Rome, Italy, by reading Experiencing Rome – The Remains
of Rome by Gary W. Bloom, Travel Writer and WTA Member.
It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination,
plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including
getting there, objective information on places to stay and
eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've
provided a summary of the contact information for your easy
Experiencing Rome: The Remains of Rome
By Gary W. Bloom
It must have been a great time to be alive in ancient Rome, with a
standard of living not to be achieved again for nearly 2,000 years. At
it apogee, ancient Rome was not that much different from today – noisy,
crowded, dangerous, and expensive. Yet everyone wanted to live there
because even the poorest of Romans could enjoy the decadent largess of
The Roman calendar had 159 official holidays each year. Along with
unofficial celebrations, ancient Romans put in one leisurely workday for
every day they had off. And there was plenty to do on their holidays.
The early emperors brought Greek theater to Rome, although the highbrow
sophistication didn’t last long. The performances took on a decidedly
draconian twist when actual murders took place on stage, with condemned
prisoners in the starring role. Then there were the fabulous baths to
relax in, along with libraries, museums, parks, and athletic grounds.
And if they were looking for some excitement, there were the notorious
games in the Coliseum. These brutal events were free, though toga was
required. The Italians always did have a sense of style.
There are many ways to experience Rome, with one of the most popular
being a tour of its many still remaining ancient landmarks. If you’re
visiting Rome in the summer, an organized tour may be your best bet.
Summers are very hot, so an air-conditioned tour bus may be the most
comfortable way to get around.
Rome is notorious for pickpockets who prey on tourists riding public
transportation, as I can attest to. After years of travel throughout the
world without ever being robbed, I met my match riding the Metro in
Rome, even though I was on the lookout and had my wallet in a buttoned
down back pocket. A couple of pickpockets working as a team were able to
steal my wallet while I as getting off the subway. A man held both my
arms while a young woman accomplice took my wallet. They both ran out
the door with me chasing them, but in the crowded station were soon
gone. Fortunately, I had put my passport and most of my money in the
hotel safe. The risk is not confined to riding public transportation.
The “gypsies” will surround you near tourist attractions, trying to pull
your watch off your arm, your wallet out of your pocket, and anything
else not bolted down. I have never experienced panhandlers quite this
aggressive, and it was certainly one of Rome’s major downsides.
Steer clear of restaurants located near tourist attractions and on
famous squares. They are usually over priced for a mediocre meal. You
can do better at small family run restaurants where the locals eat.
Beyond the well known, there are many hidden Rome attractions, some of
them deep beneath the ground. Among the famous and not so famous
landmarks are those featured here.
The Terme di Caracalla, built around 210 AD, was one of Rome’s most
extravagant baths, accommodating up to 1,700 people. Much of the Terme
still remains, just south of Porta Capena. There is a mile long tunnel
that connects the baths with the Palazzo Venezia, through which wood was
hauled to keep the baths hot. In later years, Mussolini liked to race
his sports car through the tunnel.
The Pantheon, built in 27 BC, is the only one of Rome’s ancient
buildings to remain intact, perhaps because its walls are 20 feet thick.
It was built as a Roman temple and later became a Catholic church. With
its domed roof, it is one of the architectural wonders of the world. The
only natural light, besides the doors, is an oculus at the center of the
dome. When animals were sacrificed, the smoke rising from their bodies
escaped through this small opening.
But it is the Coliseum that is Rome’s most notorious landmark. This is
where gladiators perfected their killing techniques and emperors came up
with new gruesome and ever more perverse contests - among them, lions
versus elephants, dwarfs versus women, and the public torture of
criminals. In other words, not much different from the reality TV shows
The Coliseum was opened in 80 AD with a 100-day festival that included
the killing of 2,000 men and 9,000 animals, just to get things off to a
good start. Like in the Russell Crowe movie, gladiators were usually
slaves or criminals who fought their way to freedom and fame. The most
successful became rich, and like our sports heroes, did product
endorsements. Those that died a well-fought death had their blood sold
as a tonic.
The Coliseum’s wood platform surface was covered with sand and there
were underground passageways used for changing scenery and for keeping
the caged lions and tigers. These ferocious animals would be lifted up
and released on the arena floor, to the sheer terror of the gladiators
and the sheer delight of the spectators. If the emperor was in the mood
for a nautical theme, the Coliseum’s arena grounds could be filled with
water for staged sea battles.
Near the Coliseum is the 12th century Basilica di San
Clemente, but it’s what’s underneath the Basilica that’s really
interesting. Steps lead down to the remains of the original church,
built around 375 AD, as well as other first century buildings, including
Mithraeum, one of the best-preserved temples in Rome. This is just one
example of the mostly unexplored subterranean Rome, where there are the
remains of buildings and monuments and rivers still flow. Behind a
locked door of a nondescript church there just might be a stairway
leading down to these ancient ruins.
Another subterranean marvel is the Domus Aurea, under the Baths of
Trajan. This was Nero’s Golden Palace, built after a fire that burned
much of Rome to the ground. Some blamed Nero for the fire, a
circumstance that cleared the land for him to build his 200 room home,
which occupied three of the famed Seven Hills of Rome. So much was Nero
despised that the palace was looted and buried after his suicide in 68
AD. A small section of the Palace has been restored and can be seen
Rome has a delectably gruesome history, where the macabre has always
held a special place. In the cellars at the Convento dei Cappuccini are
the neatly arranged skeletons of 4,000 monks. And inside the church SS.
