Explore Rome with serendipity
Just like you were walking with some Italian friends
by Les Churchman
My first visit to Rome was not memorable for one simple reason – I was on a tour and we either followed a guide’s umbrella in a large crowd or were on the tour bus straining to look left and right as we sped past. Everything sped by in a blur of getting on and off the tour bus!
In recent years I have been fortunate to visit Rome in the company of an Italian friend and wandering with him through Rome’s streets and alleys has been an altogether different experience. I still see tourists obediently following a waving umbrella – and, of course, that is fine if you are on a whistle-stop tour. However I can heartily recommend staying in a small hotel and going wandering each day – with a destination in mind but not worrying too much when and if you actually get there.
For example, don’t just follow the crowds around Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum. A short four minute walk from these crowded, busy places will take you to the entrance to the Trajan’s Market museum. Instead of seeing the ruins from the road you can actually get inside this ancient complex. It feels like going back in time as you walk through the arcades and down into the Forum area, You get a real idea of just how huge Roman buildings actually were. My favourite place in this complex is a small street, the “via Biberatica” which looks just like an ancient Roman street. Even in high summer it’s not too crowded so you can soak up the atmosphere and let your imagination run riot.
Often in Rome, as elsewhere in Italy, the exterior of a building gives no clue as to what lies inside. It is so easy to pass by these places which are not on the usual group tour trail. For example, many tourists visit the beautiful Santa Maria Maggiore at the top of the Esquiline Hill. The interior is exquisite and ornate while the exterior lets everyone know how important the basilica is. Yet less than a minute away on foot is another basilica, much smaller and decidedly unimpressive from the outside. Only by taking your time and wandering inside will you discover the vibrant and impressive early Christian mosaics inside. Put a euro in the slot to illuminate the mosaics and see them in all their glory. For a short time their simplicity and design transport you back to a simple style of church.
Or wander through the Borghese Gardens and west across to the Pincio Hill to get a breathtaking view of the Piazza del Popolo and across the rooftops towards the Vatican. Wander down from here to the Piazza and towards the river. Then walk south following the river until you come to the modern building containing the 1st century Altar of Augustan Peace (Ara Pacis). From here its a short walk past the Palace of Justice across the river to the beautiful Castel Sant’Angelo. It’s a two kilometre walk but you will begin to really know Rome by knowing how its famous monuments all link up and see the neighbourhoods between the sights. That’s what getting to know Rome really is all about!
In Rome many places are within walking distance but you can take the metro sometimes to take the weight off your feet. There will be moments of serendipity when you do this – wandering just three minutes from the Lepanto metro station I discovered, thanks to my Italian friend, the largest arancini I have ever see – and such a variety! It’s only on a slow tour of Rome like this that you will find yourself buying and eating Roman street food in the company of other Romans!
Did you like the unconventional slow tour in Rome you’ve just read? Download for free the new e-book Explore Rome by Les Churchman: it features 50 places to visit with interactive maps showing the locations and distances of these sights. The ebooks also contains 186 of Les’ original photographs and 17 short video clips. The e-book is in English and available for the iPad!
Cover pic courtesy of Flickr User Nicola