Rome

From Piazza to Piazza

Today we’re taking the metro to Flaminio and starting off our day at Piazza del Popolo, a circular square with three fountains. On the north side is a gate called the Porto del Popolo, once the beginning of Via Flaminia, an important ancient Roman road which led to the north of Italy. Piazza del Popolo would be the first thing that visitors, travelling from the north, would lay eyes on.

Things to do in Rome
Porto del Popolo
Things to do in Rome
Piazza del Popolo

Just looking at the piazza now, I reckon it would have been a grand sight, even back then, and one that would excite people into seeing more of the city. The piazza was used for public executions up until 1826, but, thankfully, these days it’s a much more happy and relaxed place and completely pedestrianised where people can come together to engage in more fun activities.

Depending on the story you choose to believe, Piazza del Popolo’s name is due the many poplar trees dotted around or it may have been named after the church of Santa Maria del Popolo which is adjacent to the main gate. The piazza is located at the top of three main streets, Via del Corso, Via del Babuino, and Via di Ripetta. Once called the Tridente, these three routes would have led to Rome’s main basilicas. The beginning of the tridente is marked by two churches, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto.

Things to do in Rome
Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto
Things to do in Rome
One of the streets that make up the Tridente

The three fountains in the piazza were all built by Giovanni Ceccarini in the 19th century. On opposite sides, are the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) and Fontana della Dea Roma (Fountain of the Goddess Rome) which depicts Dea Roma armed with her weapons with the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, in front. In the middle of the piazza is the Fontana dell’ Obelisco (Fountain of the Obelisk) which is actually four mini fountains with a lion on each plinth and the fountain, as a whole, surrounds the obelisk of pharaoh, Seti I which is one of the tallest obelisks in Rome.

 

Things to do in Rome
Fontana dell’ Obelisco (Fountain of the Obelisk)
Things to do in Rome
Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)
Things to do in Rome
Fontana della Dea Roma (Fountain of the Goddess Rome)

We walked through Porto del Popolo, onto the piazza, and stood watching a group of kids playing Sunday morning football. There were loads of people around, but there was no jostling to get a spot to see anything because there was plenty of room to take photographs and take a leisurely walk around the piazza.

Things to do in Rome
Sunday morning footie!

We left Piazza del Popolo and wondered up the steps to Pincio Gardens. We didn’t go into the gardens, but took a stroll along Viale della Trinita dei Monti towards the Trinita dei Monti church and the Spanish steps. The views across the rooftop of Rome were fabulous.

We arrived at the Spanish Steps, so named, not because they were built by a Spanish architect, but because the Spanish embassy is located at the bottom.

Things to do in Rome
Trinita dei Monti church

There are 135 steps leading down to Piazza di Spagna which were designed by architects Francisco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi and are adorned with planters of beautiful flowers all the way down.

Things to do in Rome
Piazza di Spagna

There were hundreds of people in the piazza and before we headed down into the throng of things, it was nice to stand at the top and look down on all the activity below.

Things to do in Rome
The Spanish Steps

At the bottom, is Fontana Della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Longboat) which is Baroque in design and created by Bernini’s father.

Things to do in Rome
Fountain of the Longboat

From there, we wandered through the piazza and found a cafe to sit and relax for a while over a coffee (wine!!!) before heading to the metro to go to the other side of the city and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is home to Giardini Nicola Calipari, a small garden which really comprises the whole piazza. Although there is a fountain and some ruins there, it isn’t as attractive as other gardens in Rome because it was a little run down and the grass was overgrown in parts.

However, there was a lively Hindu festival in full swing and the colours of the women’s saris together with the music added a touch of excitement in an otherwise drab space.

From the piazza we walked towards Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore and the grand domed basilica of the same name. We by-passed the impressive building and found a little restaurant tucked in a little cobbled alleyway. The weather wasn’t what you’d call warm, but it wasn’t cold enough that we had to sit inside, so still wrapped in scarves, we found a table and sat and watched the world go by as we enjoyed our lunch.

Things to do in Rome
Santa Maria Maggiore

We realized we weren’t that far from our hotel, so we took a slow walk back to Via Nazionale and stopped off for an afternoon tipple before we headed back to our hotel to get ready for our second to last night out in Rome.

Next time: Isola Tiberina

 

Back in Rome

We arrived back in Rome and decided we would go out for dinner in the city. Usually, we just ate near the hotel, but this evening we decided we were going to take the metro and find a restaurant near the Trevi Fountain.

