From the many churches of Rome to the city streets, there is so much more than what is seen at first glance. One of my favorite parts about visiting churches is taking time to really look at the ceiling. More often than not, you will be rewarded for your effort with the sight of beautiful detail and paintings of religious scenes. Of course, the downside to looking up is that you may find yourself pooped upon by a pigeon. My host here in Rome did say that apparently in Italy, getting pooped on by a bird is good luck! It was certainly my lucky day.
There are no bad churches in Italy. Every single one I have entered has been breathtaking, and each church has its own history and traditions. Without fail, each of them is beautifully decorated, usually with bright frescoes depicting biblical stories,
and people from the Bible. Something worth noting is that proper dress is key to being able to visit churches. As one sign we saw put it, “Please in the church with the right clothes!” All this means is that your knees and shoulders must
be covered. Don’t worry too much about this, as simply wrapping a light scarf over your shoulders will work if it's too warm for sleeves.
This illustration informs us NOT to wear short-shorts and tank tops ...
Don’t be too surprised if you occasionally find people entombed and on display here. The first time my friend and I came across a pope’s remains on display in a basilica, it really took us by surprise. We were also pretty shocked that many people are buried in the floor of the church. In most cases, there is some information and a seal carved above where they’re buried. However, we also saw plenty of carved outlines of the deceased person, worn down from centuries of people literally walking on their grave. It was definitely a little creepy!
Bodies were buried (literally) right under the floor I walked on, inside the church!
Yes, you heard me. You can climb all the way to the tippy top of the massive dome! The view is definitely worth all the stairs (okay ... they have an elevator too.) From two different levels in the dome, you can get a bird’s eye view of the inside of the basilica. When you’re done looking at this beautiful place, head up another set of stairs to the top of the lantern of the dome. This will give you a full view of St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, and all of Rome.
After taking in the view from the lantern, head back down until you find yourself outside again. Here, you can buy a postcard in the gift shop or stop for a snack in the cafeteria. If you buy a postcard, you can send it home from the Vatican. And, because the Vatican is its own country, it will have the Vatican postal stamp and seal on it!
There is much more to see here than I originally thought there would be! My friend and I thought we would be able to get through the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum in the two and a half hours we had before the sites closed. We were very wrong! And, luckily, the ticket you buy for the Roman Forum is good at all three sites and gives you two consecutive days to visit them. Tip: To avoid the ridiculous lines at the Colosseum, buy your ticket at the Roman Forum. Like I said, the ticket you get is good for the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill ruins, and the Colosseum, so it doesn’t really matter where you purchase it!
There are many historically and culturally significant remains outside of the well-renowned Colosseum. To get a better understanding about what these places were like in the ancient Roman days, I suggest using an audio guide. You can either rent an official one from the ticket stands or download a free one. I suggest Rick Steve’s audio guides — they can get a little cheesy at times, but he does a good job of explaining the historical significance of what you’re looking at.
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are connected, although it’s fairly easy to miss the little staircase up to the Palatine. The climb is a little rough, but you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the city and especially the Colosseum. After you’re through admiring the view from the balcony, begin to explore the massive compound that was once home to Roman Royalty. You can see what’s left of many different types of places, from temples and arenas to latrines and water cisterns.
Actual picture of Pope Francis I got while in the audience. Yes, I was that close!
If you are interested in the goings on of the Catholic Church, or are just interested in saying you have seen the pope, I highly suggest going to one of the pope’s weekly events. The pope has two events open to the general public that he attends weekly. One of these is a Sunday blessing where he briefly addresses the crowd at noon on Sunday. The other is his weekly general audience, which is what I was fortunate enough to attend. During this, there is traditionally a reading from the Gospel (in Spanish, English, Polish, German, Italian, and Portuguese), followed by a short talk from the pope in Italian. After that, the pope does a “nuclear bomb” blessing. This just means that his blessing blesses you, your family members and friends, and any religious articles you brought with you for this purpose.
You do have to get tickets ahead of time to attend, although these tickets are completely free. We got our tickets for a Wednesday audience by emailing the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican. Try to do this at least two and a half weeks ahead of time to make sure you’ll get tickets. Another good thing to know is that the pope takes July off, so unfortunately there are not any audiences during this time.
All in all, Rome is a wonderful place to visit, but many of the popular sites there can be very crowded, so plan ahead!
We are the adventure team - travel enthusiasts who aspire to experience the world in a unique way. We are travel junkies who seek unconventional adventures not ordinarily taken. We climb mountains and volcanoes, we wind surf the powerful Pacific waves, and we golf world renowned courses that leave you begging for more.