Irene and I were celebrating our tenth anniversary and she had always wanted to visit Europe so we booked a tour with Trafalgar and after a nice flight to Frankfurt for a lengthy layover where I discovered that I could not make heads nor tails from the German public transportation maps, and an exciting cab ride from the airport to our hotel in Rome, we had arrived! Having missed our orientation with our tour group we barely made the bus to take us to our first stop of the day, Vatican City!
After a short but interesting bus ride over to the Vatican we were escorted quickly through a side entrance and through the massive Tuscan colonnades that circle the main courtyard of Saint Peter’s Square, wow what a reveal that was! Our tour guide quickly organized us into the queue to enter into Saint Peters Basilica… while waiting in line I took the chance to jump out of line to snap a couple of shots!
Saint Peter’s Square Fountain
I found it very interesting that this massive Egyptian obelisk stands in the center of the Square. Originally erected at Heliopolis, Egypt, by an unknown pharaoh, Emperor Augustus had the obelisk moved to the Julian Forum of Alexandria, where it stood until 37 AD, when Caligula ordered the forum demolished and the obelisk transferred to Rome and placed in the Circus of Nero, where it would preside over Nero’s countless brutal games and Christian executions. It is thought that the obelisk was a “witness” to the crucifixion of Saint Peter. Later, it was moved to its current site in 1586 by the engineer-architect Domenico Fontana under the direction of Pope Sixtus V.
One of the smaller domes next to St. Peter’s Baldachin
St. Peter’s Baldachin
The large Baroque sculpted bronze canopy over the high altar is intended to mark the place of Saint Peter’s tomb underneath. The dome overhead is the tallest in the world rising over 448 feet and over 136 feet in diameter. Everywhere you turn there is more to see and we were only allotted an hour inside the Basilica. Amazing works of art, frescoes, mosiacs, sculptures and tapestries were everywhere, it would take hours to be able to view them all. Before we knew it we were outside again in the Square.
The Apostolic Palace seen behind the colonnade is the official residence of the Pope, also known as the Papal Palace and Vatican Palace. The building contains the Papal Apartments, various government offices of the Catholic Church and the Holy See, private and public chapels, Vatican Museums and the Vatican library, including the Sistine Chapel, Raphael Rooms and Borgia Apartment.
We shuffled our way out of Vatican City while others in our group shopped for souvenirs we made our way out to do some exploring. The group set a meeting time and place and we took off. Walking down the narrow streets we walked along the outer wall of the Vatican where we found a public fountain where Irene promptly filled her water bottle… “Hey, it’s free water!” she quipped. We strolled along and made our way back towards the meeting point and passed by an impressive looking castle.
The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant’Angelo, is a towering cylindrical building initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. The popes converted the structure into a castle in the 14th century and connected the castle to St Peter’s Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was used as a refuge during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Soon it was time to move on so we boarded the bus to head to our next stop.
The Altare della Patria also known as Il Vittoriano, is a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. The monument holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame, built under the statue of goddess Roma after World War I. The largest monument in Rome, although we did not stop here we did circle around allowing me to grab a picture. This ended up being a common technique for us to document some of the places we drove by. Finally we arrive at our destination, the Colosseum!
The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome. Built of concrete and sand, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built and is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Unlike many other amphitheatres, which were located on the outskirts of a city, the Colosseum was constructed in the city centre, placing it both symbolically and precisely at the heart of Rome.
Construction of the Colosseum was funded by the opulent spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD. According to an inscription found on the site, “Emperor Vespasian ordered this new amphitheatre to be erected from his general’s share of the booty.” Along with the spoils, an estimated 100,000 Jewish prisoners were brought back to Rome after the war, and many were used as slaves working in the quarries at Tivoli where the travertine was quarried, along with lifting and transporting the quarried stones 20 miles from Tivoli to Rome.
The history here is amazing and to see this huge structure still standing after all these centuries is hard to comprehend. We were unable to see the interior of the Colosseum due to extensive renovations that were underway as well as to the Arch of Titus that is nearby, but to be able to stand and see these structures for ourselves was impressive.
The Arch of Titus is a 1st-century A.D. honorific arch constructed in 82 A.D. by the Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus. Commemorating Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem, this arch has provided the general model for many triumphal arches erected since the 16th century, perhaps most famously it is the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. From here we were supposed to meet up with our group so we headed off to the park where the bus was waiting for us. Once we got to the park we noticed that although there were several busses waiting, none of them were ours! We backtracked our way to the street near the Colosseum and tried to locate someone from our group but didn’t see anyone. Oh well, so I guess we need to get a cab! We start to walk our way back to the main street, when Irene sees our bus driving away! Luckily for us, some members of our group saw us walking on the street and told our tour director, Guy, to stop. We jump back on the bus and head towards our hotel. That evening we are given a choice to go on an optional tour or we would be free to wander on our own. We decide to go on our own so we hop a transit bus and head back into town…
Our first stop is the Spanish Steps, which climb a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. Very popular with tourists and locals alike, we were interested to see the steps but didn’t feel the need to stay. Especially after falling prey to a “friendship” bracelet scam at the top of the steps. This scam involves locals welcoming you to Italy and claiming that they want to share a local custom of braiding a bracelet of string to your wrist. Of course, afterwards they demand payment for the bracelet. We paid a couple of euros to make our escape but we learned a lesson to not be so trusting of friendly strangers in these touristy areas. With all of the crowds and noisy vendors we quickly made our way down the narrow streets to see our last stop of the evening…
The Trevi Fountain was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi. Standing 86 ft high and 161.3 ft wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Another touristy area but this was something that we really wanted to see. Avoid the vendors hawking the cheap souvenirs and the scammers with the roses and just take in the beauty of this fountain, we especially liked the fountain lit up at night. We ended up eating at a very small restaurant close by the fountains. We had no idea of where to go, remember this was way before Yelp or Tripadvisor and so you kinda just had to go with your gut. Fresh tomato and mozzarella salad followed with pasta tossed in a fresh tomato and cream sauce. You could not ask for a better way to end our day in Rome, onto our next city! Venezia!