Languages Magazine

Discovering… Rome

By Tlb

Everyone has heard the legends that surround this great city’s very foundations. The moving story of two orphans raised by a mother wolf, which ends in tragedy, one brother killing the other, apparently setting the pace of the violent dealings that would continue for centuries.

But in spite of the various human and animal sacrifices, dictatorships, tyrannies, executions, catching fire extensively and many more terrible things; the Eternal City has also been home to many of the most influential personalities, artists, athletes,  and artistic movements of all history. Once Capital of the World, center of leaders and government, Rome has had everything that was once known to men rise and fall under its shadow.

This city of legends and overwhelming greatness still stands tall, modern and ancient at the same time, where different cultures have clashed over many centuries, leaving an enriched and interesting cultural scene with very many things to discover.

At first sight, everything in Rome is breathtaking: the narrow streets, the ruins, the cats, the roman accent, the monuments, the buildings, the food, the squares, the fountains… everything. There is no place you’ll find nothing to see, fact which makes the city a very interesting place to discover. As everything can become so overwhelming for the tourists and visitors (specially for those who do not speak Italian), here is a list of things to see and tips to be able to get to know the city like a true Roman.

1. Colosseo and Foro Romano

A close view of the arena

A close view of the arena

Obviously, these amazing landmarks are the most celebrated and renowned of Rome, and therefore the first thing to check out of the list. The Coliseum is a very imposing sight, it is almost impossible to not feel small and humble standing beside it. Not only the inside of the arena is beautiful and great to walk around, but also the streets surrounding it are spotted with ancient ruins, monuments, statues and gardens where I have found out it is worth getting a little lost among the many wonders of the city center. The Foro Palatino is also a great to walk and get acquainted with the actual inhabitants of the place, a multitude of stray cats that claimed the ruins as their own. It is all very beautiful. The only advice I have to give is to get there early; not so much because of the lines or waiting times that were almost non-existant; but because it closes early in the afternoon and you will risk missing out on a great visit.

2. St Peter’s Basilica, Square and other Major Basilicas

Bernini's Baldacchino inside Saint Peter's Basilica

Bernini's Baldacchino inside Saint Peter's Basilica

Entering the biggest church in the world entails some minor details like a strict dress code and going through a couple of security checks, but you will find out just how worth it was once you set foot inside this impressive landmark.  The Basilica measures 365 thousand square feet and can fit a crowd of 80 thousand people on the occasional Papal services. Now that I have tried to give you an idea about how huge this church actually is, let me tell you that it is very easy to get disoriented inside St Peter’s because of its undisputable hugeness and decorated interior where many works of art; such as the Baldacchino and the throne Cathedra Petri by Bernini and Michelangelo’s La Pietà.

One of my favorite things to do in Rome is climbing up to St Peter’s rooftop; from where you can see most of the city. The climbing is very exciting; you get to see the inside of the Basilica, the inside of the Dome and good part of the city as you go up. Once you reach the roof there are many places to explore, and you are in store for one of the most iconic views of the world. You can choose to take the elevator if you think the stairs are too much, but I still recommend going by foot. You will get to enjoy first-hand the many mosaics and art that lines the roof of the Basilica and see everything from above. Tip: watch your head!

Once you are done with the Basilica, you can hang around the St. Peter’s Square for a while to take in everything you have seen inside the building, while you enjoy the colonnade and statues that decorate this famous square. If you are in the mood for more, you can check out the other Major Basilicas of Rome: St. Peter, St. Mary Major, St. Paul outside the walls, and St. John Lateran. If you are a true church enthusiast, add St. Lawrence outside the walls, Santa Croce Gerusaleme and St. Sebastian to the list to complete the Seven Pilgrim Churches and obtain grace.

3. Pantheon

Pantheon and fountain

Pantheon and fountain

Incredible setting, especially at night, where street musicians and laid back atmosphere are the bohemian settings of La Rotonda square. The Pantheon was built as a temple to the gods of Olimpo, but then became a christian church St. Mary and the Martyrs, with a curious spherical shape and a hole on the ceiling, supposedly to welcome the sunlight or the moonlight. Surrounded by legends of the devil taking part on its construction, the Pantheon and its square affectionately called La Rotonna by the romans is a beautiful place to kick back and relax at any time.

