We arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon after catching the train from Switzerland – it took us just under six hours and the time just flew by. We arrived into the main train station in Rome – Roma Termini. It was about a 15 minute walk to our hotel – the cobbled streets made for interesting suitcase and golf bag travel 😬.
We are staying at Hotel dei Borgia which is really nice and well situated from the historic sites and the Metro station. We spent the first day and a half checking out our neighbourhood and planning our next few days in Rome.
First up was a Segway tour – we decided to do the full day option so we could really get a good lay of the land in the ancient city. We met at the Eco Art Travel offices for a training session – we had been on a Segway before in Chicago and it’s just like riding a bike 🤭. Well not quite but it all came flooding back – we just had to factor in the cobbled streets and navigating the curbs – Segway’s can’t go up curbs so the guides are well skilled in finding the best ways to navigate the city.
Flavio was our guide for the morning and he was a born and bred Roman. He was well versed on both Segway riding and history.
First stop was the Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus (Latin for greatest or largest circus; Italian: Circo Massimo) is an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine Hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. It measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width and could accommodate over 150,000 spectators. In its fully developed form, it became the model for circuses throughout the Roman Empire.
After the 6th century, the Circus fell into disuse and decay, and was quarried for building materials. The lower levels, ever prone to flooding, were gradually buried under waterlogged alluvial soil and accumulated debris, so that the original track is now buried 6m beneath the modern surface. In the 11th century, the Circus was “replaced by dwellings rented out by the congregation of Saint-Guy.” In the 12th century, a watercourse was dug there to drain the soil, and by the 1500s the area was used as a market garden. Many of the Circus’ standing structures survived these changes; in 1587, two obelisks were removed from the central barrier by Pope Sixtus V, and one of these was re-sited at the Piazza del Popolo. Mid 19th century workings at the circus site uncovered the lower parts of a seating tier and outer portico. Since then, a series of excavations has exposed further sections of the seating, curved turn and central barrier but further exploration has been limited by the scale, depth and waterlogging of the site.
The Circus site now functions as a large park area, in the centre of the city. It is often used for concerts and meetings. The Rome concert of Live 8 (July 2, 2005) was held there. The English band Genesis performed a concert before an estimated audience of 500,000 people in 2007 (this was filmed and released as When in Rome 2007). The Rolling Stones played there in front of 71,527 people on June 22, 2014 for the Italian date of their 14 On Fire tour. The Circus has also hosted victory celebrations, following the Italian World Cup 2006 victory and the A.S. Roma Serie A victory in 2001.
Artists impression of what it would have looked like
Aerial view – current day
Next up was the Theatre of Marcellus (Latin: Theatrum Marcelli, Italian: Teatro di Marcello) which is an ancient open-air theatre built in the closing years of the Roman Republic. At the theatre, locals and visitors alike were able to watch performances of drama and song. The theatre was 111 m in diameter and was the largest and most important theatre in Ancient Rome; it could originally hold between 11,000 and 20,000 spectators. It was an impressive example of what was to become one of the most pervasive urban architectural forms of the Roman world.
Nowdays the upper floors are divided into multiple apartments, and its surroundings are used as a venue for small summer concerts.
After a little altercation with a curb (ST not me) Flavio showed us how the Romans have recycled the ruins over the years. Statues have been re homed all over the city.
The famous Trevi fountain was next on the itinerary – as you can imagine it is a very popular spot and it was impossible to get up close and personal. I have been to Rome before and they say if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you will be sure to return to Rome in the future so 21 years later here I am 😊.
An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated €1.4 million (US$1.5 million) was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, even though it is illegal to do so.
The fountain stands at 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.
We enjoyed a break at Campo de Fiori which translated literally from Italian, means “field of flowers“. The name dates to the Middle Ages when the area was a meadow.
Executions used to be held publicly in Campo de’ Fiori. Here, on 17 February 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt alive for heresy, and all of his works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Holy Office. In 1889, Ettore Ferrari dedicated a monument to him on the exact spot of his death: He stands defiantly facing the Vatican and was regarded in the first days of a reunited Italy as a martyr to freedom of thought. The inscription on the base reads: A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE (“To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned”).
Today the square is the home to a market by day and a restaurant and bar scene by night although in the years after 2000, it became one of the most dangerous nighttime places of the city due to assaults and affrays by drunk tourists and soccer supporters.
