Rome: A City That Never Ceases to Enthral
Last time I was in Rome, I got conned in a corner shop. Well, I am pretty certain that I did. After a long exhausting day of exploring Rome on foot, I went into a little obscure shop to buy a bottle of wine to enjoy on our balcony whilst relaxing before a late supper. I am not a connoisseur in Italian wines, so I must have had a distinct look of confusion as I was trying to decipher labels on dozens of different bottles. None of them had price tags. A rather innocent looking, welcoming sales assistant came up to me and asked, ‘What kind of wine do you want: cheap, average, or expensive?’ I said, ‘15-25 euros?’ To which he replied, ‘Take this bottle. Beautiful wine. 35 euros, absolutely worth your money!’ Too weary to think, I agreed. Needless to say it was not “beautiful” once tasted back at the hotel, and I am sure the original price was not 35 euros. Never mind, I still love Rome. For a multitude of reasons.
Rome is a compelling city, a place that I can return to time after time and never find dull. It is the birthplace of Western Civilization that has been a bustling metropolis for over two and half thousand years, and yet it still retains its majestic grandeur.
I have a weakness for legends and myths, therefore stories relating to the founding of Rome are particularly romantic, no pun intended! Perhaps, the most famous legend is that of Romulus and Remus, and the foundation of the city in 753BC. The twin infants were children of a Rhea Silva, a mortal virgin, and Mars, god of war. In order to escape the death penalty, they were set adrift on the river Tiber. After a while, they were discovered by a she-wolf who suckled them until a local shepherd found and raised them. When the twins grew up, they came to a decision to found a city on the site where they were saved. However, there was some disagreement over where that was, the heat escalated and climaxed in Romulus’s murder of Remus. Romulus finished building the city and initially populated it with criminals and ex-slaves. In order to find the wives for the first generation of men, Romulus invited the people from the surrounding areas to celebrate the Festival of Consus. Whilst the invited guests were watching the games and celebrating the festival, Romulus and his men pounced and abducted all women present; this legendary historical event is known as the Rape of the Sabine Women.
Rome is a city of glorious and iconic Ancient Roman monuments, the Coliseum and the Pantheon amongst others. The former must be seen by everybody in person, as no reproduction of it it, being either photographic or in film, can prepare you for its overwhelming glory. The arena still remains the defining symbol of Ancient Rome’s splendor and power. The Pantheon, the best preserved of all the ancient monuments, is perhaps my all-time favourite building. A striking architectural accomplishment dating back from AD120 – its dome is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built- the Pantheon was an inspiration for Renaissance masters, including Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. As you approach the Pantheon, its exterior might seem deceptively mundane; however, as soon as you step inside, you will surely be impressed by its majesty and vastness. I love to stand still in the centre of this ancient temple whilst looking up at the oculus, located 80 meters above the floor. By gazing at the sky and the streaming rays of the sun through the circular opening of the dome, I drink in Pantheon’s magnificence and feel closer to the Roman gods. The name Pantheon derives from the Greek words pan and theos meaning all and gods respectively.
Rome is home to a rich profusion of artistic masterpieces, most notably from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Here you can find a myriad of enthralling works of outstanding artistry and skill by Michaelangelo and Raphael, Carravagio and Bernini. At times, even for an art lover like me, it is challenging to pick a selection of masterpieces to focus on in a the space of a few days. I think one needs to spend at least a year in Rome in order to properly see and appreciate its most important works of art; simply glancing at them does not count! You need to pick and choose in advance, otherwise you will not know where to start, and art’s abundance will surely drown you. Perhaps the place to start would be the Vatican Museums, where there is enough art, from ancient to modern times, to keep you entertained for years. A seemingly endless yet thrilling wander through museums culminates in the celebrated Sistine Chapel that houses Michelangelo’s awe-aspiring ceiling fresco. The fresco, perhaps the definitive masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance Era, is a depiction of stories from the book of Genesis; painting the 800 square meters of the chapel vaulted ceiling was this artist’s most challenging commission that took up five years of his life to complete. Afterwards, you should climb to the top of St Peter’s Basilica, Italy’s largest, most imposing church. A surprisingly simple ascent, if you are relatively fit, will pay off with the most spectacular bird’s eye view of the city sprawling in front of the basilica. And inside this magnificent church, you will see Michelangelo’s poignant Pieta sculpture, carved from Carrara marble when the artist was only 25 years old, depicting Mary cradling Jesus after he has been taken off the cross. Unfortunately, we cannot get a close look at it, as the sculpture is now located a few meters behind a barrier and a thick wall of bullet proof glass after the severe damage inflicted upon it by a mentally disturbed Italian geologist, who had a good go at it with a rock pick in 1972. As it happens, Pieta’s sublime beauty made me cry the first time I saw it!
However, there is a myriad of things to do other than art. I love to spend a lazy afternoon in the Piazza Navona with its striking Baroque fountains sipping a double espresso, or perched upon the Spanish Steps watching bustling crowds of people wandering past. Or to go to the Trevi Fountain, perhaps Rome’s most romantic spot, at sunrise in order to avoid tourist crowds and have the whole place more or less to myself. And, of course, having a superb meal accompanied by a bottle of wine in a hidden trattoria. In winter, there are plenty of street sellers of tasty roast chestnuts round every corner; their deliciously sweet smell is detectable from many meters away. I find them absolutely irresistible!
Rome with its stunning architecture, like many other Italian cities, is timeless. If your power of imagination is strong enough, you can transport yourself back in time. You can pretend that the modern cars on Rome’s cobbled roads and designer boutiques occupying the ancient palazzi are no longer there and feel like time has stood still over the last few centuries. But do be careful when crossing the roads!
My biggest Rome tip before I finish is…
Try going in the winter!
Room rates at the hotels will be significantly cheaper, there will be a considerably lower amount of tourists, and Roman winters are very mild with plenty of sunshine!
Where to Stay…
Hotel Campo de’ Fiori – Enviable location in Centro Storico with panoramic views from the roof terrace.
Villa Spalletti Trivolli – Staying here feels like staying in an aristocratic town house rather than a hotel. The villa feels like a time capsule from decades ago with a lot of character – if you feel like travelling back in time, this is the place to stay.
The Inn At The Roman – A quaint and very pretty boutique hotel by the Roman Forum. There are actual Ancient Roman ruins in the basement.
Where to Eat…
Armando Al Pantheon: Great old-school trattoria a stone’s throw away from the Pantheon. Enough said.
Trattoria Monti: a small unassuming trattoria with delicious home-style food and a favourite with locals.
La Rosetta: The first seafood-only restaurant in Rome, and still one of the best. If you fancy treating yourself to great, fresh seafood, this is definitely the place to do it!
Forno Campo de’ Fiori: Best place in Rome to pick a slice of two of Roman style pizza. Also sells an array of other delicious baked goodies!
L’Asino d’Oro: A restaurant serving exquisite food at excellent prices. I still daydream about the wild boar in dark chocolate sauce.