In the Spring of 2016, I boarded a flight to Rome out of JFK International with a group of students for an eleven-day trip to Italy and Spain through my school. At the time, I was a sophomore in high school and I had never before traveled outside of the United States. The idea of flying to another country seemed beyond terrifying to me because the only flight I had for reference was a trip I took to Florida in second grade. Let me tell you, a two-hour flight should in no way serve as “preparation” for a trip that totals over eight hours both ways. However, my worries were trivial, and looking back, begging my parents to let me take part in this experience was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I created some of the greatest memories of my life on this trip, and I will cherish them for many years to come!
Italy is well-known for its cuisine—fresh pasta, bread, pizza, gelato, and wine. While in Rome, I soon learned that Roman cuisine is some of the best in Italy! Rome is tremendous and, though crowded, it is a city that prides itself on the beauty of variety, along with some fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Although there are many branches of Obica mozzarella in other countries apart from Rome, a trip to Rome is worth adding to your bucket list if you’re interested in sampling great cheese! The food is rich and just as flavorful, but even these descriptions are a great disservice to the quality of the food.
While in Italy, travelers often worry about how they will maintain a healthy diet in the land of pizza and pasta. Somehow, Italian cooking manages to strike a perfect balance between food groups. Let it be known that all pizza is not equal and I have Rome to thank for this realization. Thanks to my trip to Italy, I know what real pizza tastes like. In Rome, people enjoy pizza for lunch, as an afternoon snack, and as a whole pie for dinner! Every pizza I ate was simply delectable—I had no idea that there were so many kinds of mozzarella nor such smooth and sweet red sauce.
In Rome, there are two popular pizza styles: pizza al taglio and pizza tonda. Pizza al taglio is served by the slice and are usually sold by weight. Pizza tonda refers to round pies with thin crusts, baked in wood ovens, and sold in sit-down restaurants. At these restaurants, the pizza is served on massive platters and the portion size for one person is typically the size of your average pizza in the United States. The best part is, the pie is not greasy or dense so it is easy to fill up on the whole pizza as opposed to just a few slices.
When I say that I ate gelato at least once a day (and sometimes more), I am not exaggerating! Authentic Italian gelato is unlike anything available in the United States, and contrary to popular belief, no gelato can truly compare in taste. Across all of Italy, gelato is creamier and silkier than American ice cream. The Italian treat isn’t scooped with a traditional spoon, it is instead served with a spade. Can you dig it? Ha.
During the warmer months, gelato can be found nearly everywhere in Italy! While traveling, every snack bar or eatery was heavily supplied with refrigerated gelato cases or tubs full of hand-scooped goodness. These ice cream shops, known as gelaterias, often sell gelato made in-house and some of them even operate like old-fashioned ice cream parlors, where you can order from a menu and sit down to eat.
There is so much to say about Rome because of the endless beauty and authentic sights at each tourists’ disposal. Rome is a city built on history, and it is known as the center of the world for centuries, the home and burial site of Caesar, and the birthplace of Catholicism. There is truly no place like it: the architecture, crowds and congestion, constant traffic, and the millions of tourists are all aspects that make the city so charming. While walking the streets, I often noticed that next to modern buildings lay ancient ruins dating back thousands of years. The concept of this was something I found very capitvating because it shows the entire city of Rome as part of a history that can never be replicated or erased.
SIGHTS TO SEE
1. VATICAN CITY
On my first day in Rome, we traveled to Vatican City. Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by Rome, Italy, is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, home to the Pope, and treasured art and architecture. If you travel to Rome, the Vatican is a must-see attraction! This area has been the home of the Pope since the 14th century and is the heart of Catholicism. However, even if you are not a religious person, you will still appreciate the immense value in history and art that spreads far and wide. For this very reason, walking around the city made me feel special in a way I had never experienced—I sensed that I was becoming part of the city.
2. ST. PETER’S BASILICA
While it may not be the oldest Catholic church in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica is unquestionably the most famous, perhaps in the entire world. The Basilica is built on the site where the first pope, St. Peter, is believed to have been crucified. The beautiful structure took over 150 years to build, but the wait was well worth it because extraordinary works by famous Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo, can be found throughout its ornate interior.
3. VATICAN MUSEUMS & SISTINE CHAPEL
While still on the subject of elegant interiors, in Rome we also toured the Vatican Museums! During the tour, I learned that the Vatican Museums is the largest museum structure in the world with more than 1,400 rooms. The complex includes the museum itself, galleries with 3,000 years of art, the Sistine Chapel, and parts of the Papal Palace. I was amazed at the astonishing amount of artwork throughout, including a room full of works by Raphael. The distinctiveness and virtue of these masterpieces made it such a surreal experience when I witnessed them in person.
