While we saw so much during our first day in Rome, we still had lots of landmarks on the itinerary for day two – the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City & St. Peter’s Basilica, and gelato breaks to squeeze in between all of the sightseeing. ? Get ready for one busy summer day in Rome!
We began our day at Rome’s single greatest monument and one of the “new wonders of the world”, the Colosseum. As I mentioned in the first part of my Rome Photo Diary, I took a couple of art history courses prior to this study abroad trip and it made me truly appreciative of the art, architecture, and history of Italian culture so getting to see all these famous works in person was life-changing. The Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre ever built, has a storied past. I will admit, aesthetically it’s much more pleasing to look at from the outside but being inside where gladiators once violently fought to the death, where animal hunts and public executions took place to provide a spectacle for the public, was chilling. Luckily it’s not what it used to be, but the fact that a place in which humanity witnessed some of the most barbaric forms of entertainment is still standing today, so many centuries later, is absolutely incredible.
An interior view of the Colosseum.
In the mid-morning we continued our tour with a walk through the Roman Forum, stopping along the way to snap photos of adorable Vespa’s. The Forum was the center of Roman life in the imperial times, an ancient market and meeting place which also housed many important government structures. There are lots of reminders throughout the city that emphasize just how old Ancient Rome actually is but compared to structures such as the Pantheon and Colosseum, it’s hard to visualize how long this civilization and their creations have actually been around. The forum is a great place to reminisce on the “golden age” of Rome and imagine what it once was – a shining example of power and community.
We continued our walk through the center of Rome until we made our way to Altare della Patria, the monument built in honor of first Italian King Victor Emmanuel and the spot where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resides. An impressive large white marble building, the bottom section contains a museum dedicated to the unification of Italy, but go to the terrace for what most consider to be the best panoramic view of Rome. As seen in the very first photo in this post, you’re able to get a great look at both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum from this spot.
A group of stilt-walking street performers pose for a photo in one of the piazzas we passed through on our way to Vatican City.
First on our Vatican City itinerary were the Vatican Museums, a group of buildings with 54 total galleries which house the vast papal art collection. Perhaps the most notable part of the museum is the Sistine Chapel, in which Michelangelo painted the elaborately frescoed ceiling and where his famous “Creation of Adam” can be seen. They don’t allow photography in this area, but I would definitely recommend you visit the Sistine Chapel even if you don’t have time for any of the rest of the surrounding museums. I’m much more of a fan of Michelangelo’s paintings than his sculptures (Nothing compares to Bernini) and this ceiling illustration is incredible and something you just can’t miss when in Rome.
This spiral staircase is one of the architectural highlights of the museums.
One of the most famous ancient sculptures ever, “Laocoön and His Sons”, on display in the Vatican Museums.
If you do have longer to explore the Vatican Museums, there are many great paintings by world-renowned Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio on display throughout the numerous galleries. I would, as always, advise you to do research about these pieces and artists prior to your visit so that you’re able to truly appreciate seeing them in person. Wikipedia is a good place to start. I made flash cards for my art history classes with a printout of the work glued to one side and all the important information about it on the other and I actually found it helpful to take these cards with me to the museums and cathedrals so that I could quickly refer back to them while browsing the museum.
The Gallery of Maps, a long corridor with an illuminated ceiling and huge, entrancing Italian maps is another highlight of the Vatican Museums.
Famished from an eventful day, we stopped for lunch at the first restaurant with outdoor seating that we could find and grabbed some gelato afterward for our walk to St. Peter’s Square.
A view of Vatican City, the smallest “country” in the world, from an open museum window.
There are so many adjectives that can be used to describe St. Peter’s Basilica. Grand. Opulent. Monumental. But no combination of words I could string together would do it any justice at all. It is the holy grail of Catholic Churches and the site of which so many historic events have taken place, including the coronation and inauguration of Catholic Popes past and present. Both Michelangelo and Bernini were on the design team of the new St.Peter’s Basilica, a shining example of Renaissance architecture. There was so much beauty to take in that I thought it would be better appreciated from the floor but unfortunately, security disagreed. ? It makes for a good story though, right?!
Bernini’s bronze “Baldacchino” guards the tomb of St. Peter.
We returned to Rome in a daze, still absorbing all that we’d seen throughout the day. We stopped into Ristorante Strega for a late dinner and enjoyed wonderful wine & wood-fired pizza on the beautifully ambient tented patio. We ended our meal on a sweet note with a photogenic and delicious tiramisù.
Since it was our last evening in Rome, we made one last pit stop to the Trevi Fountain before calling it a day. It’s always beautiful but like most of Rome, it has a certain romanticism at night. We decided it was the perfect ending to the first chapter of our Italian adventure.
Summary of Rome Travel Tips
- Visit the Colosseum and imagine a time when gladiators once inhabited the arena.
- Roam through the Roman Forum to get a glimpse of the oldest neighborhood of the Roman Empire.
- Stop by Altare della Patria for an unmatched panoramic view of the city center, where both the Forum and the Colosseum can be seen.
- Take a minute to watch and even interact with the street performers. Italy is one of the few places where these talented artists seem to captivate locals and tourists alike.
- In the Vatican Museums, head to the Sistine Chapel first and spend as much time in the rest of the museum’s galleries as your schedule allows.
- Make flash-cards to act as your museum guide, loading them up with all the information you could ever want about a particular piece.
- Stop for gelato frequently. ?
- Appreciate St. Peter’s Basilica from your feet, not from your back.
- Don’t be discouraged to re-visit your favorite spots.
“Rome Photo Diary; Part II” Photographed by Emily Davis
© Emily Davis