A historical treasure trove, Rome also boasts gorgeous weather, stunning architecture at every turn, and unbeatable cuisine. If you’ve not visited before, here are six reasons why you should take una vacanza in Italy’s flamboyant capital city.
An iconic Roman landmark, the majestic 2,000 year old Colosseum is a must-see for first timers to the city. Built in 80 AD during the Flavian dynasty, the world’s largest amphitheatre hosted gladiatorial games and fights, animal hunts and mock naval battles. Up to 55,000 spectators routinely crammed into four storeys of steep stands to watch the violent action in the arena below. Italy’s main tourist attraction draws over seven million (!) visitors a year. To avoid lengthy queues book advance tickets online, and visit first thing or late in the afternoon.
Book in advance to explore Rome’s premier art gallery. The stately museum houses a superb collection of paintings, sculptures and frescoes by masters including Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael. Notable mentions go to the intricate sculpture Apollo and Daphne by Bernini, and Caravaggio’s ‘David with the head of Goliath’. The notorious artist was at the time accused of murder, and experts deem the work to be an ominous self-portrait. Afterwards, enjoy a stroll in the tranquil and verdant Villa Borghese gardens.
The Trevi Fountain
The ornately carved Baroque showstopper and Instagram favourite was completed in 1762. The fountain gets its name from three streets that converge beside it, and an ancient Roman aqueduct supplies its water. Distinctive, elaborate sculptures include a centrepiece of Oceanus, the God of water, accompanied by goddesses Health and Abundance. Trevi is renowned for its scene in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita, when Anita Ekberg famously danced in the fountain. Myth has it that if you toss a coin into the depths, you will return to Rome. Enthusiastic visitors throw in an estimated 3,000 euros each day (!) all of which is collected and donated to charity.
Italian food has a universal fan club, and Roman gastronomy combines delicious, simple and hearty ingredients. Popular street food includes pizza al taglio (by the slice), and the locally invented trapizzino. This triangle shaped pocket stuffed with moreish fillings (try chicken cacciatore or eggplant parmigiana) is a delicious pizza/sandwich combo. On trattoria menus you’ll find porchetta, slow roasted, melt in the mouth pork, plus deep fried courgettes (zucchini) and artichokes. Classic pasta dishes include cacio e pepe (a simple recipe of black pepper and salty sheep’s cheese), creamy carbonara and spicy tomato based amatriciana. Rome’s gelato outlets are abundant, and the best ones use seasonal ingredients and minimal additives. Fatamorgana, Fior di Luna and Del Gracchi are three of the finest.
This elegant Roman temple has weathered almost 2,000 years with aplomb. The beautiful interior is so stunning that Michelangelo named it the work of angels. The building is a showcase of Roman architectural ingenuity and ambition: the 16 Corinthian columns were sourced from quarries in Egypt. The height and diameter of the temple are equal (142 feet), whilst the enormous dome with a 27 foot open ceiling, or oculus, appears suspended. The oculus or ‘eye of the Pantheon’ is the only source of light. Clever architects gave the floor a gentle slope, to drain away any rainwater that enters the circular opening. The unique structure is the last resting place for several Italian kings and luminaries including the artist Raphael.
Europe’s smallest city state, the Vatican City is the Roman Catholic Church HQ and home to its spiritual leader, the Pope. Each Wednesday thousands of worshippers congregate in vast St Peter’s Square for the weekly papal audience, surrounded by Bernini’s 140 statues of saints.
St Peter’s Basilica is Italy’s most lavish church, the magnificent interior awash with stunning artworks. Masterpieces include Bernini’s soaring baldacchino, a majestic bronze arch above the church altar, and the Renaissance sculpture La Pieta, crafted by Michelangelo at the tender age of 25. Tackle the 320 steps (they’re steep!) of the Basilica’s soaring dome. At the top you’ll enjoy amazing views over St Peter’s Square and city rooftops. The renowned Sistine Chapel is another Rome must-see. Lift your eyes skyward to the vaulted ceilings and gaze in awe at Michelangelo’s glorious celestial frescoes, including the splendid Creation of Adam and The Final Judgement. Ensure you dress appropriately for your visit i.e. no bare shoulders, shorts or miniskirts.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com