With over 2,700 years of history, the city of Rome houses a collection of artwork and monuments that are unrivaled. Tourists could spend an entire year in Rome and still not see everything the Eternal City has to offer. Yet, truly experiencing Rome extends far beyond sightseeing.
There are aspects of Rome that are much better felt than described. It’s the experience of striking up a simple conversation with a local shop owner, where hand gestures can mean more than words. It’s venturing through the ancient streets and stumbling across the unusual, such as a cat that has made a home of Largo di Torre Argentina. And it’s quietly sipping an espresso yet enjoying the beautiful chaos that surrounds.
Positioned in the very center of the Italian peninsula, Rome has been the hub of the Lazio Region and the entirety of Italy since Ancient Times; as the saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome”. Today Rome is the vibrant capital of Italy and the country’s largest city. It is situated along the Tiber River and the original city rests upon its famed seven hills: the Capitoline, Palatine, Aventine, Esquiline, Quirinal, Viminal, and Caelian Hills. Rome’s central position protects it from harsher weather, gifting the city with a mild climate of cool winters and warm summers. As with most cities, heat is easily trapped in Rome during the summer months, leading Italians to dub it “the island of heat,” Nevertheless, for international travelers, the summer is certainly the most popular time to visit Rome and its many monuments. Locals, on the other hand, take advantage of the city’s proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea during the hot summer months, considering coastal neighborhoods such as Ostia to be a holy respite from the heat of the city.
The Ancient Rome
Once the capital of the entire Roman Empire, today the Eternal City is a captivating blend of the ancient world and modern life as demonstrated by the thousands of cars that speed by its centuries-old monuments daily. Admiring the cityscape, from the iconic Colosseum to elaborate Renaissance buildings, is a way to travel back in time and live the city’s storied past. The Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, and Campo de’ Fiori are just a handful of Rome’s most distinguishing monuments that offer those glimpses into the city’s past. Each of these sights is located within the historical city center, which is rather compact and completely walkable, allowing curious travelers to admire these wonders.
Despite modern day Rome being urbanized, the city has maintained a large variety of green spaces that can be found within the city center that helps preserve the ‘Ancient Rome.’
Reinforcing the rich history of Rome is its abundance of ornate fountains and monuments throughout the city. These monuments highlight the important historical eras from ancient times to the contemporary period with the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and Neoclassicism in between.
Further reinforcing this rich history, much of the modern roads and palaces were built under the fascist regime as the ultimate goal was to showcase the splendor of Rome during that time period. Each of these historic influences has resulted in a city of many layers, and truly the deeper you go the more amazed you will be.
For example, Castel Sant’Angel was originally built in the Roman era as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian. After the original structure was all but destroyed, it was reconstructed as a fortress for the papacy. The Popes would reside in Castel Sant’Angelo in times of political dispute, of which there were many over the centuries, and countless enemies of the Catholic Church were imprisoned within its walls. Today it serves as one of Rome’s most intriguing and historic museums.
Museums and Churches Of Rome
Lovers of art and archeology will certainly not be disappointed by Rome’s countless offerings. Naturally, there is a great intersection when it comes to Museums and Churches in Rome. Rome’s museums, including Villa Borghese with its expansive gardens and multiple galleries, as well as the Capitoline Museums with their vast collection of ancient artwork, can certainly hold their own.
Rome’s magnificent churches--over 900 of them--are often museums in their own right. It is not an exaggeration to say that a church can be found on nearly every main street of the city. Not only do these breathtaking structures embody the city’s central role in the Catholic faith, but they also house some of the most beautiful works of art in the world, attracting both devout pilgrims and art lovers alike. The Vatican Museum, which is the largest museum complex on the Italian peninsula, continues to be one of the world’s most important museums. It houses an enormous collection of artworks and sculptures amassed by the Popes over the centuries. And places such as St. Peter’s Basilica and St. John Lateran house some of the most famous art in the world, created by famous artists such as Michelangelo.
In the shadows of artwork and monuments, Rome continues to be a global city with four million citizens. They welcome the tourists and help them explore both the modern aspects of the city, peppered with family-owned restaurants, charming cafes, amazing artisanal gelato shops as well as the more classical historical attractions of the city.
When In Rome …
To properly enjoy your time, start your morning with a cappuccino and cornetto in a small cafe. Spend the day exploring or people-watching, then enjoy some of Rome’s famous street food for lunch. In the evening, join the locals and try a traditional aperitivo, or drink, followed by a leisurely dinner in a trattoria. Then, end the night with a nice stroll, or passeggiata, through the cobblestone streets and take in the city’s monuments under the light of the moon and stars.
To experience the true soul of the city, it is worth spending some time in one of its more authentic areas, which transcends the ‘tourist’ areas. A perfect choice is the Trastevere neighborhood, which is located across the Tiber River from the historical city center, and its distinct character has been preserved over time. From its tiny, but beautiful churches to its characteristic family-owned shops, you will not be disappointed if you are looking for Rome’s most charming atmosphere. The neighborhood even boasts some impressive works of art from the likes of Titian, Caravaggio, and Raphael. Take it slow, interact with the locals, and definitely try as much food as possible. This area features some of the best and most authentic restaurants in all of Rome.
Of course, there are other districts of Rome that are worth mentioning as well. For instance, most locals will tell you that the Testaccio neighborhood, which was once a depository for broken clay vessels and terracotta tiles during ancient times, is the true heart of Rome. Once a traditionally working class area, the neighborhood has evolved into a center for Rome’s most traditional cuisine, as well as a hub for nightlife. The Ostiense neighborhood has also recently undergone a transition from working class to trendy, thanks in part to its distinct street art. Italian and international artists alike have taken to transforming the most neglected areas of the neighborhood into unique murals. Like Testaccio and Trastevere, Ostiense has become an important culinary hub as well and is home to an Eataly marketplace.
Rome is a captivating modern city whose rich and lengthy past is still very much alive. It is best known for its famous monuments, museums, and churches, though we encourage you to go beyond the usual tourist areas and seek out those small details that make the Eternal City so unique. When in Rome, no matter how you choose to spend your time, be sure to stop and savor the experience like any good Roman would, perhaps with a few scoops of gelato in hand.