One of the most romantic, ancient cities in the world is Rome. The centuries-old history of Rome dates back to the time it was nothing more but a small village, back in the 9th Century, B.C. Initially, Rome’s rulers were kings. Eventually, the Romans decided to take over their government and rule themselves. Their first Roman Emperor, was the infamous Julius Caesar. Rome is not only the capital of Italy, but also the home of the Vatican, the center of Catholicism.
However, the Vatican, is not simply a building, as many may believe. The Vatican, the home of the Pope, is located inside of “The Vatican City.” Vatican city is a walled city within Rome. There are various televised broadcasts, especially during the holidays, of the Pope sending a holiday message to the world, from St. Peters Basilica, which is centuries old. But much of Vatican City is closed off to the public. Two of the main entrances that are open to the public lead to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. Populated with approximately 1000 residents, Vatican City, home of the Vatican is a state within a city. In fact, Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world.
While in Rome, your trip will not be complete until you visit the Vatican. The Vatican is the official residence of the Pope. The Vatican is also where the primary administrative offices for the Catholic church are located, along with apartments, library, and museum. There are two attractions that are on the must-not-miss list for those who visit Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica is considered to be a late Renaissance church, with the largest interior than any other Christian church in the world. St. Peter’s is not considered to be “The Mother Church” but it is a holy spot where pilgrimages take place. St. Peter’s Basilica is located west of the River Tiber, near Janiculum Hill. Visitors approach the church by the way of St. Peter’s Square. Upon entering, one will be in complete awe of not only the size, but the interior, and design itself. Lined with marble floors, exquisitely designed religious symbols, and famous art such as Michelangelo’s Pieta. There are numerous tombs, including that of St. Peter, one of the 12 apostles who followed Jesus Christ, and the “rock” upon which Christ built his church on Earth, ordaining him to be the first Pope.
While in Vatican city, most pilgrims and visitors recommend paying a visit to the Vatican museums. It is advised that you book your tour in advance, due to the vast size of the museum, also known as the largest in the world with over 1400 rooms. While on the tour, you will visit the Vatican Gardens where you will travel back in time, seeing the remains of the medieval walls that surrounded the Vatican dating back to before the 16th century. For many, the climax of this tour is the Sistine Chapel.
Anyone who has watched movies such as “Spartacus” or “The Gladiators” among others will remember the various scenes that took place at the Roman Colosseum. The original name was the Flavian Amphitheatre, named after Vespasian, Emperor of the Flavian Dynasty. After completion, there was enough seating for 45,000 people, but with standing room included, there was enough room for 75,000 people who would watch the various events that occurred during that time period. Today, although much of this Roman monument has been destroyed by fire, and earthquakes, walking tours are available, and visitors are able to enter areas where Roman spectators were able to have full view of the games, as the Romans called them, down below in the arena.
Getting to this main Roman attraction is relatively easy by the way of the Roman metro. You simply get off at Colosseo station, and walk across the street to the Italian Anfiteatro Flavio . The entire area is a bit of fun, and a way to go back in time. You may see local police dressed as Centurions. Everybody loves to take those vacation pictures. Before leaving, stop by the Arch of Constantine, which is popular for wedding pictures, or stand with the authentically dressed gladiators at the Arch or around the ancient Colosseum for a photo session.
Located at the entrance, as you enter the atrium of the Vatican museum, the double spiral staircase is a site to see. While going from the bottom floor to the top of the museum, visitors will greet those coming down, as they go up to the top floor. As you travel along the museum and head for the Sistine Chapel, you can stop to get a view of the beautiful work by Raphael, located in the Vatican Stanze, known as Raphael’s rooms.
Raphael’s rooms, comprised of four rooms, are also known as Raphael’s Stanze. These rooms are part of the apartments within the Vatican. Originally, the Pope had their own papal quarters. Pope Julius II della Rovere, in the 1500’s preferred another area but did not appreciate the artwork, and hired Raphael to replace the old artwork.
Every painting consists of realistic colors, as well as life size figures that pull you into each story, as if you were there, as you study them. Those who may not have a great appreciation of art, may very well have a different view once they see this amazing artwork.
Capitoline museums, also known as Musei Capitoline, date back to 1734, when the construction was initiated by Pope Clement XII. These historical museums were the first which allowed the public to visit. There are two main buildings, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo that make up the Capitoline. For those who truly want to see the perfect works of art, tapestries, and artifacts to understand the history of Rome, this is the place to visit. There are now three buildings that are connected by the way of an underground gallery which is located at the Piazza del Campidoglio. Although each was built years apart, both the Palazzo Senatorio from the 12 century, and Palazzo dei Conservatori from the 16th century, they were redesigned by Michelangelo.
