Monday, August 1, 2011

How to Conquer Rome in 3 Days: Things to See and Do


Ah, Rome! How I miss thee! Rome is such a beautiful city, filled with fashion, fun, excitement, and steeped in history. I have written several times about Rome, Italy, in this blog (see posts on the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City, and the Coliseum.) This will be my last post on Rome, unless I have the luck and joy of visiting the city again.

There is so much more to see and do besides the places listed above. Granted, I found that the Coliseum is among one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life, but if you happen to be in Rome, be sure to explore beyond the Coliseum! It's not hard to do - actually, it's literally impossible not to see more sights.

Before you can even get close to the Coliseum, you must first pass by the Arch of Constantine, an intricately carved and decorated triumphal arch erected to celebrate Constantine I. It dates back all the way to 315 A.D., but still stands strong and glorious today. You could probably spend all day checking out the carvings, reading the inscriptions (if you know Latin) and photographing the arch itself - except for the fact that right behind the Arch of Constantine you are continually distracted by the enormous and tempting Coliseum!

The majestic Arch of Constantine, located right outside the Coliseum

Once you have finished with the Coliseum, the Forum is just a hop, skip and a jump away, about a two block stroll. The Forum does charge admission to enter and walk around, but the price is only 12 Euros. Believe me, it is worth the cost. Some of the most amazing pictures I snapped of Rome were of the Forum, which is a long, rectangular plaza filled with ancient Roman ruins. The Forum used to be the city center and the site of various political meetings, rallies, and votes.

The remains of the impressive Roman Forum - you could spend a whole day here!

There are tons of temples located there as well - my favorite being the last few pillars remaining of the Temple of Vesta, where the vestal virgins lived and prophesied the future for Romans. As the story goes, the vestal virgins were only funnels of knowledge from the gods as long as they remained virgins. If any of the vestal virgins were to be touched by a man, the man was killed immediately, usually in interesting ways to teach others a lesson, and the vestal not-so-virgin had to be disposed of as well. However, since it was illegal for anyone to touch them - yes, literally touch them - the woman was forced to crawl into a deep hole, and would then be buried alive. (Because then it was the earth killing her, not a person. Doesn’t that just make so much sense?)

The remaining bits and pieces of the Temple of Vesta.

Another of my favorite locations, which is not that close to the Coliseum so be prepared to grab a bus or cab, was the Pantheon. This was a temple built during the rule of Marcus Agrippa in order to bridge the gap between pagan religion and the newly emerging Christian religion - it literally translates to “to every god”, meaning people could come to the Pantheon to worship any god they chose. Eventually Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it in 126 A.D. to display solely Christian figures.

I loved this building because of the occulus, or giant hole in the center of the ceiling, where you could look straight up into the sky. Because the occulus is open to the elements, the floor of the Pantheon is sloped to the outside to allow for rainwater drainage. Crazy! The outside isn’t too shabby either - the massive Corinthian columns are very impressive. This one is definitely worth the visit.

Posing outside the Pantheon on our first day in Rome

Playing around with the Pantheon's massive occulus

Near the Pantheon is Piazza Navona, a trendy plaza for restaurants and street vendors. It also has three of the most beautiful fountains you will see, particularly the center fountain, called the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Embedded within the fountain design is a true-blue Egyptian obelisk, stolen from Egypt who knows how long ago. Then there is the Fountain of Neptune and the Fontana del Moro.

Every time I go to Piazza Navona, I end up walking away with a really cool purchase, such as a painting of the Coliseum which is now framed and hanging in my bathroom. When I went there in 2010, I bought a painting of a mountain landscape. The painting itself isn’t that impressive, but watching it being made was. The artist didn’t use a single brush, but used bits and pieces of cardboard, torn from the cardboard he was using as a placemat. He dabbed the cardboard bits into paint, and smeared them over the canvas. Within 15 minutes, I was looking at a complete and very pretty painting. I had to buy it.

Sitting by one of the three fountains in Piazza Navona

Finally, in the same relative district as the Pantheon, we visited the Spanish Steps, which lead down from the Trinita dei Monti church into the Piazza di Spagna. They are pretty steep, and there are a lot of steps! In January, the first time we went, the area wasn’t that crowded, and only a few vendors were present to harass you to purchase items. (Don’t ever, ever hold a rose that a vendor offers you - the moment you touch the dang thing, you are expected to buy it for an outrageous price, and they will not take the rose back. Just wave them off right away if they approach you.)

The beautiful Spanish Steps at sunset.

When we visited again in April, the steps were crowded, busy, and filled with flower vendors. It was dizzying, but the flower vendors also made the steps a very pretty sight. I was approached by a rose seller again, but this time knew what to do. When the man continued to follow me after I had told him no and refused to touch the rose in his outstretched hand, a policeman noticed him bothering me. The cop took the man’s bouquet of roses and shooed him from the piazza - I guess they are only tolerated if they behave themselves. Otherwise, they’re not really supposed to be there selling without a vendor’s license.

"Pay the man!" a friend yelled to my husband, so he paid 5 Euros for this one dumb rose.

There are still some things I’d like to see in Rome that I haven’t been able to; the baths in particular. I hope one day I will be able to scratch that one off the bucket list!

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