I have to confess: I love Rome. It is a beautiful city with a wonderfully chaotic mixture of antiquities, high fashion, gritty street life, religious institutes, historic buildings, art and gardens. There is so much to do here and as well as the classic tourist sights there is an ever changing programme of world class exhibitions, music and cultural events. Rome’s historic centre is well-known for its magnificent buildings, ancient statues, piazzas and churches. Yet, as if to contrast this and remind us that Rome is also the birth place of modernity, there are avant-garde bridges such as the Cavalcaferronia Bridge, utilitarian buildings like the Torri del serbatoio di acqui and re-purposed spaces such as the Gazometro, whose round cylindrical structure stands 92ft high and has been transformed into a nightlife mecca offering parties, concerts, bars, exhibitions and performances.
Rome, like most cities has its hip-neighbourhoods too. These ebb and flow along with the cool-crowd who bring the spotlight to an outlying area for a while, only to move on to rediscover another all too soon. I have lost count of the number of times Trastevere has been in and out of fashion; whereas Testaccio has firmly established itself as a key hipster destination and now Ostiense is making its name as the “undiscovered” Rome, with a growing restaurant scene, hidden markets and cool nightlife. But it is the historic centre that keeps me returning to Rome again and again. I love exploring its twisting, narrow streets with their magnificent mixture of light, space and colour and the promise of some architectural splendour or ancient ruin around every corner. I love the galleries, museums and churches. And I never seem to tire of the squares, fountains and pretty street cafes.
Every time I visit Rome I head to the Pantheon and marvel at its beautiful dome with its curious central opening to the sky. It is almost two thousand years old and is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The Pantheon sits on Piazza della Rotonda, which has a famous fountain and obelisk at its centre and is an excellent place from which to start exploring the historic centre.
From here you can easily walk to the beautiful Trevi Fountain, which has been immortalised by Fellini in his iconic film La Dolce Vita. Then wind your way to Piazza Navona, which has several beautiful statues and three magnificent fountains. A short walk south of Piazza Navona is Campo de’ Fiori. Here you will find Rome’s famous food market, surrounded on all sides by a tempting array of cafes and restaurants.
Another of my favourite squares is Piazza del Popolo. This large square is not far from the Spanish Steps, another of Rome’s icons. The Spanish Steps link Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, which is dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church, at the top. Both Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps lead to the elegant Villa Borghese gardens. One can lose oneself for hours in these gardens. They are also home to two incredible galleries. The Galleria Borghese, which houses a substantial part of the Borghese collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna that has neoclassical and Romantic paintings and sculptures.
Other things not to miss when visiting Rome include: A stroll along the Tibre and a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo which sits on the Tibre’s northern bank. One must brave the crowds and go into the Colosseum; One should climb the steps to The Capitoline, one of the Seven Hills of Rome situated between the Forum and the Campus Martius, to admire the breathtaking views across the city; And one has to spend at least a day at the Vatican City – one absolutely must see St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.
As with its architecture Rome is full of both modern and ancient attractions and for the latest in 21st-century happenings look no future than the Gagosian Gallery. This is one of Larry Gagosian infamous contemporary art galleries and has the reputation for having its eye on all the latest happenings in the art world. Then there is the GNAM, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Maxxi, the National Museum of the Art of the 21st Century. The Maxxi was designed by Zaha Hadid and puts on an exciting programme of exhibitions and artists throughout the year. Whilst over in the ever trendy neighbourhood of Testaccio is MARCO, Rome’s museum of contemporary art, which has been installed in a complex of 19th-century slaughterhouses beside the Tiber.
Dining and shopping are two other irresistible pastimes in the eternal city and whilst it is true that it can be difficult to escape the tourist traps at times, with a little perseverance even the first time visitor can eat and shop exceptionally well here. For some of the best recommendations on where to eat in the city visit Katie Parle’s blog: http://www.parlafood.com/ Katie is a food blogger par excellence who has lived in Rome since 2003. It was thanks to Katie and her website that we dined at Emma (http://www.emmapizzeria.com/), a fantastic little restaurant hidden away on a small cobbled street in Rome’s historic centre. Emma’s is fast getting the reputation as one of the best pizzerias within the city walls, needless to say you need to book if you want a table for dinner.
As the saying goes: Omnes viae Romam ducunt – all roads lead to Rome and whilst medieval scholars purportedly used the phrase to explain how diverging lines of inquiry would lead to a single conclusion, we also think that eventually those with a passion for travel, culture and food will be lead to the eternal city and will not be disappointed.
Useful links and information about key sights and galleries:
The Vatican Museums: http://www.museivaticani.va/
The Capitoline Hill: http://en.museicapitolini.org/
Villa Borghese, Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5 (+3906-841 3979). http://www.galleriaborghese.it/default-en.htm
Baths of Caracalla, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 52 (+3906-3996 7700).
Castel Sant’Angelo, Lungotevere Castello 50 (+3906-681 9111). http://www.castelsantangelo.com/
Gagosian Gallery, Via Francesco Crispi 16 (+3906-4208 6498). http://www.gagosian.com/
Galleria Doria Pamphilij, Via del Corso 305 (+3906-679 7323). http://www.doriapamphilj.it/
Macro Testaccio, Piazza O Giustiniani 4 (+3906-6710 70400). http://www.museomacro.org/
Maxxi, Via Guido Reni 4A (+3906-320 1954). http://www.fondazionemaxxi.it/
GNAM, The National Gallery of Modern & Contemporary Art. http://www.gnam.beniculturali.it/
Palazzo Farnese, Piazza Farnese 67 (+3906-0606 0884). http://www.inventerrome.com/index.php/en/visiting-the-palazzo-farnese
Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda (+3906-6830 0230).
For our other posts on Italy see the articles on the pretty villages of Positano and Praiano on Italy’s famous Amalfi Coast; and the famous walk, Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) in Southern Italy. This walk is infamous for its incredible views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and its stunning coastline.