The History of Rome - Part One
Rome is not only a major tourist destination, it’s also the city where many cruises start or finish. But as we know, Rome is not actually a cruise port city. Cruise ships do not dock in Rome. Civitavecchia is the port servicing the city of Rome and it lies about 37 miles north of Rome. However, for the purpose of my series on Rome as a Pre or Post Cruise stop, I will treat Rome as the actual port stop and include information about Civitavecchia in the entry entitled Transportation to and from the Port. My blog entries are divided into the following sections:
2. Transportation to and from the airport
3. Transportation to and from the port
4. Getting around the city
5. Places to see
6. Rome Markets
7. Hop on Hop off buses
8. Day trips from Rome
9. Fun Facts / Churches & Basilicas
In this blog posting, the first of two covering the history of Rome, I will address the origins of the city. The legend of Rome's creation and the story of the mighty Roman Empire, are fairly well known as both are taught (world wide), in schools. If that were not enough, souvenir shops or kiosks in Rome, generally have offerings that depict the story of the “twins” who founded the city. When rumour has it that the gods had a hand in the creation of a place, it stimulates the imagination.
As legend has it, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by the twin sons of the Princess Rhea Silvia (who was also a vestal virgin), and Mars the god of war. The ruler, King Amulius, who had overthrown Rhea’s father from the throne, learned of the birth of Rhea's sons and fearing that the enfants would grow to manhood and depose him, decided to take measures to ensure that they did not reach manhood. Not wanting to outright murder the babies, he opted to let fate be the determining factor. Romulus and Remus were put into a basket, which was then placed in the Tiber river with the intent that the basket would fill with water and drown the twins. There is also a version of the story that has the basket left on the banks of the river so the twins would die of exposure. Either way, King Amulius was sure the twins would die without him actually being the one to physically kill them. However, the god of the river, Tiberinusa, saved that twins and gave them to a she-wolf who suckled the enfants. That is why you will see statues, murals and frescos depicting a female wolf suckling two young boys.
The twins were later adopted by a shepherd, grew to be adults, developed fighting skills and became strong, fearless warriors. Being natural leaders, they were soon followed by an army. They came to learn of their noble heritage and set out to retake the throne for their family. Romulus killed King Amulius thereby proving that the king’s fears about the threat that the twins posed to him, were valid.
Eventually the twins, having defeated the king and setting their maternal grandfather back upon the throne, searched for a place to build a city of their own with the intent of jointly ruling. The two brothers separated in their search for the perfect location and each found a hill they favoured as the site of their future city. The hills were adjacent to each other and while Remus wanted to build their new city on Aventine Hill, Romulus had chosen Palatine Hill. The twins quarreled and eventually Remus was killed. The most popular legend is that he was killed by his brother Romulus but there is also the theory that one of the gods killed him. Regardless of who actually killed Remus, the end result is that Romulus ruled as the sole king of Rome until his death. All the kings after Romulus were elected by the senate.
Historical records not based in myth, tell us that Rome is set within seven hills: Esquiline Hill, Palatine Hill, Aventine Hill, Capitoline Hill, Quirinal Hill, Viminal Hill and Caelian Hill. The two main hills supposedly selected by the twins are the fixed points for early construction and colonization. There is evidence of habitation that predated the official creation of Rome and about the time the city was established as more than a collection of dwellings, the land was ruled by the Etruscans. The low lying land, and more specifically, the land between the two hills supposedly selected by the twins, was very swampy and by 625 B.C. the Romans drained it and installed a sewer system which exists to this very day. With the draining of the swamp, building in the low-lying areas commenced and Rome grew. For those interested in the sewer system and early Roman structures, you can still see the opening of the sewer system as it drains into the Tiber River.
In the city’s recorded history, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the final Etruscan king of Rome before it became a republic in 509 B.C.. He reigned from 535 BC to 509 BC and was considered to have been an arrogant and aloof ruler who was out of touch with the population. Historical books commonly refer to him as Tarquin the Proud, a despot and horrific ruler. Once he was overthrown, Rome became a republic. Under the republic, the city continued to prosper and grow. With that growth came expansion, roads, central heating, personal cleanliness, sanitation measures and the Roman calendar.
In 390 B.C. the Gauls attacked and burned Rome but by 264 B.C. the Romans were back in control of the city and the area that is considered to be modern day Italy. Ancient Rome grew into an empire that soon encompassed most of Europe, Britain, north Africa and the Mediterranean islands. Among the many legacies of the Romans is the development of the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian), which are all derived from Latin. Buildings that are Roman in origin, are found all over the ancient world in places that were under Roman occupation. The concept for those structures were mostly developed in the city of Rome. When you walk the streets of Rome you will see basilicas, triumphal arch, aqueducts and amphitheatres, all of which are creations of the Romans. Let's not forget about the sewers which drained away the filth of the city with every rain.
As we progress through the history of Rome as a city, we can see that the last western emperor abdicated in 476 and Rome went into a general decline in the fifth century A.D. As the power of the Roman empire weakened, so too did the city of Rome. However, Christianity had already begun to flourish and emerge from its humble origins. Where Christian teaching, baptisms and masses were once celebrated in secret, early religious structures were starting to be put into place in and around the city of Rome. Although you can still visit and tour some of the catacombs that harboured the Christians prior to the acceptance of the religion, the building of designated religious structures cemented Rome as a stronghold of Christianity. As the centuries passed, newer and more impressive churches were built, many of which are magnificent and will be covered in the Places to See or Churches & Basilicas sections of my Rome as a Port Stop blogs. Most of those churches were built on the original churches started in 200 – 300 A. D. Those original churches were often built on top of temples that had been dedicated to the old gods.
By 580 the population of Rome had shrunk to around 30,000. But Christianity helped reshape Rome as a city since the Catholic church was formed around the pope and the pope resided in Rome. There were a few periods where the papacy moved to another country or wherein there were two people declaring themselves to be the religious leader of the Catholic church (all for political reasons), but for the most part, Rome remained the preferred location for the Pope and by the sixth century, the great leaders and aristocracy of Europe would make pilgrimages there. As the wealth of the church grew, so too did the wealth of the city of Rome.
The crusades of 1095, 1147, 1189,1203 and 1218 contributed to the power and wealth of Rome. Far from draining the coffers of the church, it created a unified cause, and the selling of religious artifacts and mercies became a lucrative business. If you visit the Vatican museum, you will be able to view artifacts from the crusades.
By medieval times, the wealthy churchmen of the city of Rome were sponsoring the building of churches, shrines and pilgrimage stops. Artists flourished and money was liberally spent to fund the creation and decoration of religious facilities in support of the church.
As evidenced by the information in this blog, Rome has enjoyed a rich and storied past with two major influences that impacted heavily on the ancient and modern world. To this day, the two major draws of the city of Rome are the Roman ruins such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Forum and the Catholic links such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican.
The History of Rome - Part Two
Having reviewed the early history of Rome, I want to touch on some of the amazing things that happened during the more recent centuries. Let’s start with the memorable date of 1506 wherein the creation of one of the largest present day draws in Rome moved from the planning phase to the building phase. St Peter’s Basilica was commissioned and started by Pope Julius II who had dreamed of creating a church so large and grand that it would be a symbol of Christianity and a testament to the church for centuries. The building is on such a large scale that it took over a century to be completed and was finally opened on November 18, 1626 under the guidance of Pope Paul V. I write more details about St. Peter’s in the blog entitled Places to See in Rome so for now, I will simply state that the interior and exterior of St Peter’s are must see stops when in Rome.
Pope Julius II, employed (some say forced), many of the greatest artisans of the day to work on the basilica and other areas within the Vatican. For example, he had Michelangelo working on painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512.
But during the 1500’s, all was not peaceful times. In 1527 Charles V, the Archduke of Austria (also known as the King of Spain and the Lord of the Netherlands), attacked and looted Rome.
By 1547 all was calm again and Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to be the main architect of the still under construction St. Peter’s Basilica. History indicates that Pope Paul paid better, and more promptly than Pope Julius.
The church had a major influence on Rome as a city as evidenced by the building projects and money brought in by the church. City planning and governance was also heavily influenced by the church. For example, in 1585, Pope Sixtus V re-planned the streets of Rome.
