Rome (Roma), Lazio
Rome – where to start? Rome is a city that will unfold 3000 years of history right before your eyes. Rome has so many attractions to cover, it was overwhelming to plan. Piazza Navona was our first stop, since our apartment was closeby. It sits on a 1st century AD racetrack, which is why the piazza is an oval in shape. Entrance to the piazza is free and it’s a cool place to come to enjoy the Italian evening stroll with hundreds of your fellow travelers.
Piazza Navona in Rome
Our next stop was the Pantheon. It boasts a 140 ft diameter circle underneath the dome that inspired Michelangelo for his projects. In the middle is a 30 ft hole, called the oculus, the building’s only light source. When it rains, water drains through a series of holes in the floor designed and used since ancient times. The Pantheon served as a Temple for all Gods. It is still the largest unreinforced solid concrete dome in the world. It does close at night, time depending on the season, so double check before you go. If you’re looking for the Roma Pass, look for signs at Tourist Information Stands. If you’re in Rome for a few days, plan to hit many attractions and use public transit, it is a good idea.
The Pantheon's (built in the 100AD's) only light source, the Oculus - Rome
The next morning, we started out towards the Baths of Diocletian – the largest bath complex ever built in Rome. It is located near the Terminale Train Station. The Baths were built around 300AD. It now houses a church (Santa Maria degli Angelie dei Martiri) in a small portion of its structure. The church was the last structure designed by Michelangelo, but he died before its completion. Within the Baths, a Meridian Line was built. At true noon, sunlight comes through a slit cut through the walls of the building to illuminate the current date on the marble floor.
Meridian Line the the Baths of Diocletian, Rome
Our next stop was the Basilica di San Clemente. It is a church that contains 4 excavated layers beneath it. The church has no entrance fee but the excavations have an admission fee of 10EU for adults (free for kids under 16 accompanied by their parents). Beware the siesta here. They close from 12:30 to 3pm, as many churches do in Rome. Also beware the man at the entrance collecting fees. He is NOT the official entrance fee collector. The official ticket sellers are inside the church, seated in a booth. At this church, you can wander through 4 levels of history. The 1st level is a 12th century church. Go down one level to the 2nd level, you’ll find a 4th century church. Below that is a 2nd century pagan temple. Go one more level down and you’ll be walking into 1st century Roman homes and listen to the underground river passing by. Though the cost might seem high by Roman standards, where else can you walk through 4 layers of history under one building?
Inside the Colosseum - Rome
Next stop, the Colosseum. The Basilica is a short walk from the Colosseum. Don’t miss the Gladiator’s Tunnels on the way to the Colosseum, across the street from the Colosseum. It is where Gladiators are believed to have lived and trained. To avoid long ticket lines, go to the Forum first for tickets. Lines are much shorter. Tickets were 12EU per adult, free for kids, but be sure to tell them the number of kids that will be accompanying you. They need tickets too to get through the turnstiles. Tickets include the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum. I hear the Roma Pass is also a good way to avoid long ticket lines. Bring a water bottle, the Forum has water fountains. There are many toppled stones in the Forum. Try to take a moment to take it all in. This was the meeting point for Ancient Rome. There are many temples that adorn this area. Look for Via Sacra, the main street of Ancient Rome. Imagine for a moment what important events played out here over 2000 years ago. We missed Palatine Hill, the kids got bored with the Forum and were eager to go to the Colosseum - one of the realities of traveling with kids. I believe one of the famous Aquaducts, Aqua Claudia is visible from Palatine Hill, in all its 2 level arch glory.
The Colosseum – our pre-purchased tickets got us out of the ticket lines, but there were lines for the turnstiles. No matter, it was a relatively fast moving line. Keep your purse close and closed. We started at the highest level to avoid the crowds. Try to take another moment to appreciate the amount of history (and bloodshed) that has occurred right within these walls. Gladiators fighting animals and each other, all to a cheering crowd.
After the Colosseum, we walked back to our apartment near Piazza Navona, and I am glad we did. We saw Trajan’s Forum on our way back. Trajan’s Forum was considered unequalled in its time, built around 100AD. The most well-preserved building that we saw was Trajan’s Market, a six story building used for mixed retail, also considered the grandest of its time.
