Rome wasn't even on my radar. Growing up, I took French in High School, so naturally, Paris was high on my list of international cities to see. Sure, Italy was somewhere in there, but I can honestly say that Rome really hadn't made the list. So...the first time I traveled to Rome, I was just going to meet some (awesome) friends who were stopping through.
I landed in Rome's Ciampino airport on a sunny Italian morning in 2009, collected my bag, made my way to the taxi-stand and hailed a cab to what would be my preferred hotel for 2 out of 3 of my trips to Rome: Hotel delle Nazioni. The cab ride from the airport to downtown Rome is around 25 minutes depending on traffic and boy it's a beautiful 25 minutes! As we drove through the narrow, hilly streets I remember the excited feeling of butterflies lurching around as I watched to see what Rome would look like. As we sped towards Rome's center we passed by the remnants of the Aurelian Walls which were glowing gold from the morning light, and I remember feeling this sense of awe at how large these walls were and at how they were still largely intact after over a thousand years.
Once the driver dropped me off at the hotel, I reunited with my friends and got checked into my room. Hotel delle Nazioni is beautiful and well run. The rooms are modern, clean, and accurately represented by the website's pictures. Did I mention the location? My bad. The hotel is literally located down the street from the Trevi Fountain...we're talking max 500 ft! That said, I highly recommend staying here...when in Rome! :)
We set out to explore the city my favorite way, on foot! We hung a right out the front door of our hotel and walked the short distance to the Fontana di Trevi. The fountain, made from Travertine stone was completed in 1762 after 30 years of construction. Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you'll return to Rome--Psst, I did and it works! The best thing about that coin toss is that all the money that the Trevi Fountain generates is collected and given back to the homeless and poor in Rome. So, go on, toss that coin and feel good while you do it!
As we made our way west from the Trevi Fountain we followed Via di Pietra across the bustling Via del Corso. Our next stop was the Pantheon and we took our time wandering, admiring the vendors and the wares they sold. Along the way we passed ruins of an ancient temple, Il Tempio del Adriano (Temple of Hadrian) which was built by Hadrian's son around 145 AD. As we continued towards the Pantheon, I had no idea that a significant moment was about to occur the second the narrow streets opened up and the Pantheon came into view. I know it sounds cliche and corny, but it was one of those moments that causes you to catch your breath and stop in your tracks.
The Pantheon dominates the piazza. It is humongously massive and ancient. The building that exists today was built by Emperor Hadrian (did I mention that I really like Hadrian?) between 118-125 AD over the remains of the original structure built by General Marcus Agrippa around 27 BC (you'll recognize his name in the inscription at the top). The Pantheon was built as a one-stop-shop for worshiping the Roman Gods, hence the name (Pan-Every Theon-Divinity).
Christianity came to Rome and replaced paganism in 346 AD and for 263 years the Pantheon was vacant. In 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon as a Christian Church and saved it from destruction. Today, you'll find the tombs of the famous artist Rafael and the first two kings of Italy rather than statues of Jupiter, Venus, and Apollo.
The entire building is an architectural wonder, as it forms a perfect hemisphere, it is 142 ft wide by 142 ft high and was the largest dome in the world until 1436. The oculus provides the only source of natural light at 27 ft in diameter and is a sight to behold when it rains and (rarely) snows.
Okay, enough of my love affair with the Pantheon. Take my word for it...it will knock your socks off!
Rome Part 2 will talk about food/wine, Piazza Navona, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four (STUDLY) Rivers), Vatican, Colosseum, and the Forum!