The first place anyone goes to in Italy is usually Rome. With it’s ancient ruins, fashion, excellent food, great museums, and friendly people, it is a perfect choice. It was my second trip abroad (Ireland being the first), fell in love with the city, and have returned multiple times. Stroll the streets, stop in a trattoria, visit a museum, do a bit of shopping and just enjoy the city.
The Sites To See
Located between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Roman Forum was the heart of ancient Rome. It was the city’s main piazza where citizens of every social level met to exchange opinions, do business, and buy in the markets. There were orators at political meetings explaining a law recently passed, groups of friends loudly commenting on the latest gladiator games, or a soldier talking about a recent military campaign. It was there news program: sports, politics and local happenings. Only at the end of the 1800s were excavations started that continue today, to allow us to experience what remains of that incredible splendor. The Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and includes the Arches of Septimius Severus and Titus, the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina and the Temple of Saturn.
The Colosseum is the largest and most famous amphitheater in the Roman world. Its construction was started by emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty in 72 AD and was finished by his son Titus in 80 AD. The Colosseum was capable of holding some 50,000 spectators who could enter the building through 80 entrances.
Begin your walk through the this structure built from the ambitious programs of various emperors. Then continue down the via dei Fori Imperiali, a modern road that looks down over the ruins of several squares, temples, and other structures built by emperors Augustus and Trajan. Continue the full length of the Fori Imperiali all the way to the Forum of Trajan, which features that emperor’s iconic column. Then backtrack up to the Capitoline hill where there are so many wonderful remnants of ancient and early medieval Rome, including the fantastic church of the Aracoeli.
Since fall 2013 the Colosseum has been undergoing renovations to its exterior and interior. This three-year project is cleaning the site, rebuilding the exterior arches and opening 25 percent more of the Colosseum’s tunnels and cages to tourists.
The Vatican, Sistine Chapel & St. Peters
Founded by Pope Julius II in the 6th century, the Vatican Museums inside the Vatican City holds some of the world’s most important relics. Highlights of the museums include the spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms and the beautifully decorated Sistine Chapel. Under Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. Today the ceiling, and The Last Judgment, are believed to be Michelangelo’s crowning achievements.
The center of the Catholic world and a major tourist attraction, the Basilica of St. Peter is a huge church: with an interior height of 120m. The basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter, the apostle who is considered the first pope, was crucified and buried. Construction on the current building began in 1506 and was completed in 1615. Many famous artists worked on the complex and its surroundings: Michelangelo designed the dome while Bernini designed the great St. Peter’s Square.
One of the best preserved Roman buildings, The Pantheon was built in 126 AD as a temple for all the Roman gods. Where it stands was not chosen by chance, but is a legendary place in the city’s history. According to Roman legend, it is the place where the founder of Rome, Romulus, at his death was seized by an eagle and taken off into the skies with the Gods.
Originally, the Pantheon was a small temple dedicated to all Roman gods. Built between 27 and 25 B.C. by the consul Agrippa, Prefect of the Emperor Augustus, the present building is the result of subsequent re-engineering. Domitian, in 80 A.D., rebuilt it after a fire; thirty years later it was hit by lightening and caught fire again. It was then rebuilt in its present shape by the Emperor Hadrian, and under his reign Rome reached its maximum splendor.
The temple has served as a Roman Catholic Church since the 7th century. The Pantheon consists of a large circular portico with three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns. The portico opens into a rotunda which is topped with a concrete dome with a central opening: the oculus. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world..
Campo de’ Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori is a rectangular square south of Piazza Navona used as a marketplace during the day, and party central for college students and tourists at night. The name means “field of flowers” and was first given during the Middle Ages when the area was actually a meadow. Today the market is a lively place, especially when the daily vegetable market is held here (every morning except Sundays). Visitors can buy fresh produce at the market, as well as fish, meat, flowers and spices.
One of the most famous of Rome’s many squares, Piazza Navona was established towards the end of the 15th century, and preserves the shape of the Stadium of Domitian that once stood here. Built by Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, the stadium, which had a larger arena than the Colosseum was mainly used for festivals and sporting events. The buildings surrounding the square stand where the spectators once sat. Today, the square features no less than three magnificent fountains and is an immensely popular place to sip a cappuccino, shop, and watch street performers.
Castel Sant’Angelo began life as the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, built between 135 and 139 AD. Subsequent strongholds built on top of the mausoleum were in turn incorporated into a residence and castle by medieval Popes. The building was used as a prison until 1870, but now houses a museum. Among the most well known tourist attractions in Rome, film buffs will recognize it as a setting from “Angels and Demons”.