As evidenced in the historic buildings, squares and fountains throughout Rome, building was constant. From the addition of Bernini’s colonnades in St. Peter’s Square in 1657, the Palazzo di Montecitorio in 1694, Trevi Fountain in 1732 and the Palazzo Nuovo in 1734’s, artistic creations flourished throughout the centuries.
In the mid-17th century until the end of the 18th, Rome was a must see stop on the grand tours undertaken by the nobility to finish off their education. During this time, works of art were purchased and removed from the country.
In 1797 Napoleon Bonaparte captured Rome and a year later he exiled Pope Pius VI and declared that there was a new Roman Republic. Napoleon’s control of Rome in that first invasion was fairly short lived and by 1799, he was driven out of Rome by the Austrians and the Russians. On February 2, 1808, French troops once again occupied Rome and in May 1809, Napoleon decreed that he was annexing Rome to his empire.
In 1820 there was a series of revolts in Rome making it a fairly unstable political environment which culminated in a full scale uprising in 1848. Without delving into the political situation, I can say that it was a matter of control and governance of the city that fed the instability. In 1849 the Nationalists proclaimed a Roman Republic which led to another French invasion.
In 1870, Napoleon III recalled his garrison from Rome and by September 20, 1870, the city was recaptured by Italy. This represented the political reunification of Rome with the country of Italy and placing all of Italy under the governance of King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy. It also marked the defeat of the Papal States under Pope Pius IX. A monument to King Emmanuel’s achievement was built and by 1911, the impressive Altare della Patria was completed. I speak more about this monument to King Emmanuel in my Places to See in Rome Blog.
In October 1922, Rome was unfortunately about to enter a dark period as Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party (PNF) marched into Rome. With the rise of the PNF, fascism was in full swing and to avoid open insurrection, King Emmanuel III named Mussolini as Prime Minister, thereby giving Mussolini legitimate political power and authority.
In the 1930’s, Mussolini joined forces with Hitler in what many political pundits describe as a marriage of convenience. Although historians depict Hitler and Mussolini as individuals who each held a low opinion of the other, their alliance was mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, some of Mussolini's political actions mirrored those implemented by Hitler in Germany as evidenced in July 1938 when Mussolini’s party passed the Manifesto of Race which stripped Italian Jews of their citizenship and removed them from holding positions within the Italian government. German soldiers began training in Italy and many were stationed in Rome.
In June 1940, Mussolini declared war, joining Germany who had declared war a year earlier when they invaded Poland. The Allies invaded Italy in July 1943 and on June 5, 1944 the allies marched into Rome, liberating it from the combined Italian/German rule. A new government was formed, and Mussolini was expelled. In April 1945, he was executed. Fascism had ended and with it, the monarchy. The disgraced monarchy was viewed as both irrelevant and the mechanism that had allowed Mussolini to be given power. As of June 2, 1946, democracy had returned to Italy and the city of Rome celebrated a new political age.
With the end of the Second World War, Rome once again become a draw for historical and religious studies and tourists from around the world. With the tourists also came the movie industry and movies such as Roman Holiday in 1953 (starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck) and An American in Rome 1954 helped boost the profile of the city through the magic of cinema. The "Eternal City" soon became a must see city to citizens from around the world.
In March of 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed which officially established the European Economic Community. Coming into force on January 1, 1958, this agreement unified the economic ties of France, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and West Germany (which was still divided ).
By 1960, Rome hosted the Summer Olympics which were considered a success with Italy winning a total of 36 medals, 13 of which were gold. Tourists flocked to Rome and it became known as a city offering up something for everyone.
Many tend to think that politically, Rome has been fairly calm since the end of the Second World War but in 1978, Aldo Moro, the Italian Prime Minister, was kidnapped and later killed. Despite being a democracy, it was not until 1993 that the first mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, was actually elected.
As evidenced by this, and the previous blog posting, Rome has had a rich and varied history. I could have easily broken the history of Rome into ten blog postings and still not done it justice. Suffice to say, the two blog postings about the history of Rome are designed to give a fairly light overview and invite you to discover more when you visit or research the city.
Transportation to and from the Airport
In this blog posting, I cover transportation to and from Fiumicino International (Leonardo da Vinci) airport. For those of you who have read my first book Postcards to Alice, you will remember that I start the book with a story about getting stuck in the airport in Rome for over twelve hours due to a general transportation strike that delayed my connector flight to Athens. It also made leaving the airport for a quick trip into Rome a very, very difficult option. If it had not been for the fact that I had previously been to the airport a number of times, I would have had a very poor impression of this facility and general transportation options in Italy. However, that stop was just one of many over the years and for the most part I have a positive impression of the airport and the transportation options to and from the airport terminals.
When you arrive in Rome, especially after a long overnight trip from North America, you just want to get to your final destination as easily and quickly as possible. Fortunately, Rome has every possible transportation means available and all budgets covered. Located 32 km from Rome, Fiumicino airport is outside the city centre and some form of transportation is needed to get you from the airport to your accommodation or next destination. The terminals are joined together so it makes no difference which terminal you arrive at, you will be able to make your way to the various points associated with your preferred method of getting into the city (be it taxi, train, bus etc.).
Let’s start with the easiest. Pre booking transportation. I have done this many times and frankly it is the most enjoyable, hassle free option but also the most expensive. Having a driver wait for you at the arrivals area with a sign with your name on it, and at the ready to take you to wherever you want to go, is relatively easy. The downside is the price and any traffic problems (which happen quite frequently). Make sure you book your private transfer from a reputable firm and the price is agreed upon in advance. You can pay anything from $50 - $135CDN ($40.50 - $110 USD). Please note that if you are arriving and going directly to Civitavecchia, the cost of a private transfer is approximately $120 - $150CDN ($96 -$121USD).
The next option is to take a taxi from the taxi stand. There is a set fee of 48 euros from the airport to the city centre with a maximum four passengers set price. If you have more than four people, you can expect extra charges. I found two or three people each with a large suitcase and a carry-on bag is pretty much the maximum the average size cars can comfortably hold.
Several times I have also negotiated a discount return fee for the end of my trip with the taxi driver who drove me from the airport. The return trip would be considered an off-meter trip so if you do this and prepay, obtain a receipt from the driver and make sure it notes the taxi driver name and number. I have never had an issue with arranging (and prepaying) for an airport return but it is always best to be prepared by taking down the driver information and specifically the contact information.
Beware of people who may approach you in the terminal to ask if you need a taxi as they are not associated with the official taxis and accepting a ride with them will cost you more. Even if they quote the rate of 48 euro, they usually add supplemental charges for things such as bags, more than two passengers or other sundry items. One of the people staying at our hotel told me he “negotiated” a rate of 50€ which included tip. When they got in the cab, the driver handed them each a bottle of water which they took. They later found out that the two bottles of water represented an extra cost of 14€ but the most expensive part of their taxi ride was still to come. The driver asked them if they wanted him to take them past the Colosseum on the way to their hotel. He told them that it was not out of their way and close to their hotel. He then told them to get their cameras ready and he would slow down for photos. That supposed sight seeing jaunt cost an extra 20€. In actual fact, the Colosseum was on the way to their hotel and they would have passed it anyway. Their 50€ ride turned into an 84€ drive. In short, my advice is to go to the official taxi stand - ALWAYS
Booking a shared transportation option gives you the opportunity of having a private vehicle and driver meet you and take you to your destination for about $25 - $40CDN per person. I have done this twice. The first time it worked great and I met an American couple who shared the transfer with me. Their hotel was within spitting distance of mine. The shared transfer was seamless, far less expensive than a private transfer and I met some great people. The second time, I tried this, there were problems, significant delays and by the time we were headed into the city, I found myself in a very crowded van. It was not a fun experience. To make matters worse, I was the last party to be dropped off, adding to the arrival time between the airport and my hotel. I therefore suggest you check with the transfer company to establish what their transfer policies are regarding delayed flights of other transfer parties, limits to the number of passengers and baggage in the vehicle etc.
Much like the Heathrow express in London, the Leonardo Express Airport train takes you to and from the airport in a short, 30-minute time frame. It is modern, clean, comfortable and departs every half hour. Overall, it is a quick, efficient means of getting from the airport into the city to the termini station and you do not have to not worry about any street traffic jams arising. The cost is 15€ ($22CDN, $18USD). Children under 12 ride free.
