*Warning – Photo Heavy Post*
This post was turning into a bit of a beast, so I’ve split it into two posts. Stay tuned for Part Two where I’ll detail the cost of entry to the major sites, transportation, and other bits of information that will be helpful if you’re planning a similar trip in the future.
I’ve never been an early bird, but this trip did turn me into one for the duration of the stay. We could thank jet lag for it initially, but we actually found it to be beneficial overall and maintained an earlier waking time throughout the trip.
You’re probably familiar with the old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Well, we modified it a little this trip and it became a bit of a running joke:
When in Rome, take the stairs.
So many stairs. My calves have never looked better.
We didn’t realize this would be the case when we stopped at our first site of the trip, the Spanish Steps. It was somewhat early (7:45?), so save for a handful of Italians heading on their way to work, there was no one around.
If you’ve ever toured the major sites in Rome, you’ll know that there’s almost NEVER no one at a tourist site. It was nice to be able to wander, read and snap pictures without tripping over crowds of people. Unfortunately the Fontana bella Barcaccia (fountain) in the Piazza at the base of the steps and the Trinita dei Monti (church) at the top of the stairs were both undergoing reconstructive work at the time.
Ditto for the Trevi Fountain. I was extremely disappointed, as it’s my favourite site the city. I suppose if it helps the fountain survive longer it’s for the best. I still chucked a coin in the little replacement fountain in hopes that I’ll come back again one day. May as well, the last coin worked ;)
The Boy has an architecture background, so the Pantheon was his #1 must see of the trip.
We both thoroughly geeked out over the interior. Concrete is one of those materials that has been discovered, forgotten and rediscovered across the millennia. The Romans were one of the groups to discover concrete and really test the limits of its construction potential. The domed roof of the structure contains three different mixes of concrete, getting progressively lighter towards the top of the dome. The coffers in the roof also lighten the structure. I know you probably didn’t come here to learn about building materials, but it’s seriously awe inspiring. The Romans had discovered and been working with concrete for less than 300 years, and yet this structure has survived over 2000 years of war and weather. What on earth are we doing wrong with our modern buildings? You’d think we would have learned a thing or two by now.
The Vatican city is one of those places that you can’t actually avoid the crowds. The museum doesn’t open to the public until 9:00am, and tourists have lined up around the block by then. You could join a tour to get in earlier, but you’ll be paying extra for it and you won’t be able to wander at your leisure. You still want to hit this place early though. Grab yourself a pastry, a latte, a book and line up at least an hour before it opens. You’ll have the benefit of smaller crowds first thing, as well as avoiding the Mediterranean heat bouncing off the city wall while you wait in line.
One big thing to remember: DON’T RUSH STRAIGHT TO THE SISTINE CHAPEL! The Sistine Chapel is the exit from the Vatican Museum, and there is no way back into the museum once you enter the chapel. Wander, enjoy the sculptures and paintings, and take your time. There’s more than one painted ceiling to enjoy!
After exiting the museum we opted to go up to the top of St. Peter’s Dome. This is the other reason why you want to do this earlier in the day: it gets hot in the dome’s staircase! It’s definitely worth it though. Viewing Rome from the top of St. Peter’s Dome is like viewing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
To be honest none of our photos captured the scale and grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica. Even the photos on Google don’t do it justice. I really can’t explain it; you just have to see it.
One of the things we noticed fairly quickly while we were there was the prevalence of Egyptian hieroglyphics throughout the city, especially on obelisks like the one in St. Peter’s Square, as well as this one in Piazza Navona. It makes sense when you consider that Egypt was once a Roman province, and that Roman building materials were sometimes imported from Egypt.
There I go again talking about building materials…
We bought our tickets for the Colosseum from a ticket stand beside the Roman Forum the day before we intended to use it so that we could bypass the lines first thing in the morning. It’s a two day ticket that is good for one entry to the Colosseum AND one entry to the Roman Forum. The first day was technically the day we purchased the ticket, but we had planned to do the Colosseum and the Roman Forum on the same day anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.
The Colosseum reminds me vaguely of a giant open air hockey arena (how’s that for Canadian?). It’s massive, and you can just imagine the roar of the crowds during its heyday, as violent as it was.
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum are right beside each other, making it a quick transition between sites.
Looking from the road it’s hard to get a good sense of the scale of the site. It’s massive! It’s like another (ruined) city in and of itself. There’s placards all along the walking paths explaining different buildings and their historical significance, which helps paint a better picture of the ruins.
I really enjoyed how they planted blue flowers in the old fountains to give you a better idea of what they would have looked like when they were functioning. There were some gorgeous courtyards in and around the Palatine Hill.
Some of the structures were original and still functional, while others survived only because they had been incorporated into other buildings centuries ago instead of being torn down.
The Altare della Patria drew heavy criticism during its construction due to the fact that it destroyed and was built on top of a good portion of the ancient Capitoline Hill. While technically built in honour of the first king of Italy, the interior is used as a war monument, with the tomb of an unknown WWI soldier guarded out front.
We felt bad for the soldiers. It was bloody hot outside, and they stand at attention in full sun during the middle of the day.
I’m going to leave it at this for now. Somehow my 1/2 beast of a post still turned out to be a full beast. Hopefully you enjoyed the pictures! Stay tuned for Part Two :)