The Sistine Chapel was built as both the Pope’s private chapel and the venue for the election of the new Pope by the Cardinals. For those who are unaware, it is celebrated for its Renaissance art, especially the ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Michelangelo painted the famous ceiling using the fresco technique. The central scenes depict nine scenes from Genesis, including “The Separation of Light From Darkness” at the altar end of the chapel and “The Drunkenness of Noah” at the opposite end. The most famous panels are “The Creation of Adam,” “The Fall of Man,” and “Expulsion from Garden of Eden.” Several famous artists, such as Perugino and Botticelli created the biblical scenes on the walls.
4. ROMAN COLOSSEUM
On the second day, we visited the Roman Colosseum and believe me when I say this: no picture will ever do its magnificence justice. For those that do not know, the Colosseum is a historic structure that has survived for centuries despite being eroded by the harsh elements of nature and destructiveness of human hands. While there, I learned that the amphitheater became a symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment, which was later abolished in Italy during the year 1948.
The Colosseum is no longer used for big shows because of the fragile state of its interior. However, many shows and concerts have been held outside! Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, and Elton John are just a few of the great singers who have performed there. Inside, there is a wonderful small museum dedicated to Eros in the upper level of the outer wall. I will also let you in on a little secret: depending on where you position yourself inside, there is a spectacular view that looks out on the forum area.
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Roman Forum! Many say that visiting Rome without walking around the Forum is like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. A few months prior to the trip, my English class read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and it is still one of my favorite works from Shakespeare to this day. The Forum was where Julius Caesar gave many of his great political speeches! Naturally, I was extremely excited to visit such a historical place because the tomb of Julius Caesar is also displayed here. Although it was hard for me to fathom, the tour guide informed us that Caesar’s ashes live beneath the altar in The Temple of Caesar. Crazy, right? While exploring, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and imagine life as it was more than 20 centuries ago, when Julius Caesar walked the same path.
In my opinion, The Roman Forum is one of the most interesting places in the city; you are likely to spend several hours strolling among its temples without getting bored. There is no disputing that every part of the city has a remarkable history to it. The Roman Forum was where religious and public life in ancient Rome resided and is the former heart of the Roman Empire! The Forum is, along with the Colosseum, the most prominent sign of the splendor during the Roman Empire that can be seen in the present day. After the fall of the Empire, this array of architecture was soon forgotten and little by little it was buried under the earth.
6. ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch dedicated to the emperor Constantine the Great. The arch was commissioned to celebrate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. Situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, the arch spans the Via triumphalis; the route taken by victorious military leaders when they entered the city in a procession. The arch also represents political propaganda, presenting Constantine as a living continuation of the most successful Roman emperors, known for their military success and satisfactory government. Dedicated in 315, it is the largest Roman triumphal arch!
The reliefs on the monument were carved on blocks of marble, displaying statues taken from Trajan’s Forum. Some reliefs depict Marcus Aurelius giving bread to the poor, and a representation of Trajan after his victory over the Dacians. The inscription on the upper part, originally cast in bronze letters, states:
“To the emperor Flavius Constantine the Great pious and fortunate, the Senate and People of Rome because by divine inspiration and his own greatness of spirit with his army on both the tyrant and all his faction at once in rightful battle he avenged the State dedicated this arch as a mark of triumph.”(Claridge, 308)
Thus, the Arch of Constantine is one of the best preserved monuments from ancient Rome. As a result of its excellent location, it is one of the most photographed points of the city!
7. ARCH OF TITUS
Apart from the many temples that are in the Forum, the Arch of Titus is also worth seeing! Positioned directly in the middle of each side of the archway are keystones attributed to Rome and the genius of the Roman people. The Arch of Titus is a 1st-century AD honorific arch on the Via Sacra and is only a short walk from the Roman Forum. This arch was constructed by Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate his many victories. In person, you will notice that running around the whole arch is a small frieze which depicts the entire procession.
8. TREVI FOUNTAIN
When in Rome, seeing the Fontana di Trevi in person is a must! In the Quirinal district of Rome, the Trevi Fountain is known as one of the most stunning fountains in the world! The construction of the fountain dates back to ancient Roman times, around the time that the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct was built in 19 B.C.. The Aqua Virgo Aqueduct was an important structure that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. I learned that nearly €3,000 is thrown into the water daily because it is a custom for tourists to follow the tradition of throwing a coin over their shoulder. The legend states that a coin thrown into the fountain will result in another visit to Rome. This tradition dates back centuries to when Romans often threw coins in water to make the Gods of water help them get back home safely after their journeys. I will let you in on a little secret: throw in a second coin if you are searching for love and add another if you want wedding bells!
My two-day tour of Rome was packed with wondrous sights and never-ending history. Many claim that Rome is overrated but there is, in fact, plenty to learn from the Romans—we just need the courage to entertain the possibility. I am a firm believer that everyone should visit Rome at least once in their lifetime! Before you cast your final judgment, remember that as the capital of one of the world’s most powerful ancient empires, Rome has inspired millions people to visit for many centuries.