There is also a local train and at 8€, it is half the cost of the Express. The F1 departs every 15 minutes and takes 55 minutes to get to its final destination. It will take you from the airport with stops at Traslevere, Ostiense and Tiburtina stations. However, if want to get to the Termini, you should change at the Ostiense station and catch the FL5. This train can be crowded and dirty. Beware of pickpockets on the train and at the termini.
Taking a shuttle bus from the airport to the termini is easy and there are a number of companies operating shuttle bus services. Each company offers similar pricing and discounts (such as children under 4 or 5 ride free, senior discount etc.). The bus area is located outside of Terminal three (3) and finding the bus stops is easy as the airport is well signed. The cost is about 6€ ($9CDN or $7.25USD). The buses can be busy and as noted with other vehicles taking the road, can fall victim to traffic snarls. The drive time averages 40 to 60 minutes but as mentioned, can take longer depending on time of day and traffic conditions.
You can catch a local bus for a very reasonable price of 3.60€ ($5.32CDN, $4.27USD). It will take you to the Termini Station (specifically Piazza dei Cinquecento). It also connects to the underground lines of A at the Cornelia Station and B at the Magliana Station. Look for the blue and white buses at the Regional Bus Stop signs outside of Terminal two (2) arrivals area. It will take about an hour depending on traffic but represents the most economical means of getting into the city centre.
Yes, Uber is available to take you to and from the airport. There is a fixed rate of 60€ ($88CDN, $71.19USD), and your driver will pick you up at arrivals or drop you off at the departures area depending on your choice.
You can arrange transportation from the airport through your cruise line. The prices and options vary according to your destination (port or hotel), and the specific cruise line you are using. Check with your cruise line directly or your travel agent to discuss options and associated prices.
Transportation to and from the Port
As mentioned in my first blog posting about this city, cruise ships do not dock in Rome. Civitavecchia is the port servicing the city of Rome and it lies about 37 miles north of Rome. If you have booked your cruise through a tour operator as part of a group tour, your transfer to and from the port should be part of your package so no need to book an independent mode of transportation. If you are booking your own transportation, here are some options to consider:
Hire a Bus/Coach
For pre cruise stops in Rome, I have hired a bus for transportation to the port. I have used this method a number of times and I find it easy, economical and an opportunity to meet your fellow cruisers. Prior to the cruise taking place, I book a bus (usually a 50 passenger bus), and make arrangements for it to pick me up at my hotel and take me to/from the port. I then make the fact that I have a bus available to transport fellow passengers to/from the port known on social media sites specializing on cruises (such as a Facebook or a cruising site that may have a group for that specific cruise). It is not difficult, and I have never had an issue getting sufficient passengers to fill the bus. I have never had an issue with securing payment from passengers or having problems with a bus company.
There are various companies that offer transfer services from Rome to the port but I book with Grassini Bus http://www.grassinibus.com and I have had great service with them. In addition to buses, they also have cars and drivers and minibuses so it is possible to find a vehicle to suit your specific needs. The cost is far less than cruise ship arranged transportation and the price you charge each passenger will vary depending on the number of persons you have on the bus.
A few words of caution
1. Make sure that you do not fill the bus. People taking cruises tend to have at least one large suitcase and a carry-on bag. The bus companies, all of them, will tell you that their busses hold 30, 40 or 50 passengers (depending on the size of the vehicle), and all their luggage. But those buses will NOT hold that amount of luggage. The luggage compartments will quickly fill up and if the bus is full, there will be issues with space for the left-over luggage. For a 50-passenger bus, I make sure that I leave 10 seats empty which will allow for excess luggage to be placed on the bus in the seating area. Essentially, I book between 30 and 40 passengers total for a 50-passenger bus.
One time, one of the 50 passenger buses I hired carried 46 passengers when 6 extra people, who had heard about the bus from other passengers, turned up at the departure point in hopes of getting a ride. I told them that we would only take them if we had room and could safely carry the excess baggage in the passenger seating area without piling it up. We were fortunate that the bus was very large and we were able to get the luggage onto the bus without posing a problem. However, they had to sit with their carry-on bags on their laps for the trip. Since I had already established a price for the bus and collected the money from pre-booked passengers, I used the excess money to augment the tip to the driver. This always ensures that the drivers are willing to go the extra mile and help with baggage etc.
2. Make sure the bus company you hire can take you right into the port to the check-in point of the cruise line you are taking. I have heard complaints of people who have been left at the port gate with their luggage. This is not a major issue as there usually are shuttle buses to take you to the ship’s check-in point but I much prefer to get on the bus in Rome and have that bus take me right to the ship check-in point without having to transfer at the port entry.
3. Make sure you use a reputable company and check out their references. I have been fortunate in that I have had no issues with the bus company I use but see my comments on private touring companies to appreciate that this warning comes from experience.
4. Make sure the bus can get to your hotel. On one trip, I was staying at a hotel near the termini and the hotel was located on a street that had vehicles parking on either side. On the day of the transfer, there were so many cars blocking the way to the hotel, that the bus I hired could not get down the street. The driver ended up parking the bus a block and a half away. Upon learning of the problem, we all walked from the hotel, with our luggage, to where the bus was located. However, it was inconvenient and there were people who needed help with their luggage. One couple’s taxi actually waited for the bus to parallel park before driving past it to get to the hotel only to find upon exiting the taxi with their luggage, that they had to walk back to the bus. It was a most inconvenient turn of events and now I ensure that the hotel in which I am staying can accommodate bus parking and that the road leading to the hotel is not subject to parking congestion.
5. Be prepared to leave people if they are late. This has only happened to me once and the unfortunate couple missed us by minutes. They had googled the distance from their hotel to mine and the trip was only supposed to take 15 minutes. They left an hour before the bus departure time thinking that they would have about 45 minutes to spare. They underestimated Rome traffic in the morning and their 15 minute trip took well over an hour. We had waited for them 30 minutes past the scheduled departure time and then we left without them. We met up on the ship at the sail-away party and all was good. They had managed to negotiate a deal with a taxi for a ride to port but their 12 euro bus ride turned into a 125 euro taxi fare.
Cruise Line Organized Transportation
Cruise lines will offer car, van or bus transportation to the port. Some cruise lines offer cars or luxury vehicle transport. The arranged transport will either pick you up at the airport, train station or other meeting point. Remember to take into account Rome traffic if you are heading to a meeting point. Expect to pay over 100USD. The fares vary depending on the vehicle you book through the cruise line. Bus fares are lower and also vary so giving you an exact costing is impossible as different cruise lines charge different amounts.
Train to/from Civitavecchia
I confess to only taking this option once and that was on a trip when I was travelling on my own with no group. The promised twice hourly train service between Rome and Civitavecchia was attractive and quite inexpensive. I took the train from the
S. Pietro/Vatican stop as it was closer to my hotel. I could have taken it from the Termini as well. At a cost of €4.60 the cost was quite economical. I found the train crowded, not that clean and there were significant delays so it took almost 2 ½ hours to get to the port. I was told that the time delay was actually not too bad as others had experienced longer delays (this information is anecdotal from fellow passengers, and I have not independently verified their information. I can only speak first-hand as to my experience).
The travel time was supposed to take a little over an hour but upon checking on why it took so long for our trip, I was informed that delays are more common than not so I should not have expected a 70-minute ride as it is most often a lot more than that. The train station is about a mile to the port so you can either walk or take a taxi to the port gate and then catch a shuttle bus to your cruise ship check-in point.
Remember, IF you do take the train, buy your ticket with a ticket agent or by using one of the machines. Most importantly, get your ticket stamped BEFORE boarding the train.
Please note that there is no direct train services from Civitavecchia to Rome Fiumicino Airport or vise versa so you will have to get to one of the departure/arrival train stations in Rome (which are S. Pietro/Vatican or the Termini). See my previous blog posting on transportation to and from the airport for details on getting to one of those train stations from the airport.
The Civitavecchia Express was designed to move cruise ship passengers to and from the port to Rome and back. There are two trains in the morning and two in the late afternoon. These trains are more comfortable and fairly quick but at €9.90-€16 they will cost you a little more than the local train.
