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Thursday, 01 September 2016

The Rome You Might Have Missed

Written by Alexandria Bottelsen
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Out of breath and far sweatier than our touristy outfit desired, we had finally reached the crest of our hike. Briefly looking back to admire the steep, sloping road we had just conquered, we then turned our view to the jewel that our “extra” day had allowed us to see: a panoramic view of Rome. Now there are many magnificent places throughout the tourist-laden city to get a bird’s eye view, and perhaps it was the journey that made this one so worthwhile, but as we looked out across the tiny buildings, laid before us like building blocks for the gods, we could do nothing but stand breathless. Within the forest green and sky blue frame of nature stood the entirety of the city. At one edge of the painting is The Vatican, and then all the way on the other stands the ancient ruins, including The Coliseum. Here before us lay all the amazing wonders we had traveled over 4,000 miles to see.




Now when we told our friend that we had planned 4 days in Rome, Italy, she told us blatantly that we would be bored. She recommended 3 days at most, and then one day exploring a nearby city, like Florence or Naples. We were skeptical, despite the fact that my friend has more stamps in her passport than anyone I know. Back home following our adventure (having not taken her advice), we reached a verdict. Could we have done “Rome” in 3 days? Sure. Did we miss so much that we’re itching to return to the ancient city? Not really. Would we have done it any differently? Not a chance.




The honest answer is that, yes, you could see all of the major sights in Rome in 3 days if you wanted. You could jaunt through The Vatican City, The Coliseum, and The Pantheon, fill yourself on pasta, pizza, and gelato, and call it a very successful vacation. But there are also several things you couldn’t see, that view from the top of Gianicolo Hill being one of them.




  1. Gianicolo Hill



Hidden in and yet towering over the neighborhood of Trastevere, located just on the south side of the river from the heart of Rome, stands this amazing view. Gianicolo Hill, being in this case a substantial understatement, refers to Rome’s reputation as the city of 7 hills. Many of these are magnificent in terms of their views and/or architecture, especially Capitoline Hill, designed by Michelangelo and nestled right in the heart of old Rome. While they vary in size and proximity, Gianicolo allows for an overall experience. You start by traversing the narrow, unmarked streets of the area, vastly underpopulated in comparison to those around the more touristy areas. Locals sit under awnings of all colors, sipping coffee and lining the streets as you make your way to the base of the hill. The trip is free, if you are willing to scale it, and you hardly know if you are on the right path until you reach the top, but the end is worth it. Once you have soaked up your share of the god-like view, you can either turn around or wander through the bronze bust garden and down the other side, ultimately landing close to the entrance of Vatican City.




  1. El Campo de Fiori



While ancient architecture may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Europe’s oldest cities (and rightly so), a close second is the laissez-faire image of open air markets selling a variety of delights. This market, located in small plaza to the south of central Rome, embodies this picturesque travel experience. Underneath expansive tents and drapes merchants sell a variety of Italy’s best fare, from pasta and oils to fruits and vegetables. It is worth just visiting and wandering the crowded, tight corridors between stalls to experience the bustle of the daily market, but I recommend doing a little shopping as well. For less than a Euro you can pick up any type of ripe, decadent fruit you could possibly want, and then find a place to enjoy it in the sun of the city. Church steps work quite nicely.

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  1. Parque Borghese



To be fair, for the most part Rome is not a “day in the park” kind of city, like Paris or even London might be. The notable exception is Parque Borghese, located on the northern end of this very walkable city. While it is home to the Villa Borghese, a palace filled with exquisite art and collectables, it is also the perfect escape from the stream of tourists that flood the more popular streets and sights within Rome. The park is lush and expansive, with hidden statues and children’s playscapes tucked throughout the trees and pathways. Locals dot the area on bikes and on foot, often with dogs of all sizes. In addition to exploring, this is a popular place for festivals and events, such as the gelato tasting festival we stumbled upon deep in the heart of this urban forest.


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  1. Churches Galore



Even if you are not one of the many catholic tourists visiting this sacred city, it is hard to ignore the ornate churches that dot every corner. Walking down the street on our first day in Rome, we happened across a deserted plaza which stood at the edge of an awe-inspiring building. Without knowing what it was, we stood and took some of our first pictures. It wasn’t until our walk home that we learned that the beauty we had seen had actually been the back of the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. Even if you are not religious, it is well worth the time to stop and explore these historical masterpieces. While the entirety of outside is often decorated with intricate stonework and massive doorways, the true beauty lies up and within. Almost every inch of each of these churches is painted, sculpted, or otherwise ordained with works of art. In Rome you spend much of your time staring upwards, mouth agape at the ceilings, each containing more detail and design than most of our homes have in their entirety. It is important to hit the most well-known churches, but the intricacy held within even the smallest corner church, such as the Santa Maria ai Monti near the Roman Forum, is something to experience over and over again.


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In a trip as short as three days, you often spend much of your time racing frantically, maps in hand, on the quickest route from attraction to attraction. That extra day gives you a chance to see all the ordinary things you might have missed. These are all of the things we were able to do with our extra day, and I have since learned about numerous other sights we could have seen, including the keyhole view at the Monastery on Aventine Hill. Winding down the streets of Rome, you’ll quickly notice that every building, restaurant, and statue feels like it should be forever encapsulated in the pages of an art history textbook. So, on that fourth day, get lost. Put down the phone and the map and walk, head held high in wonder, down any street that strikes your fancy. Take pictures of buildings that have no name and stop in a tiny sandwich shop that you won’t find on any “best of Rome” tourist guide. The best way to see Rome, in all honesty, is to stumble upon it. Even in the time crunch, it is often important to stand at the top of the hill and see the entirety of the city you visit. You never know what you might have missed.




©Alexandria Bottelsen 

Last modified on Thursday, 01 September 2016