Category Archives: Italy

When In Rome: Nine Sights of the Eternal City

For over two thousand years, Rome has been an ever-evolving metropolis offering art, history, religion, culture, shopping, and nightlife. So when you find yourself in Rome for the first time, what should you see?

1. The Colosseum

The Colosseum
The Colosseum, with its many arches, is one of the most iconic sights in Rome

When I think about Rome, the arches of the Colosseum come to mind. The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire, and the site of sparring gladiators, executions, battle re-enactments, theatrical shows and pagaentry for the tens of thousands of Romans who flocked to it.

2. The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum
Just a section of the Roman Forum

Forums were the social centre of Roman life. Situated right next to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum was a public space where Romans could shop at the marketplace, worship their gods, and run their businesses, as well as a place for military marches and Senate sittings.

3. The Pantheon

The Pantheon
My favourite part of the Pantheon? Gazing up as the sunlight filters in.

Originally built as a temple for all Roman gods, the Pantheon is now a church. When you’re visiting, don’t forget to look up and watch as sunlight filters in from the opening in the top of the dome.

4. The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain at night
The Trevi Fountain at night

One thing you’ll have to decide as you approach the Trevi fountain is the number of coins you want to throw in. Throw one coin in to return to Rome, two to find romance, and three to get married. The coins that end up in the water as part of this tourist tradition are collected and put towards charities.

5. The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps
Looking over the Spanish Steps as the sun begins to set

Built to link the Spanish Embassy to the Trinità dei Monti church, these steps don’t look like anything special. So why are the Spanish Steps on so many people’s lists of things to see when in Rome? Could it be because of their appearances in movies such as Roman Holiday and The Talented Mr Ripley? Or could they just be a good place to sit and people-watch? You decide!

6. The Castel Sant’Angelo

The Castel Sant'Angelo
The Castel Sant’Angelo: originally a mauseoleum, it become a fortress for the popes and is now a national museum

The purpose of the Castel Sant’Angelo has changed over the years. Originally constructed as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian, it has evolved to become a fortress for the popes (and even has a passage that connects it to the Vatican), and is now the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.

7. The Vatican

Chairs lined up in St Peter's Square
Chairs lined up in St Peter’s Square

I was surprised to find that the Vatican was more than the home of the Pope, St Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo’s celebrated ceiling painting of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Square. The city state also contains art galleries and beautiful courtyards, as well as one of the longest escalators I’ve ever set foot on.

8. The Altare della Patria

The Altare della Patria
The Altare della Patria in Rome

The Altare della Patria is one of those buildings that makes you stop and stare at it. It’s actually a national monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II, the first king of unified Italy, and visitors can access the top of it for views over Rome.

9. The Piazza Navona

Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in the middle of the Piazza Navona
Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in the middle of the Piazza Navona

Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), with the Obelisk of Domitian rising above it is the focal point of this piazza. People-watch at one of the restaurants bordering the piazza and admire the fountains, churches, galleries and palaces that are clustered around the square.

Where is your favourite place in Rome?

A View Over Florence: From the Campanile di Giotti

View of the Duomo complex
The Duomo complex, featuring the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and the belltower, Campanile di Giotti

Along with seeing Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, one of my favourite memories of visiting Florence was climbing to the top of the Duomo’s belltower (known as the Campanile di Giotti) and taking in the stunning views of Florence and the Florentine countryside.

The Piazza del Duomo
In the Piazza del Duomo – you can see the line to climb up to the dome in the background.

We were visiting in August, when the whole of Italy succumbs to sticky heat. Our plan was to climb up to the dome of the  Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and we joined the long line of people waving their city maps in front of them in an effort to keep cool. We waited. The line didn’t seem to move. We looked up at the red dome that seemed to dwarf the piazza, and then over to the neighbouring belltower. After sending someone over to perform reconnaissance, our decision was made: While there were at least fifty people in front of us in the line for the Duomo, there was no line for climbing the belltower. It was time to give up on the Duomo.

The belltower, <em>Campanile di Giotti</em>
The Campanile di Giotti, the belltower that forms part of the Duomo complex

We scurried over to the entrance of the fourteenth century Campanile di Giotti, and felt a welcome relief when we stepped inside the cool dark room that served as the gift shop and ticket desk.

We paid our entrance fees, and then the stairs began.

The view of the dome as we reach the halfway point of the climb
The view of the dome as we reached the halfway point of the climb

They were easy at first, and the climb was broken up by three different landings, allowing you to catch your breath and cool down before attempting the next set of stairs. The final staircase proved more interesting than the others. It was very narrow, and if you met someone on the staircase, one of you had to move back to one of flatter parts where the stairs turned the corner, otherwise it was rather difficult to squeeze past everyone. It was hot, hard to climb, and stuffy.

The dome of the Duomo
If we’d waited the extra half an hour in the line for the Duomo, we would have been able to climb just that little bit higher.

414 steps later, we finally found ourselves at the top of the belltower. Even though the Duomo’s dome is taller than the belltower, as we looked over at the people standing on the Duomo’s balcony it didn’t feel like too much of a difference. As we caught our breath, we gazed over the red rooves that hid the narrow streets of Florence. Churches and towers poked up between them. Further on, the city fell away to the green of the countryside.

The tower of the Palazzo Vecchio pops up above the red rooves of Florence
The tower of the Palazzo Vecchio pops up above the red rooves of Florence
Basilica Santa Croce
The gleaming white Basilica of Santa Croce draws your eyes from the red and brown rooves of Florence
The narrow streets of Florence
Florence is home to narrow lanes where the buildings are so close together that you can walk around in the shade – good for hot summer days!
The view from the top of the belltower - down through the middle!
The view from the top of the belltower – down through the middle!
The tower of the Castello Vecchio
The tower of the Castello Vecchio from the top of the belltower

The way down the bell tower was a lot quicker than climbing up (though we still had to press ourselves up against the walls as others climbed up and squeezed past us, and I was worried that I’d slip and fall down the narrow stairs!). As we set foot back in the Piazza del Duomo and looked back up at the top of the campanile, we congratulated ourselves on a successful climb and then bought ourselves a round of gelati as a reward!