After an eventful drive down from Bagnoregio (all I’ll say is I’ll never be given the role of map reader again), we dropped Sara and Chucky off at the airport and boarded a train into central Rome.
We were staying in the B&B Hotel Roma Trastavere which was in the beautiful Trastavere area of the city. This particular area had been recommended to us as the foodie central of Rome; seeing as food was on the top of our agenda whilst in Italy; this seemed perfect. We dumped our bags, and seeing as time was not on our side, grabbed a quick lunch of pizza to go which we ate on board the train across to the Vatican City. They were, of course, delicious – well, when in Rome!
We soon arrived at the Vatican city and were completely blown away by the beauty of it. It was, of course, extremely busy with tourists trying to take a million photographs, but you could totally see why. Everything was pristinely clean and gleaming – I hate to think how big the task force is in order to keep this place spic and span.
Unfortunately, because it was so late in the day, we did miss the opportunity to visit the Sistine Chapel. We could however, for free, enter the St Peter’s Basillica which, in my opinion, was impressive enough. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful. The incredible murals, the polish and detail of the marble statues, the glint of the gold leaf – it really was breathtaking. I’ve never been too enamoured with visiting churches whilst on my travels, but I must admit, even I was awe struck here.
After spending some time at the Vatican we decided to take the scenic walk back through old city and back into Trastavere. It was lovely to get a real feel of Rome. Off course, we stopped off for some traditional gelato to break up the walk.
As this was our only night in Rome we wanted to make sure we found a good restaurant. We headed into the centre of Trastavere and went from restaurant to restaurant surveying the menu and agonising over where to stop – there was far too much choice!
In the end we settled on the Trattoria Sora ”Cencia” restaurant where we had the most fantastic meal! To start we ordered a portion of delicious roasted vegetables and a tasting platter of bruscetta. For our main course Miles ordered a sea food pasta whist I chose a carbonara type pasta dish with Italian sausage. These dishes ticked all the right boxes.
After dinner we wandered into the town square in Trastavere (with our desert wine which we had by this point decantered into a plastic bottle – thanks Sara!) and we joined the crowd in enjoying the Amatrice festival which was taking place.
The next morning we woke up bright an early and hopped on the tram towards our first destination of morning – the Coliseum. I can’t tell you how excited I was to visit this historic landmark! We stopped off for a quick coffee and breakfast at a cute little cafe called Gran Caffe Rossi Martini – you really couldn’t have a better view for your morning caffeine fix.
Suitably awake we wandered on down to the Coliseum where the sheer scale of the queues hit us! It was only early but already there were HUNDREDS of people queuing out in the basking sun. We both started to panic a little, especially when we heard that the queues were anticipated to take up to three hours! We definitely couldn’t afford that having only one (not even full) day to see the city. It was then that I remembered reading online that the tour group ‘touts’ who you see everywhere, are actually a legitimate way of getting inside the Coliseum quicker. Just as it dawned on me a lady came up to use and tried to sell us tour tickets; entrance to the Coliseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum for a small fee of around £30. The best bit – fast track entrance. To be honest we really didn’t have much choice, we simply couldn’t afford to spend the time queuing in the normal way. We decided just to put our trust in the lady and, ultimately, thank god we did.
We ended up queuing literally for 10 minutes whilst we went through security and were taken through the imposing archways and into the centre of the Coliseum. I absolutely love learning about history so having a guide telling us all the details made the experience all the better for me. She had big posters and maps which she held out to really bring the stories to life.
The Coliseum was built in a mind boggling 70AD as an amphitheatre for the Romans. It could hold up 75,000 people in one sitting for the weekly gladiator shows. The Gladiators were normally slaves who were bought at a slave market by trainers for the sole purpose of fighting till their death in front of the baiting crowd. If you’ve ever seen the film Gladiator you’ll understand the sort of life the Gladiators had. They really were the celebrities of the Roman time, however ultimately they were still paupers with an impending death sentence…
The gladiators were brought up from trap doors below the stage, up to the heckling crowds, to fight against whatever might be waiting for them. They could never be sure – was it another person on the stage? or a pack of lions, tigers, wolves, or even maybe elephants?
A lot of the time animals were used in gladiator fights; they weren’t fed for days on end to ensure they were angry on the day of the challenge. Often the gladiators were held in cages which had been used to store animals in the previous days so that the animals they were up against would pick up the scent of the animals on them and become even more aggressive.
The gladiator fights were a bloody affair. Gladiators could however turn to the Emperor and ask for mercy. In a similar way to our modern day ‘ask the audience’ the crowds decided by way of shouting ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The Emperor would interpret the crowd’s request and respond to the desperate gladiator with either a thumbs up, or ‘thumbs down’ gesture…
The Coliseum was used for over 300 years as a stadium of gladiator fights. The number of people/animals who lost their lives in that period is almost unthinkable. I for one am pleased that I didn’t grow up as a poor young male during the Roman era…
After stepping out of the Coliseum we were introduced to our new tour guide; Nick. Nick was a very well spoken English guy who, funnily enough, was at Leeds Uni at the same time as me, studying Classics (so the same department as me in studying philosophy!). Nick had however grown up in Italy however and therefore was extremely knowledgeable about the area and really brought the history to life for us!
