Concur, pillage and create an empire! Well not exactly, but you can certainly learn all about it in Rome. You can walk on ancient Roman streets and learn all about the start of Christian religion as well as the history of the most influential ancient civilisation. With only 1.5 days to see the city of Rome my stay was very short to say the least. It was a last minute decision to venture outside of Spain for the last leg of this trip.
In the spirit of keeping things simple I stayed at a neat little hostel called Funny Palace, run by staff at the next-door laundry mat. Which turned out to be a nice place to stay. With a few questions about what I wanted to see and how many days I was staying, after the started welcomes, I was greeted with a map and a pre made itinerary.
I had instructions on how to access the cheapest public transport and a two day plan with carefully marked map to get the most out of my short stay. To add to the welcome I was given a bottle of Italian wine and a key to the room. Perfecto!
The best thing I love about staying in hostels is not only the cheap prices and their central locations to tourist areas, but also the friends you make along the way. I was lucky enough to make friends with a lovely girl Laura from Mexico. She had just finished her studies in architecture in England and was on a stop over in Rome to see the sights before returning to Mexico to complete her Phd. Laura was so lovely and we looked like sisters, when we departed she was kind enough to give me beaded bracelet from Mexico, which was so cute.
There was only a few “must do’s” between the two of us. See the main sights of course, but Laura really wanted to eat real Italian pasta and Tiramisu. My only request is eating a real piece of pizza and gelato, between our culinary requests we had a few things we could tick off quite easily. It’s true what they say in Italy, well at least Rome there is pizza and pasta everywhere. Just like Australia with kebabs or Mexico with their taco and burritos, pizzas literally thrown at you on every corner!
The best thing about the pizza in Italy is it fresh gourmet toppings and little cheese. The tomato base sauces are also handmade and have a distinct basil taste. Very delicious! Considering I don’t typically eat pizza or pasta back at home, at 1.80euro per 100g it’s every ones choice for a quick lunch or bite to eat at the local café.
Besides obtaining food and indulging, day one we needed to complete the Coliseum and the Roman Forum (palatino). We arrived pretty late in the day due to flight times, however in two hours we managed to cover both.
The Roman forum ruins are great to wonder around, it’s almost like a maze of rocks and fallen parts of buildings. This area was built in the 7th Century BC and was used as the centre of Roman politics and religious rituals. One can imagine how the city must of looked in its time, defiantly a beauty and a symbol of great wealth and power.
As you know Rome is now the centre of the Catholic church. Interestingly enough it was not always like that. As we know from the bible Jesus was persecuted by the Romans because he was Christian and claiming to be the Son of God of course. Persecuting Christians in Rome was the norm BC. The main spiritual following was paganism. Some of the depictions of old pagan gods can be seen on some of the rock carvings. The Patheon (now known as a Christian cathedral) was built initially as a pagan temple and later converted, into a Christian church when paganism was abolished.
Initially Christianity was illegal and those who followed it were persecuted. As popularity to follow one god, just like the common Jewish religion at the time. It was though changing to following one god would be more powerful and allow humans (The emperors) high status amongst the people. In 313 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal. In 391 AD Christianity became the only religion that was allowed in Rome and many churches were built including the Vatican.
Within the Colosseum museum it outlined that the, symbol of the cross for Christianity developed from the cross they persecuted poor people and slaves, and yes of course Jesus. However the symbol of Christianity was already in place before Jesus came along. It was also the symbol of the pagan god of the sun “Sol invictus”. The cross was used to unite the two beliefs and make it easier for pagan people to convert to Christianity. The cross was a symbol that every one could relate to.
The Colosseum itself architecturally is another quite spectacular building. It was made 80AD by Emperor Vespasian. It was a gift commissioned to give back to the people. It was able to fit 50,000 people at any one time, with it’s main function to host public events. The events were used to distract and socially control the public namely through gladiator and animal fights. Which essentially was gladiators, animals or criminals fighting each other to death. These regular events was completely paid for by the government and as you can imagine very costly. The games eventually became too expensive and they ceased in the 5th century.
The Romans where big on hydration it seems. Which is handy for the traveller to keep your energy levels and insides working correctly. What remained of the Roman Empire and still functional to this day is the city waters supply. The city is still supplied by water from the ancient aqueducts made thousands of years ago.
The under water ducks, provide clean water that arrives straight from the surrounding mountain side and more safe to drink than tap water. At the height of the Roman empire 11 aqueducts bought the city 25million gallons of water a day for its baths and ornamental fountains. The tradition of drinking water in public squares still occurs in in modern Rome.
Yes it is safe to drink the free water from the fountains, perfect for tourists around popular parts of the city to save some money and fill up their drink bottle. There’s now no excuse to be dehydrated!
