course the Colosseum was utterly amazing, as was St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, and Trojan’s Column was a real wonder for me too, as I had seen the cast of it in the Cast Courts at the V&A hundreds of times when working there, and always longed to see it in the flesh. The Pantheon is truly incredible when you realise that the very modern looking ceiling and perfectly preserved decorations are all original and 2000 years old, and walking around the Forum was a pure delight. However, many of my truly most memorable moments were the unexpected ones; stumbling through the dark doorway of a church to find a masterpiece of Renaissance painting and sculptures by Michelangelo; wandering through an alleyway and finding a piazza where one side was held up by Roman columns; visiting the Palazzo Barberini after finding it down a side street and discovering the famous Caravaggio painting of Judith and Holofernes in one of its spectacular rooms; walking through a park and finding the gargantuan remains of the biggest bathhouse ever built; watching the sunset over the Rome skyline from the terrace of our hilltop hotel. Rome is a breathtaking, magical place that has to be seen to be believed. I have visited a lot of cities in my time, and it is the most beautiful I have ever seen – even more so than my beloved London, I will admit! If you haven’t been, you must go. And if you have – where should I go next time?

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16 comments

  1. Rome is one of my favourite places in all the world, but I need to go back there – there are so many places yet to see. Every church seems to contain a hidden treasure, and as you have discovered, there are wonders to behold around every corner. I enjoyed sitting on the Spanish Steps and people-watching. Thanks for reviving my memories🙂

  2. I adore Rome and have since the first time I saw it in 1976. I’ll be back there in October…this time I’m doing a walking tour (self-guided) of all the churches Michelangelo contributed something to. And I highly recommend two things: the Borghese gallery and Luigi Barzini’s book, The Italians. Written in the 50s but it lives forever. Also — and I can’t remember the name of the church — but the Bernini sculpture of St. Teresa in Ecstasy … and THANKS for a post that brought wonderful things to mind on a really very tough day here in the US.

  3. Sounds amazing, Rachel. I have so many friends who love Rome and return again and again that I can’t wait to visit one day. I wasn’t able to fit in it when I was in Italy last year but hopefully I’ll get there before too long. From everything I’ve heard, it sounds like a city that cannot be visited too many times – you always have more to see and always want to go back.

  4. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Rome twice — for a couple of days in 2014 and again in 2015 for a whole week. My favorite discovery was the Caracalla Baths, which we stumbled upon after visiting the Circus Maximus — which is really just a big oval track, a little disappointing. I also recommend the Borghese Gallery and gardens; also, the museums on the Palatine Hill — one of them has an amazing view of the Roman Forum down below. I’d love to go back, so much I still haven’t seen and so many places I’d like to see again!

    I’ve also visited Florence and Venice. Both are wonderful but completely different. Florence has amazing Renaissance art, and the Venetian canals are just stunning. I’m really hoping to go back to Italy in the next couple of years. Thanks for your post and all the lovely memories!

  5. Having discovered some wonderful places in London thanks to your recommendations (and after having taken lots of notes here for my Paris visit this year) I would be glad to finally “pay you back” with some ideas for Rome.
    If I could see just one thing in the whole city, it would be Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” in the Borghese Gallery. It’s just incredible to see it in reality, to stand in front of this opaque marble which seems to live. Keep in mind that you need to reserve tickets in advance! That’s new and was a little annoying – delayed our visit for one day. To get there, I recommend the tiny funny electric bus 116, going from (a strange corner on) Campo di Fiori to the Villa Borghese right through the most famous parts of Rome and through narrow streets where no other vehicle can drive. It’s perfect sightseeing, but for the same price as normal bus transportation.
    If you are in the mood for a stroll and want to see lots of panoramic views, start on the Capitolio on Piazzale Caffarelli. It offers a splendid view of all the towers and cupolas. Go down to the Foro Boario and don’t miss S. Giorgio in Velabro, a strange, dark, extremely old (and musty-smelling) church in which I sensed antiquitiy and being in a very, very old place more than anywhere in Rome. The nearby Arco di Giano also made a lasting impression. It’s nothing special, so to say, but it seemed to me almost a mystic place. Then continue to climb onto Aventino and enjoy the Giardino degli Aranci and another breathtaking view of the whole city. And once you are up there, you could visit Santa Sabina, a very beautiful church right next to the park.
    And did you see S. Andrea della Valle (where Puccini’s “Tosca” starts)? The most golden church on earth, possibly… Like a dream of paradise. Our hotel was around the corner, and we used to have dinner at the pizzeria to the right from the church if you stand in front of it. Tables were outside, the sky changed to an ever darker blue and tiny bats flew around the church. We were there five times during our two-week stay, and the waiters greeted us more enthusiastically every time we appeared, with lots of hugging, calling other waiters to see who’s here again and more touching and hugging. (Sounds rather appalling, doesn’t it? Maybe they don’t do it if you come just once. For us. it was fun!)
    Oh, and I forgot Ostia Antica. You need a full day for this, as the former port of Rome is a vast excavation site. Like Pompeii. It wouldn’t be wrong to bring a sandwich and fruit (there is just one cafe there, and the place is really large). You can find water, though, like anywhere in Rome. We always had empty little bottles with us to fill at the many fountains. The great thing about Ostia Antica: it was nearly empty. We had it almost to ourselves, and the quiet, lonely atmosphere added a special magic.
    I do hope you can go back soon! And please stay as long as you can – there is so incredibly much to see!

  6. One of my favourite cities – I love the way you can just walk along a boring road and suddenly there are some ruins, not hidden behind entrance gates etc but just part of the city landscape

  7. I would go there only in the company of Andrew Graham-Dixon and his chum Giorgio Locatelli. That way,Andrew would describe and explain the art, and darling Giorgio would cook something simple and delicious.

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