We came out of the metro station onto Piazza Barberini, with its 17th century Baroque fountain, and down Via del Tritone, a less-touristy area of the city, with shops and restaurants, office buildings, and people going about their daily business. ,

Things to do in Rome
Piazza Barberini
Things to do in Rome
Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain)

We turned into a side street and found ourselves on a narrow, cobbled street with tall buildings on either side, much more atmospheric with plenty of restaurants to choose from, some with al fresco dining, and tourists making a bee-line for one of Rome’s most famous attractions. It was buzzing with activity. Sorry folks, no photographs! 🙁

As we walked along, we were approached by friendly staff, trying to attract customers into their restaurants, which all looked inviting with smells of delicious Italian food wafting into the street. It was difficult to choose, but we decided on one called Ristorante Taberna Patrizi e Plebei.

Things to do in Rome
Ristorante Taberna Patrizi e Plebei

We by-passed diners who were happily enjoying their evening meals. The atmosphere was electric with their lively chatter and the clinking of glasses or cutlery on plates. We descended stairs into the cellar which was decorated with paintings of historical figures on the walls and ceilings, columns with carved capitals at the top, plush seating and circular tables down the middle and on either side. It was a good choice because the salad, to start, followed by pizza, breaded chicken breast and roast veal was scrummy, the wine was full-bodied, the staff, friendly, and the decor, beautiful. The only thing we didn’t like was the bill at the end! 😉 But, what the hell, we were on holiday, so the expense was justified.

Things to do in Rome
Ristorante Taberna Patrizi e Plebei
Things to do in Rome
Ristorante Taberna Patrizi e Plebei

After we’d finished, we walked further along Via del Lavatore to Piazza di Trevi and on the left is Chiesa Rettoria Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi, a lovely Baroque church which pales in comparison to the Trevi fountain. But, I still found it worthy of a photograph.

Things to do in Rome
Chiesa Rettoria Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a or Saints Vincent and Anastasius at Trevi

It sure is a sight to behold when you come to the end of the street, not only is the Trevi fountain huge, incredibly detailed and very striking, it’s also built onto a palace!!  As you do! 😉 Most definitely in Rome you do! 😉

Palazzo Poli is the backdrop for this majestic fountain with Corinthian columns and triumphal arch built onto the facade.

Things to do in Rome
The Trevi Fountain

The theme is the “Taming of the Waters” which tells the story of Oceanus taming a herd of sea horses. The use of strategically placed lighting creates a wonderful vision of light and shadows on the rock and in the crystal clear water.

Things to do in Rome
The Trevi Fountain

It’s the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous across the world. As with the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain is one thing that visitor’s to Rome have on their list of things to see, us included, but, boy, I didn’t expect to see so many people! On the first day, after we’d been to the Vatican, we walked to see this impressive work of art and there were so many people there then, it was difficult to get photographs and just sit and enjoy the view. And this evening was no different, I think the best time to see it would be really early in the morning, or, failing that, rent a room right on Piazza di Trevi! I think that would be a tad expensive, but imagine the view from your balcony while you’re having breakfast! Next time, maybe! Despite the hordes of people, we managed to get a spot close to the fountain, so we could throw a coin in, which is supposed to guarantee your return to Rome. 😉

Apparently, over €3,000 is thrown in each day and, during 2016, €1.4 m was collected and it’s used to help the poorer people of Rome. Unfortunately, people have been known to steal the money before it’s been collected which is, of course, illegal. I don’t really know how anyone could even begin to attempt it, there are security guards all over the place!

Things to do in Rome
The Trevi Fountain

These photos aren’t the best quality, my phone is rubbish when it comes to taking photos at night, but I think you can still see the magnificence of this opulent fountain. I know it’s cheating a bit, but I bought a postcard because I wanted an image without hundreds of people. And what a picture, don’t you agree?!

Things to do in Rome
The Trevi Fountain postcard!!

Next Time: Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Spagna and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

 

 

 

 

Florence

We left Rome on the Friday morning, after buying train tickets from the most unhelpful, unfriendly person. I really think she is in the wrong job to be serving customers. A smile is all it takes! Undeterred, we had a while to wait, so we had coffee and watched people hurrying through the station from where we sat, upstairs in the cafe.

The train ride was lovely, travelling through the Italian countryside into the rolling green pastures and hills of Tuscany, which we never saw much of, as we all dozed off, all this sightseeing is tiring! Before long we arrived in Florence, the capital city of the Tuscan region and brimming with Renaissance art, grand buildings and monuments, and some wonderful streets that are just fantastic to explore.

