A January 2004 trip
to Rome by italylover
Quote: As a junior in college, I spend four months studying and living in the Roman Monteverde neighborhood. As a result, I became familiar with the tourist spots and much of the local life as well in what I consider to be the most beautiful and alive city in the world.
To visit Rome is to enter into history, to become in some way a participant in the activity that has existed there for millennia. So watch rain fall into the Pantheon, eat gelato in Piazza Navona, and throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. But try to find at least one place of your own, even if it is just a random church you happen to walk past. Standing alone in an empty Roman church is a reminder of the past, of the city itself, and experiencing that connection to history without throngs of tourists around you is an absolute must.
If you do need public transportation, cabs are reasonably priced, but you often have to call for one to pick you up. The bus is a more authentic option for the adventurous - stops are only made if someone signals that they need one (and then only at designated locations), so if you don't know exactly where you're going, they can be a little confusing. But once you've got them figured out, they're a Roman experience all their own.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Via Uffici del Vicario 40
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Via della Panetteria 42
But that's the problem - with the exception of the Trevi Fountain T-shirts and the gladiator teddy bears, the restaurant could be moved and planted anywhere. If you're in Rome for a substantial amount of time and needing some greasy American food, go for it, but if you've only got a few days or weeks in Rome, get out your guidebook and find yourself some good pasta or pizza. You can get a good hamburger anywhere in the States, but good gnocchi or a pizza diavola? That's a little more difficult to come by, so enjoy it when you have the opportunity!
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Hard Rock Cafe
Via Vittorio Veneto 62 A/B
3 (906) 420-3051
Piazza Sant' Eustachio, 82
San Luigi dei Francesi
Via S. Giovanna d'Arco
Rome, Italy 00186
Attraction | "Santa Cecilia in Trastevere"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Piazza di S. Cecilia, 22
Rome, Italy 00153
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 27, 2005
San Francesco a Ripa
Piazza San Francesco d'Assisi, 88
Rome, Italy 00153
During the day, Campo de' Fiori is an open-air market where you can buy food, flowers, and a variety of crafts (the jewelry can be especially nice). Cafés circle the square, and you can usually hear at least one set of street musicians.
If you go to one of the restaurants for dinner, however, you can see the piazza evolve from its daytime market function to the nighttime bar scene. Most of the bars have a steady clientele of American college students, with a healthy dose of Italians who go there expressly to meet American college students.
If you're not into the actual partying, however, there are also some gelaterias and coffee shops where you can instead sit and watch the craziness. And don't let the drunk college kids keep you away - to really appreciate just how spooky Giordano can be, you should see him at night.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 28, 2005
Campo de' Fiori
Piazza Campo de' Fiori
Rome, Italy 00186
Attraction | "Piazza di Spagna/Spanish Steps"
The steps are at their prettiest in the spring, when they're covered with flowers. Unfortunately, though, between the tourists and the vendors attracted there by the tourists, the steps are usually crowded. The vendors are also unusually persistent, and consequently, in my opinion, the piazza is a nice place to see but not to stay for very long.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 29, 2005
Spanish Steps (Scalinata)
Piazza Di Spagna
Rome, Italy 00187
Attraction | "Trajan's Market"
Unlike the sites across the street, you have to pay to get into the market, but that also means it's usually relatively empty, so you can have the run of the place. Plus the preservation of the market means you’re walking through actual buildings, and you have less to reconstruct mentally for yourself. If you're only in town for a day or two, it's not really worth a stop, but if you're in Rome for awhile, it's an interesting spot to wander through. Plus, the near emptiness of the location makes it a nice place to take pictures.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 30, 2005
Markets of Trajan
Via IV Novembre
Rome, Italy 00187
Attraction | "Piazzale Garibaldi"
Another interesting feature of the Piazzale is the puppet shows that are sometimes held there. A Punch and Judy-style stage is always present, and if you're lucky, you might be there on the evening of one of the free shows, enjoying the sunset and the show with the locals.
