Samstag, 12. September 2015

A visit in the eternal city

All roads are leading to Rome is an saying that you are often hearing. And I think there really is some truth in it. Even though it took me about 34 years to get there for the first time in my life, I always knew that I would go there.
Even when I was very young I already felt very fascinated by this place which seems to be the Epitome of European Culture and History. I always was fascinated by History and loved to read about the History of the Roman Empire from an early age on. And since I was also a big fan of the Asterix Comics as well, where the Romans are playing a big role and Rome was often in the centre of the stories.
And I often pictured it as an city where History is coming alive and you get a real glimpse of what life might have been back then. And of course the idea of seeing places like the Pantheon or the Coliseum for the first time was always an fascinating thought for me.
Hard to believe that it then took me so long to get there in the end. But somehow there were always some other destinations and plans that came up when I planned my vacation.
But  then finally a few years ago I decided to finally go there when I decided to spend my years vacation in beautiful Italy. I was planning also to go to Florence and Bologna, but my main destination was Rome. And I have to confess that my expectations were very high before I left. I formed a picture of that city in my mind over the years which I wasnt really sure Reality would be able to hold up to. I pictured everything in a very perfect way. So the chances of getting disappointed were really high and realistic. But then the opposite thing happened. Reality even managed to beat my imagination. A few weeks back I have to Rome again a few years after my first visit there. And I am still very fascinated by this place. It didnt lost anything of its magic in my eyes.
I rarely have visit a place where there is so much to discover, where you can see so much culture and history concentrated in one small place. But besides its incredible interesting history there is so much more to this vibrant city.
The Location of the city is at least so spectacular as its construction. The famous seven hills on where it is built are providing some very spectacular views on the city itself and its surroundings. And of course there is also the famous Italian Lifestyle, La Dolce Vita, for which Rome is so famous and you can find on every Piazza and lively corner of this city with its endless array of Trattorias, Bars, Ice Cream Parlours and Cafes. Nothing better than to sit down on one of the Piazzas and enjoy one of the many culinary treats of this beautiful country and watch the Inhabitants of Rome and the endless streams of Tourists passing you by.
There are so many good reasons why you should visit Rome and these are only a few of them. I think everyone might find some other reasons why to go there. It surely is an incredible place to visit.

Already arriving in Rome is an experience. When I came into the Town the first time I took the Leonardo Express from the Main Airport outside the town. First you are driving through some bare looking but still green shimmering landscapes with not much in them and you wonder if you really arrived at the right place. Maybe there is another Rome somewhere. I still have to think about the story of one Man who wanted to visit Sydney in Australia and booked a Ticket to Sydney in Nova Scotia instead.
But even before such thoughts could come up the train already passes through the first Suburbs of Italy's Capital. And the bare looking landscape is replaced by a dense looking labyrinth of Streets and Houses. And you get the first idea of how huge this city is.
But what impressed me most was that you get that first glimpse of History already from the train. While you are getting closer to the Central Station Termini you are passing several old walls, towers and building which are looking like they must be dating back to the time of the Romans. And you start to understand why they are calling it the Eternal City.

And this impression wont stop when you are getting off the train. The whole city is literally flooded with the remains of the generations and civilisations that settled in this place for  about the last 3000 years. Where ever you are in the centre of Rome, you can turn on every random corner, the chances that you are discovering some old or even ancient building or at least part of an building are very high. And that is one reason this place is so amazing. There are so many remains of old city walls or old Aqueducts, old buildings or temples everywhere, you cant really escape it, even if you want to.
And you might not even find these places on any of the tourists maps. Which makes them not less interesting or impressing. But I guess when they wanted to put every point of interest on a map in Rome, you might not be able to read or decipher anything on this map it would be so filled with inscriptions.
For me  the best way to explore Rome is diving somewhere into it, you dont even need a map. Just go to some random point in the Centro Storico, the old town disctrict of Rome, and just walk around you will discover so many interesting and amazing places. You could do that for day after day it wont get boring in my opinion.

But of course when you are there, it makes sense to make a plan of what you might want to visit, as with so many options to choose from it will be hard to see everything you want to see. The first time I was in Rome I had about five days and now I had another 3 1/2 and I am not even close to have seen everything this city has to offer. You might need to live there for a year or more to be able to cross everything from your To do and to see list.
The funny thing is that every time I come to Rome I seem to have some problems with my feet. The first time I had an ingrown Toenail and it was hard for me to walk around for a longer time as the feet was very sensitive back then. But it didnt stopped me from walking around anyway. I was too eager to explore my surroundings. And this time I managed to end up with at least five or six blisters on my feet after the first 1 1/2 days of my time there. I guess my Sneakers werent the right footwear for this trip. So on the evening of the second day I was barely able to walk anymore. But again my curiosity was bigger than my sense of Pain. Or maybe I got an masochistic tendency I am not aware of. I didn't wanted these problems to spoil my time  there.