The water hydrants round the city are called fontanelle (little fountains). The fontanelles draw on natural spring water in the hills outside of the city, from the same sources ancients tapped for their aqua ducts. Unlike Rome’s tap water which are made of lead piping these are not. So the water is safer, cleaner and taste great. The fontelle water is always ice cold, even in the height of summer.
Speaking about fountains and water, one iconic monument you have to see is the Fontana di trevi (trevi fountain). It is a stunning piece of Baroque artwork, it was designed by architect Nicola Salvi. The plaza around Trevi fountain is popular place for tourists and locals alike. It’s a beautiful little spot to spend time in the surrounding restaurants eating and drinking and generally being social.
As you can imagine when we reached the illuminated Trevi fountain at 9pm after walking round the city for 5 hours, we were spent. Our poor little feet and legs couldn’t take much more. So we rested up early for another crack at sight seeing the following day.
Day two started with the advised early start at the Vatican. Luckily for us as we approached the Vatican square the pope was giving a public presentation. Security was high and the crowds were even bigger. A local told me that every Wednesday when the pope is back at home (apparently he had been away at his summer home for 2 months), he conducts a speech every Wednesday for the people. Traditionally he addresses the people with a political message and well wishes.
The Vatican if you didn’t already know is a considered a country in itself. It has laws of its own, no jails or court systems and is surrounded by a 6foot brick fence. Another quirky thing was that only Swiss guards patrol and protect this area. They wear traditional uniforms, which really adds to the whole experience.
The Swiss guards have traditionally been the only guards to control this area and take a loyal oath to the pope. The Helvetian soldiers (Swiss guard) were known to be warriors of valor and were coined “Defenders of the church of freedom”. So the tradition has stuck fast and they still to this day protect six centuries worth of popes who resided in the Vatican.
If your not interested in the Catholic church that’s fair enough there is plenty of other things to appreciate there. I suggest you do a tour, elbowing through crowds and knowing the house rules would be difficult on your own. The Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel contain thousands of famous art works including Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco ‘The creation of Adam’. This artwork took four years to complete in 1508-1512 and through the years have undergone many different restoration techniques to keep it looking fresh.
The Chapel’s main function is to be a venue for the election of each successive pope. When a new pope is being elected a chimney is installed in the roof of the chapel. When smoke arises, it is a signal that a new pope has been elected. After which the chimney is again removed and the chapel continues to be a hub to thousands of tourists that visit daily.
One quirky piece of information that I found amusing in my tour was the origins of the creation of the drink cappuccino. As we pasted a wall length tapestry, walking on a 2000 year old mosaic floor, a monk wearing a brown robe was highlighted.
It turns out back in the 17thcentury when the Arabs tried to invade Rome, they where quickly stopped by the Romans. The Arabs quickly fled their camp leaving bags of coffee beans behind. Coffee did not exist in Rome at the time. This cleaver monk wanted to start a business, so he took the beans and roasted them. Finding that the coffee beans where too bitter he added expensive sugar and cream to make it more palatable. So this rich mains drink was invented. Due to the colour of the monks robe and the drink colour also being brown, they coined him, and the drink cappuccino. So the famous drink you drink every morning has historical significance, who would have known?
This is defiantly a must see, a tour for the whole lot will set you back about 48Euro, you get VIP entry and get an informative outline of the history of the church, Rome and the beautiful art works. By the time we finished in the Vatican we where tired and hungry, with only one place left to see we set on foot again to the Pantheon. As I mentioned before the Pantheon is a pagan temple converted into a church.
The word ‘Pantheon’ is a Greek word meaning “temple to all gods”. It was built before 126 AD. This building is quite unusual in that it has a large circular hole an oculus opening to the sky. My first though was what happens if it rains?
To cover that question nicely in the centre of the room there are drain holes to drain the water out, should in fact it rain. Why would anyone want to go to all that trouble to build a building with a hole anyway?
Well there is an answer for that too. The oculus is actually a multi purpose sun dial. The building is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings, in the 7th century the Pantheon was later converted to a Catholic church.
– After the Pantheon we were now totally zapped, and I craved an ice bath or massage for my feet. However this area was not the time or the place for that, so in compensation I soaked my hands into the ice-cold water bath and sat quietly on the stairs to rest.
As the night fell it was time to taste test real Italian food. I settled in for an egg plant parmigiana, vegetables are hard to come by in certain places so I was craving a good vegetarian dish. For dessert I settled on a pistachio tart. My Friend Laura went for pasta and tiramisu, and you know what after a day of walking and tummy grumbling. It tasted so good!
The last night in Rome was sad to leave Laura behind but I was making my way back to Barcelona for my trip home back to Sydney. All in all the holiday was a blast and a learning experience. My favourite thing about travelling is finding out about new dishes, eating patterns, exercise regimes and of course making new friends from around the world.