We’d booked a hotel at Hotel Anna’s and, after a short walk to the hotel, we arrived to find that there was no reception and a flight of stairs leading up to the 4th floor and the hotel. I started to climb the stairs with my mum following, already in despair because of the pain in her hip. Luckily, a man from another hotel in the same building had spotted us, and seeing my mum was struggling, called us back and told us there was a room available on the ground floor. We couldn’t thank him enough and we checked in to our triple room, which was full of character, large and airy with antique furniture, a huge bathroom with sunken bath, and the walls painted a bright blue.

Things to do in Rome
Brightly-coloured kitchen at Hotel Azzi
Things to do in Rome
Views of the historic centre from Hotel Azzi’s rooftop terrace

We dumped our bags, and went out to explore our new surroundings. Florence is a city with narrow streets, many of which are limited traffic zones, so it’s a great place for walking around safely. The city is also said to be one of the most beautiful in the world and it’s not hard to understand why.

There are so many side streets that you can explore and the historic part of the city isn’t big enough to get lost. We walked along Via Faenza and at the end, around the corner, was the most amazing sight I think I might have ever seen.

Things to do in Rome
Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)

Santa Maria del Fiore or the Duomo. A striking domed cathedral whose marble pastel-coloured panels glimmer in the sunshine. The cathedral can be seen from miles away. You’ve also got the Campanile and the Baptistry to admire and they are just as stunning.

Things to do in Rome
The Duomo with the Baptistry and Campanile on either side

The facade of the cathedral is ornately decorated with carvings and mosaics and high above, in between the spectacular rose windows, are twelve statues of the Apostles.

Not only that, almost reaching the skies, is the largest dome in the world which, if you’re brave enough to go up there, boasts views that will take your breath away. Views aside, the cathedral alone will make you gasp in astonishment! I guarantee it 🙂

Things to do in Rome
Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)

We sat in the shadows the Duomo and ate lunch and, afterwards, we continued on our exploration to Piazza della Signoria, a huge square dominated by the Romanesque-style Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi with its arches under which statues depicting scenes from mythology are displayed.

Things to do in Rome
Piazza della Signoria
Things to do in Rome
Palazzo Vecchio
Things to do in Rome
Loggia dei Lanzi

You’ll also see the statues of David by Michelangelo and Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli.

Things to do in Rome
David by Michelangelo
Things to do in Rome
Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli

If you walk passed Palazzo Vecchio, you’ll see the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery, in the corner. We didn’t venture into the gallery, the courtyard was doing a fine job of being an outdoor gallery in its own right. A rectangular-shaped space with columns and arches and other architecturally pleasing elements, as well as statues of famous painters, architects and other historical figures.  Florence was turning out to be no less amazing than Rome and we’d only been there for two hours.

Things to do in Rome
Uffizi Gallery courtyard
Things to do in Rome
Galileo Galilei and Pier Antonio Micheli

We found ourselves at the River Arno and gazing out over the water to Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). This Medieval stone bridge doesn’t have statues, it has a variety of jewellers, art and souvenir shops on either side, once a common sight on the bridges of Italy.

We left the river and walked slowly back towards the city, stopped for coffee (wine!) and went back to the hotel for a rest before going out for dinner at Cornelius Trattoria Pizzeria, a cute restaurant that we’d spotted earlier in the day, with fabulous Impressionist-style paintings on the walls. I don’t think we had a bad meal all throughout our trip and this place didn’t disappoint either. We left there and had our obligatory “one-for-the-road” drink before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Things to do in Rome
Lungarno degli Archibusieri

The following morning, after breakfast, we went for a last wander around the market to buy souvenirs and ate lunch on the street, always a winner in my book, there’s something about al fresco dining, I just love it.

Things to do in Rome
Mercato di San Lorenzo
Things to do in Rome
Al fresco dining

We were only in Florence for one night, so our time was limited, but what we did see was fantastic, it was much more relaxed and it made a pleasant change from the tumult of Rome.

Next up: We’re back in Rome and exploring the city some more 🙂

 

 

The Roman Forum

From the Colosseum, the Roman Forum is seconds away, so I walked towards the entrance only to be met by a really long queue. The ticket for the Colosseum includes the Roman Forum, but by this time it was late morning and the crowds had started to arrive. I noticed a pathway to my left where a lot of people were walking, so thinking that there might be another entrance, I followed. But, it only led to a dead-end, with no second entrance! So, I back-tracked and joined the end of the line and, thankfully, It didn’t take that long to get in.