What brings most people to the Piazzale, however, is its incredible view of the city. Like so many other parts of the city, the Piazzale is on a hill, but unlike other parts, it is not located in the center of Rome, so the view you get is complete. And unlike some of the more popular viewpoints (like the dome of St. Peter's, for example), the hill provides a free and often empty location.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 8, 2005
Monumento a Garibaldi
Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi
Rome, Italy 00165
The hours when you can get in to see the Tempietto are few, but you can always view it through the iron gate that leads into the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio. If you're lucky enough to be there during the open hours, you can walk around the back of the circular building and view a tiny altar marking the location of the first pope's martyrdom. You can't actually enter into the Tempietto itself (it's so small that there wouldn't be much point anyway), but it is incredible to see what Bramante did with such limited and confined space. The view of Rome offered by the small piazza in front of the church is an added bonus.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 14, 2005
San Pietro in Montorio
Attraction | "Pasqua"
Religiously, Easter in Rome is a powerful time. The week's ceremonies begin with Palm Sunday Mass in the Piazza in front of St. Peter's, where olive branches are waved instead of palms. Small, illustrated programs are distributed, and the various parts of the Mass are each conducted in a different language, so everyone can more or less follow what is being said.
Thursday, meanwhile, all of the churches in Rome are kept open late into the night and lit by candles. Even for non-religious individuals, the dark and quiet churches can provide a surprisingly peaceful and moving break from what is an otherwise very hectic and crowded week.
On Good Friday, Stations of the Cross are held at the Coliseum at night. The pope oversees them, and the street outside is packed full of people. Then, on Saturday night, an Easter vigil is held inside of St. Peter's. Unlike all of the other events, tickets ARE checked, so don't try to sneak in (I tried and guess what, it didn’t work). Sunday, of course, is the big day. Mass is again held in the piazza. If you're planning on getting a seat, you'll want to be there by 5:30 or 6 (at the latest).
For average Italians, however, Pasqua is more of a secular holiday. Some people will start the day with Mass, but not all of them will. Instead, a huge and lengthy dinner followed by a colomba (dove-shaped) cake is the day’s main festivity. Children, meanwhile, will receive a giant chocolate egg from their parents. Unlike American Easter eggs, however, these eggs have a present inside. While premade eggs exist (I saw a pink one with a Barbie and her accessories inside, for example), some people will buy a gift and then take it to a candy store that will make an egg with that specific gift inside. I once heard a story of parents who gave their child a bike that way (seriously).
While a Roman pilgrimage spent at St. Peter's is no doubt a beautiful way to celebrate Easter, I prefer the more authentic, quieter Pasqua. Hop into a candlelit church late Thursday night, go to Sunday Mass at one of the other amazing historic churches (they'll be crowded, but most of the tourists will be crammed outside of St. Peter's), and spend the afternoon cooking and consuming a massive Italian dinner. There's an Italian expression, "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi", roughly meaning that you should spend Christmas with your family, but Easter should be spent with whomever you choose. So while Easter in St. Peter's might be appealing, for a truly Italian celebration, enjoy the company of your family and friends and, of course, plenty of food.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 4, 2005
Pasqua Festivities (Easter)
Attraction | "The Church of San Clemente"
Paying a small fee will gain you entrance into that lower church, which dates to the 4th century. The original church is a little difficult to recreate mentally, as much of the basilica, such as the spaces in between columns, has been filled in for support. However, ancient frescoes and altars remain, giving a glimpse into one of the first churches built in Rome. (If you're wondering why the church was built over, it was largely destroyed by the Normans, and the decision was made to simply fill in the old one and build on top of it.)
Walk a little farther through the musty underground corridors and you'll find yourself in an ancient Roman home. Because of the placement of the church, it is believed that this home once served as a secret place of worship for Christians, back before Christianity was legalized. The home is also believed to have been partially destroyed during Nero's infamous fire (which seems likely, given its close proximity to the Colosseum).
Continue on and you can peek into a one-room pagan shrine. As a remnant of the testosterone-driven Cult of Mithras, the room successfully brings the building full circle from its ancient pagan roots to its modern Christian function.
