In The Eternal City, Italy’s hot-blooded capital, history is brought to life by haunting ruins, awe-inspiring art and unforgettable fountains. Dorothy Veitch reveals why all roads (should) lead to Rome.
1 Hop on a bus
A great way to get an overview of Rome’s delights is to take a sightseeing tour on one of the city’s hop-on-hop- off buses; you can then work out which sites you want to spend more time at during the rest of your stay. Another good way in, is to take a balloon or helicopter ride over the city. Visit www.viator.com.
2 Visit the Vatican
No one is ever prepared for the size and magnificence of St Peter’s Square, St Peter’s Basilica (the largest church in the world), or the Vatican Museum, which is over 14.4 kilometres long. The Renaissance wow-factor carries through to Michelangelo’s glorious Sistine Chapel, and its world-famous frescoes. To book your place at Pope Francis’ weekly audience, visit www.citywonders.com.
3 Live like an emperor
When in Rome, you’ll want to get a feel for the ancient city. Visit Palatine Hill to see where the emperors and aristocracy lived, and the Roman Forum – the site of elections, processions and criminal trials – for an insight into day-to-day Roman life. A former temple now a church, the Pantheon is Rome’s best- preserved ancient monument, with the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
4 Get gladiatorial
In the Colosseum, which used to seat 50,000, you can walk in the footsteps of emperors, and explore the underground complex, where gladiators prepared themselves for battle. If this speaks to your imagination, sign up at the Roman Gladiator School, which offers classes for children as well as adults. Visit www.gruppostoricoromano.it/en/romes-gladiator-school.
5 Drop by Piazza Navona
Built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, where the ancient Romans went to watch the ‘games,’ oval-shaped Piazza Navona is Rome’s largest ‘square.’ Today, it’s a centre for open-air cafes and seasonal fairs, lively with painters, fortune tellers and street performers. It’s best known for its jaw- dropping Baroque fountains: Fountain of the Four Rivers, Fountain of the Moor and Fountain of Neptune.
6 Go to the dark side
In a city as ancient as Rome every stone has a story to tell, every building has a history, and those stories can be ghostly and sinister. On the Ghosts, Mysteries and Legends of Rome Night Walking Tour, you can explore the dark side of Rome, and see angels and demons come out to play. Visit darkrome.com.
7 Climb the Spanish Steps
A great place for people-watching, the elegant, butterfly-shaped Spanish Steps feature in Roman Holiday (1953), The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and the Bob Dylan song When I Paint My Masterpiece. There are 135 steps – don’t mistake the slightly elevated drainage system for the first step – linking Spanish Square below with Trinità dei Monti church above.
8 Eat the best pizza
For the best pizza in Rome, head to Sforno, located in the Tuscolana neighbourhood, just outside the city centre. The pizzas have a thick rim and elastic body similar to the pizzas of Naples, which are considered the best in all of Italy. Should you decide to take a day trip to Naples to experience the real thing, be sure to check out Mount Vesuvius between meals.
9 Be wowed by Villa Borghese
Originally the 17th-century estate of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Villa Borghese is set in a lovely 80-hectare park, with naturalistic landscaped gardens arranged in the English style. The on- site art gallery, housing the Borgheses’ private art collection, boasts paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian, as well as sculptures by Bernini.
10 Guarantee your return
No trip to Rome is complete without a glimpse of the outrageously Baroque Trevi Fountain. Arguably the best- loved fountain in the city, every night about HK$28,000 is swept up from its basin, and donated to needy families in Rome. What makes visitors to the Trevi Fountain so charitable? Throw a coin into the water and, legend has it, you’ll be sure to return to Rome.
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