Ah, Rome. Home to nearly three thousand years of history, countless priceless works of art, some damn fine Gelato, and holder of a very special place in my heart. You know what they say, all roads lead to Rome; or they should.
It seems that anywhere you go in the Eternal City you can’t help but see some amazing spectacle of Italian culture. Friends gather around sipping espresso in sun-drenched piazzas, tourists giddily throw coins into the myriad of fountains, and little old Italian ladies terrorize the streets on brightly coloured Vespa’s. I’m not kidding. And of course, some sculptural masterpiece of Bernini’s just casually hangs out in a piazza or garden.
They really should just rename Rome to the City of Bernini.
Oh Rome, one day we’ll meet again!
Ahem, now that my love affair is out on the internet, it’s no secret that I have a particular fascination with this vibrant city. I could probably talk for hours about how significant Rome was for the formation of Western Culture and Society. Ah, but I won’t bore you with that now!
Alas, it seems that more and more people I talk to these days react to my recommendation of Rome with scorn. Cue the reaction GIF’s!
“It’s so cliched, everybody’s been to Rome! I want to go somewhere exciting!”
“Rome’s only a good place if you like museums and art galleries.”
“What’s there even to do in Rome, besides see some old ruins.”
Some people, ya know?
Anyway with the above in mind, I present to you the top 5 reasons you NEED to visit Rome. That is of course if I hadn’t already sold it with my stellar description above. Admit it, you’re buying plane tickets right now!
1. Capitoline Hill
Capitoline Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome, and was originally home to the citadel of the earliest Romans. Now it features the pleasingly symmetric Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo himself, and executed over a period of 400 years. Capitoline also offers the perfect vantage point for some spectacular views of the Roman forum, and the city centre of Rome.
(Like this one)
For those of us who enjoy a good museum, Capitoline Hill also hosts The Capitoline Museums, a collection of museums and art galleries that house an impressive range of ancient Roman artifacts including statues, inscriptions and others; a collection of Medieval and Renaissance art; and collections of jewels, coins and other items.
The Museums were opened to the public in 1734 under Pope Clement XII, and is believed to be the first museum in the world, understood as a place where art could be enjoyed by all and not only by the owners.
Pretty neat, huh?
2. Bernini, Bernini, Bernini
I know I joked about it before, but it feels like you can’t turn a corner in Rome without running into a sculpture by renowned Italian artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), who worked principally in, you guessed it, Rome!
Bernini was the leading sculptor of his age and is attributed with creation of the Baroque style of sculpture.
(Fontana del Tritone)
(Fontana del Moro)
Of course it goes without saying that wherever Bernini is there’s sure to be an interesting tidbit of history as well.
Take for example the Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers):
Not only is it impressive in it’s own right but it’s location, at the center of the Piazza Navona, is built on top of the site of the Stadium of Domitian (originally built in the 1st century AD).
The City of Bernini, am I right?
Now while the sculptures are all well and good, they’re nothing compared to the crowning jewel of Bernini:
3. St Peter’s Basilica
If you’re going to Rome, the Vatican is most likely high on your to-see list. The Sistine Chapel, it’s ceiling famously painted by Michelangelo, attracts nearly 5 million people each year. I get it, it’s absolutely amazing and it changed the face of Western art.
But while you’re at Il Vaticano, don’t forget to take the short trip to one of the most beautiful buildings that graces the face of the earth.
St Peter’s Basilica, absolutely dripping in gold and sculpture, is the most renowned example of Renaissance architecture and remains one of the largest churches in the world.
By Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, also according to tradition, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome.
It was designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and our good friend Bernini. St Peter’s is considered one of the holiest Catholic sites.
Boy, oh boy, is it impressive.
Never before have I had to physically take a step back and just stop and stare. Everything is beautiful, from the tiles on the floor, to the molding on the ceiling. Then there’s the sculptures, depicting the heroes of Catholicism holding the basilica’s primary holy relics. Don’t even get me started on the altar!
If you ever take anything from this blog, take this advice: Just go! You won’t regret it.
4. Galleria Borghese (Borghese Gallery)
Situated in the cozy Villa Borghese Pinciana at the heart of the Borghese Gardens is the Galleria Borghese, the cream of the crop when it comes to Renaissance art galleries.
If you’re planning a trip to Rome, place this destination as number two on the list (after St Peter’s Basilica of course!).
The Borghese Gallery is home to a substantial portion of the Borghese collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V.
Scipione Borghese was an early patron of, wait for it, Bernini, as well as an avid collector of works by Caravaggio, who are both well represented in the collection. Artwork of note include Apollo and Daphne, and the Rape of Proserpine by Bernini; Boy with a Basket of Fruit, St Jerome Writing, Sick Bacchus and others by Caravaggio; Titian‘s Sacred and Profane Love; Raphael’s Entombment of Christ; and works by Peter Paul Rubens and Federico Barocci.
Need I go on? If art is your thing, the Borghese Gallery is the place for you!
But make sure you book ahead, as tickets sell out fast even in the off-peak season.
Oh and don’t forget to have a wander around the extensive gardens afterwards, they’re a work of art in themselves.
5. The locals!
Now I’ve talked a lot about historic buildings and monumental art, but don’t get me wrong; Rome is a living, thriving place where the locals are as used to tourists as they are with each other.
Take a stroll through the heart of the city to see brightly coloured markets, luxury designer brand stores, thriving cafe’s on every corner with locals milling about, even handmade craft stores selling absolutely stunning jewelry, leather craft or ties.
Men in brightly coloured silk shirts call out to you from every restaurant door, promising this and that. Even the odd Ferrari will zip past you in the narrow cobbled streets, not giving a hoot about road rules.
Take a whiff of the smell of vino, the scent of clean water from the Roman aqueducts running below the city, the aroma of fresh pizza and pasta on the wind.
Only in Rome will you stumble into a tiny little cafe on the Via Veneto called Cafe de Paris and end up chatting for half an hour with the most Italian Italian you’ll ever meet, hand gestures and all. Who will then make you an extra strong cappuccino for keeping him company.
Rome is a city where it’s hard to tell where the old stops and the new begins, and somehow that just works. It’s hard to put into words, that feeling of excitement when the next thing around the corner could either be breathtakingly perfect or perfectly quaint.
Just go, get lost, and enjoy the journey.
So what do you think of Rome? Have you been there? Do you want to? What attracts you to it? Let me know in the comments down below!