But when you are not that handicapped there are a lot of options what to do and see in Rome. So much that I am honestly not sure where I should start as there is so much to choose from. And each list I will come up with there will be something missing. So I just gonna write down some of the places I think in my opinion you must have seen while you are there. There are several others which are surely as amazing and worthwhile visiting as the ones I will come up with. But I hope that I might be able to give you some good ideas of what you could visit there. 

When I think about Rome and its amazing Sights, the first think that comes to my Mind is the Coliseum. This incredible impressing structure is maybe the first thing you might think about when you think about the Roman History. Not that it is one of the best preserved structure out of this time, it is also a really good symbolism for the whole Roman History. Embedded in this structure and its history you can find a lot of what we know and how we think about the Romans. 

Of course first there is the enormity and pure mass of this structure and you cant stop wondering how they were able to build such an impressing Stadium back then. The Romans were incredible good architects and builders. And the Coliseum is a very good example for this. It is both impressing and massive, but still there are so many small details built into it  that it is more than fascinating. The details of the Arches on the upper side of the outside walls for example. It surely was not easy to built this. And also the whole inside of this Arena is as fascinating as this. The Labyrinths of the Catacombs or the remains of the walls in the interior which are now looking like a huge Maze. If you havent to share it with several thousand other tourists at the same time you could spend hours here.

But beside the amazing building abilities of the Romans it also tells us a lot about the Culture and History of the Roman Empire which was very violent at times. Today it is somehow hard to imagine that it was seen as an Sunday Entertainment to see that people killed each other in brutal one on one battles or that people were torn into pieces by exotic animals under the cheers of the crowds. I think this tells you a lot about how life must have been there. It surely sounds like an harsh life when you are not on of the chosen one belonging to the upper Class in Rome. It is amazing what one building can tell you about the persons who build it. One one side they were really educated and cultured, otherwise they wouldnt have been able to build such an impressing arena, but the purpose of this place leaves you puzzled about the state of mind of that society.
But leave that apart, seeing the Coliseum for the first time is an sight you might never forget. I went there by foot and out of a sudden I was standing in front of it. And I was really awed by this view. It looks so huge and impressive on the outside. It's walls are so high thick, even more you would consider from the pictures you might have seen of it. And on that first time I walked around the whole Arena and took photo after photo. I was so impressed by it. On the next day I came back to see the interior, and once you are through the checkpoints and manage to get at least a bit away from the masses, the views are even more impressing than from the outside. The size might not be much less than that of a modern football stadium and you can see before your inner eye how it must have looked two thousands years ago. An sight I will surely never forget. You could imagine horse carriages racing down its inner lanes or seeing the Gladiators fighting. History cant get more lively than this.
I think it is best to get here early in the Morning when the huge groups of Tourists havent arrived there. I was there around Noon and  the place was so crowded which spoilt the whole experience a bit.

As there are good priced Combo Tickets it makes sense to combine a visit to the Coliseum with visits to two more mayor sights of Rome. The Palatine and the Forum Romanum. I highly recommend to visit these two places when you are really interested in the Roman History. As there are no better places to get in impression of it in Rome.
The Palatine is located only a few hundred Metres from the Coliseum and was the Epicentre of Might in  the Antique. It was here that Romulus murdered his brother Remus and founded the City of Rome, and it was also the place where all the Mighty and Rich families and persons of the Roman Empire decided to settle down and built all their houses and palaces. After the fall of the Roman Empire churches and castles were built up on that hill. Which were then later replaced by Palaces and Gardens in the Renaissance Era. And so what you can find today on top of the Palatine is a mix of remains from all this different epochs. You find ruins of old roman settlements which were rediscovered and got buried out. You find the remains of old Roman Palaces. The remains of a huge ancient Stadium. You can still find old Mosaics and Frescos there beside some very beautiful gardens. It is very impressing to walk around the old Palaces and Gardens. And maybe the most beautiful thing up there is the amazing view you have on the Forum Romanum and the Coliseum which are both nearby. And why not stop here for a nice Picknick and enjoy the beautiful view?

The third Highlight in this area is the amazing Forum Romanum. The Centre of the Roman Life back then. It was a Marketplace. a Gathering place and also a religious complex. Everything that mattered in Roman Life happened here. And you still can feel this while you are walking around the ruins of the Forum and have a look on the high upraised columns of old temples and Monuments. Originally the place the forum was located was used as an cemetery of the Etruscan and developed over the centuries into this so important place in Roman Life. There are so many important temples, markets and Monuments which stood here that it would take too long to name them all. Bu it is worth getting an Audio Guide and walk around in this area and listen to the explanations. It was an amazing experience. You really feel coming this old world coming alive again before your inner eye. Just amazing.