Things to do in Rome
Arch of Titus

The Roman Forum is chock-a-block with ancient ruins of important buildings that were once the part of everyday life in Rome. Most of the city’s important events would be held there and, it seems, that every important person had their own statue or monument dedicated to them.

It’s a huge piece of land which includes not only the forum itself, but the Palantine Hill too, where you can see the remains of the imperial palace. I never made it as far as that, I ran out of time, but I did venture up the hill, I just didn’t cover it all.

Things to do in Rome
The Palantine Hill

The area is just beautiful, you have the mysterious ruins, which could tell a thousand tales, and the green grassy areas dotted with bright yellow flowers, umbrella pines, cypress and olive trees, and the blooming pinks and purples of shrubs give the forum an added air of calm and tranquility.

Things to do in Rome
The Roman Forum
Things to do in Rome
Purple Wisteria

There were so many people, as always in these kind of places, but what was nice about the forum was that it was large enough to be able to find a quiet spot for uninterrupted views.

I spent over an hour just wandering around amidst the ruins. From the Palantine Hill, you get splendid views looking out over Rome.

Things to do in Rome
Someone stopped by to check me out!
Things to do in Rome
St Peter’s Basilica in the distance

Back down in the forum, I walked along Via Sacra, once used for triumphal processions, in the shadows of statues and temples, it really is like a step back in time.

Things to do in Rome
Via Sacra
Things to do in Rome
Via Sacra

It started to rain, but that didn’t worry me, I just carried on taking loads of photographs, until my camera decided to pack up, I had forgotten to recharge the battery! I still managed to capture quite a few shots though and as I made my way out of the forum towards the Vittorio Emanuele II monument to meet mum and dad, I thought how lucky I was to be able to experience a fascinating piece of history.

Things to do in Rome
Basilica of Maxentius
Things to do in Rome
Statues of the Vestal Virgins
Things to do in Rome
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Things to do in Rome
Temple of Vesta
Things to do in Rome
Temple of Castor and Pollux

As I approached the monument, I was greeted by my parents, who had been waiting on the steps in the rain. We went in search of food and shared a lovely pizza and bottle of wine. We started the week with just a glass or two, but two days in and we were ordering bottles! Living so far away, I miss out on being sociable with my folks, so it was just wonderful to share this time with them.

Tip: Book online and arrive early to avoid the queues. The ticket for the Colosseum is valid for 2 days and includes the Roman Forum. This is the website I used to buy tickets.

We’re off to Florence next 🙂

 

The Colosseum

Only the second day in Rome and it felt like we’d done so much already. Today we’re off to the Colosseum, a huge oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city. Emperor Vespasian started the massive feat in 72 AD, but it was Titus who completed the job in 80 AD with Domitian making modifications around 81-96 AD. Although modified, it’s still the largest amphitheatre ever to have been built.

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

In its heyday, from classical times right up to the 6th century, the Colosseum saw between 50,000-80,000 spectators come to cheer on spectacular shows such as sea battles and reenactments of dramas, and the slightly more gruesome gladiator contests, animal hunts, and executions.

 

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

Since then, the structure has been destroyed by earthquakes, and robbers have helped themselves to the stone, but it’s still the one thing that most people think about when they think about Rome. Throughout the ages the Colosseum has been used in a variety of ways from housing and workshops to a cemetery and castle, but these days it’s one of the most visited attractions in the city.

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

One interesting thing I learned, post visit, is that the Colosseum is the symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment. In the evening, the illuminated amphitheatre changes from white to gold whenever someone’s sentence is commuted or a city abolishes the death penalty anywhere in the world.

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum
Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

There are three stories with tiered seating, the higher seats were for the poorest of people while the emperors and elite class would have ring-side seats, at the north and south ends, for the best views over the arena. Underneath the arena is the hypogeum, which means underground, and that’s where the slaves and animals were kept.

As we did with the Vatican City, we’d bought tickets in advance, but when we arrived we were instantly accosted by ticket touts. I think five separate people asked us if we wanted tickets before we even got to the entrance. One guy told us that our tickets wouldn’t allow us to access the arena, which was probably true, but as we had already upgraded tickets the day before, my dad resoundingly replied “We’ll take our chances mate!”