Add in a glimpse of the ancient Roman sewer system (that's the almost omnipresent rushing water that you're hearing) and a few creepy staircases leading to now-empty crypts and San Clemente provides an often-overlooked vision of Roman history. Some of the more ancient spots can be difficult to interpret, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you have the time and a good guidebook.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 5, 2005
Via Labicana, 95
Rome, Italy 00184
Attraction | "Galleria Borghese"
Here you can find Canova's nude sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte (yep, that's Napoleon's sister), as well as several excellent Caravaggio paintings (there‘s a particularly striking piece of David holding the head of Goliath). The real highlights, however, are the Bernini sculptures. In addition to a sculpture of David, one rumored to be an early forgery done by Bernini, and one of Scipione himself, three mythological sculptures - Apollo and Daphne, Aeneas Fleeing Troy, and The Rape of Proserpina - are pieces that Bernini finished in his early 20s. The sculptures are displayed so that admirers can get close to them and walk all the way around them, allowing vantage points to take in Bernini's attention to detail. The Rape of Proserpina ("rape" being used in the classical sense, meaning "abduction") is my particular favorite. Pluto's hand squeezes down on her thigh, making her skin puff up in between his fingers, a few tears stream down her face, her hand pulls back the skin around his eyes as she struggles to get away - all perfectly realistic, and all done in marble.
I've heard that you are supposed to call ahead to reserve tickets for the museum, but I went three times and never booked my tickets ahead of time, so I'm not sure how necessary reservations actually are. If you're going over the summer and have a limited schedule, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea. Your ticket will admit you for just two hours, with a half hour visit to the painting gallery included in that chunk of time. The gallery has some interesting pieces by Titian, Raphael, and Antonello di Messina, which can be worth a viewing. But if you're a big fan of Bernini or Caravaggio (his works are displayed in the main gallery), you might want to consider spending your two hours on them - it's just barely long enough.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 6, 2005
Borghese Gallery and Museum (Galleria Borghese)
Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5
Rome, Italy 00197
But that's not the real reason to visit. Tourists flock to this church to see one of Michelangelo's most impressive sculptures - the Moses. The piece is a part of the tomb of Pope Julius II, the man who commissioned, among other things, the Sistine Chapel, and who was more or less the bane of Michelangelo's existence. As a relatively young Michelangelo planned and began work on an elaborate freestanding tomb for Julius that would contain over 40 statues, the pope changed his mind and distracted the artist with an idea about painting a ceiling. Michelangelo begrudgingly yielded to the pope’s demand, frequently complaining that he would prefer finishing the tomb over working on the Sistine frescoes. Michelangelo eventually resumed work on the tomb, but before he could complete much of it, Julius died, and Julius's heirs proceeded to hound Michelangelo about the project for nearly 40 years. In his old age, Michelangelo would cite the incomplete work as one of his greatest disappointments and one of his greatest frustrations.
The tomb, as it stands now, was largely completed by other artists, and some of the pieces are almost painfully blank and awkward. Or maybe they only appear that way when viewed in such close proximity to the Moses. The tomb's centerpiece sculpture is amazing - Moses's beard blows and twists in an unseen wind, and his muscles bulge around the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. And don't be confused by the horns sticking out of Moses's head - a common Renaissance mistranslation of the Book of Exodus confused the rays of light coming from Moses into horns. But somehow, regardless of the strange protrusions, the work is marvelous, and definitely worth a viewing. Plus, there is no charge for admission to the church, and the chance to see such an amazing work for so cheap is hard to come by.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 12, 2005
San Pietro in Vincoli
Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli, 4a
Rome, Italy 00184
But don't feel bad for the Campidoglio. Rome eventually grew to encapsulate it, and it was the site of the ancient temple to the Roman triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva (you can still see pieces of the foundation behind Santa Maria in Aracoeli). The temple housed Brutus and his co-conspirators after Julius Caesar's murder, and criminals were thrown from the Tarpeian Rock on the side of the hill.
It wasn't all violence and intrigue, though. In the Middle Ages, the Palazzo Senatorio was constructed on top of the ancient Tabularium, and the building became the center of Roman civic life. The Campidoglio as it exists now, however, was built primarily during the Renaissance to impress Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who planned a visit to the city several years following his troops' sack of Rome.