These express trains can be caught at S. Pietro/Vatican and Ostiense stations which are both fairly convenient to tourist areas and connect to the transit options in the city (buses, subway, taxis etc.). If you are catching this train from the port to go to Rome at the end of a cruise, you can connect at Ostiense Station to get to the airport.
This is neither the fastest route to get to/from the port but it does offer up an opportunity for some local adventure. I have not used this method to get to and from the port for two reasons. If I am starting or finishing a cruise, I will have to negotiate the local bus with my luggage and that can be troublesome as we reach local areas of high passenger traffic. If I am just stopping in Rome for a day on a shore excursion, the local bus to and from Rome will eat up a lot of your time as it is very slow.
If you have limited funds and maybe only a few points you want to see in Rome, take the local bus. If you want to see as much as possible of Rome on a one-day shore excursion, spend a little extra money and take a method of transportation that will allow you more time in Rome and less time sitting on a local bus.
Private Car Hire
To hire a car and driver is a pricier option but it will give you comfort and a vehicle that goes directly to where you want to go. Costs vary but expect to pay anywhere from €150 for a simple transfer to or from the port, to €400+ for a round trip day tour. The costs vary according to the type of vehicle, the length of the tour and the places to be visited (if a day tour). In general, €500 for an 8 hour tour is an average costing of a port to Rome return tour with six stops.
Research the company you hire and check out more than one or two references. I hired a van and driver to take myself and five other women to Rome for a day trip. The driver was an hour and a half late. Calls to the company were answered but we were simply told the driver was stuck in traffic. It was increasingly frustrating to see other people being picked up by their private hire companies while we stood around in front of the ship awaiting our pick-up.
Once the driver picked us up, he was apologetic but there was no price decrease for the 1 ½ hour of touring we missed. When told to take us directly to the Vatican as I was worried that the entrance line up was going to be too long by this time, he confidently told us that it was better to go in the afternoon as there would be no line-up at the entrance. From previous experience, I knew it was far better to go in the morning, particularly if you want to be able to spend time in the Sistine Chapel.
However, I was overruled. We went instead to the Colosseum and while the five other women toured that site, the driver took me to Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. Enroute, the driver told me that the touring company typically shaved an hour or two off a tour by having the drivers start later. Apparently. the company was habitually late picking up passengers. I had looked at two of the references relating to the company, but had I researched a little deeper, I would have seen a number of reviews that mentioned late arrival of the driver and vehicles to do port pick-ups. That would have put me off hiring that company as promptness is critical for both starting and ending a tour.
We did get to the Vatican Museum after lunch and there was not much of a line up to enter but there was an impossible crush of humanity in the Sistine Chapel and we were not afforded the time to simply stop and enjoy the experience. Never again will I go on a Vatican visit after lunch.
Getting Around the City of Rome
On my first visit to Rome, I was in my early twenties and walking kilometers (or miles), was not an issue. Being long on enthusiasm and short on cash, anything I could do to save money was a must so walking became my “go to transportation option”.
I had booked a hotel near the Vatican and over the course of a week, I had walked to the Vatican, and most other points of interest. For example, from the Vatican to the Colosseum, it was about 4.4 kms (2.73 miles). From the Pantheon to the Colosseum it was approximately 1.8 km (1.1 miles). I could continue to give you distances but those are easy for you to figure out using any mapping app you have and inputting your location with where you want to go. If you are prepared to walk, you can see most or Rome’s important sites by walking. The upside is you will save money, the downside is that it is not possible to see everything in a short period of time and if you are on a one-day cruise stop, you will have to be selective about what you will be able to see. Maximize your options. If you are arriving by train, you will be able to walk south west to the Colosseum fairly easily. View the Colosseum, temple ruins, Forum, Palatino and then make your way to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi fountain before looping north and east again back to the termini. There are several museums and numerous interesting churches along the way but depending on the speed at which you walk, and the time spent at each location, you may not have time for a whole lot more.
If you start touring west of the Tiber river, such as at Vatican City, you will find yourself able to traverse (with average walking capability), St Peter’s Basilica, St Peter’s Square, Vatican Museum and to the Castel Sant'Angelo (which is approximately 1.5 km from the entrance to the Vatican).
I have used the local bus services for limited trips around Rome. For example, there is a bus from the termini to the Vatican and I have used that a few times and also taken the local buses to get to the catacombs and other areas not serviced by the underground (subway). Please note, you must purchase your tickets before you get on the bus and these can be bought from tobacconists and vending machines which you will find located at Metro stations and major bus stops. A B.I.T standard ticket - valid for one metro ride or 100 minutes on all city buses will cost you €1.50.
I was told that you can buy bus tickets at bars but I have never found a bar that sold them.
My personal experience in taking the buses in Rome is that it was fairly easy if you are on a direct line, such as the termini to the Vatican. It can be a little difficult if you have to make several changes as it was not well marked and trying to marry up the bus transfers on remote routes was a wee bit confusing.
I found taking the subway in Rome to be fairly easy, efficient and fast. A word of warning: “Watch for Pickpockets” particularly around major stations.
As with the buses, you can buy your tickets from tobacconists, vending machines and ticket kiosks at metro stations. As in the case with all forms of transportation systems in Europe, there are passes available which can afford you savings over time if you are using public transport for more than a single day. Rome has such passes. You should note that the tobacco shops sell tickets only and do not sell the passes.
- 24-hour ticket - valid for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome for 24 hours from validation at a cost of €7,
- 48-hour ticket valid for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome for 48 hours from validation at a cost of €12.50.
- 72-hour ticket - valid for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome for 72 hours from validation at a cost of €18.
- C.I.S. - valid for 7 calendar days
You can look at bus and train transportation maps online:
Rent a Car
Car rentals come in all shapes, sizes and prices which are too many to annotate in this blog posting. Renting a car has the added benefit of having a private means of transportation at your disposal any time you want to go somewhere. The downside is driving in Rome traffic which is notoriously busy and trying to find parking on narrow, crowded streets. Unless you have a lot of experience driving in Rome, or are going outside the city to see various sights, I suggest you give this method of transportation a pass.
Private Car and Driver Hire
To hire a car and driver is a pricier option, but it will give you seating comfort, limit exposure to other people and provide you with a driver who takes you directly to where you want to go. Once again, prices vary too much to give a quote as the vehicles come in all sizes and prices which will depend on the number of passengers and the length of hire. Prices are competitive so it is possible to get some relatively good deals. Make sure you book with a reputable company and check references. You can also ask about the driver covid vaccination status.
I have often taken taxis around Rome both for work or to take me to points of interest. Although Rome traffic can be bad and taxis will get caught up in traffic jams at rush hour, drivers do have knowledge of alternate routes to take at times of heavy traffic congestion. So although they may not be able to avoid the brutal traffic jams, they can and will take alternate routes when possible.
Just a quick word of warning, it is best to take a taxi from a taxi stand. If a taxi stand is not available, ensure you can see the taxi license and driver information on the back of the front seat of the vehicle. Make sure the meter is turned on when the taxi starts to move. If the driver tells you the meter is broken, take another taxi of negotiate a price in advance.
Hop on Hop Off buses (also known by the short form of HoHo buses)
If you want to move from tourist point to tourist point around the city, consider a day or two-day pass on a hop on/hop off bus. These buses will always go to various points of interest and operate throughout the day allowing you to hop off at any location, do a little sightseeing and then hop on another bus to move to another location. In Rome there are different tour operators, but the prices are generally the same. At the present time the cost is Adult: € 22, Child: € 14 with some operators offering senior discounts. You will see the Hop on Hop off bus stops around the city and there are two that I have used that are near the termini (north, west corner). You can buy tickets from the individual ticket sellers at the stops.
Place to See in Rome - East of the Tiber River
I admit that most of my visits to Rome have resulted in my staying east of the river as some of my favourite places are found in that section of the city. Consequently, I am more familiar with the walking distances from point to point in that eastern area.
This is an iconic landmark in the city of Rome. The first time I saw it was on a city tour I had booked when in Rome on a business trip. I had one free afternoon and the easiest way to cover as much of the city as possible, was on a four hour organized bus tour. Not my favourite means of seeing a city but a great option for those with limited time and a desire to see more than one or two places. As soon as I saw the Colosseum I was in awe of the size and look of the building. Now THIS building represented my mental image of what Rome was about.
