We recently spent a long weekend in Rome, and by and large did what the Romans do. We made our way to the Roman Forum, as you do, then gasped in awe – and horror – at the Colosseum and walked the length of the Circus Maximus. About two thousand years ago we might have seen chariot races or even wild animal hunts in the centre of the circus, on our visit there were just a couple of frisky dogs running helter skelter in the wide open space. It does blow my mind that the landmarks of ancient times stand there absorbed into the hurly burly of today. Traffic whizzes past, masses of tourists are shepherded in and out, around and through the monuments of times past, and at every stop along the way merchants flog souvenirs to the masses. What will remain of our modern monuments in 2000 years?
Out in the city we enjoyed sunshine and mild temperatures, a welcome reprieve from the already fridge-like temperatures in Paris. We wandered through the streets and the centuries, from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, dodging the street hawkers at the Trevi Fountain and climbing the famous Spanish Steps.
In St Peter’s Basilica, the marble Pieta, carved by Michelangelo was just as I had remembered from my first visit 30 years ago. I had been struck before how a carving from a slab of stone cold marble could seem full of emotion and warmth and it had the same effect on me this time. The folds in the material of Mary’s robes, the limp limbs of Jesus’ body cradled in her arms are so real it seems impossible for them to be marble.
Inside St Peter’s, hundreds of tourists are dwarfed by soaring pillars and the sheer scale of the ornate interior. Everywhere people are clicking photos and recording video, exclaiming at what they see, albeit in hushed voices as the supervising officials intermittently command silence with a vehement “ssshhhhhhhh”. We made a return visit to the Sistine Chapel; the crowds were just as I remembered, overwhelming. Go early; the richness and beauty of the art is a sight not to be missed.
As for modern day Rome, we enjoyed eating genuine tasty Italian food, including the darkest most deliciously intense chocolate gelato, drank (only a moderate amount) of red wine and admired the Italian fashions in the boutiques near the Spanish Steps. The Italian economy got a small boost on our account. In the evening we found a bar screening the rugby and along with a small mostly antipodean crowd, we watched the All Blacks hang on for a win over the French.
All in all a lovely weekend and there are enough things left on the list of sights to see in Rome that we’d like to go back again if the opportunity arises.
The practical details:
We stayed at the Aventino Hotel on via San Domenico on Aventine Hill area. Its a lovely small boutique hotel in a leafy residential suburb, about 5 mins walk from the Line B metro stop Circo Massimo. Very handy, very pleasant.