We then visited the beautiful Piazza Navona which has three elaborate fountains. Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century, when the city market was transferred there from the Campidoglio, Piazza Navona was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art during the pontificate of Innocent X, who reigned from 1644 until 1655, and whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced the piazza. It features important sculptural and creations: in the center stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius; the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini, Girolamo Rainaldi, Carlo Rainaldi and others; and the aforementioned Pamphili palace, also by Girolamo Rainaldi, that accommodates the long gallery designed by Borromini and frescoed by Pietro da Cortona.
At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575) to which, in 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor, wrestling with a dolphin. At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo della Porta; the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro.
Apparently it is a very expensive place to eat and drink.
The Pantheon or House of God is a former Roman temple and is now a church. It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” (Latin: Sancta Maria ad Martyres) but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda”. The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon is a state property, managed by Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism through the Polo Museale del Lazio; in 2013 it was visited by over 6 million people.
The Pantheon’s large circular domed cella, with a conventional temple portico front, was unique in Roman architecture. Nevertheless, it became a standard exemplar when classical styles were revived, and has been copied many times by later architects.
As I mentioned above Segways don’t do curbs so we did a spot of road riding which was fun – the Italians are generally passionate people but this does not extend to stopping for pedestrians or other forms of transport so you have to be alert. To be fair it wasn’t particularly busy on the roads but they have a knack of appearing from nowhere and usually at a rate of knots 😂 .
We saw the Altare della Patria ([alˈtaːre della ˈpaːtrja]; English: “Altar of the Fatherland”), also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (“National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II”) or Il Vittoriano from the road, which is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.
The eclectic structure was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885. Established Italian sculptors, such as Leonardo Bistolfi and Angelo Zanelli, made its sculptures nationwide. It was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1925. It effectively took 40 years to construct – quite amazing when you compare it to the construction of the Colosseum which took 8 years to build but as Flavio pointed out they had the use of 20,000 Roman slaves. The construction of II Vittoriano was a costly business.
The Vittoriano features stairways, Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. The structure is 135 m (443 ft) wide and 70 m (230 ft) high. If the quadrigae and winged victories are included, the height reaches 81 m (266 ft). It has a total area of 17,000 square metres.
The base of the structure houses the museum of Italian Unification. In 2007, a panoramic lift was added to the structure, allowing visitors to ride up to the roof for 360-degree views of Rome.
The monument, the largest in Rome, was controversial since its construction destroyed a large area of the Capitoline Hill with a Medieval neighbourhood for its sake. The monument itself is often regarded as conspicuous, pompous and too large.
It has been described as being “chopped with terrible brutality into the immensely complicated fabric of the hill”.
It is clearly visible to most of the city of Rome despite being boxy in general shape and lacking a dome or a tower. The monument is also glaringly white, built from “corpse-white marble” imported from Botticino in Brescia, making it highly conspicuous amidst the generally brownish buildings surrounding it. For its shape and conspicuous nature, Romans have given it a number of humorous and somewhat uncomplimentary nicknames, including la torta nuziale (“the wedding cake“), la dentiera (“the dentures“), macchina da scrivere (“the typewriter”) and la zuppa inglese (“English soup” dessert, which refers to a trifle).
We finished the morning part of the tour at the Colosseum. The Colosseum is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy. Built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).
The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles (for only a short time as the hypogeum was soon filled in with mechanisms to support the other activities), animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
Although partially ruined because of damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and also has links to the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.
We then enjoyed a typical Italian lunch- bruschetta, pasta, wine and coffee 😋.
The afternoon tour was more about the vistas of the city than the places. Our guide in the afternoon was Dimitri – he was also a born and bred Roman but one of his parents was German so he was extra tall.
One thing we have noticed in Rome is the state of disrepair that the streets, parks and train stations are in. There is a lot of graffiti, rubbish, weeds and areas that look like waste lands. I spoke to Flavio about it during the morning tour and he said it is all about the money. There simply isn’t enough money to go around and in a city of so many monuments, sculptures and historical sights they tend to be taken care of first.
On the afternoon tour, however we did visit a park that was green and well taken care of. Dimitri told us that when we turned left and walked towards the Vatican and St Peters Basilica we would see an optical illusion and he was right. As we walked closer the dome actually got smaller – you would think it would get bigger. But is it really magic? Probably not, and it is generally agreed that it is a trick of perspective caused by the position and height of the buildings on the horizon. When you walk towards a focal point, such as St. Peter’s dome, one would expect it to get bigger the closer you get. But in this case it, on the contrary, the cupola appears to become smaller as we approach the space between the buildings gets wider and our brain adjusts the dimensions perceived automatically.
