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Rome: The eternal city

Created date

May 27th, 2015
The Colosseum
The Colosseum

Known as the eternal city, Rome has withstood invasions, civil wars, and plagues. In modern times, the euro has replaced the lira and technology threatens to rush a culture predicated on “la dolce vita” (the sweet life). Despite that, Rome is a place where remnants of ancient history and the Renaissance peacefully coexist within a very modern, vibrant city.

With more monuments than any other city in the world, it’s no wonder that about ten million people visit Rome annually…and they all seem to have the same short-list of must-see destinations. The crowds can be overwhelming, especially in the warmer months. 

If you are planning a trip to Rome, go online and purchase admission tickets to the places you want to visit. A little advance planning before leaving home can help ensure that your Roman holiday isn’t spent standing in eternal ticket lines.

The Colosseum

The iconic Flavian Amphitheatre commonly known as the Colosseum is the most popular tourist attraction in Rome. Completed in the year A.D. 82, it was the site of many ancient spectacles, from gladiator fights to mock hunts. At times, they filled the central area with water and staged naval battles. 

An earthquake in 1329 caused the south side of the mighty Colosseum to collapse. Over the years, much of the structure’s marble facade was repurposed for other buildings or ground into lime. What remains today is a moss-covered shell of what stood centuries ago. But still, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of the building, the ingenuity of its construction, and the awe-inspiring spectacles—both lavish and savage—that took place inside its walls.  

It remains the largest amphitheater in the world. As such, it’s not a place you want to explore on a rainy day. There are covered areas, but the main viewpoints are all outdoors. To reach the upper levels, most visitors climb a few flights of steep stone steps, but there is an elevator for those who can’t manage the stairs.

Galleria Borghese

In the seventeenth century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, part of a rich and powerful Roman family, started a collection of magnificent artworks. Today that collection, including paintings by Titian, Caravaggio, and Rubens are all on view at the Galleria Borghese. While all of the gallery’s holdings are spectacular, the sculpture gallery is sure to leave you breathless. All you know about stone will be questioned when you gaze upon the draped fabric detail on Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte

Highlights of the Galleria Borghese include the works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the sculptor who left an indelible mark throughout the city of Rome. Here you can see Bernini masterpieces like Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina up close. As you circle the works, you can’t help but marvel. How could marble look so much like flesh?  

Keep in mind that you will have only two hours to explore the gallery. Start at the top floor and savor the luscious sculptures on display. Use the remaining time to enjoy the paintings on the first level.  

Spanish Steps

While history is in abundance in Rome, it is very much a modern city. This is most evident at Piazza di Spagna, or Spanish Steps. Built in 1725, the Steps have always been a popular gathering place. Centuries ago, people met to discuss the day’s news. Today, they are most likely trading text messages and taking selfies. 

The surrounding area, known as the Trident, is the Roman version of Madison Ave. It’s where you will find some of Italy’s best-known luxury brands, including Versace, Bulgari, Armani, and Ferragamo. Most of these stores are outrageously expensive, but a favorable exchange rate might make purchasing a treasure a little more affordable. 

Culinary heritage 

Unlike America, where food trends come and go, Roman restaurants proudly perpetuate the city’s culinary heritage. Menu items all over town are astoundingly similar be it an upscale ristorante, a casual trattoria, or a simple osteria. Pasta is generally a first or second course followed by meat, poultry, or fish as an entrée. Traditional Italian meals consist of many courses, so don’t be surprised if you get the feeling that your waiter expects you to order a few more dishes. 

Roman restaurants are very different from what Americans are used to. For one thing, a meal is viewed as an experience that is to be savored. Waiters never hurry you through. For another, tipping is not expected, as most restaurants charge a very modest service fee. When Americans do leave a tip, waiters are noticeably surprised and sometimes even flustered. 

In America, we have happy hour. In Rome, there is aperitivo. Starting at about 4 p.m., many bars and restaurants put out platters of olives, spiced nuts, bruschetta, cheese, and salami. The food is complimentary with the purchase of a glass of wine or a cocktail. The deal gets even sweeter when you take into account that a glass of wine can be had for just a few euros.  

There are so many fabulous things about Roman cuisine, but for anyone with a sweet tooth, the abundance of gelato shops has to be near the top of the list. Whether you are tired, or lost, or overwhelmed by the rigors of traveling, when in Rome, you can always duck into the nearest gelato place and order two scoops. Then, all will be right with the world.