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Rome, Italy - top things to see and do
Rome - The Eternal City
Rome is one of those cities that seems familiar to us as we have all seen it on many a movie or TV program. However, nothing can replace actually being there and soaking up the atmosphere and history. There is a marvel to discover around every corner.
Vatican City is a city within a city; there are lots of wonderful things to see within its environs. If you have time, a visit to the Vatican museums will certainly pass several hours and afford you a chance to see the Sistine Chapel and its magnificant ceiling.
Tip: Take one of the guided tours that can be booked ahead of time online and you will jump the long lines for entry.
Be sure to go inside the Basilica. St Peter's is one of the largest churches in the world. (It is undoubtably the largest Catholic church, but the Winner's Church in Nigeria is the largest church building in the world and can hold 50,000 people inside it). Inside St Peter's you will find the Pieta and many other wonderful works of art.
Another great thing to do (if you are fit and able) is to climb to the top of the dome of St Peter's. It is a long climb on winding and inclined staircases but absolutely worth it. The view from the top is magnificant.
Beneath the Basilica are the Papal tombs. Several of the Popes are interred here and there is always calm, reverence and reflection inside. The tomb of Pope John Paul II is particularly popular with visitors and has now been moved up to within the Basilica itself.
Finally, watch out for the Swiss guards in their colorful uniforms designed by Leonardo himself!
Connected to the Vatican through a (now not so) secret passageway called the Pasetto, is Castel Sant'Angelo. You can clearly see this raised passageway along the route. The Castle was one of the settings for the book Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) and is very interesting to visit. You ascend via a spiral ramp to the upper rooms and battlements.
There is a wonderful little cafe at the top and it is a lovely place to have a snack and soak in the view.
The Mamertine Prison
The Mamertine Prison is a little gem, located between the Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum. The Mamertine Prison is an ancient prison dating from 7th century BC. Famously and according to legend, St Peter was held here. It is also said that St Paul was held here. The prison is small and consists of two rooms one over the other. The lower room is dark, gloomy and oppressive. Access to this room was originally only through a hole in the floor of the upper room.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is located between the Capitol and the Colosseum. This is the place where ancient Romans gathered for their daily business; they met, conducted their politics, socialized and shopped. Today, the Forum is and extensive area of ruins but you can still see the Temples, Basilicas and Arches. It is nice to ramble through the Forum on the way to the Colosseum. You can close your eyes and imagine Julius Ceasar addressing the crowd.... "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears........"
Who hasn't seen a photo of this epitomy of Rome? I'm afraid it is looking a little tattered now and definitely showing its age! This is probably the most visited attraction in Rome and you can take a guided tour or hire a small hand-held device to listen to a recorded tour as you move around. The floor area was originally covered with sand (the word 'arena' means sand) and gladiators would fight each other and wild animals to the roar of cheering crowds. Although the Colesseum does not have a roof, there was originally sail-type rigging encircling the top - these 'sails' could be extended out if the sun became too hot and the Romans used ex-sailors to operate this.
You may have heard that Rome is built on seven hills, well, the Palatine Hill is one of these. In fact it is the center-most hill. It looks down on the Forum and Colesseum on one side and the Circus Maximus on the other. It is said that Romulus and Remus were found in a cave on this hill but the she-wolf who nurtured them. The hill has been excavated and shows that people have lived there since around 1000 BC. Many emperors and affluent Romans lived on the Palatine Hill in beautiful villas. It is a very peaceful place to spend an hour or two away from the crowds below.
The Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods. It is a large circular building with a portico of granite columns. The dome in the Pantheon is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. At the center of the dome, there is a circular opening called the oculus. The oculus and the door in the portico are the only sources of natural light. When it rains, yes the rain does fall in through the oculus, however there are drains in the floor to allow the water to drain away. The dome width is 142 ft (for comparison, the dome in the US Capital building in Washington is only 96 ft wide) and the oculus is 27 ft wide. The Pantheon is currently a Roman Catholic church.
Piazza Navona is probably the most famous of Rome's piazzas. It is an oblong shape and contains three large fountains. The central fountain is called the Fountain of the Four Rivers and this is the largest of the three. The fountain shows four figures, each representing a river from a different continent - the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges and the Rio della Plata - and is capped with a large obelisk. The fountain was designed by Bernini. The other two fountains are the Neptune fountain and the Moor fountain. Also of note in the piazza is the baroque Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. The facade was designed by Borromini (Bernini's main rival). In the evenings, the piazza is very lively with street performers and restaurants.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are the longest and widest staircase in Europe. They rise from the Piazza di Spagna and were named after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See which is located in the Piazza. At the foot of the steps in the Piazza di Spagna, there is a boat-shaped fountain called the Barcaccia which was built by Pietro Bernini (the father of the famous sculptor). In May each year, the steps are decorated with pots of pink azaleas.
The Trevi Fountain
One thing Rome is not short of is fountains, and the 18th century baroque Trevi Fountain is the most famous of these. The fountain nestles amidst the narrow surrounding streets and is a lovely oasis where you will find many people eat lunch. At night it is illuminated and worth a visit. The tradition is to throw a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain - this will apparently ensure that you will return to Rome again.