The way in was much more relaxed than the Vatican and, after I’d picked up my audio guide, we were greeted by another amazing sight in front of us. The audio guide was useful and there were designated points where you can stop and listen, and the audio tells you what you’re looking at. But, I kept getting them mixed up, so I’d be at point five listening to point six. It didn’t appear to be on silent either, so when I played it, even with headphones, everyone else could hear it. Technology and I are sometimes not a good mix, so I gave up. In any case, I was so busy trying to work the damn thing, I forgot to look around!

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

We walked around the lower and upper levels looking at the ruins, trying to imagine what life would have been like back then. Where the upper classes would have sat, the roar of the crowd, the massacres of men and animals. We only have TV series and movies to give us an idea of how things were, but I imagine the atmosphere would have been electric, albeit the events slightly distasteful.

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum
Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

We didn’t spend as long here as we’d done at the Vatican, so once we had gone to the gift shop to buy a book and some postcards, and looked at the views of the Forum and the Arch of Constantine, we left and walked a short distance to have coffee and cake. On the way, we came across a beggar who appeared to have no legs. However, as we walked passed him and looked back, we noticed he was kneeling on the step with his feet resting on the ground behind. Our initial pity turned to amusement at his duplicitous attempt to trick people into feeling sorry for him and parting with their money! I wonder how much money he actually received! He was in such an uncomfortable position he would have been aching all over by the end of the day.

Things to do in Rome
Views of the Forum and the Arch of Constantine

Afterwards, I parted company with my mum and dad and wandered over to the Roman Forum. My parents had already been to the forum, so we planned to meet two hours later at the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, also known as the wedding cake because of its two-tiers, white marble, and its quadrigae on top. It’s not the most appealing building, but it can be seen towering above the rooftops from almost anywhere.

Things to do in Rome
Vittorio Emanuele II Monument aka The Wedding Cake

Tip: There are Roman soldiers around the Colosseum (and other attractions across the city) who are friendly enough when they ask if you want to have a photograph taken with them. That’s fine as long as you don’t mind paying for the privilege, something they fail to mention up front.

Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum

Next up; The Roman Forum

 

 

Piazza Navona

We found ourselves in Piazza Navona, a lovely little square full of life with street artists, selling their paintings, imposing churches and palaces, and inviting cafes and restaurants all around. It didn’t take us long to choose a restaurant with a ring-side view of everything that was going on.

Things to do in Rome
Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is an oval-shaped square which was once the site of the Stadium of Domitian, a popular venue where games and competitions were held in the 1st century AD.

Things to do in Rome
Piazza Navona
Things to do in Rome
Piazza Navona

The Italian architects loved a good fountain, and in the middle and at either end of Piazza Navona, there are three. The one in the middle is my favourite, just because it’s so elaborate and there’s always a good story behind it. It’s the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The four rivers are the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata.

Things to do in Rome
Fountain of the Four Rivers
Things to do in Rome
Fountain of the Four Rivers

If you look at the statue of the Rio de la Plata, it appears that he is shielding this eyes from something. The story goes that he can’t bear to look at the church of St Agnese, built by Francesco Borromini, for fear that it will come tumbling down on him. Borromini was a rival of Bernini’s, but rivalry aside, Bernini built this fountain way before the church, so make what you will of the legend. The fountain is topped off with a towering Egyptian obelisk. There is a lot more to this fountain, lots of smaller sculptures and figurines, and if you look on the internet it’s fascinating the way Bernini (and others) told stories through their work. When I go anywhere I usually have my guidebook to hand, to give me information about what I’m looking at, but I enjoyed just being in the here and now with my parents.

Things to do in Rome
Rio de la Plata
Things to do in Rome
Church of St Agnese

At either end of the piazza is the Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) and Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) both by Giancomo della Porta. 

Things to do in Rome
Fountain of Neptune
Things to do in Rome
Moor Fountain: Photo Credit: Commons Wikimedia

We ordered a selection of meats, cheese, olives and bread, all washed down by a glass of wine or two. It was just perfect sitting there watching the world go by, in the shadows of the grandiose Baroque architecture. Such a small place but big on atmosphere and architectural creations.