Vincenzo Anastasio are the hearts and intestines of centuries of popes.
There are about 40 known catacombs that circle Rome, with an estimated
375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels. The Catacombs of St. Callixtus is the
burial place for 16 popes along with nearly half a million early
Christians. The underground network stretches almost 12 miles and
reaches a depth of about 65 feet.
Like the strata of rock formations, Rome is built with homes upon homes,
layers upon layers. The Rione Monti area is a good example. This is
Rome’s oldest quarter, where the basements of some of the homes have the
remaining columns from ancient Roman temples. In Caesar’s day this was a
red-light district where Roman soldiers went to relax after months of
conquering and plundering. Today it’s a tranquil neighborhood where life
goes on as it has for centuries, and ancient Rome lies just beneath the
For specifics on
the various attractions of Rome as well as places to stay and eat read
the Details section.
Alitalia fly nonstop to Rome from Newark and New York City. Delta
and Alitalia also have nonstop flights from Atlanta. Continental
has a nonstop from Newark, US Airways has a nonstop from
Philadelphia, and American Airlines has a nonstop from Chicago.
Prices as of October 2004 were around $600 roundtrip.
Leonardo da Vinci, better known as Fiumicino, is the major
airport, and is about 20 miles southeast of Rome. A taxi to the
city will cost around 50ˆ. Make sure it’s a licensed, metered cab.
There are two trains that go to Rome. One, the Airport-Termini
express, also called the Leonardo Express, will take you directly
to Rome’s Termini Station.
Where and What
their food fresh, so your menu choices change with the seasons. In
the spring the best choices are squid, mussels, and calamari. In
the fall it might be black truffles, white truffles, and
Rome has an
advantage over its northern Italian neighbors in being in a region
that is warm enough to produce delicious fruits and vegetables,
and close enough to the Mediterranean to provide for a variety of
A few of the
Roman favorites include tripe braised with onions, oxtail, clams
sauteed with white wine, and of course a variety of pasta dishes.
Abbacchio, milk-fed lamb, is a popular choice.
charge of 15% is often included, which should be listed on the
menu. Tipping beyond that is not necessary.
Steer clear of
restaurants located near tourist attractions and on famous
squares. They are usually over priced for a mediocre meal. You can
do better at small family run restaurants where the locals eat.
Via della Rosetta 8
This is the
place to go for some of the best prepared fish in Rome, with
prices to match. Popular dishes include sea bass with black
truffles and sauteed clams, and for dessert, ricotta cheesecake.
Expect to pay around 50ˆ for a main entree.
Via del Boccaccio 1
restaurant with a friendly staff who make visitors feel at home.
They serve traditional Roman food, with entree’s about 20ˆ. This
is a good place to go if you want to mingle; they’re known for
their boisterous waiters and clientele.
Via Ponte Sisto 80
Roman food at a reasonable price that’s popular with locals in the
Where to Stay
Piazza Trinita dei Monti, 6
One of the most
elegant hotels in Rome, the Hassler is old world charm at the top
of the Spanish Steps. Commanding views of the city and commanding
prices, with doubles around 600ˆ.
Largo del Pallaro 8
in old Rome’s historical area, built on the remains of the ancient
Roman Pompey's Theatre. Located on a quiet street just a few steps
from Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori. Rates go from about 170ˆ
to 190ˆ for a double, depending on season, and include breakfast.
Via Tunisi 8
Vatican, this small hotel offers comfortable rooms at a reasonable
price, with doubles for about 150ˆ.
When to Go
comfortable months to visit Rome are during the late spring and
early fall. Winters are mild, with temperatures in the 50’s, and
you can avoid the crowds and find the best deals on hotels, though
religious holidays any time of the year are going to draw
tourists. Summers can be hot, with highs in the 90’s. This might
be tolerable if you’re seeing Rome in an air-conditioned tour bus,
but probably not if you’re on foot or using pubic transit. Many
low-priced hotels do not have air-conditioning.
Rome and its
attractions are too spread out to reach entirely by foot, so if
you’re not riding in a tourist bus you will have probably have to
use Rome’s public transportation, which is quite good. Rome has an
integrated system including buses and trams and the Metro trains.
If you use a taxi, make sure it’s a licensed, metered cab.
most of Europe, now uses the Euro as its currency. The US dollar
has declined against the Euro recently, and prices have been
rising accordingly. As of September 2004, one USD was equal to
about .82 Euros.
Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla)
Via delle Terme di Caracalla 52
Hours: Tues – Sun, 9am-4pm; Mon, 9am-2pm. Closed on holidays.
Piazza del Colosseo
Hours: Daily 9am – 7pm during the summer months; closed about an
hour before sunset during other months.
Via San Giovanni in Laterano
Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-12:30pm and 3-6pm. Sundays from 10am-12:30pm
for the upper church, 3ˆ for the lower churches.
Italian Government Tourist Board
630 Fifth Ave., Suite1565
NY, NY 10111