Trajan's Forum, one of the most modern of its day - Rome
The next morning, we made our way to Ostia Antica, the ancient Roman port from around 400BC which was buried under river silt. Ostia Antica may have been Rome’s first colony. It used to be located at the mouth of the Tiber River, but due to silting, it lies 3 km inland now. We purchased bus tickets from a local tobacco store for the adults in my family (kids under 10 free for public transportation). We took the #30 bus (direction: Laurentina) to Cave Ardeatine Stop. Then we walked a few steps to the Piramide Train Station and took the Lido train (direction Cristoforo Colombo) to stop at Ostia Antica station. Keep your eyes open on the bus ride. We spotted a city wall, city gate and a pyramid. Amazing what you see in Rome just riding a bus. Once at Ostia Antica train station, there were signs on how to get there, but to start off take the pedestrian bridge across the road. From there, it should become obvious. By the time we got to Ostia Antica, we had seen many ruins and were at risk of being "ruined" out. But we did spot some "new" things there that we had not seen elsewhere. Ancient latrines, ancient apartment buildings and ancient warehouses were some unique structures that we saw there. Of course, as in most ancient Roman cities, there was a forum, bath houses, temples, and theaters as well. Before we got to the city gates of Ostia Antica, we walked along a road lined with funerary monuments, something the ancient Romans did to be remembered after death. Ostia Antica also has the added bonus of being less crowded than the Colosseum or Pompeii, but still has the well-preserved structures. The cost of admission was 10EU per adult, kids under 18 year old were free, as is the case with Ruins operated by the Italian government. As for amenities in Ostia Antica, there is a café on site. There is little shade, so bring a hat, water and sunscreen.
Ancient Apartments, Ostia Antica, Rome, Italy
Latrines (toilets) the Ancient Way, in Ostia Antica, near Rome
After our visit, we walked back to the train station and found ourselves seated beside a tombstone from ancient days. History at every corner.
Crossing Ponte Sant'Angelo towards Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome
We got back to Rome fairly early that day to get ready for the Vatican. We took a walk from our apartment in Piazza Navona after a quick siesta to go to the Vatican. Walking in Rome is like walking through a time machine; there is history at every turn. There are plaques adorning many buildings as you walk by, so take the time to read a couple. Our walk took us into cobblestone alleyways over Ponte Sant’Angelo, an ancient Roman bridge (from around 100AD) lined with angel statues. Greeting us at the end of the bridge was Castel Sant’Angelo (also known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum). Emperor Hadrian built it in the 100AD’s, as a mausoleum for himself and his family just outside the Roman City Walls. The look on my son’s face when he first saw Hadrian’s Castle made all the complaining and whining worth the trouble. Unfortunately, we had tickets to the Vatican Museum and did not have enough time to stop at Hadrian’s Mausoleum.
Egyptian Obelisk in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City
As we walked into the St. Peter’s Square we pointed out the Pope’s apartment to the kids, and the smoking chimney that indicates the successful selection of a new pope. Don’t miss the Egyptian obelisk, erected in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. The obelisk was originally taken from Egypt by a Roman Emperor in the 1st century BC. Look around for other ancient Egyptian obelisks as you wander through the city. There are eight of them. We had hoped to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, but then realized that there was a very long security line to get in.
Vatican Museum -St. Peter's Dome in background, Vatican City
Concerned that we may not make it to the Vatican Museum in time to get through the security lines, we passed on the Basilica. Little did we realize that the guards at Vatican Museum did not allow visitors to line up until a bout 15 minutes before their allotted entry time. The Vatican Museum offers tickets for Friday nights in the summer. I have never been into the Museum in the daytime, but was told that night time crowds are a lot less. It was busy but it was definitely not shoulder to shoulder, as I had heard daytime crowds described.
Artwork on the ceilings of the Vatican Museum, Vatican City
Not all exhibits were open. The exhibits that were open housed a huge collection of things found around the world, from Egyptian mummies, to statues to ancient maps to pottery. The last stop was the Sistine Chapel. There are benches along the side of the chapel, seats disappeared fast if you’re not quick. Try to take a moment to appreciate the paintings around you; most of it has a way of becoming three - dimensional after a slight analysis. I would highly recommend the night-time entry, though be advised that not all exhibits are open for night time entry. We got tickets online a few weeks beforehand.
