Today both Nautica and Riviera are in Civitavecchia – the gateway to Rome. Traveling just an hour or so inland takes you to the Eternal City and all of its legends and wonders. Western society is rife with images that give us a notion of the grandeur of Rome, but until you visit, it’s difficult to truly conceive the immensity of the city.
Amidst the classical architecture and ancient relics sprout the trappings of modern man, from high-end fashion boutiques to souvenir shops selling aprons that make you resemble a gladiator. This mélange draws criticism from some visitors, but I actually feel a relative sense of harmony in the city considering its vastness. I enjoy grabbing a gelato and then rounding the corner onto a 17th century piazza that transports me back in time – or a forum more than two thousand years old that takes me back much further.
I recently returned to Rome as Blogger-at-Large, and because I had already seen many of the historic monuments, I had a simpler plan this time: espresso, pasta, vino, gelato. But despite my intent to focus on culinary culture, and despite the rain that assured me this was a wise decision, I found myself drawn back to the city’s landmarks for another look. It just didn’t seem right to go to Rome without strolling by the Colosseum and tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain. This trip confirmed that, no matter how many times I visit Rome, I will always be awed by its icons, learn more of its history and discover new wonders.
On this trip I joined the Oceania Cruises excursion Rome on Your Own, which was great for those who have visited before. It provided transportation from the ship to the city and back, with the added benefit of an informative guide along the way who shared historical facts, helpful tips and a well-marked city map.
We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo, a large, impressive square that was a great starting point because from here Via del Corso led right into the heart of the city. Several of Rome’s most famous monuments are within blocks of this main street.
The fact that I wanted to visit some landmarks did not deter me from my original plan, and I began the day with a delicious cappuccino. Buoyed with espresso, I set off for Trevi Fountain, passing by the famed Spanish Steps during the first of several rain showers that day. Like the horses pulling the carriages, I donned my rain gear and forged ahead. The famed Trevi Fountain had to be my first stop so that I didn’t miss the chance to toss in a coin to ensure that I would return to Rome again.
After tossing the requisite coin and taking a few minutes to gaze at the majestic fountain, I headed for the Pantheon. Once a temple to the Roman gods and now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. While hardly visible from the front of the Pantheon, its dome is one of the most impressive features. To this day it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Its oculus is completely open, acting as the only source of natural light and also allowing in rain. It was remarkable to see the sunlight and showers falling from the heavens into the center of the church.
As I left the Pantheon, I was pleased to see it was time for lunch. On to the pasta and vino part of my plan! The Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon is surrounded by cafés, which one might assume are tourist traps because of their location. But while the prices may be a bit higher than a restaurant off the beaten path, the food I had there was delicious. And I was happy to pay a little extra for the view!
I’ve eaten twice at the café on the southwest corner of the square, and I confess I had the lasagna both times. If you like your lasagna with béchamel sauce, then the lasagna in Toscana onboard the ship can compete with just about anything shoreside. But while I love a good béchamel, I sometimes prefer to forgo the milk and butter in favor of a hearty tomato sauce in its purest form, and in that case, the best I’ve ever had was at the café on Piazza della Rotunda. If you’re in the mood for a white sauce, try the gnocchi with arugula and prosciutto, which is divine!
Having checked the pasta and vino off my list, I wandered for a bit and stumbled upon the lovely Piazza Navona with the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, arguably Rome’s greatest achievement in the fountain genre.
I continued south again and arrived at a work that is modern architecture by Roman standards, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument has met with some controversy since its inauguration in 1911 because an area of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to create it.
The Cordonata, a grand staircase designed by Michelangelo, led to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the smallest but most famous of the seven hills of Rome and the origin of the English word, “capitol.” Once the site of Rome’s holiest temples, the hill fell into ruin in the Middle Ages. Michelangelo was asked to redesign this ancient square in the 16th century, including the Palazzo Senatorio, which is now the city hall and is flanked by the impressive Capitoline museums.
At the base of the hill, I could see the Roman Forum, once the economic, political and religious center of Rome and home to some of the most ancient and renowned excavations in the city. Just beyond the Forum stood the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and the most recognized landmark in Rome. Coming from a country just a couple centuries old, I could hardly conceive of a structure that had been standing for a couple millennia, surviving both natural disasters and human plundering.
This iconic monument seemed an appropriate place to conclude my day and head back to meet the coach. I grabbed a gelato on the way and completed my culinary tour along with my historic one. I only hope that the legend of Trevi Fountain is indeed true, and that my coin will ensure that I return to this great city again!