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November 16, 2016 / oneworld82

A weekend in Rome

We had two days and half in Rome. Not much, but enough to hit some key spots. People think that Paris or London have a lot to offer. Go figure. Rome has 2500 years of history – very well preserved. Rome is the Eternal City – nothing could be truer. Many Italians blame the city for not embracing modernity, but why should a city endowed with so much history change? I think it’s a legitimate question.

Our visit had two main objectives:

  1. Visit the St Peter’s Basilica as part of the Year of Mercy proclaimed last year by Pope Francis
  2. Sample as much Roman staples as humanly possible.

We succeeded in both points.

The Vatican is truly a special place – no matter whether you are Catholic or else. The smallest country in the World is packed with a remarkable wealth of sights and history that 2000 years of Papacy built. The walls surrounding the “city” are majestic, and still today really give out a sense of impenetrability.

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Together with San Peter’s Square and Basilica, the Vatican Museums are the crown jewel of the country – a collection of art that various popes assembled throughout the centuries. From the Egyptian Museum to the Maps hallway, the quality and quantity of artworks on display is a powerful reminder of the wealth and power that the Church hold throughout the centuries.

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Among the best artworks in the Palace are the Stanze di Raffaello and the Cappella Sistina. The Philosopher is one of my favorite painting ever – al fresco, nonentheless.

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Most of the artworks are from Renaissance masters, from Borromini to Canova, from Michelangelo to Veronese. Together with the Uffizi in Florence, this is definitely the richest museum in the Italian Peninsula – a “must do” of every visit to Rome.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the main reason to come to Rome was to go through the Holy Door of the Basilica to gain a plenary indulgency. We did not know this in advance, but the same weekend we were in Rome Pope Francis was also confirming seven new saints during a big mass in St Peter’s Square – so this was a great occasion for us to attend Mass, see the Pope, and visit the Basilica.

Regardless of religion, seeing an estimated 80,000-strong crowd assembling for Mass is something unique. The positive energy of the place was at its strongest, and while standing for two hours under the Autumn Roman sun was not ideal, it was certainly worth the effort.

Papa Francesco I

Papa Francesco I

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San Pietro and a Carabiniere, or a member of the Italian Military Police

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From the Vatican it’s actually a very nice walk to the old city center, through via della Conciliazione, past Castel Sant’Angelo, then across Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tevere river. We got definitely lucky, as the weather was perfect when we visited.

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Old Rome is oh-so-charming. Narrow, cobblestoned streets, charming restaurants (of questionable quality), splendid palazzi… what else do you want?

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In the old city, my favorite sights are Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, and the Pantheon. Rome is famed for its squared and fountains, and Piazza Navona hosts one of the best.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi – symbolizing the 4 largest rivers known during the Modern Era – is simply stunning. In this piazza – just like in any other major site of the city – you can feel how crowded Rome is. Even though cities like London and Paris get just as many tourists, Rome’s narrow streets and relatively compact center ensure that most tourists are not too far away from one another at any given time. This results in a lot of highly-concentrated touristy eateries as well, which I suggest you stay away with if you want to experience some real Roman fare.

The Pantheon, as mentioned earlier, is not far away from Piazza Navona, and this former Roman temple-converted-to-church is simply stunning. It’s perfect dome is still today an architectural wonder. The site also houses the remains of Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, two key players (and kings) in modern Italy history (the former was the father of the country, the one who unified Italy after centuries of regionalism and foreign power dominance).

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Together with Renaissance Rome, there is also ancient Rome. The Palatine hill is where the ruins of the Roman city can be found, and nothing embodies Rome better than the Colosseo and the Arco di Traiano. I feel people undersell Rome – the majesty of the Colosseo is unparalleled.

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Strolling around the city – no matter which part of it – you really realize why it’s been dubbed the Citta’ Eterna – the Eternal City; you can breathe history at every corner, a history that’s timeless and that still lives not only in the architecture of the city, but also in its people – proud as they could possibly be of a city that once was (and, thanks to the Church, in many ways still today is) the center of the World – Roma Caput Mundi.

And nothing is perhaps more magical than strolling less touristy areas like the old Jewish Ghetto, home to markets, good restaurants, and the Tevere river; or walking to some of the most impressive sites at night, like the ever-fascinating Fontana di Trevi, designed by Ncola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. I mean, have you ever seen a fountain more majestic than this one (and, by the way, Rome is the city in the World with the highest number of fountains)?

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Or take Piazza di Spagna and what’s known in English as the Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinita’ dei Monti). This mythical and magical place is the perfect backdrop for some serious photography – as well as for some serious shopping, given the number of high-end fashion stores around the square.

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In the end, though, it’s the people that really make the difference. It’s a little bit like flying first class, a great hard product will pass unnoticed if the crew is mediocre. Romans excel at this. They are not Southerners but they have southern flair; they aren’t Northerners, but they have their sense of aesthetics and buon gusto. Everyone, from waiters to taxi drivers, seems always happy (in a very complaining, Italian way) and welcoming to tourists – not something you find everywhere.

Also, even in the city center you can catch a glimpse of real Roman life like it used to be a few years ago, like this caldarroste (roasted chestnuts) vendore demonstrates.

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Oh, Roma. What an amazing city! While I had been here before, coming back with my wife, visiting the Vatican and seeing the Pope, and staying at such a great hotel like the Waldorf-Astoria brought this trip to a totally different level – I have never imagined I could enjoy this beautiful city so much. The reality is also that I have now lived continuously outside Italy for 6+ years – and appreciating my home country is becoming easier and easier by the day.

Arrivederci, Roma! Sono sicuro che ci rivedremo presto!

 

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