Taking a stroll on over 2000 year old Appia Antica, Rome
The next morning, we took a train towards Via Appia Antica, THE old Roman road, dubbed the Queen of Roads. Originally built it was 210km, later extended to 560 km and links Rome to Italy’s south eastern coast near the port city of Brindisi. Construction of the road started around 300BC. The portion of Appia Antica that is pedestrian-friendly is the stretch from Villa dei Quintilli to the Tomb of Cecelia Metella. It is a cobblestone road lined with funerary monuments of Romans who wanted to be remembered after death. It is on this road that the rebels of Spartacus’ Slave Revolution is said to have been crucified. Can you imagine the sight of 6000 men and women nailed to the cross as you approach the Roman City Gates for miles and miles? It must have served as a good deterrent. Today, this stretch is a peaceful walk in a park-like atmosphere full of history, bloody as it may be.
Aquaduct Park, Rome
In Rome, the journey itself is an experience. On our walk to the train station, we walked by Trevi Fountain, which unfortunately was closed for restoration. Once we got to our destination stop (Giulio Agricola Station on Metro Line A), our walk along Viale Giulio Agricola took us into a Roman urban neighbourhood. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up picnic eats. We took our picnic supplies into a park called Parco degli Aquadotti (Aquaduct Park). Aquaduct Park contains the remnants of several aquaducts built at different times in Roman history. Aquaduct construction started in 312 BC and ended in 226 AD. Aquaducts provided water to Roman residents for both drinking and sewage, and made it possible for the Romans to have so many grand bathhouses. Water originated in the springs in the hills east of Rome. At its height, the aquaducts provided 1 cubic meter of water every day for every resident in Rome, who numbered 1 million at its height. Most of the Roman Aquaducts (around 260 miles) ran below ground in tunnels, about 30 miles of it above ground, in what we see as arches and bridges. These above-ground structures were built when necessary to provide the correct gradient for water flow or to cross a river or creek. The oldest aquaduct, Aqua Appia, was built in 312 BC, by the same man that commissioned the building of Appia Antica, or Via Antica as it was known at the time. The most famous in Aquaduct Park is Aqua Claudia, built between 38AD and 52AD. Its arches makes it one of the most visually impressive aquaducts in Rome.
Tomb of Cecelia Metella, Rome
We stopped in on Tomb of Cecelia Metella (69BC), the daughter-in-law of Marcus Crassus, the Roman who took down Spartacus and his troops. Marcus Crassus was considered the wealthiest man in Roman history. The castle-like building has had many uses over the last 2000 years, from being a tomb to a fortress. Just down the street from the Tomb of Cecelia Matela are two catacombs, San Sebastiano and San Callixtus. San Callixtus contains the remains of 16 popes, 10 martyrs and many Christians. We skipped the catacombs. My kids were afraid of seeing bones of dead people. If I am honest, I am too.
Beyond San Sebastiano Catacombs, traffic gets busy, and sidewalks non-existent, so we elected to catch the bus into the city. On the bus, we caught a glimpse of the Porta San Sebastiano (part of the Roman Aurelian Wall), the Baths de Caracalla, Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill . Our bus stopped in front of the newest building on the block, built in the 1800’s and home to Italy’s government, Il Vittoriano. After climbing the marble stairs to the balcony to get an aerial view of the Roman City (complete with a map of the surrounding buildings), we walked back to our apartment near Piazza Navona. On a side note, if you have to choose between taking the bus or subway in Rome, take the bus. On the bus, you can look out the window, and who knows, you might spy a city wall, pyramid or a building from a different Roman time. We also noticed a different culture in Italy. Locals are very kind towards children, seniors will offer their seats on the bus to young kids. Lodging hosts will gladly give you a ride to/from the train station.
The newest building on the block, Il Vittorio_Monument, Rome
Our visit to Rome completed our whirlwind tour of Italy. We had the chance to walk through so much history, and a different culture. Of all the places we visited, my husband and I enjoyed Matera the best, for its 9000 years of history, lack of crowds and even a hike into a park-like setting. Rome was a very close second. The kids enjoyed Rome the best, namely the Colosseum. Italy is like no other place we had visited…
** Above information based on information accurate during summer 2015