Rome

Introduction

Ah, the eternal city!  There are few people who would not place this city built on seven hills in their top five of places to visit before they die.  It isn’t hard to see why.  Rome has it all: history, art, music, architecture, food…  It is nearly impossible to conceive of a diversion that is not catered to, though after a day here one may perhaps wonder why the ancient Romans were so keen to leave this place for lands afar.

Trevi Fountains

The biggest trouble is that Rome is also a city of missed opportunities.  There is so much to do; one really must set priorities before setting foot ashore.  To begin with, it is some way inland, so you might consider checking out the Practicalities section to see how best to get from the water to the Piazze of the city.

Once there, the choice of things on which to spend one’s time and money is positively dazzling.  Studied classics at uni?  Well, then a visit to the Colosseum and the Foro Romano is a must.  But what about the Musei Capitolini and perhaps even the Circus Maximus?  Lovers of art will be well catered for as well as both the Villa Borghese and the Vatican Museums could fill a whole day.  Talking of the Vatican, Rome is absolutely bursting with ecclesiastical gold nuggets.  St. Peter’s Basilica deserves a visit just for its bombastic scale, while the Pantheon is a definite contender for best redecoration job of all times.

One doesn’t, however, have to run around like a wo/man possessed to enjoy Rome.  The city not only has the sort of shopping one would expect of the capital of international fashion, but also has so many Piazze, fountains and gorgeous if unknown buildings that one could spend a very fulfilling day just wandering around aimlessly.  While wandering about, sample a bit of the local cuisine.  Yes, it’ll be a bit touristy and perhaps not as good as you would get in the countryside, but it will still be better than anything you can get back home.  And the gelato, mamma mia, the gelato!

In order to help you in your planning process, and to get a feel for the city before you set off, we have compiled several guides for you.  Check out the Practicalities guide for the nitty gritty on transportation, souvenirs and how not to get in trouble with the Financial Police.  The Deep Guide will give you detailed background on culture, history religion, etc.  The Lite Guide takes a somewhat more relaxed view, but still provides you with all the information you will need.  Lastly, if you’re travelling with little ones, consider downloading our Savvy Guide for Kids to Teens for ideas on what to do with the little ones.

As always, we are very interested in hearing about how the guide worked out for you.  What did we do right, what did we do wrong?  What would you like to read more about, what less?  Do write us to let us know how we’re doing!

Practicalities

Useful phrases

Vatican Guards

Below are some useful phrases in Italian, with an approximate pronunciation guide (the accented syllable is in bold):

Hello (lit. Good Day)                       Bongiorno (BonJORno)

Hello                                                      Ciao (CHOW)

Excuse me                                          Scusi (scOOzy)

Thank you                                           Grazie (GRAzie-eh)

You’re welcome                               Prego (PREHgoh)

I don’t understand                          Non capisco (NON caPIcho)

Do you speak English?                   Parla inglese? (PARlah enGLEHseh?)

Where is the nearest bus stop? Dov’è la fermate dell’autobus? (DOOvee eh lah fer MAHteh delAUtobus?)

And now some important signs you might encounter

Attenzione                         Caution

Pericolo                                Danger

Ingresso                               Entrance

Uscita                                    Exit

Tiare                                      Pull

Spingere                              Push

Acqua non potabile         Water not drinkable

Veitato Fumar                   No smoking

Address of Ship Berth

As Rome is some ways inland, you will not be docking there at all. But in a nearby port town called Civitavecchia.  Unfortunately, the train station is more than two kilometres from the cruise port, so it is probably best to take a taxi.  If this is the beginning or end of your cruise, and you are making the transfer into/out of Rome with luggage, it might be worth considering a limousine service, especially since taxi drivers charge extra for luggage, after-hours service, and you would have the hassle of carrying the bags onto and off the train.  Some websites worth consulting are http://www.romeshuttlelimousine.com/en/, or www.romecabs.com, though there are, of course, many others.  Expect to pay around €120-150.

