By Gareth McKillop
The recent Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona has brought Rome back into sharp focus as a holiday destination. This unique historic backdrop provided a fascinating juxtaposition as the world watched modern day Colossus’ fight it out in the Eternal City.
Quite simply Rome is stunningly beautiful. Built across its famous seven hills, Rome largely escaped the ravages of the Second World War leaving an architectural legacy virtually in tact. The guide books urge you to forget the guide books and meander freely from one exquisite piazza to the next. Pastel facades and roof top terraces adorn the ‘Old City’ providing a path from one unexpected jewel to the next. Punctuate your journey with an espresso here and a gelato there and it doesn’t get much better than this.
The most effective history reaches out and touches your soul. This is certainly true of Rome. A visit to the Colosseum is a must despite the queues, although a more expensive guided tour may save you time. Amongst the various treasures on display, marvel at a humble plum stone. Casually discarded some 19 centuries previously, probably by a season ticket holder in the top tier, this most modest of antiquities brings you face to face with the human side of history. Whilst the entertainment on the ‘pitch’ may have changed, we are really not too far removed from our Roman cousins.
This truth appears all the more apparent with a visit to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Set in the shadow of the Colosseum the scale of this archaeological site is breathtaking. It allows you to immerse yourself into the essence of ancient Rome and what strikes you is the obvious feeling of civilisation. The Forum was the focus for daily Roman life but more than that, it was the crucible for the world’s history. It is easy to forget that during the height of the Roman Empire it was possible to travel from Rome to York and not leave a paved road (whilst travelling on land!) and indeed the Romans even managed an exchange rate mechanism. It is an inescapable fact that the Romans actually did an awful lot for us!
There really is too much to do to get away with a short City break. A visit to the Vatican will probably occupy your schedule for the majority of the day. With its stunning Renaissance frescos, the Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo’s jewel. Not surprisingly the chapel is a magnet for visitors so to avoid extensive queuing, be strategic with your planning. If you want to get closer to the Pope then you can see the Pontiff himself as he greets crowds every Wednesday (you must book a ticket in advance).
With its geographically central position, Rome is a great base for a longer holiday. From here you can easily reach the delights of Tuscany to the north and Napoli with its nearby gorgeous Rivera lies within a couple of hours to the south. If you want to escape the heat of the city then do as the Romans do and head to the long beaches at Ostia and then retreat to a shady Trattoria and reflect with one of Italy’s deliciously voluptuous red wines! Needless to say you will be contemplating your next visit.