Category: Rome

What’s 2,770 years to an Eternal City?

One of the world’s most enduring cities is again marking its long and astonishing history.

Rome, the wonderful Eternal City on the Tiber, is said to have been founded in April 753 amid seven hills.

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But, the anniversary is more than just a reason for the Romans to party: Some historians revere the date as the birthday of Western Civilization itself.

For example, we recently saw this explanation about why Rome is so special:

Rome was for hundreds of years the captal of the largest empire Europe has ever seen, stretching from Portugal to Iraq. It was by far the largest city on earth at this time, with piped water, apartment blocks and flushing toilets. Many buildings from that time still stand. Rome was an early centre for the Christian religion and there are jaw-droppingly famous artworks around Rome sponsored by the Church.

To us, that seems to sell Rome short: overlooking the fact that modern English owes its origins to Latin, as do legal and medical terminology and today’s military organisation is based to an extent on the roman army.

And, it is just a gorgeous city, with beauty, grandeur and majesty at almost every turn.

Natale di Rome festival

 On the anniversary each year, citizens and visitors step back in time to mark Rome’s birthday  – staging a festival known as the Natale di Roma.
The city’s streets become a stage for troupes of actors dressed as denizens of the ancient city as they celebrate the birth of the Eternal City.
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Photo courtesy Pexels

Amazing Rome tugs at the heart

“What did the Romans ever do  for us’ is surely the silliest question ever.

One of the world’s most beautiful destinations and the capital of a wonderful country, the Eternal City has long held a special place in our hearts.

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It has a warm embrace of history that you can feel in the air; a sense of walking in the shoes of civilisation and of stepping back centuries.

Built by Romulus in about 753 BC, Rome is a cosmopolitan city with thousands of years of influential art, architecture and culture.

Our favourite sight is the wonderful Roman Pantheon, an ancient temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome. On our last visit, we stood transfixed as the marble walls echoed to a solitary angelic voice singing what we took to be an Italian hymn.

See this remarkable moment:

Completed by the emperor Hadrian about 126 AD on the site of a building that dates to about 27 BC, the Pantheon is the best preserved  building of ancient Rome

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Michelangelo is said to have studied it before starting work on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pantheon

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The oculus, the only source of natural light in the Pantheon, is a round opening in the centre of the dome. It is 27 feet in diameter and open to the sky (the floor is gently sloped to allow for runoff of rainwater).

Since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a church, informally known by the locals as ‘Santa Maria Rotonda’ with its striking stone pillars and incredible acoustics.

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The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda and is surrounded by cute Italian coffee shops.

There is so much to see and do in Rome – from the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, to the sparkle of the Trevi Fountain; the treasures of Vatican City; the Spanish Steps; the mysterious catacombs; and the wonderful monument known as the Altare della Patria, or ‘Altar of the Fatherland’.

Trevi

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But, if you haven’t seen it  before, make sure you find time to visit the Pantheon during your visit to the Eternal City.

The Pantheon is located right in the heart of ancient Rome. It is open to the public daily except for some national holidays and if a Mass is taking place.

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Proving that size doesn’t count

It may be the world’s smallest state, but Vatican City is still one of the most remarkable attractions on the planet.

With a population of about 1,000, Citta del Vatican takes up 44 hectares of Rome. Italy.

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But when you pass through the gates and enter the walled city, you are in a sovereign state whose borders are guarded by the traditional Swiss Guard – obvious in their distinctive striped uniforms and berets.

We were unsure what to expect – and asked ourselves whether it was likely to be something that would appeal only to active Christians.

However, we soon realised the error of that thinking.

A visit to the Apostolic Palace, or Palazzo Apostolic, broadens the mind – and allows you to see truly astonishing sights.

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St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures.

Seeing these masterpieces of human endeavour was always an aim of ours – and the experience was even more fulfilling than we’d anticipated.

The domed ceiling of St Peter’s Basilica – designed by Michelangelo – is unforgettable; double columns, gabled windows, striking colours and a double calotte soaring 136.57 metres from its base to the tip of the crowning cross.

Visitors are able to climb to the top of the dome, although we’ve never tried.

Eleven museums

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There are 11 museums  that feature some of the most magnificent frescos imaginable.

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The wonderful Sistine Chapel

And, of course there is the famous Sistine Chapel that packs in the crowds, but will leave you shaking your head at the amazing painting of  both Michelangelo and Botticelli.

The blue ceiling of the chapel is surely one of the world’s greatest sights.

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Outside, the emptiness of St Peter’s Square is softened by a series of Vatican gardens, complete with fountain, fish pond and an enclosure for rabbits.

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Every now and then, we saw glimpses of everyday life in this city within a city.

Apparently, the Vatican radio station broadcasts all over the world in 29 languages; there is a city television station; a daily newspaper; shops; offices; and a post office with Vatican stamps.

A passport is not required for visitors entering Vatican City from the surrounding Italian territory.

It’s free to enter St Peter’s Square and Basilica and the entrance fee to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel is well worth the cost.

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If you have the opportunity, find the time to visit Vatican City.

Regardless of whether you are a spiritual person or not, this experience is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

 

Venture into Rome’s historic catacombs

Not all the wonders of Rome, Italy, are above ground.

If you are able to walk down steep stairs and along narrow tunnels, a visit to the catacombs – or underground cemeteries – of the Eternal City is both fascinating and memorable.

There are several choices, but we’ve been to the Catacombs of Callixtus, which are beneath a 90 acre site off the famous Appian Way – contain a network of galleries in four levels, more than 20 metres below the surface.IMG_0606

In this catacombe – which dates to the middle of the second century – were buried tens of martyrs, many Popes and hundreds of thousands of Christians.  Their graves were carved through tufo, a soft volcanic rock, outside the walls of the city, because Roman law forbade burial places within city limits.

Tours of the Catacombe of Callixtus are conducted in several languages and we were told of an area known as ‘The Little Vatican’, so called because it was the official burial place of many Popes.

Our guide explained that in tunnels explored to date, archaeologists had found the tombs of about 500,000 people.

He also pointed out that the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia, was initially buried in the catacombe, though her body was later removed.

The Catacombe of Callixtus was almost lost during the Middle Ages, when the area was no longer used and fell into disrepair. Centuries later, the underground cemetery was explored and studied in the 1500’s and again in the 19th Century – and is now open for visitors to inspect.

We thoroughly recommend it, however stress that ascending the steps into the tunnels can be steep and somewhat arduous. See details of opening times.

We made our way to the site by train and local bus.