Things to do in Rome
Piazza Navona
Things to do in Rome
Piazza Navona

After our delicious lunch, we took a slow walk through the square to find a taxi, only to be approached by a man selling handmade wooden fruit bowls. He complimented my dad, saying how lucky he was to have two beautiful women on his arms, we laughed along as my dad put him right by saying yes, this is my wife and my daughter! Unperturbed, he proceeded to shake hands with us and in our palms he deposited a bracelet, how nice! But, realising that he wasn’t going to get a sale from us, snatched the bracelets back and walked off to find his next victim. Honestly, his attitude changed very quickly from being all smiles and friendly banter, to surly and almost aggressive. I can imagine how he must have felt with people constantly saying no! I’ve been in sales before, so I know how he feels 🙂 but I was always gracious.

We made it back to our digs, had our first evening out (this was still only our first day in Rome) and an early night because we were up early again for our visit to the Colosseum.

 

St Peter’s Basilica

Our guide left us outside St Peter’s Basilica and before going inside, we stopped to gaze over St Peter’s Square, designed by Gian Lorenz Bernini. Striking in its own right, the square is surrounded by Tuscan colonnades with 140 statues of various saints on top. The structure was built in two arcs on either side of the square alluding to embrace all into the arms of Mother Church.

Covering an area of 5.7 acres, St Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world and, architecturally speaking, the most renowned piece of Renaissance work of its time. It’s said to be the resting place of St Peter and there are many popes buried in the vaults below.

Things to do in Rome
St Peter’s Basilica
Things to do in Rome
St Peter’s Basilica

The pope oversees ceremonies which sees between 15,000-80,000 people visit the basilica and, in fact, there had been an Easter celebration before we arrived because the square was still filled with empty seats.

Things to do in Rome
Imagine the square filled up with hundreds of devotees!

The facade has huge Corinthian columns and statues of the apostles, but look further skywards and you’ll see 13 statues on top of the building representing Jesus and 11 of his apostles, and John the Baptist.

Once through the huge doors, you’ll find yourself in the narthex or portico, beautifully decorated with a carved ceiling and columns on either side. At either end there are statues of Charlemagne by Agostino Cornacchini and Constantine the Great by Bernini. You’ll see three large doors, with decorated panels, the Door of the Dead, so named because it was used as the exit for funeral processions, the Filarete Door, a Renaissance bronze door, and the Holy Door which is sealed with cement and only opened during holy years.

Things to do in Rome
Grand entrance
Things to do in Rome
Charlemagne
Things to do in Rome
The Narthex
Things to do in Rome
The Holy Door by Vico Consorti
Things to do in Rome
The Filarete Door by Antonio Averulino a.k.a. Filarete
Things to do in Rome
The Door of the Dead by Giacomo Manzù

If that’s not enough, inside the basilica is absolutely jaw-dropping! Not only is it enormous with high ceilings, which will make you feel about two feet tall, but every square inch of it is ornately decorated with art and statues, literally, everywhere. The colourful stuccoed walls and ceilings are just out of this world!

In the nave, there are two cherubs holding a water basin, which from a distance appear to be of normal size, but once you get along side them, you realise they are two metres high.

Things to do in Rome
Cherubs with water basin

As you walk down the aisle, on either side there are chapels made of marble, stucco, gilt, sculptures and mosaics.

Things to do in Rome
One of the chapels along the aisle

And at the end of the aisle is Bernini’s baldachin, said to be the largest piece of bronze in the world, with its unusual twisted columns, sheltering the altar. Above, is the inside of Michelangelo’s dome, just as stunning inside as it is outside.

Like the Vatican museums, it’s almost too much for you to take everything in.

It really was a spectacular place to visit and our day wasn’t over yet. Back outside, we walked slowly over the square, with nothing to do but admire the colonnades and statues. We continued down Via della Conciliazione and, with the view of the basilica and Michelangelo’s dazzling dome in the distance, we stopped for a well-deserved rest over a cup of coffee.

Things to do in Rome
View of St Peter’s Basilica from Via della Conciliazione

By this time, we were getting a little peckish, so we continued our walk and found ourselves outside Castel Sant Angelo. With river views of the Tiber and two bridges spanning it, we stopped again in amazement. These weren’t your normal, run of the mill, bridges, oh no, not in Rome! These were the Ponte Sant Angelo, made of marble with five arches and lined with statues of angels.

Things to do in Rome
Castel Sant’Angelo
Things to do in Rome
Ponte Sant’Angelo

The Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II has three arches and winged statues at either end. Such a treat when you see them. It’s one marvelous sight after another here.

Things to do in Rome
Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II

We walked over the bridge, in the shadows of the magnificent sculptures, and followed our map through the city until we found one of Rome’s many picturesque squares- Piazza Navona.