Michelangelo was given the responsibility of replanning the piazza. He gave the two existing palazzos updated facades, and he constructed another side palazzo to create an enclosed feeling. An ancient bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius (which escaped destruction by early Christians because they believed it was a statue of Constantine) was erected in the center of the piazza. The wide staircase, planned largely in contrast to the difficult staircase leading to Santa Maria in Aracoeli, was designed so that Charles's horse could climb up them, and the result is an easy, comfortable walk up an otherwise steep hill.
Most visitors to the Campidoglio walk through it quickly on the way to the Capitoline Museums, remembering only briefly a note in their guidebook that said it was somehow connected to Michelangelo. But the Campidoglio as a space deserves more attention than that. Enter from Michelangelo's staircase, to get the greeting from Castor, Pollox, and Marcus Aurelius that was originally intended. Sit on the steps in front of one of the side palazzos, and relax. The Campidoglio is a popular place for Romans to take wedding pictures and also of the occasional political protest, so it’s a wonderful spot to people watch. If possible, get there just before sunset, and sit talking leisurely, with the sun setting behind St. Peter's dome in the distance. The Campidoglio has been an important part of Roman life from the city's mythic origins to its current role as housing the local government, and the location should not be underestimated, both for its historic significance and its artistic harmony.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 5, 2005
Getting to the Mouth of Truth is fairly easy, and the piazza houses several other interesting ancient structures. The piazza is less than a mile’s walk from Piazza Venezia, and it is impossible to miss if you walk along the river from the island. The trip is scenic and only slightly off of the usual tourist route, so it can be a nice break from the crowds. Particularly if you’re one of those people who wants to actually touch the ancient art pieces you see all over Rome, this spot is for you – not only are there no security guards telling you to keep your hands off, but you’re expected to have a hands-on experience. It’s a chance to literally reenact history, not to mention get a fun picture at the same time.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 24, 2005
La Bocca della Verità
Piazza Bocca della Verità
Attraction | "Talking Statues"
The tradition of the talking statue is, as most things are in the Eternal City, an old one. As early as the 16th century, citizens were forced into exile for posting satirical poetry, critical of papal authority and individuals high up in the Vatican. These sonnets quickly became known as "pasquinades," and by the 18th century, papal law had made the form of poetry illegal, threatening to punish anyone who wrote or posted said works. The poems were placed at night on statues to be found in the morning. This practice, based on an earlier Venetian one, feigned that the statues themselves were criticizing governmental practices, often having "dialogues" between several statues over the course of nights or weeks. And for the purpose of your travel interests, three of these statues are worth noting: Babuino, Marforio, and Pasquino.
Babuino is, unfortunately for him, the hideous statue already mentioned. Babuino was himself so well-known that the street on which he can be found, one of the three streets dead-ending in Piazza del Popolo, is named after him. His official name is, in fact, la Fontana del Sileno, but his very unfortunate appearance earned him his nickname, which roughly translates to "baboon." The street is charming with good shopping, so he is worth a visit.
While you might have to go out of your way to meet Babuino, Marforio is located right in the course of the regular tourist treks. The enormous river god is currently housed in the Capitoline Museum, under the eye of careful curators and preservationists. Most tourists note him because of his massive size, but his unique role in history makes him even more noteworthy.
To see a talking statue still in action, however, you’ll want to see Pasquino. To get there, take the street off of the western end of Piazza Navona, to the tiny Piazza di Pasquino. The statue itself is unimpressive—a remnant almost unrecognizable as what it is now believed to represent, Menelaus with the body of Patroclus. Now, however, the group is known as Pasquino, after whom the satires were named. If you get a chance to see him, don’t be offended that modern Romans paste pieces of paper to his base; to this day, Pasquino still serves as a gathering point for political cartoons and attacks. Where many Roman sights offer the feeling of being united with the city’s history, Pasquino as a talking statue represents a true physical connection.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on May 10, 2006
Rome, Italy 00186
St. Louis, Missouri