While traveling up Capitoline Hill, home of the Capitoline museums, visitors can see where political prisoners were executed by being tossed over the steep cliffs. It is also said that this is the location where Caesar was murdered by Brutus and his fellow assassins who they locked themselves away, hidden in the Temple of Jupiter. There is much to see, such as the equestrian statue of Marcus Aureliu, which is the only existing bronze statue from ancient Rome. One of the must sees is the love goddess, the Capitoline Venus, who has managed to have her own private room where she is displayed. Of course, you won’t want to miss seeing Cupid and Psyche before you leave either!
One of the 12 apostles, who followed Jesus, was named Peter. St. Peter, was crucified like his Rabbi, but requested that his executors hang him on the cross upside down. Emperor Nero, honored his request. Today, we know that the remains of St. Peter are buried in an underground coffin, which is located underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s began when Constantine gave the order for the Basilica to be built atop Vatican Hill. It is believed that the tomb of St. Peter already existed on the hill, and was covered over by the church.
The church is considered to be the largest church in the world along with having the largest dome in the world. Visitors can tour the dome, look out for a picturesque view of St. Peter’s Square, along with a view of the beautiful water fountains in the center of the square, as well as a great view of Rome. As you approach the St. Peter’s, visitors may be met by the Swiss Guard whose primary job was to protect the Pope. The beautiful St. Peter’s is located in Vatican City, across the river Tiber, and west of Rome’s center. Being part of Vatican City, it is completely surrounded by the state of Rome.
When people hear of the Jewish Ghettos that often think back to the time of Hitler, and the Holocaust. The Jews were rounded up, and had everything stolen from them, then placed in an area where they were held in specific locations, concentration camps, being surround by walls, barbed wire, and armed guards. Although it is said that Piotrkow was the first ghetto that was set up in 1939; the reality is that the first ghettos can be traced back to a much earlier time. Pope Paul IV, in 1555, is the first to require the community of Jews that lived in Rome, to not only live in, but to pay for Rome’s Jewish ghetto.
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, near the Tiber River between Ponte Sulpicius and the Ponte Fabricus leading to Tibernia Island, was a small walled area, much like in the 1900’s, with gates that were locked at night. They were required to pay an enormous amount of rent for their dwellings within the walls. Unlike later times, the Jews were allowed to go outside the walls, but with few rights. The men had to wear a yellow patch on their hats, while the women had to wear yellow headscarves.
Today, the walls are no longer standing. The Church of San Gregorio della Divina Pieta, also called Santa Maria della Pieta stands opposite of where the gates to the ghetto once stood. A stroll down the Via Portico d’Ottavia or Octavia’s Porch street, where much of the current Jewish community is no longer in a ghetto but a thriving community, will reveal historical buildings, and museums with artifacts. The architecture and remaining buildings, fountains and synagogues are a mixture of the Medieval and the Renaissance era that tell the story of long ago.
Rome is known for its many squares and fountains, which are major tourist attractions. Each square has a fountain. The fountains, from their beginning, obtained their constant water supply through aqueducts, the force of gravity brought the water supply into the city, from natural sources. In the earlier times, the fountains were much more than a vessel used for drinking water or a decoration. When traveling throughout Europe, many drink water from a bottle, while those in Rome do not hesitate to drink from the fountains.
One of the most popular sites in Vatican City, is St. Peter’s Basilica. In front of St. Peter’s is the infamous St. Peter’s Square ( Piazza San Pietro) where it is said that the Pope appears at Noon to bless the crowd, when he is in Rome. Within the square, there are two fountains. “The Maderno Fountain” built by Carlo Maderno is spectacular at night when lit. In the 1600’s Bernini was asked by Pope Clement X to build a second fountain, called the “Bernini Fountain”. A third fountain, which was called the most beautiful fountain in Italy is the “The Fountain of Pope Innocent VIII.”
Another square, “Piazza di Spagna,” which is often described as a butterfly is the home of the well-known “Trevi Fountain.” There are those who believe that if you make a wish, and toss a coin into a fountain, the wish will come true, which originated from those throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain. However, the true legend is that those who toss a coin in the “Trevi Fountain,” they will return to the “Eternal City.” At the base of the Piazza di Spagna, tourists will find the famous “Spanish Steps.”
There are numerous squares and fountains found in Rome. They are all a part of the history of Rome, have their own unique architecture, and these fountains have a story to tell.