 

 

First Day in Rome – The Vatican City

Well, what an absolute blast my first day in Rome turned out to be, my parents and I visited The Vatican City, an independent state within Rome which hardly needs any introduction.

Things to do in Rome
The Vatican City

After a quick metro ride, we arrived around 9.30 a.m only to be accosted by a ticket tout asking if we wanted to buy entrance tickets. We smugly replied that we didn’t because we already had some and flashed them in front of his face. He looked them over and told us that we could go through all the museums and end up in the Sistine Chapel, but if we wanted to go into St Peter’s Basilica we’d have to retrace our steps and join the queue for the basilica outside. We didn’t really want to do that, especially as my lovely mum was struggling to walk as it was, it would have been torture for her to walk all the way back and stand in the long queue.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to do any of that because we ended up right outside the basilica anyway, but we didn’t know that at the time. Reluctantly, we gave in to the ticket man’s suggestion of upgrading our tickets. An additional €21 each on top of the €17 I’d already paid. This was turning out to be an expensive day out so far, but we were at the Vatican and it’s not something you see every day.

When we met our guide, Eugene, he gave us a brief introduction about what the tour would entail and then we made our way to the entrance. He guided us through the museums and gave us a running commentary as we went. Some of the statues and paintings were worthy of finding out a little more about them and it would have been nice to linger and know who the statue depicted or who the painter was, but there was no time to really take it all in. Having said that, it was good to have a guide if only to learn a little about what we saw.

Let’s begin the tour…

The first place we went was the Cortila della Pinacoteca, a beautiful courtyard with views of the basilica’s silver-blue dome dominating the skyline.

Things to do in Rome
Cortile della Pinacoteca
Things to do in Rome
Cortile della Pinacoteca

Then onto the Cortile della Pigna named after the 4 metre-high pine cone, moved here in 1608. There’s also a large bust of Caesar Augustus, and Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sphere within a Sphere.”

Next, the Chiaramonti Museum, named after Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti (1800-1823) is a collection of over 1,000 ancient sculptures including Heracles with his son Telephos.

Things to do in Rome
Heracles with his son Telephos

During the 19th century, Napoleon ordered the Papal States to hand over this collection to France. Later, a sculptor called Antonio Canova, with some help, managed to bring them all back. The museum has been arranged to show the 3 sister arts, sculpture, architecture and painting, in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Next, was the Braccio Nuovo or New Wing which is considered to be one of the most important examples of neo-classical architecture in Rome. The hall is lined with statues of emperors and Roman copies of Greek statues, as well as busts depicting famous people from classical times. It is an impressive collection and even the floor is stunning, made from marble slabs with original Roman mosaics.

I loved all of the statues, but my favourite was “The Nile” which was dedicated to the Egyptian goddesses, Isis and Serapis. Egypt is represented by the Sphinx, on the left, and surrounding the man there are 16 children which depict the cubits of water the Nile rises from flooding every year.

Things to do in Rome
The Nile

The Pio Clementino Museums contain several large halls of Greek and Roman sculptures, including the Hall of Busts and the Round Hall which was built based on the same design as the Pantheon.

In the Round Hall, there are niches all around with huge statues and a red porphyry basin in the middle, which would have been a magnificent centre-piece in one of Rome’s public squares long ago.

Outside, the Octagonal Court was the very first place that the collections of classical statues were placed and some of the statues including the Laocoōn and the Belvedere Apollo have been standing in their original positions since the 16th century.

Things to do in Rome
The Laocoōn
Things to do in Rome
The Belvedere Apollo

The Hall of the Muses has statues of the muses, Apollo, Athena and Hermes to name but a few, as well as the Belvedere Torso, a marble sculpture which has delighted artisans for centuries. It’s thought to represent Ajax, a Greek hero who is in the throes of suicide.

Things to do in Rome
The Belvedere Torso

Look up and marvel at the frescoed ceiling, by Tommaso Conca, a superbly detailed creation of Apollo and the Muses.

Things to do in Rome
Apollo and the Muses fresco by Tommaso Conca

Honestly, whether you look up or down or to each side, it’s almost too much for your eyes and mind to comprehend everything.

Moving on through the Gallery of Tapestries, a long corridor with huge wall-coverings with stories from the life of Jesus.

