We took a bus from Siena to Rome on Sunday 8 September and made a short trip to the train station in the evening to purchase a Roma Pass for three days of sightseeing.
We started our tour of the historical caput mundi (capital of the world) at one of Rome’s most famous landmarks, the Colosseum.
We signed up for a walking tour but unfortunately couldn’t understand half of what our guide was saying due to her strong accent. What was impossible to miss, however, was the size and scale of the great amphitheatre and Ancient Rome’s most feared arena.
Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum was started by Emperor Vespasian in AD72 and finished by his son Titus in AD80. Tiered seating encircled the sand covered arena, itself built over underground chambers where animals were caged.
The games would begin in the morning with venationes (animal hunts) featuring lions, panthers, leopards, bears, rhinoceroses, giraffes, gazelles, and other exotic animals imported by the Romans from their conquered territories.
The afternoons were reserved for the eagerly anticipated gladiatorial combats. The protagonists of these combats were usually prisoners of war or slaves but there were also free men fighting for wealth and fame; they were distinguished by their armour and combat techniques. Individuals defeated in the duel met a certain death unless the emperor or public were prepared to show mercy.
After soaking up the history, architecture and artistic treasures of the monument we continued our way through fascinating ruins on the Palatino (Palatine Hill).
Hungry for lunch we crossed Ponte Palatino to THE happening neighborhood of Rome, Trastevere. We dined at an old school trattoria and I smacked my lips with happiness when a cheese smothered eggplant parmigiana was laid out in front of me – YUM!
In the afternoon we wound our way to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere to admire its glittering 12th century mosaics before continuing up the hill to Gianicolo (Janiculum) for spectacular views of the city.
On Tuesday morning we dressed to impress and took a bus to the world’s smallest sovereign state, the Vatican. We waited for an hour or so to enter the Vatican Museums and then spent the next few hours taking in as much of the 5.5 hectare complex as we could.
Highlights included the 175m long Map Gallery featuring 40 huge topographical maps and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Home to two of the world’s most famous works of art, the chapel was originally built in 1484. Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the chapel in 1508 and over the next four years the artist painted Genesis (Creation, 1508-1512) on the barrel vaulted ceiling.
22 years later he returned to paint the Giudizio Universale (Last Judgement, 1534-1541) on the end wall.
For lunch we dined at Dino e Tony, a lively trattoria near the Vatican. We kicked off with the monumental antipasto (a meal in its own right!) before plunging into the extensive menu and ordering a pizza to share.
In the afternoon we made our way back to St Peter’s Basilica, Italy’s biggest, richest and most spectacular church. The cavernous 187m long interior contains numerous treasures, including Michelangelo’s Pietà (1498–1499), the only work to carry his signature, and Bernini’s 29m baldachin over the high altar.
Michelangelo also designed the grand dome which soars 120m above the altar.
We exited the basilica via Piazza San Pietro and crossed the river to visit the Pantheon on our way home. The spectacular hemispherical dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built and a circular opening in the centre of the dome, the oculus, lets in the only light.
We spent our final day in Rome throwing more coins than you could count into Fontana di Trevi, climbing the Spanish Steps and strolling Villa Borghese on our way to the spectacular Museo e Galleria Borghese.
On average, €3,000 per day is thrown into the fountain using the right hand over the left shoulder to ensure a return to Rome. Perhaps I should have checked the fine print before Ed threw all his coins over his right shoulder …