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Eurfirst Trip to Rome

Revised July 8, 2008

As you wander through this bustling city, it is difficult to imagine a time when the city had been abandoned. There is so much history centered around Rome that it feels like it truly is an eternal city. But as the Roman empire crumbled, the city itself began to come apart. Emperors move out, invaders came through and, eventually, the population of Rome dwindled. In the bleakest of times, cows were grazing where Julius Ceasar had once reigned

The history of Rome is much more dispersed than you find in Paris, Amsterdam Venice or Florence. Be prepared to walk more, use busses and taxis and be ready for the heat if you are there in the summer. Most of my European tan came from the time I spent in the Roman Forum. And be aware of pickpockets--tourists distracted by this amazing city are easy prey to skilled little fingers, especially on the subway. On a positive note, other passengers are watching out for you and will give you good advice for your personal safety. Be cautious and you will have a wonderful, safe time.

If you arrive by train or bus, you will probably be near the city center. If you come by air, you can take a taxi or limousine. Terravision provides low-cost transportation to and from the city which you can arrange online. The company can also help you get oriented to the city with a bus tour.

Hotel rooms are a bit more expensive in Rome than in other European capitals but it Rome is so beautiful at night that being in a central location is worth the expense.

Before you visit Rome, it is good to review Roman and Renaissance history, because you will see it on almost every square and around almost every corner. And, it seems, that more and more of the city's past is being discovered as the city modernizes.

As Europe began to emerge from the "dark ages," Rome regained its importance as a city. It once again assumed the position as the center of the Catholic church, marked by St. Peter's Basillica in Vatican City.

Located in central Italy on the banks of the Tiber River, Rome is the capital of Italy as well as the cultural, political, and historical center of the country. With a metropolitan area similar to the size of Washington D.C., Rome has other things in common with the U.S. capital. They are near the same latitude, Rome being about three degrees further north than Washington; they are both inland, up major rivers--the Tiber for Rome, the Potomac for DC--and they are both filled with classical style architecture. If you get to Rome on a summer day, you'll see another similarity with Washington, D.C.--the heat and humidity can be oppressive.

Ancient Rome was the center of the vast Roman Empire and for most tourists, that is where their visit starts. Head to the center of the city, by foot, bus or subway and you will view what remains of many of the great monuments of that empire.

The most important Roman Empire sights are:

  • The Coliseum
  • The Roman Forum and the Mamartine Prison where St. Peter was held in confinement
  • Hadrian's Forum
  • Palentine Hill

To the south is the area known as "Avertine and Lateran." Its ruins are not as famous but are as interesting. The crowds linger near the Roman Forum and Coliseum; if you venture to the temples and ruins to the south, you will escape the tourist frenzy. There are the temples of Fortuna Virilis and Hercules; the Baths of Caracalla with its gymnasia; remnants of a Roman bridge-Ponte Rotto; and the tomb of Caius Cestius. Many Catholics travelling to Rome visit the Catacombs that held the dead bodies of early Christians.

Rome is also home to the Vatican City, an independent country that is home to the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church. St. Peter's Basilica Vatican City, is a major feature of Rome's skyline.

For more information, we have included some tourist information about the Vatican.

Laced with the ancient ruins, you find medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. As you climb out of the Roman Forum, you come to the Vittoriano, fondly thought of as the "Wedding Cake" by the citizens of Rome. Built to honor Victor Emanuel II, who unified Italy within its modern boundaries, this building serves as the last resting place of the unknown soldiers of Italy. Uniformed guards pay tribute to the dead. Climb to the top of the staircase for great views back across the Roman Forum, overlooking Hadrian's Forum and then scan the distant horizon to see the dome of St. Peters.

Moving west from the city center, you enter the area near the Piazza Navona. Near the Piazza Navona, there is one of the most famous Roman buildings--the Pantheon which is considered one of the best designed structures of the world. A short walk away is the fountain-filled Piazza Navona, built on the site of an old Roman stadium. This fountain, along with the nearby Trevi, helped give Rome another nickname: the "City of Fountains."

To the north, you can see two more fountains in an area that is filled mostly with 18th and 19th century architecture. There is the most famous, Trevi Fountain, where the tradition is to throw a coin into the fountain with the hope that you will return to Rome. The other fountain, the Fontana della Barcaccia (built by Bernini's father, Pietro) is less know but frequently visited because it is at the foot of Rome's Spanish Steps. This is a great place to stop for coffee and trace the steps of famous writers who visited this dynamic city.

Travel to the west, across the Tiber and you head into an area near the Vatican that is filled with medieval buildings and art.

Though every major square has a church, some are more notable than others. Santa Maria in Trastevere is decorated with 12th and 13th century mosaics. Then there is Santa Cecilia in Trastevere which was rebuilt in the 9th century and dedicated to the woman martyred in the third century.

Roman Coliseum

Roman Forum

Hadrian's Forum