Called the Flavius Amphitheatre, it is the largest colosseum in the world. The tour I was taking, allotted time for a quick photo opportunity but not for entrance into the building. The best I could do was to snap a few photos from across the street and frankly, that brief look was not enough. I vowed then and there that on my next trip to Rome I would spend a fair amount of time walking around the Colosseum and buy a ticket to get into the building.
Built under the auspices of the emperor Vespasian in 72AD and completed eight years later under his successor Titus, the Colosseum was a marvel for its time and remains a sensation to this very day. It is listed as one of the seven wonders of the man-made world. The building could hold some 50,000 plus people and is touted as having an average of 65,000 people in attendance for the events. You can buy tickets in advance for the Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill for about 39 euros and that will save you time waiting in lines at the entrances to those places. I highly recommend buying a ticket to all three as they are within easy walking distance of each other.
I could write a book on the history and specific details of this building but this blog is designed as an overview of places to see in Rome and it is time to write about other locations. My one piece of advice is to say that the Colosseum is a must see so if your time in Rome is limited, this limestone, tuff and brick building should be at the top of your list. I have now visited this site on each subsequent trip to Rome and it never fails to impress me. I discover new things on each visit. If you are staying in Rome, check to see if you can get tickets to do a night-time tour of the colosseum and you will not be disappointed.
As with most crowded places in Rome, watch for pickpockets and scammers. You will be approached by people offering to give you guided tours of the Colosseum and area. Some are very knowledgeable amateur tour guides or history students while others are not. Their level of expertise/knowledge is never assured. There are also people dressed as Roman soldiers who expect payment to have their picture taken with you. As mentioned in my book, one of them had a large, visible tattoo of a rock band on his arm which detracted from the authenticity of his centurion look.
Watch for uneven pavement and areas where walking is difficult. There are limitations to areas where wheel chairs can go.
Arch of Constantine
Located very close to the Colosseum (a little to the west of it to be precise), I stumbled across the arch while heading towards Palatine Hill. Not having any information about the arch, I eavesdropped on a tour guide informing her group about the history of the arch. The only fact I retained was that parts of the arch are composed of reliefs plundered from other memorials that had been previously built to celebrate victories or events that predated it. Rather cheeky I thought. Imagine having a monument built to you and then have it ravaged because someone wanted the best bits for their arch.
On subsequent visits to Rome, I did my own research and learned a bit more about this site. The arch was dedicated in 315 AD to celebrate Constantine's victory at the battle of the Milvian Bridge three years previously. I take it that the delay in finishing the arch had something to do with the pillaging of other monuments. Since Constantine won, and his co-emperor, Maxentius lost, I suspect that any existing monuments to Maxentius were the first to lose their embellishments. Standing at an impressive height of 21 meters (69 feet), it is a great place for photos.
If you walk through the Arch of Constantine, you will be able to see Palatine Hill. Described as being the center hill of Rome’s seven hills, this area consists of sprawling ruins and represents some of the oldest parts of the city of Rome. There are maps of the site available and I highly recommend you use one so you can read as to what the various ruins represent. The Palatine Museum is a good place to explore as there is a treasure trove of items recovered from the site as well as detailed descriptions of the buildings and history. There is also a depiction as to how the landscape has changed over the years. For example, the hill originally consisted of two summits called Cermalus and Palatium and now there is one large mound called Palatine.
You can buy tickets for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (Fast Track Entry Tickets) for 21 euros.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Located a little north west of Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, you will find the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Built in 141 AD in honour of the deified empress Faustina, her husband Antoninus was added to the temple name upon his death and deification. With its impressive six outward facing columns in the front, this ancient temple was converted to a church in the middle ages. It is now called the Church of San Lorenzo (the Church of St. Lawrence in Miranda), and is a building that makes a great photo, whether you take a picture from the archeological park or up close. Try photographing it at sunset for a particularly dramatic shot.
Temple of Caesar (also known as the Temple of Divus Iulius or Comet Temple)
I mention this place as it is located in the area of the Temple of Vesta, and not too far from the Colosseum (north west). From the information I had read, the structure should have had a similar frontal appearance to that of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina with six columns in front etc. But time and mankind have not been kind to this structure and I found it to be an underwhelming ruin. It deserves mention only due to the unique history behind its creation and name. Construction of the temple began in 42 BC and was dedicated to Caesar, who was the first emperor to be deified in August of 29 BC.
You may be asking yourself as to why some refer to this as the Comet Temple and the answer is quite simple; following Caesar’s death, a comet appeared in the sky, and some believed that it represented Caesar’s rebirth. In case you are ever asked the question in a trivia game, this is the only Roman temple that celebrates comets.
Moving north, away from the area of the Colosseum, you will come to the Pantheon. A Catholic church since 609, this impressive building is a former Roman temple built in 126 AD by the emperor Hadrian on the site of a former Roman temple. It is set in an open square called Piazza della Rotonda which allows the visitor to get some great outside shots of the building. Best of all, it is free to enter and look around. As mentioned, the Pantheon was converted to a church and then subsequently designated a basilica. It now has the official name of Santa Maria ad Martyres but is still called the Pantheon and referred to such on most maps and in guide books. The basilica opens at 9am and closes at 7pm although the last entry is at 6:30pm.
There are often people in the square selling various items (on my last visit I found several selling knock off purses) and there are restaurants nearby. I dined al fresco with friends at an outside café that had a clear view of the Pantheon and the fountain in front.
About a kilometre from the Pantheon (walking north), you will find the Spanish Steps. I find this tourist attraction to be unexceptional but it is touted by some guidebooks as a must see. Designed by Francesco de Sanctis, the steps were built between 1723-1725 to facilitate access to the church of Trinoita dei Monti which can be found at the top of the stairs. I highly recommend making the climb up the 138 steps to the church where you will see an altar inspired (some say designed), by Michael Angelo. Two trivia points of interest are that the name of the steps is derived from the square at the base which is called the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square), and secondly, the steps are the widest set in Europe.
The Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti (aka Trinoita dei Monti)
If you take my advice and climb the Spanish Steps, you will arrive at the twin towered 16th century church of Santissima Trinità dei Monti. Built under order of the French king, Louis XII, the church remains the property of the French government and is one of five churches in Rome where mass is celebrated in French. You can begin your journey in the Spanish square, climb Italian built steps, set foot on French land at the top of stairs and enter a French church. As previously mentioned, Michael Angelo inspired the Chapel of the Descent From the Cross. The designer, Daniele Voterra, was a student of Michael Angelo and based the design of the chapel on sketches drawn by Michael Angelo.
Every time I visit Rome, I discover more fountains. Many of them are of exceptional beauty and design. The Trevi Fountain is wonderful, but I would not describe it as the most beautiful fountain I have seen in Rome, or even in Europe. It is however the most famous. Always a popular stop on the city tours, this is a must see for those intent on visiting the typical Rome tourist spots. It tends to be quite busy and pick pockets abound so watch your valuables and exercise caution in the area.
Located in the Trevi district, you can comfortably walk to the fountain from the Spanish Steps or even the Pantheon. The fountain abuts the Palazzo Poli and is located where three roads meet. An interesting trivia fact is that Trevi is a combination of the Italian word "tre" meaning three and "vie" meaning roads.
The fountain was built in 1732 and was designed by Nicola Salvi who was awarded the contract over Daniele Volterra. Volterra, a Florentine native, initially won the contract to design the fountain but there was a public outcry when it was learned that someone from Florence had been awarded the contract. Consequently, Salvi, a native of Rome, was given the project instead. As previously mentioned in this blog, Voterra was a student of Michael Angelo and you can see Volterra's work throughout the city.
Another interesting trivia fact is that although the fountain is a relative new comer to Rome, its water comes from one of the oldest water sources, the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct which dates back to ancient Roman times.
There is a saying that if you throw one coin into the fountain you will return to Rome. I always throw a coin into the water and so far, it seems to have worked. I keep returning to Rome. There is also a saying that if you throw two coins in the fountain you will fall in love with an Italian, but being happily married, I always limit myself to the one coin.
