Time sounds different than it feels. It’s easy to memorize 72 BC or 68 AD and fill the appropriate scan-tron bubble for 2,000 years ago, but actually looking at the relics of these mighty eras and touching the coarse stones of the foundation to the first democracy makes time both endlessly vast and yet immediately present.
Rome is one of the best cities to visit for anyone looking to experience history. Not only is it home to some of the oldest sights in the world, but it is still alive and making history today. For anyone visiting, here are five ‘must-see’ attractions that bridge the classic and the cutting edge.
1) The Colosseum
Since it’s one of the biggest sights to see and because it is a true testament to Rome’s history, everyone should visit the Colosseum. There are plenty of guides circling the entrance to help visitors though the historical bits of the Colosseum and, inside, there are tons of photo opportunities. Get there early, so you have enough time to causally take it all in. My personal favorite part was the poetry which heralded the timeless-ness of the gladiators (which now are nameless), unlike many of the praising poets which are still remembered with both name and date; the pen really is mightier than the sword.
*Go by at night for an additional photo op.
2) The Trevi Fountain
One tourist site that won’t sell out and won’t leave you waiting in line for hours, is the Trevi Fountain. Probably regarded as the most famous of the Roman fountains, it is awe-inspiring and feels so romantic. Honestly it feels like, and is, the set of hundreds of movies, so spending time there is a nice way to unwind. Also, this place is really great for gelato and kissing newbie travelers!
3) The Pantheon
This place really is a marvel of science and design. I would highly recommend taking a guided tour or becoming a Pantheon scholar before visiting. The devil is in the details here, and the Pantheon becomes even more spectacular as more of its design and construction are revealed. Also, I found that lurking alongside other tour groups garner some unwelcoming looks.
3 Quick Facts about the Pantheon
- To carry the massive weight of the dome, the Romans built the dome with a different concrete than they did with the rest of the Pantheon’s wall. Also, the thickness of the wall decreases as it rises, further reducing the weight.
- The height of the oculus (hole in the ceiling) and the diameter of the interior circle are the same.
- The artist Raphael is buried there.
4) The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
This is a great place for old meeting new and the world seeming always to be in a slow, ageless transition. Of course everyone visiting Rome already knows to check out the Sistine Chapel, but still it’s startlingly amazing.
Once you get through the Sistine Chapel, walk though the modern art gallery to see how religion is depicted now-a-day. In addition to the Sistine Chapel, a trip to the Vatican should include Saint Peter’s Basilica. While I really wanted to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, my friend and I somehow took a wrong turn and ended up at a Mass with The Pope, I didn’t even know that was possible. So, make sure you check out the schedule and Vatican info to make sure you don’t miss out on all the opportunities available.
One cool tidbit is that the Vatican has a post office in the Vatican Museum, so you can send your greeting from the papal residence…pretty cool.
*Photography is forbidden in the Sistine Chapel, so don’t use your flash.
5) The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are the ultimate combination of new and old. This iconic site is now a relic of a by-gone era, but is still regarded as a must see for Rome tourists. What makes it worth visiting? Well, this again is a great place to eat gelato, and, colliding with the modern, visitors on the steps can look down the most expensive fashion ally in Rome. I took this picture, but, looking back now, I have no idea how these people were sitting here. We were quickly told that there was no loitering on the steps. Hmm….
Additionally - Two things I would make sure not to miss are:
The Roman Forum - Located across from the Colosseum, this is a giant stack of ruins. Like the Pantheon, probably even more so, the more that you know about the rubble, the more amazing it is. Many Colosseum guides can also do a good explanation of what buildings were and where things took place.
The Capuchin Bone Church – The Capuchin Crypt, or the Capuchin Bone Church, was my favorite site in Rome. It had it all, less crowds, bones, and definitely a ‘look what I found’ vibe. Skip out on the catacomb tour and go see art and vignettes made out of human bones. A little creepy, a little spooky, totally memorable. There are no pictures here because cameras weren’t allowed inside, but this site has pictures and info for those interested in going.
Have you been to Rome? What are your MUST-SEE sights?