Italy by Train part 4 – Rome

We rolled into Rome in the mid afternoon and walked from the train station to Hostels Alessandro where we were staying in Alessandro Palace for €26 a night. Another amazing place to stay, and one of 'Europes Famous Hostels', it had a rooftop bar with exceptional drinks specials. A 5 minute walk from Termini train station, but a while further to get to any of the main sites, it was about a half hour walk to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps

Day 1 - Arrival, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain

After we had settled into the hostel we walked down to the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, the Spanish Steps. These connected the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinità dei Monti. The steps were closed for refurbishments while we were there, so we couldn't climb them up to the church. I must admit that if I were going back to Rome, the steps wouldn't be on my list of things to see.

I would, however, return to the Trevi Fountain- the next stop on our walk that evening. We arrived after the sun had set, and I've already mentioned my phone not performing well in the dark. It was also incredibly crowded, with people taking photos and selfies. I think if I went back, I would visit early in the morning in the hopes of it being a little quieter. We noticed one of Italy's more famous scams walking from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain, men (usually, but occasionally women) will put a rose in your hands and then won't let you leave until you've paid a few euros for it.

Day 2 - Vatican City

Okay so not really Rome, or even Italy. One of my friends was leaving early to start university, so on her last day she got to decide where we would go. So we got the bus to the Vatican city. We went through the Sistine Chapel, it's another thing that was a little surprising for me. The only picture I had seen from the sistine chapel is of the Creation of Adam, so I believed that would be the focal point of the fresco but it isn't.

The chapel is incredibly busy, on the busiest days more than 25000 visitors pass through. When we entered the chapel, the security guards were ushering people through so we couldn't stay for long, and were instructed not to take photos. The Vatican Museums are full of frescos, I think the Sistine Chapel is definitely worth seeing, but if you have any issues with crowds, you're better off staying outside and seeing all of the rest of the artwork. Interestingly, one of the Vatican Museums is the Egyptian Museum, with mummies and sarcophagi which was a nice little break for us from the medieval portraits.

Day 3 - Pantheon, Castel Sant Angelo, Piazza Navona

We started the day a bit late because we took advantage of the rooftop bar in the hostel the night before, and walked to the pantheon, built in 113 AD it was originally a Roman temple, now a church, it's dome is an engineering marvel. Built from unreinforced concrete, it was the largest dome until the modern era, and is still the largest unsupported and unreinforced dome. They were able to build it as they did by changing the thickness of the concrete- at the base of the dome the concrete is thicker than at the top. They also changed the density by mixing in either granite or lightweight volcanic stones.

After this we went to the Piazza Navona, a square built on the site of an old stadium. Within the square are three main fountains, the Fiumi Fountain (shown in photo), the Fountain of Neptune, and the Fontana del Moro. The Fiumi Fountain is a homage to four rivers, featuring a Roman obelisk topped with a dove. As we were sitting at the edge of the fountain baking in the sun we wondered if we could get away with swimming in it, but decided it was best not to.

Instead we walked to Castel Sant Angelo.

The Castel was built as a mausoleum for Hadrian and his family in 123 AD. At the time it was the tallest building in Rome, perched on the bank of the Tiber and now looking over the Vatican and St Peters Basilica. The history of the Castel is also interesting. Very little has changed in the outward appearance of the Castel from it's original purpose as a mausoleum to the hiding place of the Pope during the Sack of Rome in 1527, to fortress and finally, in 1901, a museum. A storm was brewing and we decided to head back to the hostel past St Peters Basilica rather than risk being caught out in it.

Day 4 - Colosseum and Roman Forum

Our final day in Rome was bittersweet. In many ways it was the perfect last day in Italy. We went relatively early to the colosseum and spent quite a long time queuing for tickets and then again for entrance. Once again we were lucky to receive a student discount, €7.50 instead of €12 for both the Colosseum itself and the Roman Forum, however had we gone a couple of months earlier it would have been free for the youngest of us, since under 18's have free entry.
The colosseum was better than I had expected though also fairly crowded. Parts of the site were restricted, including the uppermost levels. The underground section cost extra and we decided not to pay for the tour- mainly because the wooden flooring had been removed and we were able to see as well into the preparation rooms and cells as we would have on the tour.
After walking around for a couple of hours and reading about the history of the Colosseum, we headed over to the Roman Forum.

The Forum is impressive, if a little confusing. It is a collection of ruins spread over a large area. The earliest ruins would have been the Regia, and Temple of Vesta, originally dated back to the 8th and 7th century BC. The current ruins are most likely from much later, about 36 BC for the Regia because they were rebuilt by different emperors. Most of the structures in the Forum were built before 312AD when the Basilica of Maxentius was completed.
When the population of Rome plummeted from about 800,000 to 250,000 between 400 and 500 AD, the Forum became disused since the the populated areas contracted to the river. While attempts were made to preserve the Forum, the lead roofs were removed in the 7th century which led to rapid deterioration. After the 8th century, the structures were dismantled and used to build towers and castles in the local area. When the towers and castles were torn down the Forum became a dumping ground and remained so until excavation began in the 1800's.

That evening we ate at the restaurant next to the hostel, and packed to fly home the next morning.

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