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Espresso, Saints, Statues – A Roman Holiday.

Rome, Italy

Why Rome is called the Eternal City?  It’s been rebuilt one more time than it’s been burned down (four), extended, redeveloped, redesigned, conquered, re-conquered, painted, decorated, dug up and traipsed all over by tourists, archaeologists and pilgrims.  Rome doesn’t so much last forever as eternally put up with indignities.

It remains a superb place for a holiday.  It’s one of the few cities – in fact, probably the only one – where you could happily spend a whole two week vacation just wandering around.

Where to start?The Forum

Well, everyone knows about the Roman Empire, so make sure you check out the Forum.  Rome is built on seven hills.  The Forum, the heart of the ancient city, sits between the Capitoline and Palatine summits.  It’s a wonderfully evocative place, especially if you visit at dusk when the sun, low in the sky, is reddening the ancient marble.  It’s also full of cats.  They seem to like the nooks and crannies of the old city far more than the heat and bustle of the modern buildings that surround it.

Forum

From the Forum, you can have a mosey up the gentle slopes of the Palatine – a great place to take some shelter from the sun under the plane trees than line its flanks.  On the hill’s low, flat summit you can see the remains of the palaces of the emperors, and gaze down into the pit of the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were staged for their entertainment.  Seen Ben Hur?  This is where it all happened.

Colosseum One of the great things about the remains of ancient Rome is that they’re all so close together.  Roll on down the other side of the Palatine, through the arch of Titus, and you’re at the Colosseum – probably the most famous of Rome’s landmarks.  Two thousand years old, it remains a masterpiece of engineering: it’s half in ruins only because its high-quality stone has been plundered to build the city’s houses over the years.  Inside you can see the place where gladiators fought to the death and Christians were thrown to the lions – though that didn’t happed as often as legend says.  Kids, naturally, love it.

But, of course, there’s much more to Rome than that.  Head north from the heart of the ancient city to the area surrounding the Piazza di Spagna.  Again, probably the best time of day to visit is at dusk, when students sit on the Spanish steps and the smell of the wonderful local cooking drifts out of sidewalk bistros.  The chic boutiques in this area usually stay open until around 9pm – you’ll find shopping much more fun in the cool of the evening, especially in summer.

If you like café culture, cross the River Tiber into the Trastevere area.  This is the Rome of La Dolce Vita, full of beautifully dilapidated, stuccoed apartment buildings, tiny bookshops – and some of the city’s best-value places to eat.  A plate of lasagna for six euros in Trastevere is as good – or better – than a three course meal for ten times the price in one the city’s classier areas.

Pantheon

The other must-see in Rome is the Vatican.  It’s about a thirty-minute walk north of Trastevere, though it’s quite easy to use the city’s brand-new tram system.  Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state, and, although it’s tiny, you could spend several days looking around its treasures.  Most people head straight for the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s famous ceiling painting.  It’s funny, sometimes, to stand in the rooms leading to the chapel and see people virtually sprinting through, ignoring the less famous but almost-as-great art around them simply to see the really famous one.  Take time out to admire the great masterpieces by Raphael and Titian. Even if art’s not your thing, you’ll not regret seeing some of the world’s finest painting.

St. Peters Square While you’re in the Vatican – assuming that you have wangled a personal audience with the Pope – it’s worth climbing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.  It too is the work of Michelangelo.  Back in those days if you called yourself an artist you had to turn your hand to anything!  Climb the curious slanted stairway that winds up between the inner and outer skins of the great dome, and, when you’ve regained your breath, spend twenty minutes or so looking out at the city of Rome spread beneath you.  You can count all the hills from up there, and see some of the most famous landmarks – the Capitoline, the Colosseum, even the great dome of the Pantheon temple a mile or so away on the other side of the river.

Get up there, and you can begin to see why it’s called the Eternal City.  Rome, although it has changed enormously over the years, is a little world to itself.  It seems to have more history and culture than some whole countries.  They say nothing lasts forever. Visit Rome, and you wouldn’t want to bet on it.

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