Still not enough of History? Why not heading up the Capitol Hill then. One of the political Centres of the Roman Empire. But not only that, also some of the most important temples were located here. Today you can only imagine what it must have looked like back then. What you find today is the recreation of the place during the time of the Renaissance which was partly done by Michelangelo. Very impressing when you climb up the Hill on the Cordonata, the famous Stairwell he created. Guarded by two lions on the bottom and on top by two statues it really is impressing and fascinating.
The Place in the centre of the Capitol Hill is dominated by a huge Statue of Marc Aurel.
What I would highly recommend is a visit of the capitoline museums. Filled with Sculptures and Paintings which are breathtaking, it is one place you should visit when you are interested in Art. But you can also find some parts of the older buildings inside of the Museums and it is worth to have a look at them.
When you go to the other end of the Hill you will reach an place from where you will have an amazing overview on the Forum Romanum which lies directly beneath this point and the Coliseum behind the Forum and the Palatine to its right. One of the best Photo opportunities in the whole of Rome.

And talking about Photo opportunities. The maybe best view on Rome you will get from the Gianicolo, a hill which climbs up on the other side of the Tiber right behind the beautiful city quarter Trastevere. From here you have a view on the St. Peters Basilica and the Vatican on one side and when you move to the other side of the hill it gets even better. The whole of Rome lies in front of you. You can get almost all of Rome's famous sights on one photo. It was breathtaking. Such a beautiful view. No wonder that a lot of newly-weds choose this place for taking the first pictures after their Marriage. And also a popular spot for a Picknick. Another must go in Rome.

I was  there on my second evening in Rome this year, and if you remember this was after my feet got filled up by blisters. But somehow I managed to get up the way from the Vaticans side of Rome on top of the Hill, each step was really hard for me, but it surely was worth it. I descended the Hill on the other Side to have Dinner at a nice place in Trastevere and later had to climb that hill again to get back to my Hotel. You wouldnt believe how hard my feet complained.. I am sure they must hate me now...

Another place you shouldnt miss out in my opinion is the Pantheon. This masterpiece of early architecture is really a marvel. Over 2000 years old, it is still an amazing sight. Once you have entered it your eyes will automatically look up to that massive dome above you. It is unbelievable that they were able to build this massive cement Dome back then without today's knowledge and science. How can this structure hold up?  Once you have seen it you will ask yourself the same question. And unbelievable that the diameter of that dome is exactly the same size as the height of the Interior of the Pantheon. Really fascinating. Also the hole in the Middle of the dome is an eye-catcher. It is really nice to stand inside the Pantheon and see the light falling through it and forming patterns on the walls.
But also the rest of the Pantheon is very impressing. For a church its interior looks really simple, but it is still very impressive with all the columns and statues. And also the Piazza in front of the Pantheon is worth a view with its nice fountain in the centre and and endless seeming number of Restaurants and Cafes. A nice place to relax if you dont mind the masses who are passing through here.

Another Church you shouldnt miss is the St. Peters Basilica. But of course Church is not the right word here. I am not sure even Cathedral would be the right one. This Monument is so impressing that it will leave you speechless for a few second. Whether you are religious or not. It is so enormous and massive.
It is hard to imagine that once the Piazza San Pietro was once only place to a modest small church and not to that impressive Masterpiece of Architecture. You can imagine how it must have looked on the pilgrims who came to Rome for the first time and set their eyes on this Cathedral. They must have been struck by awe. Which was of course what the church wanted. They wanted to show their power and their force with this Building. Everyone should get an impression of the Richness and force of them. And it really worked for a very long time.
And it gets even more impressing when you inside of the church. That means when you managed to get inside, as you have to go through a more or less floppy security check, but the queues seem to be endless as several thousand tourists want to visit the inside of the church. But what does it say about our times that you need to pass a security check to get inside of a church?

But once you are inside it is very, very impressing and worth the wait. All the wonderful paintings, sculptures, Frescos, Wall paintings, all the Marble and Gold and all the riches. It is incredible. What I really loved was Michelangelo's Dome. So impressing when seen from the inside. It is really hard to focus on one or two of the masterpieces here. The whole church is one huge Masterpiece. And unimaginable vast. I think you could fit the whole crowd of a sold out Football Match inside of this church without problems. And dont miss out on visiting the side wings and Basilicas of the church. Just wonderful. And I am not really a religious person. But it is impressive.

And I even missed out on the Sistine Chapel. Where the queues where at least as long as before the church itself. But I heard that the Vatican Museum to which the Chapel belongs is really worth a visit. But it is wise to book in advance when you are going there.