There are a large number of noteworthy churches in Rome, and particularly a number of exceptionally beautiful ones that can be found east of the Tiber. Rather than make this blog posting too long, I will do a separate blog posting on the churches as they are excellent examples of various building styles and contain outstanding artistic works. My favourite church in the world is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which I feel deserves a little more detail than I can give it in this blog posting. Look for that information further along in this collection of blogs on Rome as a pre or post port stop.
Places to See West of the Tiber River
On my very first visit to Rome, I opted to stay at a hotel on the west side of the Tiber River where I knew I would be close to St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. I had read and heard so much about the Vatican, that it was my must-see place in Rome. Before launching into details about the buildings found on the west side, I want to touch briefly on the Tiber River itself.
There is a legend that the river was called the Albula but had its name changed when King Tiberinus drowned while crossing it. A great story but one not based on verifiable historical fact. Scholars have other theories but none as interesting as the drowning story. The Tiber flows from the Apennine Mountains and passes through the regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio before it reaches the Tyrrhenian Sea. This river, which is the third largest in Italy, was used for the movement of goods, trade and transportation in the past. Nowadays, the river is used more for local boating and scenic tours than as working navigable river bringing in trade goods. There is a hop on hop off river cruise you can take for about 15 euros ($17 USD, $21.50 CAD).
Along the Tiber River you will see a number of bridges connecting the east and west sections of Rome. One of the oldest and most historic bridges, is the Ponte Sant’Angelo which leads to my next topic, the Castel Sant’Angelo. The building of this structure commenced in the year 135 AD, as a mausoleum for Hadrian, the Roman emperor responsible for Hadrian’s wall in Britain. Following his death, it continued to be used as a burial place for emperors over the ensuing centuries.
According to some records, this history rich structure was converted to a fortress in the 5th century but became a Christian refuge for popes over the ages due to reports of divine intervention in the late 6th century. Pope Gregory the Great, was responsible for the name and changes to the 455-year-old structure when in 590, he was leading a procession of penance to help fight the plague when he had a vision. He believed that he saw Michael, the archangel, standing over the castel with a sword. He interpreted this to mean that God was sending his chief angel down to earth to fight the plague. The building subsequently became a Christian refuge for popes. Just as an aside, Pope Gregory was also responsible for the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon pagans of England to Christianity hence his moniker “the Great”. There are also differing versions of the archangel appearing (such as when and to whom), but I have recounted the most popular.
In 1536, a large marble statue of Michael by the sculptor Raffaello da Montelupo, was placed on the building and was later moved to the inner courtyard where it currently is on display. The archangel is depicted sheathing his sword to signify the end of the plague although, history indicates that the plague continued for almost a year after Pope Gregory had his vision.
Among the changes made under the orders of Pope Gregory was the strengthening of the fortifications. Later, Pope Nicholas III connected the castel to St Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo.
It took me several visits to Rome before I actually got around to visiting this place, but I can say that it is well worth a stop. With distinctive decoration and art from various centuries, this site has something for everyone. For a lover of Renaissance art, the work of Raphael found here is both impressive and worth the price of admission. Speaking of admission, if you can, buy your tickets in advance as there can be a line up to buy them at the site.
Lateran Palace (also known as the Apostolic Palace)
It only makes sense that if you have visited the Castel Sant’Angelo that you may want to visit the Lateran Palace which was the home of the head of the Catholic church from around 313 until 1309. It is a fairly easy walk to go from one to the other as the distance is about one kilometer (under a mile).
Like many other buildings in Rome, the Lateran Palace started life as a Roman building (a Domus), and then over the centuries was enlarged and enhanced. Today it is a museum and remains the property of the Holy See (also known as the Apostolic See), even though it is located outside the Vatican City.
St Peter’s Basilica
The very famous St Peter’s is all it is reported to be. Large, impressive and awe inspiring it is one of the largest churches in the world. The building of this basilica was started in 1506 and continued for over a hundred and twenty years. It features works by famed artists Michelangelo, Bernini, Maderno and Bramante.
There reportedly has been a Christian church on this site since Peter, a disciple of Jesus Christ, was executed and buried on this spot. Martyred for his religion, the church declared Peter a saint and the churches that were subsequently built there were named in his honour. Pope Julius II decided to have the church that was on the site, torn down and building of the present-day basilica began with the idea that it would be the greatest church in Christendom.
As you approach St. Peter’s Basilica, you will enter St. Peter’s Square and find yourself surrounded by colonnades in a quasi-circular formation sporting 284 Doric columns (4 deep), topped with a balustrade. This was designed by Bernini during the time of Pope Alexander VII and completed under Pope Clement IX. There are 140 statues of saints and martyrs that stand atop, and the overall effect is stunning. There are two straight covered wings that tie to the basilica and have statues of Constantine on the right and of Charlemagne on the left.
If you are a Dan Brown fan and read the book The Da Vinci Code, you will recall there is mention of the Obelisk in the middle of the square. The Obelisk was brought to Rome in 37 BC by Emperor Caligula and was moved to the location in St. Peter’s Square in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V. It is surrounded by the Wind Rose which was added in 1852.
If you stand in the square and look at St. Peter’s, you will see security on the right-hand side of the square. There can be long line ups to get through security, but I find it usually moves quite quickly. Be prepared to have your bags searched and remember, if you are planning on entering the basilica, there are a few basic dress requirements you will need to follow. You cannot enter the basilica wearing shorts that are above the knees (this applies to both men and women), and sleeveless tops and low-cut shirts are not acceptable.
Once you enter into St. Peter’s, you will find an interior filled with masterpieces from the
Baroque and Renaissance periods. For example, Michelangelo’s sculpture called Pietà, is the first work of art you see as you enter and look to your right. Located in what is called the first chapel, this is the only piece of work signed by Michael Angelo.
There are so many fabulous works to look at in St. Peter’s that I cannot name them all in this blog posting which is intended to give you an idea of what to see in Rome when visiting the west side. Suffice to say that a Renaissance art aficionado will find this a treasure trove. Make sure to allow sufficient time to take in the baldachin by Bernini which can be found over the main altar. For the more energetic, you are able to climb and do a dome walk for a cost
If you plan on visiting the Vatican Museum, I suggest you buy your tickets in advance and plan to get there early in the morning. If you book online through the Vatican website, you will pay a 4€ additional fee, but you will find this additional cost applies to booking Vatican tickets through any agency online. I have not visited the Vatican Museum since Covid adversely affected the world, so I am unaware of what changes have taken place. I can tell you that pre-covid, afternoons were the worst times to visit as the museum was busy and the Sistine Chapel always packed with little room to move much less take in the stunning ceiling created by Michel Angelo.
A few of my favourite places in the Vatican Museum are the Hall of Maps, which is incredibly beautiful, the Bernini Room and the fantastic Raphael Rooms (there are four). With over 70,000 pieces of art, the Vatican Museum is considered to be the greatest art museum in the world. Have a look at the crusader artifacts if you have time. Regardless of your interests, there is sure to be items that will grab your attention.
I cannot say enough about the value of visiting the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica and as this is a blog designed to give you an overview, I won’t list all the fantastic things to see so I suggest that you do a little pre-trip research to determine what you want to see and plan your visit accordingly. There is far too much to see in one visit so if your time is limited, choose carefully to ensure you are able to take in the rooms you want to visit.
Directly south of St. Peter’s, and uphill, you will find the Garibaldi Monument. I cover my accidental visit to this site in my book Postcards to Alice. The view of the city of Rome from this location is nice, if it is not too smoggy. If you are in Rome for more than a day, take in this location but don’t plan on spending a lot of time here.
Before speaking about the markets, I am going to provide you with a few general warnings. When going to markets in Rome, beware of pickpockets. I have seen them at work in most of the markets, but they are especially active at the markets that cater to large numbers of tourists.
Take your own little shopping bag to carry goods. You can easily buy very small folding bags that will fit in a pocket or purse and weigh very little. When opened up, these bags are large, strong and will allow you to carry a number of items. They are not easily cut/slashed by someone who wants to create a hole for purchases to be surreptitiously removed (or to allow for items to fall out).