As we passed The Resurrection of Christ, our guide told us to walk slowly along and not to take our eyes off Jesus’ eyes. They appear to be watching only you and it looks like he is turning his head to follow you! Alas, it is but a clever trick by the artist! 🙂

Another piece of artistic genius is how the ceilings were painted. As we walked along, we thought that they were sculptures, but in actual fact, they were paintings created to look like that, a brilliant use of shadowing and colours.

Things to do in Rome
Artistic brilliance!

In the next hall was the Gallery of Geographical Maps, a series of colourfully painted maps of Italy.

Things to do in Rome
The Gallery of Geographical Maps
Things to do in Rome
The Gallery of Geographical Maps

The frescoes themselves are beautiful, but don’t forget to look up at the exquisite ceiling with paintings and carvings amidst a sea of golds, greens and reds. It’ll take your breath away a little bit!

The room just prior to the Sistine Chapel was the Room of the Immaculate Conception, covered floor to ceiling with impressive frescoes depicting religious scenes of the dogma of immaculate conception made by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

Things to do in Rome
The Room of the Immaculate Conception

And one more room, the dome of which is just incredible. Imagine the painstaking work done by the artist to create such a spectacular piece of work.

Things to do in Rome
Apartment of San Pio V

At last, we reached the Sistine Chapel which nowadays is used for the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. It’s famous for its frescoes on the walls and ceilings which were painted by a number of talented 15th century artists, one of the most famous being Michelangelo who was responsible for The Last Judgement on the altar wall, and the ceiling, on which he painted episodes from the book of Genesis.

And in the words of one man, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” — Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 23 August 1787. No truer words have ever been spoken! 🙂

The chapel is stunningly beautiful, but unfortunately no photographs are allowed, but I sneakily took one of the ceiling. I apologise for the blurriness, but I had to be quick!

Things to do in Rome
Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel

Our guide told us that the security guards would not take kindly to anyone taking photographs, so I was a bit nervous to do it. The security guards dominated the chapel, making sure everyone kept moving, so, again there was no time to enjoy the fabulously detailed and brilliant art work by these painters. You’re not even supposed to speak, but try keeping a lot of people silent at any one time. The chattering would become louder and louder, only to be met with a resounding “ssssSSSHHHHH” from the guards, which shut everyone up for a few seconds.

A screen, or transenna, made from marble, divides the chapel in two and in the middle was a wooden door through which we were shepherded. Here we managed to find a seat and just sit and gaze all around. This was the first part of the tour where we could really take a breath and take in everything we were seeing.

We walked through many halls and saw hundreds of exhibits that day, but there was a lot more that we didn’t see. It really was an astonishing place to visit and a fabulous first day in Rome.

The guide left us outside St Peter’s Basilica, and that’s where we’ll visit next!

Tip: Book tickets beforehand because the queues are crazy long and it will take a long time to get in.

To book tickets and for more information about the Vatican museums visit their website

Map of the Vatican Museums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Treasure Trove of Roman Memories

One of my dreams came true last month, I went to Italy. I studied mythology in the Greek and Roman worlds as part of my degree and ever since then I have been fascinated by the history of these two places and have really wanted to visit Rome. So, not only did I get there to celebrate my birthday, but I got to spend a wonderful week with my mum and dad. I took so many photographs and I can’t wait to share them with you, but, for now, here are some memories we made as we enjoyed our week together.

Things to do in Rome
St Peter’s Basilica
Things to do in Rome
Mum with St Peter’s Basilica in the background
Things to do in Rome
Castel Sant’Angelo
Things to do in Rome
Piazza Navonna
Things to do in Rome
The Colosseum
Things to do in Rome
In Florence
Things to do in Rome
Using the Metro
Things to do in Rome
Walking from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza di Spagna
Things to do in Rome
Piazza Di Spagna
Things to do in Rome
In front of Santa Maria Maggiore
Things to do in Rome
Having a rest on Via Nazionale
Things to do in Rome
Ristorante Taberna Patrizi e Plebei
Ponte Palatino
Things to do in Rome
Walking from Isola Tiberina to Piazza Campo di Fiori
Things to do in Rome
Piazza Rotunda
Things to do in Rome
Mum and Dad
Things to do in Rome
Off to our local

We really had such a fabulous and fun time together and this was a trip I will never forget. My mum and dad have been to Rome a couple of times before, but they said they saw so much more this time. I’m not surprised, we must have walked a good 5-7 km most days and my poor mum didn’t give up, even though she was in pain from walking so far. I can’t thank mum and dad enough for making my birthday so very special.