Monday, 5 September 2011

Walking around the city of Rome

{ Rome, Italy - May 2011 }

Roma. Roma. Roma.

I think I have a love-hate relationship with the city. On one hand, how can I not love a city with so much history? And yet, the city is huge, which means lots of people and traffic, and everything is far away! After three days in the compact islands of Venice and a day in the university town of Bologna, we spent four days in the city of Rome, and it felt worlds apart.

We took the train from Bologna to Rome and reached the city late morning. By the time we checked into the apartment we have booked and had lunch (the lunch was one of the best we had in Rome - more on that later!), it was already quite late. So, we spent the first day in Rome walking around some of the main (and free) attractions around Rome. Most of the places we went would not need any introductions, as the photos would speak for themselves.

The first place we went to was the one building that will always be linked to Rome - the Colosseum (Coloseo). We saw it from the Roman Forum and was so giddy with excitement that we walked straight towards it! After looking at so many photos, reading and listening about it, we were finally there! We walked around it, soaking in the atmosphere, but planned to visit it the next day.


Right in front of the Colosseum, was Arco di Constantino, which was built in honour of Constantine, the great Roman emperor. We then walked past the Palatine Hill towards the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome - Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo). All it was today was a patch of green field, used by joggers. It was pretty difficult to imagine how it used to look like.


Now, if I have a favourite obelisk among the many obelisks around Rome, it would be this endearingly strong elephant, supporting an Egyptian obelisk. The elephant was designed by Bernini, and the statue and the obelisk is called the Pulcino della Minerva. It is right in front of the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The basilica houses the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, and while the body was in Rome, the head was in Siena! Of course, we were curious enough to visit Basilica of San Domenico that housed St. Catherine's head, when we were in Siena, Tuscany.


Just a few steps away, was the Pantheon. Can you believe that it was built in 126 AD? For a 1,885 year old building, it sure is looking good! Now, Pantheon, like the Colosseum, deserves a post all to itself. So, more to come!


Another must-see if you are only in Rome for a day would be Piazza Navona. It has three fountains and two churches. The most famous would be another of Bernini's masterpiece, the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi). It features statues representing four rivers in four continents - the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata. The fountain stood right in front of Borromini's Chiesa di Sant' Agnese in Agone. A popular myth says that one of the statues on Bernini's fountain faces the church directly and appears to be recoiling in horror as a critique of his rival's work. However, it really is a myth as the building of the church only started a year after the fountain was completed. Flanked at the two ends of the piazza were Fountain of Neptune (photo below, also called Fontana del Nettuno) and the Fontana del Moro. And if it sounded familiar, you probably have read or watched the piazza and the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.


From Piazza Navona, we walked the streets of Rome. Of course, after feeling tired from walking, all you need is a gelato stop! But not just any gelato shop, the Gelateria Giolitti where Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn stopped by in Roman Holiday, and countless of other famous people. Reaching Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), we got shocked with the number of people in front of the fountain. Guess it was to be expected considering it is one of the most famous fountain in the world. Of course we threw coins to ensure our return to Rome!


Our long walk around Rome ended right at the Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti). Right at the bottom of the steps was the Fountain of the Old Boat (Fontana della Barcaccia) and right at the top was the church Trinità dei Monti. We sat on the steps to rest our feet, joining the countless tourists and locals.


We managed to see so much in a relatively short day, and the number of masterpieces kind of took my breath away. I know Stendhal syndrome was usually associated with Florence, but I think I kind of have that in Rome - there were just so much history, so many important buildings and famous art pieces that overwhelmed me. This was just the first day in Rome. How many more days would it take to see all that the city has to offer?

::: Footnotes :::

{ Where we stayed } We stayed in Relais Rome Sweet Rome, a charming apartment near the Roman Forum. 

{ Where we ate } We had one of the best lunch in Rome in La Taverna dei Fori ImperialiWe went in as it right outside where we stayed, without knowing that it was actually a famous restaurant! If you plan to go, try to make a booking first, especially for dinner. Stop for gelato at Giolitti at Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40. This was where Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn stopped by in Roman Holiday, and countless of other famous people. 

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