And even if you decide not to go into the Church, alone the Piazza San Petro is worth a visit. A huge open plaza surrounded by Colonnades on two sides of the Plaza which are richly decorated with Statues of Martyrs and Saints. The Plaza is dominated by the impressing Obelisk right in the middle of the Plaza, but it is the whole vastness of the whole Plaza which makes it so impressing. Even with thousands of thousands of Tourists on the plaza it looks almost deserted when you compare the numbers to the Size of the Plaza. Very incredible.

When I was in Rome now I saw an advertisement for an Multimedia Show called "Time Elevator". But what few people know there is actually a real Time Elevator, well better call it Time Stairs in Rome. The Basilica di San Clemente. An church built in the 12th Century. The special thing about this church will looks not overly impressive on this level, besides an nice Mosaic, is that it was built on the foundation of an older church which goes back to the 4th century A.D. And via an Staircase you can descend into this church and walk around and see how the earlier churches might have look like. From there you can go even back further in time and after you walked down another Staircase you end up on the Street level on an old Roman Street, where you can still see the remains of an Family house from the 1th Century A.D. and an old Minerva Temple. This was maybe my favourite place in Rome. It really felt like an time travelling experience. Very recommended.

And another glimpse into the past you can get at the Area Sacra di Largo Argentina, which is an area that lies between two big roads in the middle of Rome and where several temples were discovered during construction works in this area. Now you can see the whole area from above, as it is located beneath the street level. You can see several columns and structures which were parts of several temples here. A really nice view from above. The area itself is now an sanctuary for Cats so you can see several cats walking and sleeping down there.

When you want to go out of Rome for a day I would recommend a Trip to Ostica Antica. Ostica was the Harbour of the ancient Rome. The whole area that made up the Harbour town now are very carefully preserved and restored with the result that nowadays you can walk across the still original paved streets through  the whole city and get a glimpse of how life must have been there through the remaining buildings and structures. There are many signposts which are explaining what you are looking at. There are old Thermae where still some old mosaics are still visible from above. There is an old Bakery and Mill, an old bar and old temples, a huge Amphitheatre and several other structures you can visit. Often you can only imagine what this place must have looked like 2000 years earlier. But that makes part of  the fun. And you really can spend hour after hour here to walk along these ancient roads and it wont get boring. I really loved it. And the best part is, it is not so well known and a bit outside of Rome, so that you dont get the Masses of tourists here. Which makes it even more relaxing.

So as you can see there are several interesting spots and places in and around Rome and I have only mentioned a few yet. I could also write about the huge amount of amazing churches in Rome, the many amazing and inviting Museums, the many impressing Fountains. like the the Fontana di Trevi for example. The many inviting and welcoming Piazzas all scattered across the town. The many wonderful Parks like the Vila Borghese which invites you to take a longer rest there. There is so much to see and to do. It is incredible.

And besides all the cultural and historical highlights of Rome, there is so much more to the city. The liveliness of the whole city. The wonderful sunny weather in the summer there. The amazing view over the hills of Rome. I think you only can fall in love with this city.

And of course also culinary, Rome is worth a visit. There are plenty of wonderful and good Trattorias to chose from. But you have to be really careful to chose the right ones as of course there are also a lot of tourist traps which only offer mediocre Quality or even worse. But when you are lucky, you are really in for a treat. I found a wonderful place in Trastvetre this time. A lovely place located in a lively alley offers some wonderful tasting home brewed beers and maybe one of the best Pizzas in town. I rarely had such a good Pizza in my life. From the dough to the fillings, just perfect. That really was La Dolce Vita that night. But of course you can also have bad luck and end up with some really bad plate of Pasta in front of you. Or end up standing in front of an closed Restaurant like it happened to me on my last night in Rome.
I was following a recommendation of my Guide book and went to one place near  the Vatican. As I was barely able to walk by then because of my feet I was looking for a place not too far from my Hotel. And thought I have found something nice. But of course it was closed because of their summer vacations. Bad luck I thought and decided to go to another Restaurant which sounded nice and was a way back to the Vatican and was supposed to be open on that sunday, every step was really hard for me. And guess what, when I arrived there it was of course closed.... But at least I found another good place nearby.
And also that day I had some really good ice cream. If you are close to the Vatican go to the Old Bridge just outside the walls of the Vatican. Unbelievingly good ice cream, best to top it with some Cream. Wonderful...

So as you might have figured out by now, I really fell in love with this city and I can only say try to visit the city if you have the chance. It really is worth a visit. So beautiful and interesting. For History Buffs like me there is maybe no other place like Rome in the rest of the world. Very impressing and amazing. And I am sure I will be going there again as there is still a lot to see and to do there.

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