Be wary of scams. We have seen versions of the old "shell game" being played at the markets. Here is a brief explanation of how the game is played and how it draws unsuspecting people in. Basically, this is a variation on find the item under the cup, or which card is the target card in a selection of three cards face down (the photos in the photo gallery have examples of these scams). The victim is presented with three cups upside down and the dealer shows that he/she is putting something under one cup and then moves the cups around. You have to point to the cup you think the item is under. If you guess correctly, you win. The same for three cards face down. You are shown a card (say an ace for example). The card is placed face down and then the three face down cards are moved about and you have to point out which card is the one that is the ace.
The scammers often have fake participants (aka shills), playing to convince bystanders of the legitimacy of the game. They may also allow a new player to win a few times while the stakes are low. Suffice to say that you should avoid participating in the game or even watching the games being played as that is one of the places pick pockets will be actively working.
Never set your bags down on the ground or on a market table while examining items. You may soon find the bag has gone missing.
I provide these warnings not to scare people from visiting the markets, but to make people aware that they should exercise caution and good judgement.
Now onto the markets:
Piazza Campo de’ Fiori
Located on the east side of the Tiber river, this is a mixed market offering both tourist and local items such as fruits and vegetables for sale. I have shopped in the market a number of times and I tend to visit it on my trips to Rome. When escorting friends who are visiting Rome for the first time, I generally take them to this market as the location is interesting, easy to get to and the market offers up a fairly diverse market experience. You will find a little of everything for sale and the atmosphere is entertaining. Examples of items other than fruits and vegetables are purses, jewelry, scarves, hats, other assorted clothing and souvenirs.
Within fairly easy walking distance south west of this market is the Piazza Farnese which is a nice little Renaissance square for those who enjoy viewing a little architectural history.
Mercatino di Ponte Milvio (aka: Milvian Bridge Market)
This market located at the Ponte Milvio, is only open twice a month so check before heading there (every second Sunday). You can find some lovely antiques, impressive reproduction pieces and some knock off items. If you know your antiques, you can find some deals there. Avoid any electrical or overly large items as the price may be great but the shipping can be quite costly. Check the paintings closely and always keep an eye pealed for repaired items as the value of the art work may be diminished due to subtle repairs.
Located not too far from the Vatican on the west side of the Tiber, this is a great little fresh produce market. We have bought some amazing cheeses here and some fantastic spices that we were able to bring home.
Mercato di Via Sannio
Located at Via Sannio directly south of the termini station and close to the San Giovanni metro station on the east side of the Tiber, this is a busy market with loads of clothing and other assorted tourist items. On one trip, my husband and I bought jackets at very good prices and other assorted souvenirs. I have also bought purses, scarves, sweaters and jeans. My husband has bought belts and shoes, all at reasonable prices following some spirited negotiations.
There a number of markets all over Rome and I have only listed those I have visited. Consequently, my list is neither exhaustive or an endorsement of any specific market, just a recounting of those I’m most familiar with and have experienced. You will also find little stalls or tables set up in certain areas (particularly on weekends), and although not officially deemed “markets”, they offer "mini" market experiences. I have found three of these types of markets in the streets around the termini but I know that there are others that may consist of only 10 or 20 tables that are simply set up on the weekends.
The first food tour I took in Rome was at the urging of a friend who told me that the food tours in Rome were the best in the world. I was an unenthusiastic participant, thinking that we were going to be fed average food at restaurants catering to the uninformed tourist. I thought it would be a waste of time and money. For the most part I found that I was half right.
If I had been visiting Rome for the first time, and encountering the local foods as new tasting experiences, I would have loved the food tour. But having been to Rome many times and travelled the length and breadth of Italy, I had tried all regional culinary delights many times and found nothing amazing on the food tour. The food was varied in taste and went from mediocre to outstandingly delicious. The establishments were, for the most part, average in both size and appearance. Some foods were prepared quickly and were fresh while others had the appearance of being cooked in advance and just left waiting under a heat lamp for the tour group to show up. In all cases, there was plenty of food and no participant in any Rome food tour I have taken, is in danger of completing the tour in a hungry state.
The real treat of the first, and then subsequent food tours I have taken in Rome, is that they offered up more than just the food. The tours were instructional, informative and downright interesting. Not only were we treated to a history lesson on Rome and the origins of different Italian foods and wines, we were entertained.
There are a number of companies that offer food tours and some of them have stopped while covid continues to make such tours uncertain at best. I suggest you read the reviews of the food tour companies you are considering and make your decision based on those reviews.
When considering the food tour that will best suit you and any dietary restrictions you might have, ask about the type of foods you will be sampling. On one tour, we had four people who were vegetarians and one person who was a vegan diner and all five were able to try a dish at each stop.
You should also check into distances to be walked. If you have mobility issues or have problems with uneven surfaces or stairs, you need to ensure the tour you select will be suitable for any physical limitations.
Hop on Hop Off Buses in Rome
In Rome, as in other major cities worldwide, there are Hop On / Hop Off tour buses. Commonly known as hoho buses, there are different companies which usually offer two or three colour coded (or different numbered), routes that tourists can choose according to the places they want to see and things they want to do. Here are just a few on offer (Please note that different companies have different offers and some include entrance tickets so price comparisons should be undertaken at the time of booking):
I Love Rome Hop on Hop off Open Bus Tour $22cdn for 3 hour tour
Panoramic Open Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour $27 for day pass
Sightseeing Roma Bus $39 cdn for 24 hour pass
Roma Cristiana Hop On Hop Off Bus $30 for a day pass
You can purchase a single route ticket/pass which will allow you to take hop on, hop off trips on a designated route throughout the day. You will hop on or off at the stops of your choice or simply continue to ride the route. In the case of companies that offer multiple routes, buy a package deal to take advantage of more than one route. This will allow you to enjoy multiple routes during a single day and take in far more points of interest. If you have mobility issues, this is an economical way to see Rome and many of it's sights without walking or taking more expensive options such as a taxis. You can also buy a multi day, multi route pass. For example, on one day, we rode the bus through two routes to get an idea of what stops we wanted to hop off at and spend more time exploring. Later that same day, we started hopping off and getting back on the bus when we were ready to move on to the next point of interest. The next day we picked up where we left off. I recommend that visitors to Rome take all available routes to enjoy a more comprehensive overview of the city. However, for those arriving by cruise ship for a one day stop, it is best to purchase a ticket to take just one route as you will want to get off and tour some of the sites along the route. You will not have time to take multi routes so select the route that visits the most places or locations that you want to see.
The buses all provide ear buds that will allow you to plug into the sound system and hear information in the language of your choice as the bus moves around the city. I find this is especially useful in identifying landmarks and obtaining information about the city’s history. However, in high tourist season, there are times when the sets malfunction so sound quality can be hit and miss. Usually you can find, English, French, Italian, German and Japanese available in the selection program.
The advantage of taking a hoho bus is that you are able to get a tour around the city and that such a tour, will always include many of the most popular tourist spots. If you are interested in getting off the bus to visit any specific site, you can do so and when you are ready to move on, you simply take the next hoho bus that comes along. Another advantage is that often there are coupons attached to your hoho tickets for discounts on entries to various sites or at certain restaurants.
People often disagree on how to make the most efficient use of their hoho tickets. There are those that advocate in favour of taking the full route tour once and then on the second go around, getting off at different locations you earmarked on your first trip. Other people recommend getting off and on as you arrive at each point of interest. I have done both and I see no advantage to one strategy over the other. I do suggest that if you are going to places that are popular, such as the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum, get off the bus as soon as you arrive at the site you want to see. Some places only become more crowded as the day goes on.
The disadvantages of taking a hoho are that you are on a bus that sticks to a specific route and if you are only in port for the day, you may not have the luxury of time to spare. Spending time on a bus that is slow to get you to the points on your “must see list” may not be the most efficient way to move from point to point. Additionally, hoho buses are on set routes and time schedules. So, if you get off a bus at a popular spot, by the time you are finished touring that site and go back to the hoho pick-up/drop-off stop, you may find that there is a line up and you might have to wait for a couple of buses before there is room for you to board one.
You can catch hoho buses at, or near, almost all popular tourist stops. If you are arriving in Rome by train, exit the termini building and you will see the tour bus stops at the north, west corner. There are several lines that stop there and you can easily walk from the train station to the buses and purchase your ticket onsite.
All in all, if you want to tour a specific site or two, and you are only in Rome for the day, take a taxi or subway and avoid the hoho buses. But if you want to get an overview of the city and enjoy a broad spectrum of sights and points of interest, I fully recommend taking a hoho.
