To say we were excited for our first trip to Italy is an understatement. We knew we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible in 5 days and were so glad we decided to take the extra days to explore. This was our first non “city break” trip, which made it feel more like an actual vacation.
We took a super early flight on Wednesday in order to have the whole day in Rome. We landed around 9am and hopped in a cab to the city. Our taxi driver was a nice woman who even gave us a bit of a tour on the way. She took us along The Catacombs of St. Callixtus, which is a 2000+ year old cemetery. I wish we had time to come back and explore this, so do check out if you’re there! As we kept driving along, I noticed that when approaching the centre of Rome you literally hit a wall. The city is completely encompassed by a stone wall, known as the Aurelian Walls, built around 270 AD…. Never seen anything like it.
We arrived at our sweet Roman Airbnb which was on the top floor of a flat tucked away down a small alley. The apartment had beautiful charm and we were glad we went for the authentic Italian experience. We quickly dropped our bags and headed out the door…. First stop THE Colosseum or as the locals would say, Coliseo de Roma.
It was about a 25 minute walk from where we were staying, we usually choose to walk to as many places as possible when traveling so we can see as much as possible and get a better feel for the city. We strolled right through Piazza Venezia which is the central hub of Rome. At the far end was the great Altare della Patria, which is a large monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. Got some pics and quickly hurried along.
We had a feeling the queues would be long without tickets to the Colosseum, but luckily we only waited about 45 minutes. Honestly, I’ve heard horror stories about how crowded it is in the summer – so we felt lucky to only have to wait a bit. (This was our lesson learned though, that night we bought tickets for every other major attraction or tour we wanted to do for the rest of our trip). The other great thing about our tickets is that they also include entrance to the Roman Forum as well as Palatine Hill.
We plugged in our headphones and embarked on our self-guided audio tour. This was of course after our first sight at inside the Colosseum and quite a few “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” snapchats…
Origins of the Colosseum begin with Vespasian, who later took over after continued years of misrule by Nero. Originally, Nero had built the ‘Golden Palace’ for himself after a fire greatly damaged majority of Rome. He happened to do this RIGHT on top of the most lush area of the city where many Roman people spent their leisurely time. Vespasian decided he wanted to give back to the people and declared he would build a new amphitheater in the same location where the public could enjoy gladiator combats as well as other forms of entertainment.
It took about a decade to construct and was officially opened by the emperor Titus which a festival that included 100 days of games.
The Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world and the first freestanding. The architecture itself could have taken us hours to learn about – the different colours used, different style columns, the meaning behind different entrances, etc… quite the history lesson if you ask me. We also learned that where you sat was based on your social class – but at the end of the day all 50,000 spectators were packed in like sardines. The Roman people’s favorite activity was watching the gladiator fights. These were usually slaves or criminals, but often forced prisoners of war to battle as well.
After thousands of years a combination of weather and neglect has destroyed almost two thirds of the Colosseum – including all of the decorative elements (the fun stuff!) They have maintained restoration efforts over the years as this continues to be the go to Rome attraction for people from all over the world.
We walked over to Palatine Hill next. Or should I say headed to the top? This is the location of where Romans established their first living areas. Eventually as the Roman Empire grew, Palatine became the place to live if you were wealthy or powerful. This is because the they thought the air quality was better since it is higher up, the views are fantastic, and it is in close proximity to the seat of power with the Roman Forum close-by. Any one who was well off began building homes here as it was seen as a place to retreat and relax, away from the clamor of the city. Now it is really just ruins and gardens – so definitely a lot more interesting once you know a bit about the history.
Last stop was the Roman Forum, which sits just below Palatine Hill. I would describe this as ruins – basically a huge area of leftover structures that literally runs through the middle of the city. You will see everything from columns, to staircases to statues – all left exactly how they were built. The area was originally a marsh which was drained in order to establish a city centre. This is where all political and social activity happened, and became a hub for both business & civilian needs. You can notice when you walk through that some structures are in better condition then others, and that is because they are newer. Every emperor that ruled tried to out do the prior by building bigger and better monuments.
Now that we had wrapped up the most important pieces to Rome, we took a walk over to The Mouth of Truth. I read that this was a top attraction, but after catching up on the history – it really isn’t anything special. They still aren’t sure if it was some sort of sewer cap or a disc used for making sacrifices. All I know is that there were lots of people queuing up to stick their hand in its mouth? Also apparently famous for making an appearance in the famous Audrey Hepburn movie, Roman Holiday.
At this point we were about ready for our first Italian meal and we headed towards the city centre to find some grub. We scarfed down a quick snack of antipasti (and wine, of course) so that we could get to the Pantheon before it closed.
It was dusk when we arrived, so inside the church was surprisingly dark. The main source of light actually comes from a 30 foot “oculus” opening at the top of the dome. The Pantheon originated as a Roman temple and was later converted into a Christian church during the 7th century. Although from the outside, the Pantheon isn’t very exciting, the inside is filled with colour, from the marbled floor to the gilded statues and columns.