How to get around

Should you have chosen the train option to get into Rome, you will be arriving into Roma Termini station, which also happens to be the intersection point of the city’s two metro lines and host to the city’s largest bus station and therefore a good place to start your visit.  The metro, or Metropolitana shares its tickets with the bus system.  This is a good thing, given the relative sparse coverage of the metro system.  They can be purchased most anywhere, including newsagents or tabacchis and cost €1 for a single or €4 for a whole day.  Even the single tickets allow transfers within 75 minutes of initial use.  Please note that tickets need to be devalued, or stamped on initial use.

bridges criss cross across the Tiber

The city also runs a special sightseeing service called the 110 Open, which runs every 10 minutes from Termini.  It works on the hop-on-hop-off principle and features multilingual commentary.  Your ticket (which costs €16 for an adult or €7 for a child) allows you to ride all day.  Tickets are available at the ‘Infopoint Trambus on Piazza del Cinquechento (the bus station across from Termini) or onboard for a €0.50 surcharge.

Taxi drivers in Rome have a horrible reputation for overcharging, which is not entirely undeserved.  There is a wonderful website here on how to avoid getting ripped off http://reallyrome.com/blog/2007/11/15/how-to-take-a-taxi-in-rome-and-not-get-ripped-off/.  You should be able to get to most places inside the city for under €15, but do note that there is an extra charge for baggage.  As always, avoid gypsy cabs and make sure yours is marked with a taxi sign on the roof and the SPQR sign on the car.  The general advice is to avoid taking taxis unless absolutely necessary.

Do’s and Don’ts – cultural, social, legal

You will notice a lot of different police patrolling the streets: the Carabinieri in their sexy blue uniforms, the Policia Municipal in their rather unassuming Fiat Puntos and the rather mysterious Guardia di Finanza, which is actually a part of the army.  This financial police can compel you to produce a receipt upon exiting a shop or restaurant (in order to make sure that you have paid your tax) so make sure to get a receipt for all purchases and keep it until you leave the city.  Note that most street vendors are illegal, and though it is extremely rare, engaging in business with them could get you in trouble with the law.

Talking of money, tipping is not really required in any situation (especially for taxi drivers and the like).  Most restaurants will add a coperto, or cover charge to the bill (usually around €3).  You really need only a few Euros for good service, and none at all if a servizo charge has been added to your bill.  You will usually not be brought your bill, or conto until you ask for it.  While for a long time the rule in Italy has been to avoid restaurants with menus posted in multiple languages at all costs, this may no longer be practical.  Do try to stay away from the ones with pictures, though.

You will probably be aware that the Italians have a somewhat loose relationship with rules in general, and with traffic rules in particular.  Well, what you’ve heard is true: the highway code is treated more as a recommendation than as something that ought to be heeded by the letter, so tourists need to be very aware when crossing the street so as not to get mown down by one of the omnipresent scooters.

Currency

The currency in Rome, as in most of continental Europe is the Euro, which is signified by the € sign.  It is subdivided into 100 cents.  At the time of writing, one pound sterling bought €1.21 and a dollar €0.82.  You will be able to change money at all banks.  Bureaus de change are spread throughout the city, and are certainly available at train stations and the like.  Many hotels will also change money, though you will have to pay for the privilege with a less advantageous exchange rate.  Though major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) are widely accepted, acceptance is by no means universal.  Especially small shops might only take cash, so do check before you buy!

Loos

You may have heard horror stories about toilets in Italy, and sadly, most horror stories do have a basis in reality.  To begin with, there are few public toilets, and even the one in bars and restaurants might not be of the standard you’re used to.  Though French-style squat toilets might seem disgusting, just remember that at least you are not making contact with a questionable toilet seat.  Do be sure to step aside before flushing (it will splash!).  A kind soul has collated some of the best toilets in Rome and made them available on this website: http://www.romebuddy.com/givesadvice/cleanloo.html.

Special things to buy and try

Inside the Colosseum

One thing definitely worth trying in Rome is the ice-cream, or gelato.  Not only does it taste much better than anything you will find north of the alps, the selection most Gelaterias is absolutely out of this world.  There is a slightly different ordering method than you may be used to: first you specify cone (conno) or cup (coppa), then the size (piccolo, medio, grande) and then your flavours.  While there are Gelaterias all over the city, Gelateria Giolitti in the via degli Ufficii del Vicario is an institution, and was even frequented by Pope John Paul II!

If you are in the market for souvenirs, you really don’t have to go far.  Alabaster models of the Vatican, the Colosseum, little statuettes of the Virgin Mary, t shirts and other standard fare is available at almost every corner.  For slightly more upscale shopping, most of the major museums now have gift shops.  Quite often, major attractions will sell useful guidebooks.  The obvious example here is the Colosseum, which produces a guidebook with plastic overlays that allows you to see what the place looked like today and 2000 years ago.