Next stop was Capitoline Hill. From the founding of Rome until its fall almost one thousand years later, the Capitoline Hill symbolized the epicenter of Rome’s might and many of the city’s most important buildings stood on this hill.
Later, during the Middle Ages, the site continued to play an important part in Rome’s history. The senate of Rome assembled here and even today it still has some political significance since the city hall is located here. Apparently this is where the Mayor of Rome lives. The mayor of Rome – Virginia Elena Raggi – is the 65th Mayor of Rome and the first female mayor. She is a lawyer and politician and she share my birthday although she was born 7 years later.
One of her first acts as mayor was the withdrawal of the 2024 Olympic bid stating that “with 13 billion euros in debt, Rome can’t afford taking on more debt to make cathedrals in the desert”. Under her tenure both public transport and waste management have been subject of criticism due to poor quality of passenger service and waste collection: as for the former to date (July 2018) more than 30 buses caught fire since January 2017 because of poor or absent maintenance. The event has become so common that the press reports that every time a bus explodes in Rome the first thing people think of is a lack of service of Atac – Rome’s public transport company – rather than a terrorist attack.
When Emperor Charles V planned a visit to Rome in 1536, the muddy Capitoline Hill was in such a derelict state that pope Paul III Farnese asked Michelangelo to design a new square, the Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Square). The project also included a redesign of the existing buildings surrounding the square.
Michelangelo came up with an original, trapezoidal design for the square with an intriguing oval shaped ground pattern. He rebuilt the Palazzo Senatorio, seat of the Roman senate, and redesigned the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
Additionally a new building, the Palazzo Nuovo, was to be constructed just opposite the Palazzo dei Conservatori. Both palazzos were positioned at a slight angle so that it changes the perspective in such a way that the square seems larger than it actually is.
Finally, Michelangelo’s ambitious plans for the square also included the creation of an elegant staircase, the Cordonata.
Construction of the square started in 1546 but only the staircase at the entrance of the Palazzo Senatorio was realized when Michelangelo died in 1564. The project was finally completed in the seventeenth century according to Michelangelo’s designs.
There is so much history in this city it is mind blowing and also a bit confusing. Dimitri reckons you would need at least two years to see everything in Rome.
Name & Symbol
The origin of the city’s name is thought to be that of the reputed founder and first ruler, the legendary Romulus. It is said that Romulus and his twin brother Remus, apparent sons of the god Mars and descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, were suckled by a she-wolf after being abandoned, then decided to build a city. The brothers argued, Romulus killed Remus, and then named the city Rome after himself. The symbol of the city of Rome is the wolf suckling the twins.
Periods of Roman History
Roman history has been among the most influential to the modern world, from supporting the tradition of the rule by law to influencing the American Founding Fathers to the creation of the Catholic church. Roman history can be divided into the following periods:
▪ Pre-historical and early Rome, covering Rome’s earliest inhabitants and the legend of its founding by Romulus.
▪ The period of Etruscan dominance and the Regal Period, in which according to tradition, Romulus was the first of seven kings.
▪ The Roman Republic, which commenced in 509 BC when kings were replaced with rule by elected senators. The period was marked by vast expansion of Roman territory. During the 5th century BC, Rome gained regional dominance in Latium, and eventually the entire Italian peninsula by the 3rd century BC. With the Punic Wars from 264 to 146 BC, Rome gained dominance over the Western Mediterranean, displacing Carthage as the dominant regional power.
▪ The Roman Empire: With the rise of Julius Caesar, the Republic waned and by all measures, concluded after a period of civil war and the victory of Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar in 27 BC over Mark Antony. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Rome managed to hang onto the empire, still known as the Roman Empire but long centered on the eastern Mediterranean, until the 8th century as the Duchy of Rome. At this time, the city was reduced to a fraction of its former size, being sacked several times in the 5th to 6th centuries, in 546 even temporarily depopulated entirely.
▪Medieval Rome: Characterized by a break with Byzantium and the formation of the Papal States. The Papacy struggled to retain influence in the emerging Holy Roman Empire, and during the Saeculum obscurum, the population of Rome fell to as low as 30,000 inhabitants. Following the East–West Schism and the limited success in the Investiture Controversy, the Papacy did gain considerable influence in high medieval Europe, but with the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism, the city of Rome was reduced to irrelevance, its population falling below 20,000. Rome’s decline into complete irrelevance during the medieval period, with the associated lack of construction activity, assured the survival of very significant ancient Roman material remains in the centre of the city, some abandoned and others continuing in use.
