The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, August 10, 2009

More on Rome

Earlier today I received a call from a friend who reminded me that I had left my ongoing vacation guide to Rome unfinished. I'm amazed that anyone with any sense would seek my advice, and had hoped that those few who actually read this blog might forget that I hadn't returned to the subject as promised. And so, bowing to the pressure from this one friend, I will wrap up my comments on visiting Rome. FYI, I've already posted three items:
  1. Off to Rome: July 17
  2. Going to Rome? Part 2: July 20
  3. Going to Rome? Part 3: July 21
I've already addressed Vatican City, so today I will complete this little travel guide by suggesting some of the other places you definitely want to visit while in Rome. Here's my list, in no particular order:

The Major Basilicas. In addition to St. Peter's, you definitely want to visit the three other major basilicas: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Because these three churches are located in different parts of the city, you probably won't want to walk unless you have an especially hearty constitution and truly enjoy long walks. And as its name indicates, St. Paul Outside the Walls is quite a distance from the city center. Cabs in Rome are rather expensive and the bus system can be an adventure in pick-pocket avoidance. In the past Diane and I have purchased multi-day passes from one of the tourist bus companies. Their double-decker buses make a regular circuit of the city and stop at all the tourist spots, including the major basilicas. You can get on and off where you please and the cost is reasonable. I also recommend checking your guidebook and reading up on each basilica prior to your visit.

Exterior of Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

Exterior of the Basilica of St. Mary Major

Interior of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc. This district of Rome, across the Tiber from the Vatican, is another must-see. The Pantheon is one of the true architectural marvels of ancient Rome and the fact that it's still standing is a tribute to those who designed and built it almost 2,000 years ago. Begun during the reign of Marcus Agrippa and completed under Hadrian, the Pantheon is one of those rare places you just don't want to leave.

The Pantheon at night

Not far from the Pantheon is the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Built on the site of Temple of the goddess Minerva, it is Rome's only Gothic church. The interior is breathtaking and should not be missed. St. Catherine of Siena is buried beneath the main altar...well, her body is there; her head is in Siena.

Piazza Navona, located on the site of an ancient circus or stadium that dates to the reign of Domitian, is a marvelous oblong city "square" where people watching is a major activity. Sit down at one of the many sidewalk cafes, enjoy a morning cappuccino or espresso, or a glass of afternoon wine, and enjoy the sights as they stroll by. During the warmer months, dozens of artists display their (usually pretty bad) work. After you tire of watching the people, take some time to appreciate the marvelous baroque architecture surrounding the piazza as well as Bernini's breathtaking Fountain of the Four Rivers. And then take some time to visit the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone and the church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), whose facades front the Piazza Navona.

Checking out the bad art in Piazza Navona

If you walk to Piazza Navona from the Vatican (about a mile), I recommend stopping at Castel Sant'Angelo and climbing to the very top where you will be treated to a marvelous 360-degree view of Rome. Originally built by Hadrian as his mausoleum, it is now a museum and certainly worth a visit. Afterwards you can cross the Tiber on the (pedestrian only) Ponte Sant'Angelo, and let your camera record the view.

Ponte Sant'Angelo spans the Tiber

Of course, no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum and the Forum. I recommend spending a few dollars on one of the many walking tours available. You will never appreciate ancient Rome by viewing it from a bus. The only way to experience these marvels is to do it on foot.

The Colosseum

There's so much more to see and experience in Rome, but since I have no intention of writing a complete tourist guide, I will just list some other favorites of mine. You can follow the links and read about each in more detail.
Interior of the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
  • Il Gesu (Roman church of the Jesuits-- a baroque masterpiece)
  • Spanish Steps -- a very touristy attraction, but certainly worth a visit. I especially enjoyed visiting the rooms of John Keats in the building immediately to the right of the steps. The poet spent his last days there, dying at the young age of 25 in 1821. Now a museum you can visit it for a minimal fee.
Spanish Steps from Keats' window
Piazza del Popolo - twin churches of Santa Maria

There's so much more to see in Rome, and I've only scratched the surface. My advice? Don't hesitate to wander around the city, prepared to be surprised and delighted. I have always found the people to be friendly and helpful, especially if you try to use what little Italian you might have.

As for dining, stay away from the touristy places, which usually offer mediocre fare at high prices. Eat where the locals eat. Ask around. We have especially enjoyed many of the smaller restaurants in the Prati and Trastevere districts. These are primarily residential areas that cater largely to Romans. But half the fun is in the adventure of trying places that simply look good and are filled with happy folks enjoying their lunch or dinner. We have our favorites, but I'm sure you'll find your own.

(I took the above photos during our last trip to Rome in September 2008)

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