Politics

Italian politics are deeply, deeply dysfunctional.  38 men (and no women) have headed the government as President of the Council of Ministers (commonly referred to as prime minister) since the end of the Second World War.  The current incumbent, Silvio Berlusconi, also happens to be the richest man in Italy, owning most private television outlets and several newspapers.  The man is basically a walking scandal, and has been accused of cavorting with minors and corruption, and has altered the law quite adeptly to shield himself from prosecution.  Although nominally subordinate to the President, the prime minister exercises all the daily power of government.  The current president, Giorgio Neapolitano is interesting in that he is the first communist to hold the office in a country with a rich post-war communist tradition.

Roman politics is no less interesting, if interesting is indeed the right word.  The current mayor is Gianni Alemanno, of Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party.  Like his party leader, he too has courted controversy, perhaps most visibly at his inauguration in 2008, when supporters of a far-right party greeted him with cries of ‘duce, duce’, the nickname given to Mussolini.  Though he has denied any fascist tendencies, the incident has raised disquiet about PdL’s relationship with the far right.  His response to the attack on a young Dutch couple camping outside of Rome has also been criticised.  Robbed, beaten, and (in the case of the woman) raped, Alemanno noted that it was careless of the couple to camp in such an area.

Architecture & Sculpture

With architecture, as with so many other art forms, you will be spoilt for choice in Rome.  Some of the most architecturally impressive buildings are already described in other sections (for example, the St. Peter Basilica under Religion and churches), so here is a focus on landmarks that don’t readily fall into any other category.  The first of these is the famous Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti), located just off the Piazza di Spagna.  Beyond being the longest and widest staircase in Europe, it is also famous for being lavishly decorated with potted flowers during the summer months.

Equally, if not more, iconic is the Trevi Fountain, located off the Via Poli.  By far the largest fountain in the city, at over 25 metres high and 20 metres wide, it is perhaps also the most beautiful, featuring a large sculpture of Neptune, surrounded by sea shells, Tritons and other figures from Greek mythology.  Designed after plans by Bernini, the fountain was built by commission of Pope Clement XII between 1732 and 1762.  Made truly famous by Anita Ekberg, who splashed around the fountain in La Dolce Vita, legend has it that anyone who tosses a coin in the water will one day return to Rome.

Arts and Culture

The obelisk in St Peter's square

Rome may lack the one museum everyone must see, like, for instance, the Louvre in Paris, but it nevertheless has a whole range of world-class museums and galleries at your disposal.  Perhaps most famous among these, not least because of the Da Vinci Code, are the Vatican Museums and Galleries.  Most of the best artists of Italy’s classical and renaissance periods produced work under commission for the church.  Highlights include works by da Vinci, Fra Angelo and Titian.  The self-guided tour culminates in the Sistine Chapel, whose spectacular fresco by Michelangelo has recently been restored, revealing bright colours not seen for centuries. (Open Mon-Sat 9.00-18.00. Sun 9.00-.14.00. Tickets €15, concessions €8.  Online ticketing available, which allows you to skip the substantial queues: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html.  Nearest metro: San Giovanni).

Another gallery worth visiting is the Galleria Borghese, which is situated in a Villa surrounded by the splendid Borghese gardens.  The collection, which was largely assembled in the late 16th Century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and though it has been pared down over the years (part of it can now be found in the Louvre), it is still impressive, and contains several pieces by Caravaggio and Bernini, as well as others by Titian and Raphael.  Note that a ticket reservation is necessary, check http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edefault.htm for details.

For those with a more modern taste, consider a visit to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, or the National Gallery of Modern Art.  Claiming to own the largest collection of modern Italian art, featuring Italian artists such as Balla, De Chirico, and Guttuso, but also internationally known artists like Picasso and Pollock. (The Gallery is located at Viale delle Belle arti, 1311.  Open Tues-Sun 8.30-.19.30.  Tickets €10.00, concessions €8.00, under-18s free, for more information visit http://www.gnam.beniculturali.it/index.php?en/2/museum)

The Romans

Given that the Romans took their name from this City on the Seven Hills, you can spend an entire visit to Rome doing nothing but look at various bits of Roman archaeology.  The three main points worth visiting are the Colosseum, the Foro Romano and the Musei Capitolini. The Colosseum, where gladiators once battled prisoners of war, animals and each other (but, contrary to popular belief not Christians), is perhaps the most recognisable tourist site in Rome.  After the end of the Roman era, it served varyingly as a church, cemetery and, mostly as a quarry.  It has since been extensively repaired and restored. (Open daily 9.00-19.00 during the high season. Admission: €15.50, €10.50 for youths and €4.50 for children and seniors.  Nearest Metro: Coloseo)