Civitavecchia as the Port of Rome
You are arriving by ship at the port of Civitavecchia and you have decided that you don’t want to visit Rome. Instead, you want to explore the option of staying in Civitavecchia. When researching shore excursions offered by companies operating out of Civitavecchia, you will soon discover that most want to take you to Rome. You learn that you may be on your own in putting together a shore excursion that focuses on the port and immediate vicinity. Consequently, you begin to research things to do in the port. That leads me to the second thing you will notice; that being there does not appear to be a lot of things to see when compared to other Italian cities you might visit on your cruise. Don’t despair though, there is still enough “to do” items to fill your day and many of them are free. You will even be able to explore the remains of some of the city’s medieval walls and take a walk through history in the oldest part of the city.
The port is located in the Lazio region of Italy and is a little north of Rome. With three cruise terminals and a very long extended arm dock, this bustling port can be fairly busy as a large number of cruise ships can dock here on any given day. You can "possibly" walk or catch a shuttle bus to the main gate. Two things to consider when leaving the ship. The first is that it appears hit and miss if you will be allowed to walk from the ship to the gate (hence my use of the word possibly in quotations). I have seen it done, and indeed, I once walked to the gate from a ship, but it is not particularly scenic, and you have to be cautious around moving vehicles, trucks, forklifts, shipping crates and other obstructions. Depending on the dock you arrive at, it can be a bit of a walk. On our last few visits to this port, people were not permitted to walk to the gate. Port staff were directing people to take the free shuttle buses which are clearly the safest option. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of shuttle buses so getting to the gate via that means could prove to be a slow process.
There is an information kiosk outside of the Largo Della Pace terminal and you can obtain information about the city. This kiosk is fairly small and can be crowded so I urge you to do a little research about the port in advance of your cruise and only pick up city/port maps (free) at the kiosk as waiting to obtain information can take some time on a busy day.
First up is the Fort Michelangelo (Fortezza Michelangelo). The building of the fort began in 1508 under the direction of Pope Julius II. Built in a rectangular shape with large, rounded towers at each corner, this fort was completed around 1538 as a defensive structure designed to protect the port and the city. The military still occupy the building and as such, you can walk around the outside of the fort, but you cannot go inside. During your walk, you will see evidence of extensive renovations but take note of some of the original stonework. Michelangelo is reported to have been involved in the design of the building but because of our inability to have a look inside, the structure is, for the most part, unremarkable from other fortresses you will see. Nevertheless, it is imposing enough to warrant a visit and you can also get a fairly good look at the cruise ships docked in port from the waterfront. You can walk from your ship to the fort but the time it will take you will depend on where your cruise ship docks, your physical condition and whether or not the port personnel are allowing people to make their own way to the fort.
Next up and quite close to the fort, is the National Archaeological Museum which is also located near the port on Largo Cavour (100053 Civitavecchia for app directional coordinates). Initially commissioned around 1762 by Pope Clement XIII, this building has been repurposed from its original function as a papal customs building to that of a museum. At first glance, the building sports a rather unremarkable exterior and cannot be described as ornate or distinctive. Understated, and covering two floors, the museum boasts a good collection of antiquities that have been found in the port and surrounding area. Converted in the 1970’s, the interior of this museum has a modern feel to it and at a cost of €3.00 for an adult and €2.00 for seniors, this is a fairly inexpensive spot to visit.
As those of you who regularly follow my travel blogs know, I am a big fan of churches as that is where the money went, particularly from medieval times to the early 20th century. The larger churches had the population base and could generate the funds to employ the great artisans of the times and their rich interiors are testaments to differing architectural styles and exceptional artistic works. This cathedral has a rich history but had neither an exterior nor interior to match that history. In reality, I found it is beautiful but simple in both construction and overall impression. The reason for that lies in the how the building transitioned over the centuries.
The construction of the Cathedrale de Civitavecchia began a little after 1610 on the site of an older church. In 1769, Pope Clement XIV decided to expand the church and this building project was awarded to Francesco Navone, a renowned architect during that period. According to the information I received at the church, the older 1610 building was completely redone in the 1769 renovation/rebuilding with little retained of the earlier churches. The “new” church was completed in 1782 and officially became a cathedral in 1805.
In 1943, during the second world war, the cathedral sustained damage and was rebuilt in the form we currently see today. This is why, despite its rich history, the cathedral does not have the features one normally sees in medieval or even 18th century churches. The baroque style front makes the cathedral photo worthy. Note, that to enter there are a number of stairs to climb. If you stand at the doorway turn and look out at the city as this is another good photo opportunity. The church was originally dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi and later to Saint Anthony of Padua. You will find statues of both at this location. As you make your way into the cathedral, pay particular attention to the altar facing you as it is both impressive and in my opinion, the best feature of the interior.
I am going to deviate a bit from our look at the sights of Civitavecchia and speak a little about the Weeping Madonna which is located about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), from the city. I mention this place as when exiting the cathedral, I was asked by a couple of different drivers if I wanted to go and see the Weeping Madonna. The prices quoted varied from 25 - 50 euros return. The story about the Weeping Madonna is a controversial one as the church has remained mute on its position as to the authenticity of the supposed “miracle”. On February 2, 1995, a small statute of the Virgin Mary that belonged to a local family is reported to have cried blood. The parish priest was called and the next evening the statue is reported to have done the same again in front of witnesses. By February 5, the news of the weeping Madonna was a national story. The statue is said to have performed the same tears of blood while in the hands of the local bishop. The statue can now be found in a little church in the nearby town of Pantano. You can actually get there by taking a local bus just steps from the cathedral which renders the 25 - 50 euros quoted to drive there a little on the pricy side. If you take the bus, make sure when you are returning that you verify the return bus is going directly back into the city or you will find yourself on a little country tour.
The Taurine Baths is another possible destination when in the port. Located about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), outside the city, the Roman baths were built in the first century and are an interesting historical site. The ruins are larger than I had anticipated and give the visitor a fairly good idea of just how structured and organized the Romans were with regard to cleanliness (hot and cold baths, changing rooms etc.) and social structure. You can still see the remains of the mosaic tiles in the various rooms you will visit. The story of how the baths originated is also of interest and tells us how the name “Taurine” came about. A bull (Toro) is reported to have pawed at the ground and the thermal waters sprung forward which led to the building of the baths.
While on the subject of baths, the Terma della Ficoncella is located about 4 kilometers from the port (2.4 miles). These are thermal baths that you can actually bathe in. I did not visit the complex or try out the baths, so my review only provides information based on what I have read and/or have been told. There are a reported 5 natural baths with pools of water that have various temperatures. The present-day facilities are described as being on the small side and somewhat dated. The name of the baths derives from a large nearby fig tree and the baths have been in existence since the times of the Etruscan civilization.
Speaking of the Etruscans, you can always arrange a day trip to visit the underground city of Etruscopolis. This is located in the city of Tarquinia which is 23 kilometers (14 ½ miles), north of the port (on the E840). This fascinating underground city has scenes of daily life of this ancient culture and is well worth a visit.
Back within the city, we find the Fontana del Vanvitelli which was commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV. The fountain was built in 1743 and designed by Luigi Vanvitelli. You can easily walk to the fountain from the fort by walking north along the wall and looking for the curved set of stairs. The fountain represents the head of an old faun. In a land of fabulous fountains and ornate public monuments, this is an understated work of art. It is however a nice stop if you are doing a simple walk around the port city.
You can complete your walk around the port with a stop in the old town area. Look for signs directing you to Piazza Leandra. You can enter the piazza by means of different access points. If you enter via the Piazza Aurelio Saffi, you will be walking through a ninth century gated entry. Once in the square you will be in the oldest part of the city and there are some interesting buildings to see and the fountain, which has now been restored, is in working order. Please note that there is some uneven pavement and walking areas. You can also follow directions to the oldest church in the city which goes by the rather uninviting name of the Church of Death (also known as the Church of Prayer and Death). Built in 1685, this church was built to address the corpses that had been left outside the city walls.
If none of the places listed in this blog interest you, you may want to take one of the food tours or sign up for one of the local cooking classes that are now on offer. As these activities are subject to local restrictions surrounding covid, I recommend you check online in advance of your visit.