▪ The Roman Renaissance: In the 15th century, Rome replaced Florence as the symbol of artistic and cultural influence. The Roman Renaissance was cut short abruptly with the devastation of the city in 1527, but the Papacy reasserted itself in the Counter-Reformation, and the city continued to flourish during the early modern period. Rome was annexed by Napoleon and was technically part of France during 1798–1814.
▪ Modern History: The period from the 19th century to today. Rome was under siege by the Allied invasion of Italy and was bombed several times. It was declared an open city on 14 August 1943. Rome became the capital of the Italian Republic (established in 1946), with a population of 4.4 million in its metropolitan area (as of 2015; 2.9 million within city limits)—is the largest city in Italy. It is among the largest urban areas of the European Union and classified as a “global city”
Kingdom of Italy
Rome became the focus of hopes of Italian reunification when the rest of Italy was reunited under the Kingdom of Italy with a temporary capital at Florence. In 1861, Rome was declared the capital of Italy even though it was still under the control of the Pope. During the 1860s, the last vestiges of the Papal States were under the French protection of Napoleon III. And it was only when this was lifted in 1870, owing to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, that Italian troops were able to capture Rome entering the city through a breach near Porta Pia. Afterwards, Pope Pius IX declared himself as prisoner in the Vatican, and in 1871 the capital of Italy was moved from Florence to Rome.
Soon after World War I, Rome witnessed the rise to power of Italian Fascism guided by Benito Mussolini, who, at the request of King Victor Emmanuel III, marched on the city in 1922, eventually declaring a new Empire and allying Italy with Nazi Germany.
The interwar period saw a rapid growth in the city’s population, that surpassed 1,000,000 inhabitants.
This Roman Question was finally resolved on 11 February 1929 between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. The Lateran Treaty was signed by Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI. The treaty, which became effective on 7 June 1929, and the Concordat established the independent State of the Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy.
During World War II, Rome suffered few bombings (notably at San Lorenzo) and relatively little damage because none of the nations involved wanted to endanger the life of Pope Pius XII in Vatican City. There were some bitter fights between Italian and German troops in the south of the city and even in sight of the Colosseum, shortly after the armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces. On 4 June 1944 Rome became the first capital city of an Axis nation to fall to the Allies, but was relatively undamaged because on 14 August 1943, a day after the last allied bombing, the Germans declared it an “open city” and withdrew, meaning that the Allies did not have to fight their way in.
In practice Italy made no attempt to interfere with the Holy See within the Vatican walls. However, they confiscated church property in many other places, including the Quirinal Palace, formerly the pope’s official residence. Pope Pius IX (1846–78), the last ruler of the Papal States, claimed that after Rome was annexed he was a “Prisoner in the Vatican“.
As in ancient times Rome is a center of transportation. It is the focus of international traffic by road, rail, sea (at the port of Civitavecchia), and air (at Leonardo da Vinci international airport at Fiumicino) and is as well a cultural, religious, political, and commercial center of international importance.
Public transportation in Rome is provided by an elaborate bus system. A subway, the Metropolitana, was opened in 1955. Rome’s large number of automobiles has caused serious traffic congestion, and in the 1970s and 80s various attempts were made to deal with the problem, including the banning of traffic in certain parts of the city. The economy of Rome depends to a very large extent on the tourist trade.
The city is also a center of banking, insurance, printing, publishing, and fashion. Italy’s movie industry (founded in 1936) is located at nearby Cinecitta.
The economy of Rome is characterized by the absence of heavy industry, but commercial activities especially banking and the development of tourism are extremely important to its economy. Universities, national radio and television and the movie industry in Rome are also important parts of the economy. A phenomenon particular to Rome is the widespread incidence of double employment, people working two jobs.
All roads lead to Rome….
The idiom, “all roads lead to Rome,” was being used as early as the 1100s. It was based off of the ancient Roman road system where roads radiated from the capital of Rome. The road system resembled spokes of a wheel.
Rome wasn’t built in a day…
Important work takes time. This expression functions as an injunction or plea for someone to be patient. For example, You can’t expect her to finish this project in the time allotted; Rome wasn‘t built in a day. This phrase was a French proverb in the late 1100s but was not recorded in English until 1545.
When in Rome…
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of those who live in it. It can also mean that when you are in an unfamiliar situation, you should follow the lead of those who know the ropes.