4. Piazza Navona

A view of Piazza Navona

A view of Piazza Navona

Located in a gorgeous part of town close to the Vatican City, in Piazza Navona, street artists and traditional sights meet city hustle and tourist visits for a spot with something for all tastes.  Talented artisans and street painters offer their work to curious tourists in a gorgeous square, an Egyptian obelisk dating back to the very first century standing tall over a romantic fountain… all surrounded by major monuments and churches, cafes and restaurants and a bohemian setting all over the Piazza. It is a great place to explore the city, get to know its people and take pictures.

5. Piazza del Popolo and Pincian Hill

The Twin Churches that open the tridente at Piazza del Popolo
Twin Churches open the tridente at Piazza del Popolo

With its twin churches and fountains, this beautiful oval square is a must. Surrounded by shopping venues, restaurants and cafés; la Piazza del Popolo happens to be in one of the busiest parts of Rome, just beside the Pincian Hill. The Piazza holds the second oldest obelisk in the city in its very centre, while the rest is lined by the Porta del Popolo, the baroque chiese gemelle (the twin churches) and the tridente, three streets that part into different directions from the square. The Pincian Hill is reachable through some flights of stairs that will take you into one of the most interesting parks in Rome.

6. Vatican City museum

If you are in for a very intense art history walk, then definitely the Vatican Museum is for you. Keep in mind that there is a strict dress code and a very crowded line in order to get in. The Museum per se is interesting and long in the same amount; but it will take you at least three or four hours at a fast pace. Note for Michelangelo’s fans: the Sistine Chapel is at the very end of the tour, so please be patient with the rest of the museum. There is a big chance that you would enjoy many other things before the Sistine chapel, because after being on your feet so long, you can get the impression of it being an empty little chapel packed with tourists with neck pain.

7. Tevere river

View of the river Tiber and the Sant'Angelo bridge

View of the river Tiber and the Sant'Angelo bridge

The Tiber river is the running heart of the city, the thread that unites downtown Rome, having been there ever since Romulus and Remus were abandoned to their fate in those same waters. Today, the Tiber and surrounding neighborhood of Trastevere offer much more than old sad stories: beautiful sidewalks, romantically lit cafés and restaurants offer a perfect atmosphere for lovers. There are beautiful bridges everywhere, many restaurants and beautiful places to discover. Enjoy the roman sunset and take everything beautiful in while the water runs underneath you, it will be a perfect place to relax a little bit, walk around and just be in love if you happen to be in the city with your significant other.

8. Castel Sant’Angelo

After being remodeled into a castle, the Castel Sant’Angelo looks over the river with yet another imposing view. This building, first a mausoleum and then a military base, has been standing in the same spot for almost 1900 years; and now contains a museum. The Castel has lost much of its original charm over the centuries and subsequent transformations, but has never lost its magnitude and always found a function. Many sieges, sackings and other have molded Castel Sant’Angelo into what you see today; and there are many stories, facts and legends of its former inhabitants that turn this castle into a landmark that it’s worth visiting.

9. Tivoli and Hadrian’s and Villa d’Este

One hundred fountains at Villa d'Este

One hundred fountains at Villa d'Este

If you are in for a little discovering outside the city, you must definitely get to see this Villa, one of the most famous gardens in the country. Villa d’Este is a garden in the city of Tivoli, around 30km away from Rome, a city famous for its country landscapes and for being a favorite vacation spot in the times of the Roman Empire. These gardens were built over the grounds of an ancient monastery around the year 1550, by the Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia; and are now a World’s Heritage site by UNESCO. Give yourself a chance to relax outside the busy city rumbling and retreat to this incredible gardens that will give you a taste of the Roman aristocratic way of life in the XV century.

10. Trevi Fountain

Tourists at the Trevi Fountain

Tourists at the Trevi Fountain

If you are a Fellini enthusiast, there is one more stop on your quest to discover the Eternal City. If you don’t count yourself with the Syilvia’s adoring entourage, then you should think twice before visiting the world famous Trevi Fountain up close, for the hordes of tourists packing the square will probably dissuade you of even trying to get close to the actual water. It is a beautiful work of art, but if you have time to see it in the morning, I encourage you to do so; for at night the sight of Neptune and its horses will probably give you more headaches than the expected coin-throwing romance.

If you have been thinking about visiting Italy and the Eternal City don’t just take any road; take your time to plan ahead taking my tips into account, for there are many more options and other incredible places to see. For the most adventurous, consider learning some Italian before you go, for it will definitely help you discover the true charm of the city. Feel free to check out our course offer in Italy and especially in Rome, where the people are easygoing and nice and some say that it is the place of the best Italian accent.

If you have been to Rome already, which places would you add to the list? Make sure to state your opinions and experiences in the comments below.

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