“When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls–the World.”
Rome, the capital of Italy, is said to have been founded by Romulus on the Palentine Hill along the river Tiber. This was the humble foundation of the first metropolis of the world. It was my birthday that day when we visited Rome (or Roma as it is called in Italian).
Planning an itinerary to Rome, when one has just 48 hours to stay in the city is next to an impossible task. One has to be very careful in picking one’s selected sights in the city which is nothing short of an open air museum. With more than 2000 years of history spanning the Roman Empire to the current ages, it is indeed one can find the truth Rome, Non Basta una Vita (Rome, a Lifetime is not Enough).
After careful consideration, I came up with my list of 7 places on my list, and made sure to be not distracted by the many many sights which Rome had to offer. So here is what we did, hope the tips help you plan your trip. We traveled by Public transport and reduced our waiting time by making prior bookings. We also relied heavily on Triposo Rome travel guide app on our iPhone, this was a free offline guide with map.
- Vatican Museums – Our first stop, the essential thing to do here was to make an online booking in advance. Vatican Museums are considered one of the most important museums in the world, with works from Michelangelo, Rapheal and da Vinci donning its floors. This is also the place where Sistine Chapel is situated, which alone makes it worth a visit. The Chapel is the place where the Papal conclave happens to elect the new Pope. It also dons the famous paintings of the fall of Man and the Last judgement by Michelangelo. I also loved the Hall of Maps in the Museum, which was was quite grandiose and different from any other place I have been to. The Sistine chapel is right at the end of the visit, a ‘short’ visit to the museum will consume atleast 2 hours.
- St. Peters Square and St. Peters Basilica – A few hundred meters from the Vatican Museums is the St. Peters Square facing the St. Peters Basilica, yes Vatican is the smallest country in the world with over 800 citizens only. The piazza itself with the obelisk as its center-piece is simply enthralling. The obelisk was moved from Egypt, and is probably 4400 years old. It is a massive square, and the Basilica is probably the biggest in the world, it is definitely the most important church for Catholics. St. Peters Basilica is said to contain the remains of St. Peters, and has the works from Bernini and Michelangelo, the church itself is massive and one feels like a tiny being in the compound. A trip to the Piazza and Basilica would take upwards of an hour, depending on the crowd. One should avoid Wednesdays and Sundays.
- Spanish Steps – If you are a Hepburn or Gregory Peck fan, you’d recognize the Spanish steps instantly from the Roman Holiday. A staircase of over 138 steps leading to Trinita dei Monti church. An interesting thing to note is that the surrounding area of the church and the church itself are a part of the French territory! At the left side base of the steps is the house where John Keats died, it is now a museum dedicated to the works of Mary Shelly (of Frankenstein) and Keats. The base of the steps open to the beautiful Barcaccia fountain by Bernini. We were there at sunset and the ripe golden sun rays made it a worthwhile sight. A stroll to the nearby lanes is suggested if you wish to shop at the various high-end branded outlets.
- Colosseum – Just as a trip to Paris is incomplete without visiting the Eiffel, a trip to Rome without visiting the Colosseum cannot be justified. Relying again on online booking of entry tickets to Colosseum, we hardly had to wait and avoided the long queues. The ticket itself is valid for two days from the indicated date and is also valid for entry to Palatine Hill and the Forum.
We took an audio/video guide for support and toured this massive amphitheater of the Gladiatorial games which enticed and entertained upto 50k ancient Romans. It is indeed difficult to comprehend the pleasure derived in such violent forms of entertainment. The edifice itself is a marvel of Roman architecture, the arches still have labeled entrance numbers, the sheer scale of the stadium is mindboggling given that the building is almost 2000 years old.
- Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum – The Palatine Hill is significant, for this is where Rome was founded by Romulus, midst the ruins one must remember it being the cradle of the Roman civilization. We, however, focused on the Forum, which is a collection of ruins of what once was the central square of ancient Rome. This was originally a marketplace, and a centre of roman public life. We did spend some time identifying the various arches, temple of Saturn, Rostra and so on. So much history can hardly be found in any other place. Rostra itself was the place where Marc Antony delivered the funeral speech for Julius Caesar. The same Forum is also the birthplace of the first Senate. From the Forums we exited towards the National Monument of Vittorio Emanuele. Our next step was The Pantheon
- The Pantheon – Reaching Pantheon was not as easy, we did end up getting confused and made a pit stop to try out the delicious Italian gelato, many stores make their own and its worth a try. Pantheon is a small building, would not require more than 30 minutes to visit. However, one must understand that this single structure, which was once a pagan temple and later a church has inspired numerous buildings all across with worth with its architecture. The US Capitol building, Jefferson Memorial, Austrian Parliament are a few examples of designs based on the Pantheon. It is also interesting to note that the Pantheon has no windows, and an oculus in the dome illuminates it, also interesting is the draining system which take care of rain water falling inside the building.
- Piazza Navona – Crossing over a few narrow lanes from the Pantheon is Piazza Navona. A majestic square with the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi as its center-piece. The fountain illustrates the four rivers of the continents, namely the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube and the Plate. In the center is an Egyptian obelisk, but this one was not imported from Egypt. It is indeed interesting to note that while Ganges is regarded as a female figure in Hindu mythology, it is depicted as a male figure in the fountain. Surrounding this fountain are a series of shops with local artists selling their beautiful artwork, one could also get one’s caricature made or just enjoy the street performers entertaining the crowd. It might interest you that the Fountain of four rivers was featured in Angels and Demons, as being on the path of illumination.
- Trevi Fountain – Our final stop in the trip, for the last evening in Rome, was the Trevi fountain. Many people complain that it is a crowded location, indeed they are right. But Trevi has its own moments, the grandiose structures and the sheer scale of the fountain made us spend upto an hour there. Sitting on the steps and attempting to understand the sculpture, we awaited nightfall to view the artificially-lit elements, and it did not disappoint us. Trevi fountain is the celebration of the aqua duct which brought fresh water to Rome, it depicts the discovery of the source of water 13 kms from Rome. Coin throwing in the Trevi fountain is a old tradition, it is said that if one throws a coin in Trevi and makes a wish to return to Rome, one shall return someday. In fact, upto 3000 EUR worth of coins are thrown in the fountain each day, which is used to support local Rome markets for the needy. Yes, I also threw in a coin 😉
Moving around in Rome?
As our hotel was a bit far from the city, we relied on local trains to reach Piazza del Popolo. From there on, Metro was our main support.
- Buying tickets is easy, one could either use the vending machines or buy tickets from Tabac shops.
- Same tickets are valid in bus, trams and metro.
- We used the bus only once, frankly found it very difficult to comprehend the bus charts. If you can do it, then moving around is very easy.
- Many sights in the Old town are very near, and do not need transport. Example; Forum, Palatine Hill and Colosseum are right next to each other. Similarly, Pantheon, Trevi and Piazza Navona are easily walk-able.
Rome had so much on the plate for us, apart from the above sights, a simple walk across the lanes was a feast to the eyes. This was the cradle of the world in the past, the home to the mightiest empire, 2 days could not do justice to it. But hey! we threw in the coins at Trevi, and we hope to return again someday.
Till then, Ciao Roma.