Located right the next to the Coloseum is the Foro Romano or Roman Forum, the heart of the ancient city.  This is where business would be transacted, religious ceremonies administered (the temple of the vestal virgins was on this site) and politics conducted (in the Senate).  The entire site has now been excavated and is accessible to the public.  Located right next to the Coloseum, entrance is free.  For those wanting to indulge their hankering for Roman architecture a bit more the Musei Capitolini, on the Capitoline Hill offer a wonderful overview of archaeological excavations throughout Rome and beyond. (Open 9.00-20.00, Tickets €11, Concessions €9. Children & Seniors €2).

History

The Roman Empire came to an end with the sacking of Rome by the German Tribesman Odoacer and the subsequent abdication of the last Western Roman Emperor in 480 AD.  The power vacuum created by the fall of the empire was filled in varying ways around the peninsula, as kingdoms and fiefdoms popped up.  In the Eternal city, the bishop of Rome started gaining influence.  The papacy, as this position came to be known, started to fill that gap.  Rome became the centre of what was known as the Papal States, and continued thus until it fell to France during the Napoleonic Wars.  It continued as a semi-vassal of France for quite a while (Napoleon declared his son to be the King of Rome) until it once again fell, this time to the unification army of Carvour.

The pope’s power was confined to Vatican city (subsequent popes declared themselves to be ‘prisoners of the Vatican’ and refused to leave the city), and Rome became the capital of a united Italy.  The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II commemorates this event, and the first king of unified Italy.  Referred to by locals as the ‘typewriter’, this rather ugly monument also houses a museum on Italian unification and a roof terrace with some amazing views of the city (located between the Capitoline Hill and the Piazza Venezia).

Literature

The literary tradition of Rome, as with all things, goes back to the days of the empire.  Heavily inspired by the ancient Greeks, most of the literature of the period tended to be factual.  Cicero is noted for his philosophy, while Pliny the Elder defined naturalism for centuries.  Even after the fall of the empire, Latin continued to dominate the literary scene, and was not replaced by vernacular Italian until the 1300s.  Perhaps the most famous piece of Italian literature was Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, about a hero discovering hell, purgatory and heaven all the while accompanied by the poet Virgil.  While Italy was blessed with several influential authors during the Renaissance (including also Petrarch and Boccaccio), the fact that none of them lived or worked in Rome shows that the city had been replaced as a cultural centre by cities like Florence and Genoa.  One of the most read present-day authors in Italy (and indeed all of Europe) is Umberto Eco, whose works include The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.  In his day job, he is actually a medievalist and philosopher.

Music

Though Rome may not be the musical capital of Italy (that would probably have to be Milan with its La Scala opera), Rome is nevertheless the hole of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, one of the oldest musical institutions in the world.  While it has served many functions over the years, it now has a full symphony orchestra and a musical conservatory.  In the MUSA, it also contains one of the world’s best museums of musical instruments. (located in the largo Luciano erio. Admission: free. Open daily except Wednesdays, 11.00-16.00).  Roman music isn’t entirely trapped in the past however, and features, for example a resurgent jazz scene.  Clubs can be found to cater to more or less any taste.

Religion/Places of Worship

St Peter's Basilica

Having been the part of the Papal States for several hundred years until finally joined with the rest of Italy in 1929, it will not come as a shock that the predominant religion in Rome is (Roman) Catholicism.  Indeed, the city boasts more than 900 churches, which works out at roughly one church per 3000 heads of population.  Undoubtedly the most famous of these is St. Peter’s Basilica, which is the bishopric see of the Bishop of Rome – the Pope.  Though legally not in Rome at all, but rather in the Vatican city-state, it is nevertheless a must-see for all visitors regardless of religion.  Located behind St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope gives his general audiences, this church has the largest interior space of any in Christendom and features some truly breathtaking decorations.  Particularly impressive are Belini’s baldacchino or baldachin as well as the intricately decorated dome.  With a special ticket, you can actually climb a lot of stairs to the dome and enjoy possibly the best views of the Roman skyline. (Open daily 7.00-19.00 during the main season.  Entrance to Basilica: free.  Nearest Metro: Ottaviano-S. Pietro).

