ROME, Italy — You don’t have to be a history major to understand the impact Rome has had on the world. From aqueducts to roads, the Romans were ahead of their time and their influence can still be felt on society today.
But, the best part about a trip to Rome is that you don’t need days to see the major sites to gain a new respect for the capital of Italy.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you can see it in one.
Now, before you go looking to Rachael Ray’s next installment of “$40 a Day” for guidance, let’s get one thing straight: It’s going to cost more than $40 to see Rome in a single day.
Well, you might be able to see Rome for $40, but it’s not going to be all that much fun. And, let’s face it, we’re here for a good time.
I took a 10-day trip to Italy last November, and just one day of that trip was dedicated to seeing the sights and sounds of Rome, or Roma, as it’s known to Italians. It was a 10-hour whirlwind tour, hitting the must-see spots and taking in the culture and history.
As Bob Dylan once sang: “Ancient footprints are everywhere.” So lace up those walking shoes and put film — make that a compact flash card — in the camera and let’s shake a tail feather. You’ve got one day to see one of the most stunning cities in the world.
When many people think Rome, they think Vatican City, though technically it’s a city-state. Nonetheless, the Vatican is the prefect way to begin your day.
Anyone who calls himself a student of history cannot help but be in awe of Vatican City’s direct link to modern day religion. It is here that Saint Peter – one of Jesus’ 12 disciples – was buried after he was crucified circa 67 AD.
Now, don’t think that you have to be Catholic — or religious — to enjoy the Vatican. The Holy See attracts millions of people every year, many of whom are not Catholic. All you need is an appreciation for beautiful architecture and a respect for history. Many popes are buried in the Vatican’s catacombs, including John Paul II, a beloved pontiff whose grave alone attracts thousands of visitors daily on a pilgrimage to connect with the revered theologian.
Sure, the Vatican has a lot of history, but believe it or not, at 450 or so years old, it’s one of the newer buildings in town (To put it in perspective, construction on Saint Peter’s Basilica began 56 years before St. Augustine, Fla. — the oldest continually-occupied European settlement in the U.S. — was founded).
If it’s historical and stunning that strikes your fancy, you’re in luck. The city is home to one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks: the Colosseum. This incredible building that has lasted generations and is the best and most widely-known symbol of Rome’s past was THE stadium of its day. Started in 72 AD, the Colosseum could hold 50,000 people, it could be emptied in a matter of minutes, and, yes, it even had a retractable roof.
But, if that’s not outrageous enough, the Romans at times filled the stadium with water so they could reenact sea battles for war-loving crowds. Today, the building is perhaps best remembered for the gladiator fights that once took place there. The Colosseum was used continuously until it was damaged in a fire in 217, giving it a roughly 145-year run (By comparison, Boston’s Fenway Park has only been in use for 94 years).
What is perhaps most amazing about the Colosseum is its close proximity to modern-day life. Busy roads filled with cars, buses and motorcycles run adjacent to this nearly 1,930-year-old marvel. Yet, the building doesn’t seem out of place. If anything does, it’s the modern-day machines speeding past on the surrounding roads.
Certainly, Rome is home to more than the ancient ruins and the Vatican city. There’s countless plazas and fountains that warrant a stop. When in Rome, you’ll also want to swing by the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) and Piazza del Campidoglio.
Located at the top of Capitoline Hill near the roman ruins, the Piazza del Campidoglio is an Italian square at its finest. The Piazza, designed by Michelangelo, the original Renaissance man, is a great place for the weary traveler to take a respite and lose oneself in the moment.
Started in 27 BC, the Pantheon, built as a temple to the ancient Roman gods, is considered by many to be the glory of Rome. The building has it all, from columns to marble to monuments. Without a doubt, it is a testament to Rome’s grandeur and illustrious past.
Before you stop at Fontana di Trevi, make sure you have some spare change. Because, according to legend, if you throw a coin over your shoulder and into the fountain, you’ll soon return. That’s a good enough excuse for me to go back.
In between any stops on your grand circle tour of Rome, feel free to stop at any number of sidewalk cafes and order up an authentic Italian meal. Order a bottle of wine or two, but just be sure you’re able to walk after lunch, especially if you only have one day in town. And when you’re hungry from walking, stop in a gelateria (ice cream store) for some gelato (Italian ice cream).
As the day comes to a close, visit the Spanish Steps, the Scalinata di Piazza di Spagna in Italian. As night falls on the city of Rome, it’s the kind of moment you wish could last forever, taking in the sights of this famed city and marveling on the fact that so many historical places are located within walking distance of one another and that without Rome – and the Roman Empire – life as we know it today would be drastically different.
Needless to say, Rome is an old city, having been founded on April 21, 753 BC. Yes, BC. That’s 2,758 years before I made my first visit to the city. But, I have to be honest – I’m not sure how much has changed in about the last 400 years. Regardless, it’s a magical city that is a must see on anyone’s tour of the world. And, it goes without saying, I’ll be back again some day, hopefully before too long.
Arrivederci, Roma. I can’t wait to see you again.