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What Is the Best Way to Experience Rome?

My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Rome is one of my favorite cities in Europe! I have been to Rome many times and each time I go back, I find something new and interesting. I've seen Rome on foot, by a private driver, and by tour but I have found that the best way to experience it is using a multi-stop, self-guided tour bus!

Fun Fact: Margherita Pizza has royal roots! The pizza named after a former Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, was a gift from her husband, King Umberto. He knew she loved pizza and commissioned, Raffaele Esposito, Pizzeria Brandi's chef, to make three different types of pizza for her. She was then to choose her favorite.

The pizza which consists of red sauce, and mozzarella cheese with a basil leaf in the center not only was her favorite but the colors represent the colors of Italy: red, white, and green. Of the three pizzas, this was her favorite not only because of the taste but the tribute which it paid to Italy. Thus, the name, Margherita Pizza!

Getting Around Rome

There are many of these tour buses available and while I won't speak to a specific brand, they all offer flexibility and allow you to see Rome on your own terms, at your own pace. I found the best value in purchasing these tours is one that offers multiple days for one price. Some even have different routes giving you the option of seeing more of the city. All offer guided commentary in multiple languages.

As you can see by zooming in on the map below, many of the attractions are in close proximity to one another. However, don't fool yourself, even though they look close, the walk between them can be quite long. I also suggest these multi-stop buses because the streets can be confusing; small side streets, intersecting in multiple directions.

One thing to consider when navigating a city like Rome is that the roads were built hundreds of years ago. Vehicle traffic and urban growth weren't even a consideration then. The streets are narrow, parking is limited and traffic can be a nightmare. Google Maps and many of the other mapping apps are only about 50 percent useful, with many of the side streets not included.

How Did I See Rome?

Many times, I have begun in Popollo Square or the People's Square. It seems to be a good jumping-off spot. This last time, however, I used the multi-stop tour bus and it worked out almost perfectly. The only small glitch was the stop for Vatican City; it was about 2 miles from the entrance. I took the "red route" which took me to all the places I wanted to visit:

  • The Colosseum
  • Vatican City
  • The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
  • The Spanish Steps
  • Trevi Fountain
  • The Pantheon
  • Basilica of Santa Maria Majorica

Pro Tip: Bear in mind, that the ticket for the bus does not include any of the entrance fees to these attractions and many of them do have fees. There are, however, passes you can purchase for a set price that gains you entrance to most of the major attractions. I checked this out and depending on how much you want to see and how long you will be in Rome, these passes may or may not be a good deal for you. In my case, on this last trip, it was not a good deal.

A Run-Down of My Trip with Background Info on Each Spot

Arriving mid-afternoon, the first day was kind of just a blow-off day and the second day was spent at Vatican City. That left me with just the third and fourth days since the fifth was a trip to the port to board the cruise. I had purchased a three-day pass for the bus tour. On the first day, I used the bus for drop-off at Vatican City with the plan to use the next two days to see the spectacular attractions of Rome. A well-laid plan, that went off flawlessly!

My hotel was in a great location and was about a 10-minute walk to Basilica Santa Marie Majorica, which coincidentally had a pick-up spot for the bus right on the corner for my next attraction.

Basicilica Santa Maria Majorica:

Holding a very special place in my heart, the Basilica has a unique tie to my home parish in the United States. I visit it every time I'm in Rome. This particular time was extra special because coincidentally, upon arrival, mass was just beginning and I was able to attend and receive the sacrament of holy communion.

Having the notoriety of a papal basilica, it was the first great Church of the Virgin Mary in Rome, built-in 432 AD, and is located on Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. Inside, you will find beautiful mosaics which are original to the time of construction. Sometime in the 13th century, additional space was added and mosaics adorn that as well. The ceiling, of course, based on when it was built, is Renaissance style. There are five pieces of wood connected by metal, the Crib of Christ, and it is considered the pinnacle of the basilica.

In my opinion, the basilica is just as impressive, in a different way of course, as the Sistine Chapel.

In my opinion, the basilica is just as impressive, in a different way of course, as the Sistine Chapel.

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Getting back to my personal connection to this fabulous church, which is a true work of art, comes down to tradition. This tradition claims that Pope Liberius had a vision of the Virgin Mary. In this vision, she told him to build a church where snow would fall in Rome. That snow came on August 5 in Rome! Snow in August in Rome! Based on this, the church was built. The church I attended in the United States is named Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville, IL. As a result of the notorious event of the August snowfall in Rome, the name is tied to the basilica. To this day, every August 5th, petals of white flowers "snow" from the roof of the Pope Paul V chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore!

The Colosseum:

Construction began in the year 72 AD and remarkably only took about eight years to complete. Sometimes it is still referred to as the Flavian Amphitheater, its original name. The name was changed to the Colosseum because of a giant (colossal) statue of Nero which had been placed at the entrance.

The Colosseum is still considered the largest amphitheater in the world, holding more than 50,000 people. For more than 500 years, it was a center for entertainment for Romans. Exhibitions of exotic animals, executions of prisoners, recreations of battles, and gladiator fights were all events that drew thousands of spectators. It definitely has a gruesome history. So much so, that within its first 100 days of opening, more than 2000 gladiators lost their lives there.

Receiving over six million visitors a year, the Colosseum is second only to visitors behind the Vatican in Rome.

Fun Fact: Every Good Friday, the Pope leads the way of the cross to the Colosseum as a way to pay remembrance to the thousands of Christians who lost their lives there.