Much less grandiose but no less impressive is the Pantheon.  Its rather strange shape (it is round) is due to the fact that this 2000 year old building started out life as a pagan temple.  Entering the church gives a wonderful sense of the Roman method of building old buildings right on top of the ruins of what came before: whereas there was once a grand staircase leading up to the church, visitors now actually have to take several steps down.  Once you’re in, look up: the hole, or oculus in the centre of the dome is over 2m wide!  (Located on Piazza della Rotonda, admission free).

Famous Sons and daughters

A list of all the famous Romans of the last 3000 years or so would run to a length similar to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, so we shall confine ourselves here to a small selection of famous Romans of recent years.  Rome has a deep and lasting connection with the arts, especially the film industry.  The most iconic Italian actor of recent years, Sophia Loren, was born as Sofia Villani Scicolone in the city in 1934.  She would go on to star in films like El Cid, playing opposite the likes of Peter Sellers and Cary Grant.  In addition to her considerable acting talents, she also become famous for her even more considerable bust, which she recently (at age 72) offered to bare should her Naples football team win the Italian championship.  Other movie greats who first saw the light of day in the city include Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone.

Eros Ramazotti, the famous pop singer, was also born in Rome, as was the composer and conductor Ennio Morricone.  The pool of Rome’s considerable talent is not confined to the arts, however.  The Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella was also born in the city, and would go on to drive for the immortal Italian racing stable Ferrari.

Traditions

As you might imagine from a city with such a long and rich history, Rome is a city well in tune with its traditions.  The catholic holiday calendar plays a big part in this.  One of the highlights is Eater, which, in Rome, is not only celebrated by looking for chocolate eggs around the garden, but also with a large public celebration in St. Peter’s square.  It is one of only two times in the year that the Pope speaks the blessing ‘urbi et orbi’ and is quite a spectacle.  More frequent, though less grand, are the so-called ‘general audiences’ which the Pope holds every Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square.  If you are interested, check out this website for details, but do beware that it you must apply for tickets in advance: http://www.vaticantour.com/papalaudience/.

If you happen to be around Rome on 2 June, you can see the very impressive military parade to mark Republic Day.  Of all the members of the armed forces parade in front of their president, the most interesting is undoubtedly the Bersaglieri, whose band plays while running!

Shops and shopping

There is much in the way of great shopping to be had in Rome, but bring your golden credit card!  A good place to start out is the Piazza di Spagna, which is also famous for the Spanish Steps that take its name from the Piazza (Nearest Metro: Spagna).  This is where some of the most famous Italian designers have their flagship stores, including Armani and Prada.  The few designers that are not present there can be found on the Via Borgognona, which is literally just around the corner from the Spanish Steps.. The shops are considered so inclusive that in the days of yore, you were expected to pay admission.  Luckily, this practice has since gone the way of the dodo.

If you plan to do some souvenir shopping, never fear.  In Rome, you are never more than a few metres away from a souvenir shop, that will allow you tBo indulge your need for alabaster colloseums, glow-in-the-dark Madonnas and pope calendars.  For something a bit more high-brow, you may want to consider visiting one of the city’s many antiques shops.  As with buying antiques anywhere, the buyer should definitely beware, but since you will not be leaving the European Union, you at least don’t have to deal with pesky export restrictions.  Some of the best antiques shops are located near the Spanish Steps and in the via dei Coronari.

History

Inside the Basilica

History in Rome starts with the Romans.  According to legend, the brothers Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf, founded the city roundabout 725 BC.  First a kingdom, the city later became a republic, and eventually reverted back to a monarchical empire, which came to dominate much of Europe and the Mediterranean ring.  The SPQR symbol, (which stands for the Senate and People of Rome, or Senatus Populus Quod Romanum) actually dates back to the Republican period and now adorns everything from public buildings to taxis and manhole covers.  While there are more Roman remains in Rome than one can shake a stick at, two are especially worth visiting.  The Colloseum, where gladiators used to battle each other, wild animals and prisoners of war is easily the most famous tourist site in the city and an absolute must-see (Open daily 9.00-19.00 during the high season. Admission: €15.50, €10.50 for youths and €4.50 for children and seniors.  Nearest Metro: Coloseo).  While you are there, you can stroll around the Foro Romano, the ancient heart of the city, with ruins of temples and civil buildings strewn liberally about.