A truly monumental stairway of 135 steps, the Spanish Steps were built with French funds between 1721‑1725 in order to link the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Holy See with the French church, Trinità dei Monti. The steps are usually very crowded attracting tourists as well as locals who use it as a gathering place. Each year in May the steps are decorated with pink azaleas. At the foot of the Spanish Steps is the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish square) and the Fontana della Barcaccia, a sober fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Much of ancient Rome is still being excavated today in the course of street work and other infrastructural improvements, at some points 30 feet below the modern city. Underground Rome allows you to explore the sewers, crypts, and buried temples. Start with the subterranean levels of San Lorenzo in Lucina, a medieval church with remnants of its basilica buried in the crypt underneath. There is also the remains of an ancient apartment complex. Proceed to the Vicus Caprarius, a newly opened space showing Roman apartments under a modern cinema near the Trevi fountain, and explore a subterranean area of San Nicola in Carcere. End with the Crypta Balbi, one of the best organized museums in the city, which occupies the subterranean crypts of a Renaissance palace.
Like Pompeii much farther south, Ostia Antica is a day trip from Rome where you can visit a stunningly preserved ancient Roman city—one of the best in Italy. There are 2000-year-old apartment complexes, and ancient baths & restaurant.
You can take a short train ride, drive, or book a private tour with a car service. Ostia’s was an important Roman port. The city is filled with ruins, one of the best examples of Roman baths, a fantastic amphitheater, several Mithraic temples, and a forum with temples. Many scholars feel that Ostia is a better example of a real, working class town than Pompeii. And much closer.
The Restaurants To Eat In
Roman cuisine is defined by a unique set of ingredients, techniques, and dishes that set it apart from the food of all other Italian cities. The city’s classic spots serve the local specialties such as cacio e pepe (pasta with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper), carbonara (pasta with egg, cured pork jowl or belly, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper), roasted lamb, and assorted offal.
AGATA E ROMEO
A warm and intimate establishment, run hands-on by married restaurateurs Agata Parisella and Romeo Caraccio. It offers an innovative gourmet twist on traditional Roman flavors and dishes, an excellent wine list and an attentive, personal and welcoming ambiance. This is the place to go for real Roman cuisine from chefs with a mastery of sophisticated and refined blends of flavor – the restaurant has earned a Michelin star for its creative interpretation of traditional dishes.
IL CONVIVIO TROIANI
Conceived by three brothers with a passion for food, Michelin-starred Il Convivio Troiani remains very much a family-run affair. It is characterized by exemplary Italian fare that blends regional influences with classic dishes, as well as warm and attentive service. Three sophisticated dining spaces showcase striking frescoes and paintings, which contrast with an elegant, subtle decor.
A superb contemporary restaurant in the middle of Rome’s lively, character-laden Trastevere district, Glass Hostaria sports an adventurous, cutting-edge design that features sleek bronze fittings, creative lighting and innovative modern features and furnishings. With Michelin-starred contemporary Italian cuisine bursting with creative flair, Glass is an injection of pure up-to-the-minute cool in a neighborhood characterized by its quaint, historical charm.
South-east of the city center, the Pigneto is Rome‘s new buzz-district with narrow streets and characterful, low-rise houses and apartment blocks. In the past few years a cluster of new bars and restaurants has sprung up here. Primo, a large, comfortable restaurant with warehouse-chic decor, is a serious trattoria. Some specialties; soup of black cabbage, croutons and mussels; baked anchovies with saucepan-tossed artichokes; seared tuna with friggitelli (a small, local variety of green pepper) and basil. Desserts are good, too: the semifreddo alla vaniglia with caramelised prickly pears and balsamic vinegar is a knockout. The decent wine list is arranged, unusually, in alphabetical order rather than region. (Via del Pigneto 46, Rome (00 39 06 701 3827; www.primoalpigneto.it).
This tiny, contemporary trattoria, not far from the piazza Vittorio, is one of those places you just keep going back to. Everything about it works: the affable service, the updated-osteria decor, the sense of being part of a privileged community of regulars. It is run by two good-looking brothers from Le Marche, and the food (prepared by mum in the kitchen) has a marchigiano slant in dishes such as tagliatelle in duck sauce, or salt cod baked in mustard. Try the classic tortello al rosso d’uovo – a single huge tortello (a sort of circular ravioli) with a raw egg yolk encased in its ricotta-and-spinach filling, served with a simple tomato-and-basil sauce. The house white wine, a zesty Verdicchio, is a cut above the usual Roman trattoria standard, and there are plenty of other choices on the decently priced wine list, as well as a good selection of grappas. Monti is very popular, so you should book in advance. (Via San Vito 13a, Rome (00 39 06 446 6573)
Chefs Alfonso Iaccarino and his son Ernesto keep a close eye on their Roman offspring, travelling up at least once a week; the olive oil and many of the vegetables come from the Iaccarino farm, bringing ripe, savoury Neapolitan flavors in dishes such as ravioli filled with sheep’s cheese and marjoram in a simple sauce of basil and cherry tomatoes, and braised scorpion fish in a concentrated, tangy tomato-and-caper sauce. There are more adventurous combinations too, such as duck breast with a dusting of cocoa and a dollop of apricot jam. The large outdoor terrace overlooking the pool is a great place for an alfresco lunch or dinner. (Via Uiisse Aldrovandi 15, Rome (00 39 06 321 6126).