This post is a continuation of my ongoing series documenting our time in Italy. This post is about our first full day in Rome. We had arrived the previous evening from Orvieto and visited the Borghese gallery immediately on arrival. ( I will write a post on the Borghese gallery later.)
We were very tired at the end of the Borghese gallery visit and we just crashed as soon as we hit the bed after a take away dinner consisting of mini pizzas, salad and a meat rich panini. We were staying in a wonderful little B&B called Di Rienzo Pantheon Palace which is in a small bylane just of the main street (Corso Vittorio Emanuelle) a stones throw from the Pantheon, in the mainly pedestrian part of Rome.Apart from the great room and good rates, the main advantage of staying in this part of Rome was that you are walking distance from most of the sites. (Walking distance for us means upto 3 km!)
As compared to Paris, Rome has a pathetic metro and the buses are always crowded and reputed to be a haven for pickpockets. On the flip side taxis are cheaper and were readily available at a taxi stand close to the hotel.( You can’t hail a taxi on the road in Rome, you have to go to the taxi stand to catch a taxi!) So when we didn’t walk we took the cab which was convenient and didn’t burn a big hole in the pocket. ( Budget travellers! Lest you forget)
We woke up refreshed early in the morning and got ready to go see one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. It was a dull overcast day but at least it wasnt pouring. (Always look at the bright side!) The better half wanted to see the Trevi fountain when it was relatively empty. So we decided to go there first before the tourist hordes descended on this famous landmark with their coins! We had a great map provided by the B&B owner Salvo but we still managed to get lost for a few minutes. We eventually reached the Trevi fountain albeit after a few course corrections to find it completely empty.
All photos I had seen of the Trevi Fountain till date included a sea of people in front of it, so it was quite a privilege to sit at the fountain alone and enjoy the view. We decided we would visit once at night if time permitted & proceeded to see another one of the crowded sites, the Spanish Steps.
The Spanish steps are just steps to the Spanish Embassy in Rome. But because it looks spectacular it has become a popular tourist site. I just wanted to see what the fuss was all about. As we reached the Spanish steps, it was heavily guarded and partly being refurbished. The steps themselves, even though worth a quick visit and not something that is a must do. Especially in a city that is packed with places to visit.
We had not had breakfast yet. Our breakfast at the Di Rienzo restaurant on the Pantheon square was included in the price of our room. So we doubled back to the Pantheon for our breakfast. The square was empty so I took some photos before going into the cafe. It wasn’t a very tasty breakfast as compared to the ones we had had so far on this trip, but we are not fussy eaters so we had our fill.
Tables being set up and the square being cleaned as the Pantheon gets ready for another crowded day
We then set out to see the Roman Forum and the Colosseum which for a history enthusiast like me were on the top of the must see list. As we walked from our hotel towards the Forum the first main square was the Piazza Venezia which holds the towering Victor Emmanuel Monument. This monument is a relatively recent addition to Rome and not particularly liked by the Romans who call it the “Typewriter”. It has a splendid viewing gallery on its Terrace but that would have to wait as I couldn’t wait to get to the Forum.
Thanks to Rick Steves we took the scenic route up Michelangelo’s staircase to Capitoline hill. Unlike the Spanish steps these were the steps you have to see in Rome. This square and stairs were designed by the great Michelangelo and are symmetrical, filled with statues making it pleasing to the eye.
We didn’t have time or the energy for the supposedly excellent Capitoline Museums ( More reason to visit Rome again some day!) and I wanted to revisit these squares at night when lit up. So, for now we just crossed the hill and went down to the other side where there is a small entrance to the Roman Forum for those with pre reserved tickets. ( I had booked tickets online – Very useful and time saving) So we just waltzed into the Forum without a minute of waiting in line!