The Palatine Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome and it is one of the most ancient parts of the city. According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus – the sons of a mortal priestess, Rhea Silvia, and Mars, the Roman god of war – were born around 770BC.
The boys were abandoned at birth and thrown into the River Tiber in a cradle. They washed up near the Palatine hill and were rescued by a she-wolf, who took them to her cave lair and suckled them.
After being found by the shepherd, Faustulus, and raised to adulthood, the twins decided in 753BC to establish a city. However, they argued about who had the support of the gods, and Romulus killed Remus in a fight on what became the Palatine hill. After the war Romulus decided that the hill was an ideal spot to build a new city and therefore, it was on the Palatine Hill where the Roman era of empires started. Excavations show that people have lived in the area since the 10th century BC!
Palatine hill now is simply a collection of ruins shaded by trees however, Nick was able to point out the old baths and even the old bakery – it really was fascinating to see…even if you do have to use your imagination a little!
It’s interesting to look at an artist’s perception of what Palatine Hill may have once looked like.
After spending sometime on Palatine Hill we wandered across to the Roman Forum – I found this COMPLETELY fascinating – I couldn’t get over the sheer scale of the place!
The Roman Forum was the spiritual and political heart of the Roman empire. In its heyday (which lasted hundreds of years) it was a collection of temples, monuments, markets, and public gathering places in which much of the city’s commerce and public life took place. The Forum Romanum (aka Roman Forum) was where business was done, Emperors honoured, gods prayed to, and many a political reputation won and lost. The Forum was the centre of civilization in the ancient world and remains the most famous civic centre in history. These days it is a giant, jumbled monument to the past greatness of Rome as well as a living excavation site in where archaeologists are still digging up the secrets of the past. I found it completely mind boggling to think that walking through the Roman forum, we were treading the exact same cobbles that Julius Ceaser did all those years ago!
I found the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina particularly interesting to see. The temple was built in 141 AD and the original green door is still in place. However, if you take a closer look at the height of the door, the sheer scale of the excavation at the forum is evident – that door used to be at ground level! Even more interesting, the purple columns either side of the green door are made of Egyptian porphyry which is worth 12x more than its weight in gold.
After spending a little while wandering around the forum we headed out and wandered further into town via the imposing Piazza Venezia. We stopped off for the most delicious arancini balls for lunch (deep fried risotto balls – filled with Bolognese/ mozerella and pesto!).
We then wandered up through the crooked and narrow streets up towards the iconic Trevi Fountain. The original legend says that if you throw a coin into the Fontana di Trevi – with your back to the fountain, throwing the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder – that will ensure a return to Rome. We of course, gave this custom ago and had a couple of photos at this beautiful spot.
Heading up out from the Trevi Fountain we made a quick pit stop at La Casa del Caffe Taza d’Oro for the most delicious espresso which is served, and drank, from a huge counter which you stand at you. It’s a real conveyor belt of fast-paced caffeine fixes – a world away from Starbucks – and a million times more tasty!
Buzzing from our shots we wandered around the corner to the awe inspiring Pantheon. I found the Pantheon to be one of the most mind boggling sites that we visited whilst in Rome. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that it was built in 27 BC! It’s a crazy 2042 years old!
The mystical name of the Pantheon derives from the Greek words signifying “to all gods”, meaning that the Pantheon was originally built as a temple dedicated to worship of all the pagan Roman gods. Pantheon is in the shape of a rotunda, circular drum structure, covered by a dome, with an opening in the centre. The coffered dome is possibly the oldest and largest unreinforced concede dome in the world!
The opening in the centre is known as the oculus or “eye” in Latin. Despite its religious symbolism as the “window to the other world”, the purpose of the opening is of extreme importance for the engineering and stability of the structure. This is also the only source of natural light to the building. Interestingly enough, if you look at the floor in the Pantheon you will notice small holes which act as drainage for any rain water that comes through the hole in the roof. We found the Pantheon to be a really, interesting and beautiful stop off.
Having spent some time at the Pantheon we decided to take a bit of a wander, down past the Spanish Steps, along the river and down to the Ostiense metro station where Miles wanted to check out some mosaic murals on the floor that he had heard about.
From here we wandered down towards the ancient Pyramid of Caius Cestius – a tomb built for one of Rome’s original magistrates back in 18-12 BC.
Unfortunately this really brought our trip to Rome to an end. We headed back to the hotel to grab our bits before heading out for one final Italian meal at Ristorante Taverna della Scalla. Nothing like a meal of pasta, lasagne and an obligatory aperol spritz to round of a trip in the gorgeous city that is Rome. I hope the coin I threw in the fountain works it’s magic and fingers crossed I’ll return to Rome one day soon.