‘She had always been fond of history, and here (in Rome) was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.’ Henry James (writer.)
Have you ever felt the elation that comes when you finally get to strike a long yearned for item off your bucket list? It feels great doesn’t it? Especially when it’s one that you kept saying you’d get round to visiting but somehow never did.
Rome was one of those places for me.
And although I was filled with excitement and anticipation leading up to my trip, I was feeling a fair bit of trepidation too. Because I had built up such great expectations and wondered whether I had only set myself up for disappointment. Surely reality could never live up to the images I had in my head.
But Rome did not disappoint.
How can I describe being there except to say it was like walking through a living museum. A place where the ancient nestled comfortably alongside the modern. Where around every other corner treasure after treasure was revealed, symbols of an all powerful empire now gone.
Who would have thought that a small settlement on the banks of the Tiber would grow to become such a powerful force. One that would conquer the lands of the Mediterranean and far, far beyond. A place now where year after year visitors flood in eager for their own little piece of centuries of history.
Rome was truly amazing.
So what do you do when you finally arrive at a place you’ve wanted to see like … forever?
You rush out to get a taste of what you’ve only ever seen in photos of course!
And my first just had to be that quintessential symbol of Rome itself, the Colosseum.
So with map in hand I set off. By my estimation it should have been no more than a 30 minute walk. Let’s just say it took me way longer to get there.
Because as I meandered along the cobbled streets I could not help but be distracted.
And maybe I took a few wrong turns too.
But I discovered that when in Rome no turn is ever a wrong turn.
In a city that proved to be worth waiting for, here are just a few distractions on a most memorable walk to the Colosseum.
My trek started at Piazza Navona, a stone’s throw away from my hotel. A place that was buzzing every time I passed through during my visit.
An example of Baroque Roman architecture it had been a public square since the 15th century.
In its center was the wonderful Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers.
If you read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons then you may remember it. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was one of the Altars of Science and the square was used during the filming of the movie in 2008.
A hop, skip and a jump from Piazza Navona was the Pantheon. I saw many marvels in Rome but the Pantheon was truly remarkable. It is apparently the best preserved ancient Roman monument standing strong nearly 2000 years after it was first constructed.
Although the exact age of the pantheon remains unknown evidence suggest that it was built and dedicated between A.D 118 and 125 by the Emperor Hadrian.
Inside is probably its most striking feature, the giant dome and oculus (the hole in the top). It is still the largest unsupported dome in the world today.
A short meandering walk and I was in the historic heart of Rome. Piazza Colonna, named for the 30m column that sits in its centre is a dedication to the emperor Marcus Aurelius and his military victories.
Completed in 193 AD a closer inspection of the column’s surface reveals etchings of scenes from battles against the Sarmatians and Germanic tribes.
They say no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city.
At its center on a chariot is Neptune, god of the sea being pulled by two seahorses, one calm and obedient the other wild. The two symbolise the changing mood of the sea.
The legend says toss a coin over your shoulder and you will be sure of a return to Rome.
A short walk away are the Spanish Steps. Built in order to link the Trinità dei Monti church with the Spanish square below it’s unique design attracted artists, poets and the rich and famous of eras gone by.
Today its tradition as a meeting place lives on. At the bottom of the stairs is an early baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia, or ‘Fountain of the Old Boat’.
After a few twists and turns I eventually find my way to Piazza Venezia. Sitting at the foot of the Capitoline hill the square is a central hub of Rome.
It is the point of intersection of several main roadways including the Via del Corso and Via dei Fori Imperiali which leads us on to the Roman Forum and Colosseum ( I was getting close to my destination).
In the square sits the Altare della Patria or Altar of the Fatherland a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.
Although the smallest of the seven hills of Ancient Rome the Capitoline Hill would prove to be its most important.
Its temples, built by Rome’s kings, would become a symbol of Rome’s reign as Caput Mundi, capital of the world. The Capitoline hill was the political and religious heart of Rome.
Its crowning glory is Piazza del Campidoglio which was designed by Michelangelo. Climb the impressive Cordonata stairs to get to it and you will be greeted by the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius .
Although the original is now on display in the Capitoline Museums, the replica made in 1981 when the original was taken down for restoration, is still quite imposing standing at almost 14 ft tall.
The Roman Forum.
As one of the locals promised, from the top of the Capitoline Hill is one of the most stunning views of ancient Rome’s social, political and commercial hub.
Spread below are the ruins of temples, basilicas interspersed with open spaces. Although only eight granite columns are all that’s left of Tempio di Saturno the ruins give us a glimpse of what it would have looked like back then.
Finally! Yes I made it and what can I say? Seeing it in the flesh was as thrilling as any picture I had in my mind.
According to a guide its inauguration was marked by games that lasted 100 days and nights and if I closed my eyes I could picture the scene.
Crazed spectators in those 50,000 seats baying for blood as the clang of metal and cries of agony rang out.
The Colosseum would be abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and much of its travertine marble plundered.
But standing there that day, seeing it in all its faded glory, I finally understood why it remains the symbol of ancient Rome’s awesome power.