Eternity & Rome Where Past & Present Co-Exist, Part 1
Story and photos by Allan Seiden
I’d last been in Rome in 1967…truly a lifetime ago. Now I was reintroducing myself and introducing my daughter to the Eternal City. The Hotel Regno, a small property centrally located on the Via del Corso, proved easily accessible to most of Rome’s
many attractions, with any walk an opportunity for discovery…a nondescript church hiding a grand interior… a quiet walk along the Tiber’s beech-lined shores…
long vistas of domes and hills and distant mountains…the past ever-present…
Completed in 126 by the Emperor Hadrian on the site of several earlier temples honoring the multiple deities that secured Rome’s good fortune, the Pantheon was, and is, a building of profound beauty.
Even without the bronze plates that once covered its majestic dome (taken away in the 16th century to be used for the central altar at St. Peter’s) or the marble cladding that once marked the exterior, carted off for use elsewhere, this most complete building from Imperial Rome still impresses. Saved from destruction as a consecrated Catholic church, the interior, while modified (with saints and kings replacing Jupiter, Mars and their peers), it remains a magnificent example of the stylistic genius of Rome’s ancient architects and builders. The oculus
in the center of the geometrically textured dome, opens to the sky, designed as a portal to the gods. Multi-colored marble prevails, in patterns and combinations suited to Roman tastes. Crowds also prevail, so go early or late in the day to avoid the echoing hubbub within. Unlike other historic landmarks, the Pantheon is free, open daily from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm, closed to touring during church services.
Hadrian’s Mausoleum/Castel Sant’Angelo
Completed in 139 as a tomb for the Emperor Hadrian (ruled 117-138), it served as a final resting place for succeeding emperors as well, falling into disrepair following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Rising more than 200 over the river, it was the tallest building in home in ancient times, a marble clad cylinder topped by trees and a monumental bronze quadriga (four-horse chariot) . The Popes established it as their residence in the mid- 16th century, adding and grandly ornamenting rooms, which are part of a tour of the building, which also features galleries with changing exhibits. An easy one kilometer walk from the Vatican, it is open to visitors for 10 Euro. It faces the Aeolian Bridge, a Roman-built bridge
enhanced with baroque statuary in the Middle Ages, and today swarms with street vendors. Enter the building on the long, winding brick ramp that once provided paved access to the heart of Hadrian’s terraced mausoleum and today leads to the Papal apartments.
The panoramic views from the upper terrace are spectacular, particularly at dusk when the city’s eternal magic becomes apparent.
The Roman Forum & The Palatine Hill
Most of what remains only hints of what once was, yet a stroll through the Roman Forum (ticketed in conjunction with the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum) is a memorable ramble midst the columns and fallen stone that remain.
Most intact are the triumphal arches of Septimius Severus and Titus, the later commemorating the defeat of the Jewish rebellion in what the Romans called Palestine. First visit the Palatine Hill, central-most of the seven hills around which Rome was built. Time a visit to the days when the Casa di Livia and the Casa di Augusto are open (11am-4:30 pm, Mon., Wed, Sat, Sun.) to appreciate the interiors of the imperial villas. An interesting history of the hill is in the Palatine Museum.
The Colosseum While not to be missed, is best appreciated from a distance. Ticketed along with the Palatine Hill and the Roman
Forum as part of a two-day pass good for one visit to each attraction (12 Euro).
Trajan’s Column and the Trajan Forum
The soldier Emperor Trajan (ruled 98-117) oversaw the expansion of the Roman Empire to its greatest limits, an empire that stretched from the Atlantic to Persia, with the Mediterranean a “Roman lake”. The Trajan Forum, with its mix of shops, monumental public buildings, and shrines, was adjacent to the Roman Forum.
Today it is an open air museum, accessed when walking from the Roman Forum to the Colloseum, with storyboards detailing the glory-days of what remains. Trajan’s ashes were placed beneath the towering column, magnificently sculpted in spiraling relief that details the Emperor’s territorial conquests.
The Victor Emmanuelle II Monument: Vitoriano
Derisively called “the wedding cake” for its extravagant imperial mix of marble and statuary, it is a defining landmark of central Rome. Begun in 1911 to enhance the prestige of the recently unified Italian states, it was not completed until 1935, when it became a symbol of Mussolini’s imperial pretenses. Such a past provides it with kitsch credentials, yet it is a magnificent monument to Rome’s ancient grandeur, overlooking both Michelangelo’s complex atop the neighboring Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum, it is home to Italy’s unknown soldier, exhibition galleries, and a rooftop lookout
(10 Euro for the mandatory elevator ride) that offers 360-degree views of the city. It is perfect place to orient yourself, and at sunset, to appreciate Rome glittering against a the dusk sky.
A world-wide appreciation of Rome’s historic and cultural patrimony makes it something of a vast playground for tourists who crowd its streets and attractions. Even during my late November visit, deemed the worst month to visit weather-wise, crowds appeared at every venue. High-season crowds cause hours-long waits at places like the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s, making off-season travel (September-October & April-May) the recommend. Guided tours (touted outside St Peter’s and the Vatican Museums) can push you ahead of the line and my prove worth the added cost.
Overnight: Look up the Hotel Regno. Well run, with a helpful staff and totally convenient location within minutes on foot from all of the attractions identified above. Well priced (including a large buffet breakfast), with seasonal lows starting at $135, higher during seasonal peaks.
Guide: Lonely Planet Rome
Roma Pass: Offered at 30 Euro for multi-day touring, it can prove a money saver. Includes entry to 2 select museums and discounts at others, unlimited public transportation, and preferred entry at often-crowded attractions. Google: Roma Pass.
Airport Taxis: Frequent shuttle services depart Fumicino Airport, which is also linked to Rome by train. Taxis are a pricey 50-60 Euro.
ALERT: Wi-Fi is not readily available outside of hotels. If you need Wi-Fi, make use before you leave your hotel.
Villa Borghese & More