The Spanish Steps:

The Spanish Steps are considered the widest and longest staircase in Europe. The staircase is made up of 135 steps made from travertine marble and 12 ramps. I have to be honest, the Spanish Steps are a must-see in Rome. But, the first time I saw them I was a bit disappointed. I don't really know what preconceived expectations I had, but they didn't meet them.

The Spanish Steps connect two important piazzas in Rome; the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti.

Starting at the bottom is the famous fountain Fontana della Barcaccia ("Fountain of the longboat"). It is said that the fountain has been created in the shape of a boat to commemorate a large boat brought in by a flood on the Tiber River. On the right side, sits the house of the poet, John Keats. It is now a well-visited museum that houses his works.

On a typical day at the Spanish Steps, you will see thousands of people coming and going; some sitting on the steps with a coffee or a meal, some just walking up or down to say they did. I'm one of those people—I've walked up and down, sat with a coffee, and enjoyed the sunny skies of Rome.

Trevi Fountain:

Remember I discussed those narrow and crisscrossing side streets? Well, that's where you will find the Trevi Fountain! Many years ago on my first visit, we were walking with no particular destination in mind. We heard a crowd, but we had no idea. Walking toward the noise, low and behold, as we came around the corner, there sat the Trevi Fountain! Up until my last visit, it was always under some type of renovation. My last visit gave me a complete view without scaffolding. I was thrilled!

Once again, I take you to the name source of a destination. I can't help myself! The fountain is built over the top of an ancient Roman water source put together in 19 BC. When the fountain was in the planning stage, this water source was picked for obvious reasons. At the time, this water source and ultimately the fountain sat at the crossroads of three major streets. Hence, the name Trevi Fountain translates to three street fountain!

The fountain you see today is not the original fountain. In 1629, when Pope Urban VIII felt the fountain was not elaborate enough, commissioned the fountain to be re-done. Because of his death, the project was placed on hold and ended up taking over 100 years to complete.

The central theme of this baroque-style fountain is "Taming of the Waters." The sculpture in the middle is the God Oceanus. He is seen standing on a chariot that is pulled by seahorses. Next to him are other important statues, each representing different things like abundance and health.

The legend states that if your throw one coin into the water, you will return to Rome. Tossing and making it into the water, two coins mean you’ll return and fall in love, and three mean you’ll return, fall in love, and get married. Originally, I knew about the "return" part of the legend but recently learned about coins two and three with their respective meaning!

Fun Fact: The Trevi Fountain is 26 meters tall and 49 meters wide. Per second, it spews 170 liters of water, which equates to 3 million gallons per day! No wonder they picked a specific water source for the building site!

The Pantheon

It seems to be a common theme but...the Pantheon of today is not the original structure! I guess the result of thousands of years gone by has a way of seeing to that!

The name comes from the Greek language. It is thought the original purpose of the Pantheon was a tribute to the Gods. "Pan" means all and "Theos" means God, standing as a tribute to all Gods—Greek and Roman.

It is located on the site of the earlier structure built in 25 BC and destroyed by fire in 80 AD. In 110 AD, it was burnt down again. By 117 AD Hadrian was emperor and fortunately, he was a lover of arts and architecture, so he commissioned the re-build. The building took until 138 AD to complete. What I am telling you here, is not a complete fact. The records of this structure are relatively non-existent and what is known today about the Pantheon is based on records of other events and have been pieced together.

Fun Fact: The oculus, the most notable feature of the Pantheon is 27 feet in diameter. The ceiling itself is 142 feet in diameter. The hole is completely open and not only allows the natural light to come in but all elements of the weather.

Many years went by and the Pantheon fell into disrepair. In 609 AD, Pope Bonifus converted the Pagan dwelling into a Christian church named Sancta Maria ad Martyres (St. Mary and the Martyrs). After it was converted into a church, it became the burial place for important figures of the Renaissance along with emperors and kings.

I found the inside surprisingly ornate. I say "surprisingly" only because, as mentioned, the structure is open to all elements of the weather.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a war memorial located in Rome under the statue of the goddess Roma at the Altare della Patria. Four soldiers have been buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one each for major 20th-century wars: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. However, the body buried on behalf of soldiers in Vietnam was later exhumed.

The tomb itself is quite a tribute to Italy and its fallen soldiers. Parts of the crypt itself are from the mountains of Italy where battles were fought during World War I. The floor is marble from the Karst Plateau while the small altar is made of a single block of stone from Monte Grappa.

It's a hugely imposing monument on a very busy street. Each person in the vehicles passing by get a warm reminder of those who fought for their freedom. This is also a very popular tourist destination and is on the route of many of the multi-stop busses.

My Personal Impressions of Rome

The attractions in this article took me two full days to visit. That does not include one full day spent at the Vatican.

I love Rome! It has much to offer, no matter what kind of traveler you are or what your reasons are for visiting. If you are into antiquities and Renaissance art, Rome is your kind of destination. Are you a foodie? Then Rome is your food heaven! Fashion? Rome. Nightlife? Rome! A lover of churches, then it's Rome again!

A long video, but this captures most of the sites I have discussed in this article.

Having been there many times, I feel like not spending time there is a mistake. A couple of times on visits, I felt a bit "tourist weary" and just hung out or picked one or two attractions to concentrate on. Though I always, as I said, visit Santa Maria Majorica!

And you know what? Just hanging out in Rome is OK to do. There is so much to take in that you do yourself no justice by trying to cram it all in just a few short hours or days. Go to Rome. Have a great cappuccino (though not after 11 am as it's considered bourgeois), do some people watching from the Spanish Steps, and enjoy the city: let Rome be its own character in the story of your life of travel.

Until next time friends, remember "To Travel is to Live!"

© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin

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