Post-imperial Roman history is somewhat less glorious.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the entire Italian peninsula entered the dark ages, splitting into countless fiefdoms.  Rome itself would be ruled directly by the Pope as part of the Papal States until it joined the rest of Italy in Carvour’s unification efforts in 1866.  In between, it had to endure sackings, repeated occupation by foreign powers including German tribes and the French.  After Italian unification, Rome became the new country’s seat of government.  The first (of only two) kings of united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, is commemorated in the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, a somewhat grotesque edifice located between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill.  Hated by locals, who call it ‘the typewriter’, the imposing structure now houses a museum of the Italian Unification and, perhaps more interestingly, offers stunning views from its rooftop that are second only to the dome of St. Peter’s.

Music and Culture

The musical capital of Italy is undoubtedly Milan, with its Scala Opera.  Rome has quite a lot to offer as well, though.  For those interested in classical music, there is the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, one of the oldest musical institutions in the world.  While it maintains quite a lot of facilities – a symphony orchestra and a musical conservatory among others – the really interesting thing for tourists is its museum of musical instruments, MUSA, which claims to have one of the most extensive collections in the world. (located in the largo Luciano erio. Admission: free. Open daily except Wednesdays, 11.00-16.00).

For art lovers, the Eternal City offers some of the world’s finest treasures.  Perhaps the finest collection is to be found in the Vatican Museums.  Since most of Italy’s finest artists – da Vinci, Bernini, Michelangelo – were in the employ of the church at one time or another.  A self-guided tour will lead you past countless priceless works, leading finally to the Sistine Chapel.  Famously painted by Michelangelo, the roof fresco has recently been restored, revealing bright, vibrant colours. Open Mon-Sat 9.00-18.00. Sun 9.00-.14.00. Tickets €15, concessions €8.  Online ticketing available, which allows you to skip the substantial queues: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html.  Nearest metro: San Giovanni).

Another great gallery worth visiting is the Galleria Borghese.  It is conveniently located in the centre of the splendid Borghese gardens, which are almost worth a visit unto themselves, and will be especially welcome after being cooped up in a cruise ship for a few weeks.  Though the collection has been picked apart a bit by successive invaders (part of it now graces the walls of the Louvre, in Paris) it is still impressive, containing works by Titian, Raphael and others.  Do note that a ticket reservation is necessary, check http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edefault.htm for details.

Personalities

If there is one thing Italy has, it’s big personalities.  There is, for example, Rome native Sophia Lauren, who even at her present age of over 70 is still quite confident in her good looks.  Recently, (then aged 72) she offered to do a public striptease should her Naples football club win the Italian championship.  For better or worse, the club lost. Italian Formula 1 Driver Giancarlo Fisichella was also born in Rome.  Having raced in Formula 1 from1 996 to 2009, he managed just three wins, but did, for several years, live what must be every little Italian boy’s dream: he drove for Ferrari.

Also born in the city was Sergio Leone, the king of the Spaghetti Western.  Some of his most famous works include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with a (comparatively) young Clint Eastwood.  He redefined the Western genre, and for that, entered cinematic immortality.  The city generally seems to smile upon artistic talent of one sort or another.  Eros Ramazotti, the perpetual heart-throb Italiopop artist, for example, was born in Rome in (and he must cringe at this a little bit) 1963.  Not only has he enjoyed a very successful solo career, but has famously duetted with a long list of artists ranging from Cher to Luciano Pavarotti.  Speaking of classical music, the famous conductor Ennio Morricone too was born in Rome, and went on to write the music for Sergio Leone’s most famous films.  And the circle is complete.

Sport

Rome has a rich sporting history.  The ancient Romans, let’s not forget, not only built the Colloseum for slaughtering one another, but also the Circus Maximus, where epic horse races were held.  Recent history too closely links the Eternal City with sports.  Rome hosted the summer Olympics in 1960, presenting the world with what some call the first truly modern version of the Games.  The Olympic tradition continues today, as the Olympic stadium still hosts both of the city’s football clubs.  If Romans get their way, the games will return to the city in 2020.

Like Manchester, Rome is blessed with two football clubs in the country’s top league, the Serie A.  AS Roma and SS Lazio share a relationship not unlike Man U and Man City, splitting Rome into two fiercely loyal camps.  Out of the two, SS Lazio has been having the better time of it lately, winning the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup in 2009.  The two teams square off against each other in the Derby della Capitale each year.

