February 2016


Rome
February 2016




Tour boat on the River Tiber, with the dome of St. Peter's Cathedral behind

By Robin McKelvie


Rome well earns its moniker of ‘The Eternal City'. The epic capital of Italy - once the very heart of Europe and of an empire that governed swathes of Africa and the Middle East, too - today still stands proud as one of the world's great cities. Historic sights abound on its ancient streets, but Rome is also very much a modern city, where Italy's famed la dolce vita (the good life) bubbles effervescently everywhere from its busy little piazzas through to the bustling cafes of a metropolis that likes to do much of its good living in the outdoors.


Legend has it that the city was founded in 753BC, when brothers Romulus and Remus were born on the banks of the River Tiber. They may never have survived and Rome may never have become the city it grew into, were it not for a mysterious wolf, who saved the orphaned boys and weaned them. From these humble beginnings the city rose to become the largest and most important in Europe.


The epicentre of Rome, both physically and spiritually, then and now, is, of course, the Roman Forum - the most expansive, best-preserved Roman site in the world. Its scale, and the insights it offers into the Roman Empire and life thousands of years ago, are breathtaking. Walk through this history book and you are strolling across stone smoothed by the sandals of Roman legionnaires, not to mention famous emperors like Caesar and Augustus.


History is writ large in the Forum, which sits snugly between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. This very public plaza was once the scene of everything from colourful markets to triumphal processions following another great Roman success on the battlefield. It was also the economic and administrative centre of the expansive Roman Empire, and this sense of grandeur is still palpable today.


One of the most beguiling aspects of Rome is that it does not hide all of its history behind glass. This real sense of a living history you can interact with and enjoy is most spectacularly celebrated at the Coliseum. This brilliantly preserved, steep-sided, circular Roman amphitheatre, completed in 80AD, once saw gladiators do battle and unfortunate prisoners take on lions in front of bating crowds. Today the Coliseum holds a wide range of cultural events, including concerts, theatre and opera. Catching any performance in this most impressive of arenas is an experience no visitor ever forgets.


Moving beyond Roman Rome, the city today is renowned as a hub of fashion and the beautiful life. The streets north of the famous Trevi Fountain - throw a coin in and make a wish to have enough money to splash out in the shops.


Rome is also a city that is constantly reinventing itself. Alongside the big international brand name designers you will find the creations of a new wave of exciting young Italian designers. Their work is increasingly making it into the more mainstream stores, but there are plenty of places that also specialise in avant-garde fashion.


Reinvention is also something that Rome's restaurants specialise in. Yes, you can savour superb Italian cooking like mamma used to conjure up in a sweep of traditional trattorias across the city, as well as mouth-wateringly thin pizza on many street corners, but there are inspirational new chefs at work in the city, too. Rome today boasts a wealth of Michelin-starred restaurants that are proof of this. In the 2016 rankings, the Eternal City saw 17 of its restaurants given a Michelin star rating.

Another Rome altogether awaits within the confines of the Vatican City. The world’s smallest nation lies within Rome
Another Rome altogether awaits within the confines of the Vatican City. The world's smallest nation lies within Rome, ruled by the Pope himself and protected by the colourful Swiss Guards. A visit here to take in the might of St. Peter's Cathedral (surely the most impressive church in the Christian world) is essential. No matter what your religious views might be, this is a deeply dramatic building. It is worth the visit to view Michelangelo's La Pieta alone, and for the sweeping views of the city skyline that unfold from the elegant statue-strewn upper terrace.


Within the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel is another must-see sight. Amongst its litany of artistic treasures, this remarkable construction houses the sublime beauty of Michelangelo's frescoes. You could lose hours - and many people do - gazing up at the intricate detail and world-class craftsmanship of this attempt to make the human world reflect the spiritual.


Heading back into the centre across the River Tiber - the lifeblood river that first brought man to Rome - the Spanish Steps await. The city's favourite meeting space brings many of Rome's disparate elements together. The ghosts of Roman legionnaires fill the air. The words of romantic poets Keats and Shelley waft from the building in which they once resided (and where Keats drew his last breath) just by the steps. Here, today's immaculately dressed Romans come to play guitar, sing and chat about the issues of the day, much as their ancestors did in the Roman Forum, in a city that man has so joyously embraced for thousands of years.

 

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    Artist by the Spanish Steps

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    The famous Trevi Fountain: throw a coin in and make a wish

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    Fountain in Piazza Navona

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    View of the Rome City skyline in autumn

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    The famous Roman Coliseum

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    Relaxing in Piazza Navona

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    St Peter's Cathedral at the heart of the Vatican City

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    Bridges crossing the River Tiber

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    Tourists and locals flocking to the Spanish Steps

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