November 2017

Exploring Christian Rome

In last week’s post, I explained how we divided Rome so that we could tackle it. Ancient Rome has so many things to see, but Christian Rome has just as many. The ornate churches and beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible are breathtaking! Here’s where we recommend for a quick tour through Christian Rome:

(I should add the disclaimer that pictures aren’t allowed in many churches in Rome. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photos, and when I could take a picture, the lighting was usually very dim.)

The Catacombs of Rome

The catacombs are an underground burial site that began in the 2nd century. It’s the creepiest feeling walking through the dark tunnels with graves on either side of you! Some of the graves have been excavated, but some still remain untouched. We saw bits of pottery and even some bones that were still in their original burial site! The guide was so interesting, and necessary, because it’s so easy to get lost down there.

Holy Staircase (Scala Sancta)

According to Roman Catholic tradition, Constantine’s mother travelled to Jerusalem and brought this staircase back. It is believed to be the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial in front of Pontius Pilate. Now it is customary for Christians to travel from all over the world to climb the staircase on their knees. Seeing everyone so reverent and respectful was an experience we won’t forget.

Archbasilica of San Giovanni

I’m not Catholic so a lot of the hierarchy and traditions confuse me. However, I do know that this church is absolutely gorgeous! The high altar is beautiful and worth the visit alone.

Vatican City

There’s way too much information about Vatican City for me to include in a brief post. We booked the early morning tour of the Vatican, and it was the best thing we did that day. Yes, that meant we had to be at Vatican City at 7 in the morning, but we got to enter before any of the crowds were allowed in. We were able to take our time through the museum, and the halls were completely empty! If you do a quick internet search, you will see that the hallways in the museum are usually packed shoulder to shoulder. You can’t even cross the hall to see something on the other side. You basically have to just move with the crowd. But this was not our experience at all (thanks to the early morning tour!). In addition to the museum, we were able to see the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square, and St. Peter’s Basilica. All are a must-do!

Type A Tidbits:

Unbeknownst to us, we visited Vatican City on the Day of Ascension. Since this is a Catholic holiday, no tours were allowed to be given inside the church. Our tour guide spoke with us outside and quietly waited in the back while we took our time looking at everything. We had to save all of our questions for her until we were back outside.

No talking is allowed inside the Sistine Chapel! I wanted so badly to tell Matt to “look at this!” or “let’s go over here,” but we had to keep silent. Obviously people don’t adhere strictly to this rule so anytime the noise level got above a whisper, the guard would say “Silenzio!” in a loud, booming voice!

Watch for the Swiss Guard in their colorful uniforms!

It seems like every corner in Rome has a church. And not just any church… they’re all some of the most beautiful art and architecture I’ve ever seen. You can’t go wrong! Narrowing it down is a real struggle, but hopefully this gives you a little bit of insight!

Exploring Ancient Rome

Rome is so overwhelming! There’s so much to do, way too many places to eat, and definitely not enough time. I tried to organize our travel days in Rome into two categories: Ancient Rome and Christian Rome. We devoted our first day in Rome to exploring the ancient Roman buildings and ruins. Here’s what not to miss:


Before our tour through Rome, I had no idea what the Pantheon was. I was surprised to find out that it’s a church and the most well preserved building of ancient Rome. It’s free to go inside, so make sure you take a moment to appreciate the architecture and admire the oculus in the center. The oculus is open to the sky so drains are built into the Pantheon floor for when it rains.

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is gorgeous! When you’re walking towards the fountain, you’ll actually probably hear it before you see it. Hundreds of people visit here every day to throw their coins in. It’s believed that if you throw a coin into the fountain, using your right hand over your left shoulder, then one day you’ll return to Rome again. We threw our coins in so we’ll see if the legend comes true! Approximately 3000 Euros are thrown into the fountain every day. A Catholic non-profit organization collects all of the coins each week and uses the money to care for the poor and sick in Rome.

Type A Tidbit

Be aware that the Trevi Fountain is so crowded. It’s hard to fight your way to the front, and it’s almost impossible to get a good picture.

Palatine Hill/Roman Forum

The Palatine Hill and Roman Forum were the most underwhelming part of our day. I’m not sure what I expected, but it’s just a lot of ruins. This is the most ancient part of the city, and was considered to be the center of Rome at that time. The Palatine Hill was dedicated to emperors and temples while the Roman Forum was full of government buildings. There’s no shade here so bring some water with you.

Spanish Steps

If you’re running out of time, then this is the place I recommend skipping because it’s literally just a lot of steps. An Audrey Hepburn film in the 1950s made the Spanish Steps famous, but other than taking a few pictures, there’s not much to do here. Many people gather here to eat lunch or relax in the sun, and there is a beautiful fountain in the piazza.

The Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without visiting the Colosseum. I remember rounding the corner and seeing it for the first time. It’s way bigger in person, and so intimidating! To think of all the history in this building is incredible. We had a guided tour through the Colosseum, and we learned so much. Our guide explained the architecture, the events that used to take place there, and the culture surrounding the gladiator games. Try to watch the film¬†Gladiator before your trip. Our guide referenced the movie a lot, and it had been about ten years since I had seen it!

It’s possible to do all of these things in one day, but you’ll be exhausted. To fully appreciate everything, it’s probably best to spread it out over two days. Of course, that also depends on what time of year you visit. We visited in May right before the really busy season, so we didn’t experience very many crowds. Again, I have to stress the benefit of taking a guided tour or hiring a guide. Most of the time, passes to skip to the front of the line are included in guided tours. This saved us so much time at the Colosseum! But no matter how you choose to tour Rome, include as many of these stops as you can!