There are other sorts of sports to be had in Rome too.  For those of you wondering where exactly the Six Nations teams go to collect their free win against Italy, they go to Rome.  More specifically, the Stadio Flaminio, which also hosts football matches.  Starting next year, it will also become the home of the Praetorians Roma, a Magner’s League rugby union team.

Scandal & Gossip

If you want scandal, you have come to the right city.  Rome being Italy’s political centre, there are always rumours circulating as to which MP has been unfaithful and who has taken a kickback from the mafia.  This scandal mongering goes all the way to the top: Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, is notoriously scandal-prone.  Perhaps the juiciest in recent years was an allegation by his ex-wife, on the occasion of her filing for divorce, that the prime minister ‘cavorts with minors’.  The specific minor she had in mind was Noemi Letizia, a then-17 year old model, who had invited Berlusconi to her birthday party and happily told the press that she calls him ‘daddy.’

Italian Soccer is also always good for a scandal.  Wanton violence occasionally engulfs the games, such as in 2007, when, on 2 February a policeman was killed by fans in Catania, while on 11 November a policeman killed a fan between Rome and Milan, for no readily apparent reason.  Corruption rears its ugly head here as much as in any other aspect of Italian public life.  The latest scandal was in 2006, and involved top Serie A teams like Milan and Juventus (and many others) who apparently paid of referees in order to guarantee favourable treatment.

Not even the church is immune to the scandals that pervade the country.  In 2010, it turned out, for example, that a chorister who regularly performed in St. Peter’s actively procured a string of male prostitutes for a Gentlemen of His Holiness (i.e. a Vatican official with direct access to the pope).  This is, of course, especially juicy in an organisation that takes a rather dim view of homosexual activities, not to mention the prostitution angle.

(some information taken from http://www.squidoo.com/italiansoccer)

Quirky Facts

  1. Rome is called the city on the seven hills, but do you know the names of those hills?  They are the Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal and Viminal Hills.
  2. The Pope’s official job title is actually Bishop of Rome.
  3. Many famous monuments in Rome, like the Colosseum, were actually used as quarries in the medieval period.
  4. Though The Colosseum is frequently portrayed as the place where early Christians were martyred, there is actually no evidence for this.  Plenty of animals, gladiators and prisoners of war found their death there, though.
  5. Nearly 2000 years after its initial construction, the dome of the Pantheon is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
  6. Since the proclamation of the Republic in 1946, Italy has gone through 38 Prime Ministers.  This makes their average lifespan just over a year and a half.

Savvy Guide for Kids

Rome is a relatively kid-friendly city.  While few attractions and museums were specifically built with children or teens in mind (indeed, the vast majority predate any notion of child-friendliness by a few centuries), there are plenty of ways to keep the little ones entertained while visiting sites you wanted to go to anyway.  In Explora, there is even a museum dedicated to children, though it is not really worth a dedicated visit unless you are planning on being in the area anyway.  Shore time is precious, after all.  The Colosseum is a must-visit attraction for tourists of all ages, as is the adjacent Foro Romano.  You  might want to prime your little ones a bit with books like the ones from the Horrible Histories Series (The Ruthless Romans and The Rotten Romans, for example) which will give kids an truly interesting introduction to ancient Rome.  For the slightly older kids, the human-bone decorated Capuchin crypt is a ghoulish, but quirky and thoroughly entertaining

(some information for this section taken from tripadvisor.com)

Explora: Museo dei Bambini di Roma

What better to do with children than to go to a museum specifically designed for them?  The museum is very much designed with a hands-on approach to learning, and what is more, the staff speaks excellent English.  The museum replicates an entire town in small, and children can touch, play and explore everything.  Excellent for younger children.  (via Flaminia 82.  Admission: €7.  Visits are scheduled to last 1 h 45 min and start at 10.00, 12.00, 15.00 and 17.00.  Open every day except Mondays.  For more information, click on http://www.mdbr.it/inglese/).

Villa Borghese Gardens

After your visit to the Explora Children’s Museum, why not have a stroll around the fabulous Borghese Gardens just across the way?  Originally belonging to the Villa Borghese (which now houses a very fine art collection), the gardens are now considered to be completely separate.  The park (and it is more a park than a garden) is wonderful for exploring, with many smaller villas and fountains scattered throughout the park.  Rome’s zoo, the Bioparco, is located within the confines of the park, and provides some true contrasts with shipboard life.  Over 1,000 animals, belonging to 200 different species are on display in this zoo that has its origin in the 1911 World Exposition.  As fantastic as this zoo is, if your time is very limited, there may be other ways to spend it more fruitfully.  (Open daily 9.30 to 18.00.  Adults €12.50, children and concessions €10.50. click on http://www.bioparco.it/en/bioparco-in-rome.html for more information).

