Places to see in Rome - Part Two
Section Five of the Rome as a Pre or Post Cruise Stop
This is the second of two blog postings specifically targeting places to see in the city of Rome.
As mentioned in the first part of Places to See in Rome blog, the city of Rome is divided by the Tiber River, so I have used that as the separator for my postings on places to see. This blog posting will address sites west of the Tiber River.
Before I begin, and as a reminder to my readers, many cruises begin and end in Rome and this city is also a common stop on both eastern and western Mediterranean cruises. As such, it deserves a fair amount of attention. Cruise ships do not dock in Rome, they dock in the port of Civitavecchia which is located about 37 miles north of Rome. Most people who arrive at Civitavecchia for a day stop, make their way to Rome for a day tour (see my blog posting on transportation to and from the port for information on ways to travel to Rome). If you only have a day to see Rome, you will have to make some decisions as to what specifically you want to see as one day will only allow you to scratch the surface of this history rich city.
My Rome blog entries are contained under the following headings and if you are looking for information on any of the subjects listed, go to that posting for the specific information that will best serve your needs:
1. History of Rome (2 blog entries)
2. Transportation to and from the airport
3. Transportation to and from the port
4. Getting around the city
5. Places to see (2 blog entries)
6. Rome Markets / Food Tours
7. Hop on Hop off buses
8. Civitavecchia as a port stop for Rome
9. Rome / Italy Fun Facts / Historic Churches
And now to return to the topic at hand - Places to See in Rome
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.
I will be writing more about places to see in Rome in my blog about Hop On/Hop Off buses and in the final blog posting covering Rome, which will detail churches, basilicas and a few more fountains. When in Rome, you will never be at a loss for things to see and do.
As always, if you have any comments or information that you would like to share about Rome, please feel free to comment here or contact me at: email@example.com
A special thank you to Monty Malloy for providing the photos of Castel Sant'Angelo.