Espresso, Saints, Statues – A Roman Holiday.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.