Once upon a time in Rome.

Once upon a time there was a city named Rome, and it was the center of the world! It’s power stretched across almost all of Europe and into strange, foreign lands of beauty and danger. From the icy north-lands to the vast desert stretches, all answered to Rome. Grandest city in the known world.

Needless to say, Rome isn’t quite like that anymore. But it made for a dramatic introduction to this short article and it sets a proper mood for reading about Rome. Why? Because Rome is all about the past. It’s about the empires of the past and the mighty people who ran them. It’s a persistent vibe throughout the city that truly sets it apart from any other capital city in the world.

But let us begin somewhere more grounded, shall we? Departing from the train system into Romes main terminal is a bit of a mess really. It’s crowded and not terribly traveler friendly. Indeed the city itself is not very kind to backpackers at all. Between a complete lack of any useful tourism information that’s easily accessible for your average unprepared random wanderers like myself, and the abundance of rather grumpy and unfriendly people, first impressions were not the best sort. I still harbor a few particular grudges towards some events that took place in Rome. But I wont dwell on these things, promise, I’m simply stating the blunt truth to try and set a grim but necessary foundation for my brief description of Rome.

Once you have found a place to spend the night and a safe location for your things, you’ll want to wander and see the city proper. And this is where Rome begins to shine! Despite everything said above Rome is actually one of the few major cities where to get the proper experience I’d say walking worked best. Whether you’re strolling between the fashionable tight Italian alleys or staring up in awe at some of the magnificent works of art that fill the city to near burst, it all feels ‘right’ to be on foot and most of the things you’ll want to see as a tourist are within walking distance of one another.

And there are many things you’ll want to see in Rome. You’re probably thinking of the coliseum right now, but once that awe inspiring moment where you stand at the structures base and stare up at it for the first time thinking “I can’t believe I’m seeing this in person!” passes, I quickly found the coliseum to be one of the lesser sights of Rome. Surrounded by fencing and crowded beyond belief. Loud with pushy tourists and locals and vendors and who knows who else all over the place. Eug. I was if anything a bit relieved to walk away from that particular famous attraction. Luckily Rome has many, many more to offer. Some just as famous, others not as much. Luckily even simply walking down the street in Rome can offer all sorts of sights and sounds. This is one of those rare places where it’s common to find archaeological digs interrupting streets or where you find yourself by accident wandering across some famous relic from the past you’d forgotten till just then. For example; You’re walking down a narrow street on your way to the Pantheon and find yourself stumbling across Trevi Fountain on the way, which you’d forgotten was even in Rome. Or walking across a bridge to see the Vatican and finding yourself staring up in awe at the amazing Castel Sant’Angelo, or Hadrian’s Tomb as it’s also known, with it’s dozens of angels watching its way. It’s an amazing thing for one city to be so full of such amazing things.

Which brings us to The Vatican, most well known for its main structure Saint Peter’s Basilica, which from a glance is extremely big and quite impressive. Although truthfully there are other cathedrals and churches which I’d say lent to a better first impression despite being nowhere near the Basilica’s size. The vast Saint Peter’s Square and the journey leading up to Basilica entrance is certainly something you’ll remember, but it’s the inside, the sheer size and… opulence of Saint Peter’s Basilica seen from the inside which is nothing less than humbling. I am not a religious man, I’ve said so before and I say so again. And yet the majesty and glory of Saint Peter’s Basilica is something to appreciate regardless of your religious beliefs. I marvel at the time and craftsmanship it must have taken to build such a structure, and the costs of maintenance must be beyond belief.

Here, let me describe my experience better instead of simply saying how amazing it was. In the square outside leading to the Basilica there is a long lineup that stretches across one end of the area. Usually there are hundreds of people there, patiently waiting in line. Luckily it is a quick line as I found the heat while waiting nearly unbearable. To this end unfortunately you ‘must’ cook to a certain degree, as in a nod to the Basilica’s tradition and history there are armed guards who look over every person before you are allowed to pass, making sure you wear the appropriate amount of clothing befitting the nature of the church you’re entering. Many are given a cheap but effective paper shawl to wear inside if their clothing is not conservative enough to pass muster, but not revealing enough to outright deny entry as they can and will do if your clothing is simply that scant. Slowly you’ll move forward and eventually find yourself inside, passing through the catacombs and past the tombs of the popes past. It sounds more glamorous than it is really, and in truth the catacomb is a stately white area with orderly niche for tombs. The last pope’s tomb, John Paul II, with a vigilant guard standing nearby. Eventually you’ll be led up a small circular stairwell, and finally into the Basilica proper where you’re free to wander as you see fit.

St. Peter’s Basilica is awe inspiringly big from the inside, crowded shoulder to shoulder with tourists and staff more often than not, and with nearly every square inch of the walls decorated with some sort of elaborate art. Paintings and carvings are so plentiful it’s impossible to count, all done with that particular renaissance style that the church has grown associated with. What I found particularly stunning were the ceiling murals and the way it seemed every window was designed just right to create beams of shimmering light that reached down like, well, godly beams. Extremely impressive to say the least. Humbling to be allowed near the seat of such wealth and power.

And that was simply the Vatican, Rome has much more to offer. Another notable experience which springs to mind is of probably the single most massive monument in Rome, the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of a united Italy. This structure also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to the Italian soldiers lost in World War I. To say it is big is an understatement, the structure, all a pure white marble, is simply breathtaking. You’re allowed to climb the marble steps, past the unknown soldiers tomb and the eternal flame, to the top where you’ll find a small museum dedicated to the unification of Italy. What’s interesting is that there are armed guards who watch the monument and who will stop anyone from sitting or spitting or anything of the sort anywhere upon the monument. More than once I saw a tired tourist pause for a moment while climbing the steps, and try to take a seat only to have a guard whistle in their direction and gesture for them to continue moving.

But I could write forever on the many, many, many sights of Rome (And The Vatican, since it’s really its own city-state! Tiny one, but city-state nonetheless.). The true experience is simply to walk its streets, visit the cafe and relax in the shade. Saunter along next to a field where once lay a famous hippodrome, or to count the cats that climb about an ancient Roman temple now turned into a preserve of sorts within the middle of a busy intersection. Each famous monument is on its own impressive, but it’s that they’re all collected into one city that truly amazes. Rome is, truth be told, not a city I would live in. It is however a city I’d recommend for all to visit, especially for anyone with even a remote love of history.

Rome. Beautiful and ancient!

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