The Colosseum

Even some 2000 years after it fell into disuse, the Colosseum still has the power to enthral crowds.  Tell your children the story of this awe-inspiring place (taking care, of course, to leave out the gorier details for the younger ones) and they, too, will become enthralled.  To help you in your storytelling, consider investing in the official guidebook that is sold at the Colosseum, which is especially interesting in that it contains pictures of the present day Colosseum, with plastic overlays showing how things were 2000 years ago.

To help impress your kids, here are some facts about the Colosseum.

  • The Colosseum, which was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre, was built between 70 and 80 AD.  Construction was started by Emperor Vespasian and completed by Titus.
  • The place could originally seat 50,000 spectators.  If an English Premier League team played there, it would be the fifth largest stadium in the league.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to suggest that early Christians were martyred there.  Many prisoners of war, however, certainly found their death there in gruesome ways.
  • The last recorded gladiator bout in the Colosseum was in 435, and the last animal hunt in 535.
  • During the medieval period, the structure was use as a church, cemetery and castle.  It was later quarried for its stone and bronze fittings.

(Open daily 9.00-19.00 during the high season. Admission: €15.50, €10.50 for youths and €4.50 for children and seniors.  Nearest Metro: Coloseo)

Foro Romano

Located right next to the Coloseum is the Foro Romano, the Forum that was the centre of civic and commercial life in ancient Rome.  As a matter of fact, the truth is the other way around: the Colosseum was constructed where it was so as to be next to the forum and thus in near the centre of the city.  Having fallen into disuse and covered over by centuries of dirt and rubble, the site has since been carefully excavated, and today is a veritable archaeological treasure trove.  Let your children lead you on a wander about, but perhaps you may wish to buy a guidebook to help you and your kids identify the ancient ruins that are strewn all about

To give you a head start, here are some of the most important ruins on the site:

  • The Temple of Castor and Pollux.  All that remains of this great temple are three unsupported columns standing upright holding a part of a wall.  The temple was originally built to celebrate the victory of the forces of the Roman Republic over the Latins, making it one of the oldest structures in the forum.
  • The Curia Julia.  The last of the Roman Curiae, or seats of the Senate, this structure was built in 44 B.C. by Julius Caesar, and now, after some restoration, is largely intact.  Its conversion into a church in the 7th century allowed the building to survive.
  • The Atrium Vestae/Temple of Vesta.  The home and temple, respectively, of the famous Vestal Virgins.  The round temple used to house a sacred fire, though somewhat ironically, it was the surrounding city, not the hearth inside that was the source of the fire that led to the structure being burnt down several times.
  • The Lacus Curtius.  Today it is just a small, partially paved depression, but it used to be quite a big lake much venerated by the Romans.  Even by the time of the early republic, nobody was exactly sure why this lake was important or deserving veneration, but the tradition continued.

(The Roman Forum is directly adjacent to the Colosseum.  Entrance is free, and it is open dawn to dusk)

Capuchin Crypt

This is not something for the fainthearted, and consequently should be avoided with younger children.  Teenagers and adults alike, however, will be fascinated by this somewhat gory crypt, which is the resting place of some 4,000 Capuchin monks.  Rather than being interred in coffins in the ground, however, these friars have had their bones and heads arranged in intricate patterns on the walls and ceilings.  The crypt is divided into separate sub-crypts, the names of which give hints of how they are decorated (there is a crypt of the skulls and a crypt of the leg bones and thigh bones, for example).  The Mass Chapel (in which mass is actually celebrated), is the only room in the crypt that does not contain any bones.  It does, however, contain the preserved heart of the grandniece of Pope Sixtus V, which was placed there according to her wishes.

Your teen might ask you the very legitimate question ‘how on earth did they get this morbid idea to use bones as decorations?’  Well, as the floor of the crypt is lined with soil from Jerusalem, it was a very popular burial spot.  Once room ran out, the originally buried bodies had to be exhumed to make more room, and once you have the skeleton dug up, it almost follows logically that you should put it to good use.  (Located under the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church on via Veneto.  Open daily 9.00-12.00 and 15.00-18.00, closed Thursdays.  Donation required, but no amount specified.  For more information, click on http://www.cappucciniviaveneto.it/cappuccini_ing.html)