If you can’t handle crowds, especially crowds of tourists, Rome is not the place for you! Our first two days here were intensive; jam packed with must-do, must-see places that we’d only heard of and dreamed of until now. Yes, there were crowds, but everyone was happy to be there and for the most part, we managed to avoid the incredibly long line ups by arranging “skip the line” passes in advance.
Early on our first morning, we headed to the Vatican City, in reality a separate country inside Rome! We took a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel which was perhaps a bit more hurried than we would have liked, but we learned a lot more and navigated the crowds much more easily than if we had tried to do it on our own. From late April until October, more than 20 000 people pass through the museum every day, six days a week!
Here’s an early morning look at St. Peter’s Square with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the centre and a 4000+ year old Egyptian obelisk that was brought to Rome by Caligula in 37 AD on the left.
The Vatican Museum houses a massive number of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and other works of art collected by popes throughout the centuries. The sheer size of the collection is really quite overwhelming. Sculpture is probably my favourite art form, so that’s mostly what my camera captured.
The floors and especially the ceilings throughout the enormous museum building are works of art in their own right. Imagine the work that went into a ceiling like this one when this is only a tiny portion of it!
Unfortunately, taking photographs isn’t allowed inside the Sistine Chapel where we gazed in amazement at Michelangelo’s ceiling, his Last Judgement, and the frescos lining the walls.
After our tour, we made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church and what is regarded as one of the Roman Catholic Church’s holiest shrines. My photos don’t really do it justice, but here’s one to give you an idea of the immense size and ornateness of the interior.
After leaving the Vatican, we took a Hop On, Hop Off bus around it’s route to get a better idea of the layout of the city. We had 72 hour passes that allowed us to ride it as often as we wanted which was handy. While we did use the metro and city buses as well, we sometimes found the Hop On, Hop Off to be the best way to get where we wanted to go. Since arriving in Europe, I’ve been extremely grateful for our year in Japan as it really prepared these Alberta prairie hicks for things like big city metro systems!
Our first day in Rome also included a visit to the Basilica of St John Lateran, the oldest and largest cathedral in Rome and the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, the pope. Less visited by tourists, it was was a more peaceful and relaxing place to visit, especially the 13th century cloister.
The nave of the basilica is lined with statues of saints, so in honour of our oldest son and our oldest and youngest grandsons who all have saint names, here from left to right, are Matthew, Andrew, and Simon.
Next on our busy first day agenda was the famous Trevi Fountain, the world’s largest Baroque fountain. According to legend, if you toss a coin into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome someday, so of course we had to do that! The vast sum of money that is collected goes to charity. We also enjoyed our first Italian gelato at the fountain.
A short walk took us from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon. Once a temple to the gods of ancient Rome, it was later turned into a church.
Continuing on, we ended our day of exploration at Piazza Navona. One the prettiest and most popular of Rome’s many plazas, it boasts three ornate fountains and is always a happening place.
Just in case we hadn’t visited enough churches that day, we also peeked into the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone on the edge of the piazza! While our first day in Rome focused mainly on churches, the next was all about ancient Rome. That will have to wait for another blog post on another day though!