The Corsini Plaza, also called “Palazzo Corsini” is a baroque style palace that was built for the Corsini family in the 1700’s. The entire first floor of the palace is the Corsini Plaza National Art Gallery, also known as The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Corsini. The art gallery is the home to the majority of Rome’s art treasures. There are pieces of art which are known by many of the general public, such as Madonna and Child (Madonna con bambino) which was done by Murillo.
There are other paintings of Madonna and child such as Van Dyck’s superb Madonna della Paglia (Madonna of the Straw). Although many of us know DiVinci as an artist who depicted John The Baptist, the museum contains San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist) by Caravaggio. The Corsini National Art Gallery is one of the two homes of the art and antique treasures of Rome.
The Ancient Appian Way
The Ancient Appian Way was one of the most important roads there was in ancient Rome. This road connected Rome to the southeastern portion of Italy. The construction of the main portion began during the Samnite battles in 312 B.C. The primary purpose of this road was provide a way for the Roman army to retreat to their bases during the Samnite war, and to be able to obtain the much needed supplies. The road expanded throughout many years.
As you walk along an 8 mile stretch, along the Appian way, many monuments and statues are seen. The area was used to bury the dead by the Romans and Christians. Many of the tombs seen contain the bodies of members of the royal Roman family. When walking it is advisable to take water and food along with you. It is said that Paul, as he was taken to Rome to be executed, was forced to walk along Appian Way. Leading from Rome, the Ancient Appian Way is one example as to why people say, “All Roads Lead To Rome.” During that time, all roads did lead to and from Rome.
There isn’t a trip to Rome complete without a visit to Vatican City, and having the ultimate experience of Audience with Pope Benedict XVI at Vatican City. The Pope appears on Sunday and Wednesday, when available, to give his blessings to the public. It is extremely difficult, if not almost impossible, to obtain a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
The Wednesday blessings allows for a special area to have Audience with Pope Benedict XVI at Vatican City, which is only for approximately 40 people, which are government officials or church dignitaries that are visiting. However, in order for the average person to obtain a place in this reserved area, you will need to have your Bishop to write a letter on your behalf, and then wait until the staff of the Pope respond. The same process is required should you want a private mass. Even though there are some public events, unless you want to view them from a great distance, you need to make plans, book far ahead in order to obtain tickets.
The Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese) is an art gallery, located in what was the original Villa Borghese Pinciana. The gallery did acquire the property of the Roman government until 1902, when the government purchased it. The gallery spans two floors with a total of approximately 20 rooms that currently hold art, sculpture and antiques.
The beginnings of the gallery go back to the Borghese family. Ortensia Borghese had a son by the name of Scipione Caffarelli who was elected to the cardinalate by his Uncle Camillo Borghese, upon becoming Pope Paul V in the year 1605. Cardinalate Scipione, while doing his duties, became extremely interested, and developed a talent for spotting exquisite contemporary and Renaissance art, including sculpture. During his ventures as a collector, he also became shrewd in his business dealings in order to satisfy his veracious appetite for fine art.
Among the many collections, the works of one popular artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who also built the fountain at St. Peter’s Square, is his life-sized statue of David, who slayed Goliath. Another famous piece is the sculpture of Venus Victrix by Canova. A portrait of Scipione Cafferlli, (Cardinal Bishop of Sabina) is also on display. The works of Raphael, Rubens, Titan and others are displayed among what is called the most extensive art collection in the world.
Pompeii is one of the ancient cities that have provided an ample amount of archeological evidence to prove the existence of the early Roman civilization. The city was perfectly preserved when it was covered from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. At that time, there were actually two cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, that had been destroyed by the volcanic eruption. Until the 1700’s , when archaeologists began to excavate, these two cities had been forgotten. Ironically, the volcanic eruption was the second disaster that destroyed Pompeii. 17 years earlier, an earthquake had also completely destroyed this unique city.
As an ancient civilization, the residents were rather contemporary. They had running water, and a profitable marketplace for selling their wares. This ancient city had cobblestone streets, and sidewalks that contained private shops where the people could make various purchases in private. Their innovation, and being willing to work with the incoming ships, the people were able to purchase items from around the world for personal use and to sell to others in the marketplace. The wealthy had homes that were full of beautiful art. The amphitheater was the first colosseum to be built, with the colosseum of Rome to follow it. Gladiator games were held long before those in Rome, at the colosseum in Pompeii. Pompeii is in Campania near Naples. Visitors today continue to visit this site and the well preserved ruins. Not far, is the Great Plaestra which had a pool in the center.
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