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Sr. Travel Writer
The Roman Colosseum
ROME, THE ETERNAL CITY
Rome -- the Eternal City -- is vast, to say the least. Yet the fusion of centuries of history dating back to before Christ, the uniquely Italian yet international ambiance, outstanding cuisine, expressive denizens and wealth of historically significant tourist attractions are enough to turn any small-town devotee into a big city enthusiast.
Spanning approximately 150 square miles with a population of four million people, Rome is a series of interconnecting districts and neighborhoods layered with everything you can imagine from medieval bell towers to imperial temples, stunning architectural monuments, meticulously created statuary, historic churches, beautiful fountains, ancient ruins, ensconced catacombs and baroque basilicas, all interwoven with quintessential modern society which includes unbelievable shopping, delicious restaurants encompassing every cuisine imaginable, a nightlife scene unlike any other, incredible museums, and so much more.
Rome's early beginnings, depending on which historical account you adopt, has been said to be somewhere between 500 and about 750 BC. So you can easily see the wealth of history and remnants of significant eras and events -- Etruscan rulership, the rise of Christianity, Barbarian invasions, formation of the Holy Roman Empire, the French Revolution, Mussolini's rule during World War II and so on -- have developed and remained here through modern times.
The best way to get around the city is to buy a multi-day pass, which gives you unlimited use of the busses and subway trains that extend to nearly every corner of Rome. There are many ways to explore Rome: by historical reference i.e. Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, or by other category like churches, contemporary neighborhoods, shopping districts, etc. A good overview of the city can be achieved by taking a walking tour for detailed exploration of a specific area, or, via city bus and on-and-off double decker bus tours (Rome Bus N' Boat Tours) allowing you to take time at any of the various locales throughout the city at your leisure, all day or over several days.
Ancient Rome is part of The Centro Historico (Historic Center), and encompasses Il Colosseo (The Colosseum), the thriving hub of the ancient city when completed in 80 A.D as the world's largest amphitheatre where gruesome battles between gallant gladiators and ferocious animals, brutal prisoner deaths, and other sports were the primary spectator activities; Foro Romano (Roman Forum), Rome's political, commercial and social center for centuries, beginning about the 6th Century B.C.; Fori Imperiali (Imperial Forums), created by Julius Caesar as a series of interconnecting forums -- each representing significant eras and events in Italy's history; and Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), which supported the immensely popular Roman sport of Spectatorship with more tranquil sports like chariot races at center stage.
Equally impressive, yet vastly different is the Vatican City, also referred to as the Holy See, where the Roman Popes have resided for over six hundred years. This City itself spans just over 100 acres and encompasses The Vatican, Vatican Museums (gateway to the Sistine Chapel containing Michelangelo's greatest masterpiece) and library, Vatican Gardens, St. Peter's Basillica, St. Peter's Square and Belvedere Park. Considered by some to be the richest independent state in the world, it is so self-sufficient that it consists of its own newspaper, currency, broadcasting facility, stamps, and flag, among other entities. Arguably the most notable attraction here is St. Peter's Basillica, an architectural masterpiece containing impressive works of art by Michelangelo, Maderno, Bernini, Raphael and others in every aspect of the edifice including the vaulted cupola, equestrian sculptures, Corinthian-fashioned columns, papal and saint statues and numerous monuments. There are also historic and symbolic altars, and the final resting places (under the Basillica) of numerous popes including St. Peter, its namesake and one of the apostles of Jesus.
Do not miss The Pantheon -- one of Rome's most famous attractions. Built in 27 BC and rebuilt between 117 and 120 AD it is recognized for its massive perfectly proportioned floating dome resting on an elegant drum of columns and pediments, and was originally built as a temple and later converted into a church. The Pantheon is situated in the Piazza Navona that at its formation in the Middle Ages was replete with numerous renaissance and Baroque churches and palaces. Today it is the place to see and be seen at the numerous boutique shops, gelaterias, cafes and the like.
Most likely the most international meeting place in all of Rome (and among the most famous and photographed sites in the world) is Scalinata della Triniti dei Monti -- The Spanish Steps -- where people watching, socializing with new and old acquaintances from around the world, and just contemplating life and the wonders of Rome are the orders of the day. This multi-flight staircase with outstanding views of Rome from many levels is popular year-round, but even moreso in Spring when the azaleas and accompanying verdant shrubbery are in full bloom.
Above the Spanish Steps you will find the Triniti dei Monti Church, a beautiful Gothic and Renaissance-inspired building founded by the French in 1495 and one of the city's best-known churches, even if only because of its location. Down below is Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square) -- named after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See -- containing the spectacular Fontana della Barcaccia. Stretching out like a handle to meet the square is Via Condotti, containing the most upscale designer boutiques (Gucci, Prada, Dolce and Gabanna and the like), expensive restaurants and luxury hotels.
Parioli is an eclectic mix of four and five-story apartment buildings, the edifices painted in calming hues of pastel green, pink, yellow and clay, accentuated with verdant palm trees, shrubbery and a plethora of flora. Hotel delle Muse is easily accessible by bus (15 minutes from the bus depot) which drops you off just a block away. Inside the foyer guests are warmly greeted by the friendly, multi-lingual staff managed by Giorgio Lazar and the Lazar family. Just past the front desk is an interior garden courtyard with a restaurant and bar, resplendent with a variety of lovely trees and plants surrounding the patio furniture where you can nosh or rest, illuminated at night with petite string lights and augmented by the melodic trickling of fountains. Each morning guests enjoy a sizeable Continental Breakfast in the main dining room to start their day, and in the evening each return here is like entering your own private indoor/outdoor oasis. The rooms are basic, comfortable and very clean, some with expansive, crank windows sans screens occupying an entire wall, where one can gaze out and absorb the wafting scents of the nearby eateries in the surrounding neighborhood below. Although Parioli and the Hotel delle Muse are a bit off the beaten path, the excellent service and serene ambiance you receive here are well worth it.
There are numerous must-see attractions in Rome, to say the least, but you couldn't miss -- literally -- the incredible and awe-inspiring Palazzo Venezia, commemorating King Vittorio Emanuele II. Also formerly serving as both a Venetian and Austrian Embassy it is, in short, a stark white massive masterpiece of marble and stone dominating the Roman skyline for miles around. Leading off with the uniformed guard-flanked Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and eternal flame, you'll find outstanding exterior monuments, unique statuary, galleries, exhibits and more, plus breathtaking panoramic views of Rome, particularly at sunset.
It really is quite difficult to cull the number of significant sites and attractions in Rome, there are so many. And it is equally as challenging to put into words what an impressive, inspiring and magnificent city Rome really is. It's just something you have to see, and experience, for yourself.