When in Rome…

I am definitely biased but, among all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited, Rome holds a special place as it is the place where I was born and spent the first 30 years of my life. It is such a complex place that more than a few books would be needed to describe it thoroughly. I will limit this post to my feelings for the place.

The official name of this site, which is shared with the Holy See, is “Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura.

Rome is a place that everyone should visit at least once in their life. It is an incredible mix of history and art, integrated in the urban environment of the modern city. Founded in 753 B.C. it went through several historic periods, from the Roman Republic to the Renaissance and beyond, via the early Christian era.

The historic centre is huge, when compared to historic centres of many other cities around the world. Actually the entire city is an archaeological site. The UNESCO site comprises only the area within the city walls, which is already very large, but outside of those walls an endless sequence of masterpieces of architecture and art has been resting for centuries.

The most iconic landmark of Rome: The Colosseum, before the recent cleaning and restoration, decorated with a very big Italian flag for Republic Day.

Ancient Rome

Through almost three thousand years of history, Rome has morphed itself in what it is now. Everywhere the eyes can be laid on there’s gonna be something, be it a Roman column, a statue, some painting, a nicely decorated detail of a private building, a fountain, an open window that shows the painted ceiling of a public office and so on. The list could be endless.

Colonna traiana
Trajan’s Column.
View from Vittoriano - Copia
View from Altare della Patria. The Colosseum is on the right, Trajan’s market and the tower of the Militia on the left.
Constantino's Arch and the Holy way
The Arch of Constantine and, on the right, the entrance to the Forum marked by the Arch of Titus.
Tito's Arch (detail)
Detail of the lower side of the Arch of Titus.


But, what I really love of Rome isn’t only the city centre, it’s what is around the city. Literally anywhere there are things yet to be discovered. Several years ago, even in my family’s vineyard, well outside the city, during some excavations for sewer maintenance, a few ancient rocks and bricks were found. The site was closed down and the investigation that followed determined that the objects were several centuries old. That was amazing.

However, there’s a downside. Public transport in Rome is quite bad. In the maze of narrow streets there’s no room for big buses and no one would ever even think of building elevated railways, therefore the best mean of transport would be underground. One would think that the network of subways should then be good, but the truth is that there are only three lines, of which the third is still incomplete and just recently opened, and they aren’t able to serve the city and all the travelers that use the subway every day. The problem is digging. Every time an excavation begins, new discoveries are made. Every single time, with understandable delays and increase in the costs. Adding to this, because of the lack of good public transport and the intimate love of Romans for their cars, traffic is a nightmare. Probably one of the worst in Italy, if not in Europe. This means that visitors should plan their time in Rome accordingly.

It’s not a good idea to rush through the treasures of the city, though. It’s a place that deserves time, especially if one wants to go off the beaten paths (and in Rome almost any path is well beaten).

Tempio di saturno
The remains of the Temple of Saturn, standing in the area of the Roman Forum.
Foro traiano
Some of the remaining columns of the Basilica Ulpia. The Altare della Patria can be seen in the background.
Foro Romano and Settimio Severo's Arch - Copia
The Roman Forum. On the left is the Arch of Septimius Severus.
Palazzo Massimo
National Roman Museum of Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Outside of the Historic Centre there are endless treasures

A great way to explore the surroundings of Rome is to walk or bike along the few kilometers that make up the ancient Via Appia (Appian Way). The road, partially closed to regular traffic, is still paved with the original stones that bear the marks of the thousands of carriages and chariots that travelled the road heading into the city from southern Italy.

Appia antica
The initial section of the Appian Way.
Appia antica (2)
Marks of the wheels of thousands of chariots are still visible on the stones.

The Appian way begins at Porta San Sebastiano, but it is open to regular traffic for 2.5 km before it turns into a pedestrian heaven of history for over 10 km where ancient stadiums, tombs, palaces and more can be seen.

Appia antica (3)
The pedestrian section of the Appian Way.
Villa dei quintili
The Villa of the Quintilii can be seen and accessed from the Appian Way.

Renaissance and Baroque Rome

But Rome is much more than ancient history and ruins. There are countless museums and every building in the city is a masterpiece of architecture. Many of the most representative artists of the Renaissance and Baroque art left their signatures in Rome with paintings, sculptures, buildings, churches, palaces, squares and much more. It’s a joy for the eyes. There’s nothing better than wandering around the city getting lost among its incredible art, while eating a delicious gelato or a slice of typical Roman style street pizza.

Trevi fountain
The famous Trevi fountain.
S.Ignazio da loyola
The astounding ceiling of the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola seems to project toward the open sky.
S. Pietro in vincoli
Michelangelo’s statue of a horned Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli.
The cathedral of S.Paolo fuori le mura
Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls.
Vittoriano (2)
Altare della Patria, erected in honour of the first king of unified Italy. It’s the biggest monument in Rome. Although completed only in 1925, its style clearly recalls the ancient Roman architecture.
The opening at the top of the Pantheon’s ceiling. The temple of all Gods, turned into a church.

Rome is more than art and history 

A peculiar area, that must be visited when in Rome, especially in the evening, is Trastevere. It keeps a feeling of the lives of the poor people in Rome centuries ago, despite it is now one of the main nightlife areas together with Campo de’ Fiori. It’s a maze of alleys paved with the typical square black stones that cover most of the city centre and surrounded by brown and yellowish buildings that look older than the rest in the city but still magnificent. Trastevere teems with bars, restaurants, wineries, gelato shops, tourists and locals who stay outside, crowding the squares chatting until late at night.

Piazza Trilussa
Trilussa Square, the usual meeting point before starting the night out.
The heart of Trastevere at sunset.
Campo de fiori
Campo de’ Fiori with the statue of Giordano Bruno. Another popular meeting point among locals and exchange students.
Ponte sisto
Ponte Sisto (Sisto bridge), crossing the river to reach Trastevere, at sunset.
The Golden Tevere
The gorgeous night view of the river Tiber and the dome of Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Cathedral in the background.

There would be so many more things to say about Rome but space and time are running out. I believe it’s better to leave it to the imagination of both those who haven’t been in Rome yet and to those who visited it and hopefully have good memories of this incredible place.

How long is long enough?

It’s always hard to tell how long is needed in a big city. I guess it depends on personal taste and preferences. I’ve been living in Rome for over 30 years and I don’t know all its secrets yet. I doubt I’ll ever know them all. However, in my opinion, for a place like Rome and its innumerable attractions, a first timer would need a few days, maybe 4 or 5 if limited only to the historic centre. If the plan is to visit also areas around the city such as Castelli Romani (Roman Castles), known for wine and food or Tivoli, which houses two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites I will talk about in a later post, more time is definitely needed. In any case don’t rush, enjoy the place slowly as Italians do, eat gelato, eat pizza, try local restaurants with authentic Roman cuisine and experience the Dolce Vita.

I’ve always wondered what goes through the minds of all those who see the Colosseum for the first time, wander through the Forum, get lost in the narrow streets and alleys of Trastevere, visit the countless churches, eat gelato in front of Trevi fountain. I’m sure it’s somehow similar to the feeling I get every time I go around the world and experience the pleasure and emotions of discovery. The pleasure and the emotions the world has never failed to transmit me.



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