This three part series covers my time in Rome during my 9-day trip to Italy back in March. Read Part I here.
I think it’s safe to say that you could spend endless summer days in Rome. There’s something about the city that just has this everlasting charm. Around every corner is another quirky cafe, another bakery, another cobblestoned street. And, amongst all the romance is a grand sort of place, fit for a King. Or rather, the Pope.
A city-state within a country, the Vatican is definitely a unique kind of place. From a legal perspective, everything about the Vatican City-State is unusual and unlike any other situation in the world. It is the complete authority and jurisdiction of the Holy See, headed by the Pope. What’s even more unusual is that the city-state is located within Rome, a city within a city. Of course, this makes a lot of sense when you look at the history of the Vatican. The Vatican became a sovereign subject as a result of the Lateran Treaty, which was the solution to the so-called Roman Question. Essentially, this was a dispute between church and state. The creation of the Vatican City State allows the Papacy to function from Rome without being subject to the Italian State.
To visit the Vatican, you need tickets to get into the Vatican Museums which also include the Sistine Chapel. I highly recommend booking in advance. In addition, if you book the Vatican Museums for later in the day, then in the morning you can run up to St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica is free and you cannot book times in advance. So, you just need to face the line. However, as I mentioned, if you go in the morning the line will maybe take 20 minutes.
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the world’s most famous churches. Designed by Michelangelo, the Basilica is the very epitome of the Italian Renaissance. It is also the largest church in the world! So much epic-ness in one structure.
The Vatican Museums are a collection of galleries displaying Christian and art pieces. There are 54 galleries. Yes, that’s right, 54! Each one has a different theme and style, but needless to say it is all over the top and overwhelming.
For one thing, the number of sculptures in the various spaces is impressive on its own.
In my opinion, the most spectacular room in the Vatican Museums is the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (The Map Room). The gallery contains a series of painted topographical maps of Italy based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti. These maps are giant frescos. Of course, you also can’t ignore the extravagant, golden ceiling.
One of the major highlights within the Vatican Museums is the Raphael Rooms. As you can probably guess, these rooms were painted and designed by Raphael. One of the rooms hosts Raphael’s The School of Athens.
And finally, the last stop along the Vatican Museums walkthrough is the Sistine Chapel. You’re not allowed to take photos, but I honestly didn’t realise that the security guys were yelling NO PHOTOS as people were pouring in. Whoops.
Another funny story is that because I was so overwhelmed by the Chapel, I kind of glossed over everything. The walls are packed in with frescos containing several details. Once exiting the Chapel, we landed in the gift shop. As I browsed through the post cards I saw one of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. I turned to Victor said, this was not here was it? Victor burst into laughter because as you can see from one of the photos below, I clearly saw it without even realising it!
We were overwhelmed. I’m not sure when this feeling came over us. Perhaps it was in Gallery #32, or perhaps #48? Regardless, the Vatican Museums are a lot to take in. Luckily, there are so many great ways to disengage, like going for a walk in beautiful Rome! From the Vatican, we walked past the Castle of the Holy Angel and wandered around Navona Square. The rain started to pick up so we opted for a coffee break.
For lunch, we enjoyed another classic Roman street food: pizza al taglio. Forno Campo de’ Fiori sells large, rectangular slices by weight. There are all sorts of toppings available, so there is something for everyone.
Besides wonderful attractions, I also wanted to explore Rome via neighbourhoods! There are so many interesting, unique neighbourhoods that deserve some time. One of my favourites is Trastevere, located on the west bank.
So, what characterises Trastevere? It retains its old world charm with its cobbled streets and ivy-drenched houses. It has a bohemian, funky kind of feel in terms of its shops and restaurants. The nightlife is also very popular as the bars are excellent, both the atmosphere and the drinks themselves. Yes, exploring by day, you can find beautiful churches, lazy piazzas, and quirky coffee shops. But, I happen to think Trastevere shows its true colours at night.
Even the churches seem that much more mysterious and interesting at night. We visited Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, a 5th-century church dedicated to Saint Cecilia. She is the patroness of musicians and she was also a Roman martyr, hence why her statue has a slit along her neck signifying her beheading.
We were still a bit early for our dinner reservation so I decided to have some dessert — a logical solution, no? I just can’t get enough of Italian gelato. Hands down the best gelato I had in Rome was at Fatamorgana. It is actually a Roman chain, but the gelato is so good. I went for pistachio, my favourite flavour of all time, and one of their limited edition flavours: avocado-lime-white wine!
For dinner, we chose Da Enzo al 29. It is an incredibly small eatery, so a reservation is a must, but they have the freshest ingredients. The bufala mozzarella is to die for. Admittedly, this place has definitely been ‘discovered’ by mostly American tourists but the food is delicious and is a great way to experience Rome.
Success! Another great day in Rome. Up next is a day exploring the ancient part of the city.