For people not interested in history and the Roman civilisation the Forum is just a pile of rubble with some pillars standing. But for people with a keen sense of history and those with a vivid imagination, the Forum is where Ancient Rome comes alive. These are the streets where Julius Caesar walked all those centuries ago, Towering arches where victory processions after the numerous conquests were held along the Via Sacra, the main street of Ancient rome which still exists and is better than most of our modern roads! The huge pillars that show how big the temple of Saturn was. The temple dedicated to Julius Caesar & the huge arches of the remnants to the basilica of Constantine.The sheer scale and size of the Roman architecture makes you wonder how they managed to make such huge structures without modern machinery. Then you realise – they had slaves!
I was having the time of my life recreating these structures in my mind with huge pillars and arches topped by bronze roofs with people in togas walking these same streets centuries ago. ( Apart from history, reading a lot of Asterix comics in childhood helps!) All this while it was cloudy and threatening to rain. But thankfully it never did. We walked through the Forum and out at the exit near the Colosseum.
The Colosseum is the mascot of Rome. Everyone going to Rome has to go to the Colosseum (Some Indian tours just show you the exterior which is a shame!) and we were no different. Since we had tickets we skipped that line and just had to stand in a short line for security check before we entered the hallowed arena. Every visit to the Colosseum is regulated and you have to follow a particular path. We first visited the Upper galleries and took a circle around the arena before descending down to the arena level. A part of the wooden floor has been reconstructed to show how it looked like in its glory days. A level of underground tunnels where the gladiators & caged animals waited before being hoisted to the floor level in crank shaft elevators the shafts of which you can still see.
Most of the marble seats of the three tired stadium were cannibalised over the years to make newer structures. It is smaller than your modern day stadia but for the time and era the size is awe inspiring. We took a lap around the lower level too and stood at the place where the Emperor sat during the gladiatorial duels. From the lower arches we could see the Forum, Palatine Hill and the Arch of Constantine giving a nice sweeping view over the centre of ancient Rome.
We then moved out of the Colosseum. There are special tours which take you to the third level as well as the Subterranean tunnels but we didn’t have time for them. We then saw the Arch of Constantine up close. It is the largest of the Triumphal arches in Rome and the newest. (Its still over 1700 years old!) There is a recent trend in Italy of installing contemporary art in the vicinity of the ancient structures and there was one near the Arch. Is it good or bad? You be the judge.
In my excitement of visiting these structures I completely forgot about lunch. The better half gently reminded me about it. So we went a few blocks away from the tourist sites to the Monti neighbourhood to have lunch at a popular local cafe recommended by Rick Steves. I had an Oxtail stew and the better half had the meat less lasagna. We also had a excellent Tiramisu. Even though the food was excellent and value for money, it was a trying experience due to the ultra slow service. Italians love to take it easy!
With the hunger Gods satiated we moved on to a church close by which is famous for a Moses in Chains statue by Michelangelo. While we were climbing the steps a street musician playing on the steps of the church started playing old hindi songs on his accordion on seeing us.( He got his due for his efforts) It was strange hearing the familiar song on the steps of a Church in Rome. While the exterior of the Church is nothing much to speak about , the interior has apart from the famous statue of Moses, the chains with which St Peter was bound. The statue usually requires to be lit up using a 1 euro coin but since it was being cleaned we got to see it lit up for free!
After visiting the church we headed back to our hotel since it was almost sunset and we wanted to rest a little before we headed out to visit the lit up squares at night so we headed back to the B&B.
Although we needed to rest for some time each corner of this ancient city is interesting so we spent some time along Trajan’s Forum and Trajan Column. Taking some photos and just staring with open mouth at Trajan’s column carved from top to bottom like a scroll. It’s a structure no photo can do justice, but I still tried.
We then moved back across Piazza Venezia, but this time I didn’t ignore the Typewriter totally. It looked magnificent with the dramatic clouds and setting sun in the background.
We finally reached our B&B very tired and very satisfied with our days sightseeing. But we only had 2 full days in Rome so we went back out at night to see this beautiful town all lit up.
But that is topic for another post another time. This one is already too long for comfort, but with so many important sites there was no way I could have reduced it any further. Till we meet next time from the lit up streets and squares of Rome.