In the footsteps of Romans – highlights of ancient Rome

Travelling around Italy has long been a trip that Jim & I have dreamed of.  There is so much in Italy that we went to see, but managing to fit that within a couple of weeks is impossible if we want to actually do Italy justice and not rush around desperately cramming in the sights.  So this year, we kicked off out tour of Italy in miniature by having a week long break visiting Rome and the Amalfi coast.

Rome is a living, breathing history lesson.  Every era and civilisation seems to have left it’s mark on this city, where modern life rubs alongside ancient remains.  It shouldn’t work, but it does – I thought that it would be a bit disconcerting to see cars and buses driving alongside the Colosseum, but somehow it all fits and Rome pulls off history and modernity like no where else.

The Roman empire spread so far across the globe, and has had a huge influence on Western civilisation.  Most countries in Europe will have their fair share of Roman sites, including the UK.  Hadrian’s Wall, the northern frontier of the Roman empire, runs directly through my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne.  Given the huge influence of the Romans, visiting the heart of this extraordinary empire was one of the major reasons we wanted to visit Rome.  Here are the highlights of ancient Rome that we visited:-

The Colosseum

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This was a high priority for us as it is somewhere Jim & I have both really wanted to visit for a long time.  So on our first full day in Rome, we got up early and headed to the Colosseum for opening time.

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We purchased a combined ticket for €12 that is also be valid for entry to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.  We also splashed out an additional €5 each for the audio tour, which was well worth the price.  There is not much in the way of information in the Colosseum so the audio tour was invaluable in bringing the history to life, and pointing out things we otherwise may have missed, such as the names of the senators still inscribed into the stone in the seats of honour.

The Colosseum is remarkably well preserved both inside and out.  Not all parts are accessible to the public.  There is a stage laid where at the original floor level used to be and we were particularly disappointed that we didn’t get to go onto the floor of the arena do our best Spartatcus poses!

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However, we did get a really good birds eye view of the arena floor and the areas where the Gladiators and animals would be kept before being unleashed onto the sands.

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Visiting the Colosseum and actually going inside was a real highlight for me, but for anyone whose interest/budget does not stretch to admission, the Colosseum is really stunning to look at from the outside, especially at night.

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Palatine Hill

This is the hill on which Rome is said to be founded and many buildings are preserved there to this day.

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This is where the rich nobility lived in ancient times and it is not hard to see why they picked that particular spot – the views are stunning, and it is so lush and green.

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As the entrance ticket also gives entry to the Colosseum, one common piece of advice is to purchase tickets at Palatine Hill as the queues are shorter than those for the Colosseum.  My advice would be to do the opposite – get to the Colosseum early before the queues start there.  Palatine Hill is big and so even when the tour groups arrive, it absorbs the multitude of people in the way that the Colosseum being a compact space cannot.

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Like the Colosseum, there are not really any signs or information boards to explain what you are looking at, and this time we did not go for the audio tour.  It can be quite difficult to work out on the map exactly where you are, but it didn’t matter that much to me as it was a pleasure just to walk around all of the lovely green areas and enjoy the vistas.

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Roman Forum

Coming down from Palatine Hill, you arrive at the Roman Forum.

Spot the face!

Spot the face!

This was the heart of ancient Rome, where business was conducted, the Senate debated and the Gods were worshipped.  A lot of the buildings are ruined and excavations are still ongoing (you can look through windows at the work that is taking place), but many others have been very well preserved.

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Again, there is a lack of information, so absent a tour group or audio guide it is difficult to work out exactly what you are looking at.  But again, it didn’t detract from the experience for me, as it was so easy to picture life going on in Roman times.

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Arch of Constantine

This is situated just outside the Colossuem and has been standing since the 4th century AD.

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It looks an awful lot like the Arc du Triomphe (or maybe that should be the other way around!) and it is built on the site of an ancient Roman road, some of the foundations of which are also visible.

The Pantheon

This was originally a Roman temple, and is probably the best preserved Roman structure.

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It was later consecrated as a church, however a lot of pagan symbols remain in the decoration.  It is an impressive space with an open dome bathing the interior with light.

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The Pantheon also houses Raphael’s tomb, which is one of the main tourist draws.

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Entry to the Pantheon is free and audio guides can be purchased.  This is one of the busiest sites in Rome, so watch out for the inevitable touts.

Before we travelled, we had very high expectations of visiting ancient Rome, and it did not disappoint.  Everything we visited absolutely lived up to expectations, and still managed to provide us with some surprises, such as the views opening up on Palatine Hill.

Tips for visiting

The combined ticket for the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum is valid for 2 days.  We only had a limited time in Rome and so we did all 3 in one day, but it is a lot to do so if you have the time, consider visiting the Colosseum one day and Palatine Hill and Forum the following day.

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5 responses to “In the footsteps of Romans – highlights of ancient Rome

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