Rome holiday itinerary, day 1: Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
This year both Mathieu and I turn 30. For his birthday, in April, I wanted to do something special and go travel somewhere together. He had never been to Italy, which I love, so, in the end, I decided on a Rome holiday. This involved a lot of planning: there’s so much to see in Rome and there were so many places I wanted to show him! However, I allowed plenty of time to just enjoy the moment, stop for a drink or whatever else we felt like doing.
Lunch at Mercato Centrale
In the first day of the Rome holiday, we got very lucky. We landed on time, managed to catch a bus that was leaving earlier than planned, and dropped us off at Mercato Centrale, right by the entrance. Of course, we went in and faced some difficulties in what to choose to try from the multitude of options. We settled on some salty pastry rolls, a piece of salty pie and pizza.
Then, the owner of the place we were staying told us we can check in earlier.
All of this got us a head start of about 2 hours for our Rome holiday!
This Rome holiday was my second, the first one taking place 10 years ago this year. It was amazing to discover places I had visited before in Rome in the same great condition or even restored. The number of visitors, however, seemed a lot higher this time.
When we arrived at the Colosseum, it was very crowded and there were people offering to help you find your way, although you could never tell if they wanted to sell you something or point you in the right direction. We had online tickets and it was great because the line was a lot smaller (yes, normally you skip the line, but there is a line with people who are skipping the line 🙂 ). However, the directions were really bad, not just here, but also at the Roman Forum later. Their signs aren’t consistent, and while in some places online tickets are separate from Roma Pass, in others it just says Roma Pass and you are supposed to be aware that that’s where you’re supposed to go.
But anyway, once inside, the Colosseum was as impressive as ever. (Well, not ever, I’m sure it was more impressive in its own time than during our Rome holiday.)
The Colosseum was Flavius’s amphitheater and the most important edifice of Rome, not only for its considerable size but also for its solid and admirable structure. The construction began in 79 and the Colosseum was inaugurated in 80 by Titus with games that lasted for 100 days. During this celebration, around 5,000 (!) animals were killed.
After gladiator battles were forbidden in the year 438, the amphitheater was used for hunting wild beasts until 523. Its subterranean was built at the end of the first century to accommodate naval battles, as well.
The Colosseum was initially a place to entertain the people and it is thought that it could fit between 40,000 to 73,000 spectators (almost as much as the largest current stadium in the world). In the Middle Ages, the Colosseum was transformed into a fortress, then it became a stone quarry for the building of the Renaissance palaces. Around 1750, Benedict XIV transformed it into Via Crucis.
After all that, the Colosseum went through several stages of restoration.
Arch of Constantine
Once we got out of the Colosseum, we headed to the Arch of Constantine, which is the most important and best-preserved of the Roman arches. It has 3 arches, actually, and it stands 25 m tall.
It is known as the Arch of Constantine because, until recently, it was thought to have been built with parts of other monuments by the Senate to bring a late homage to Constantine, who hadn’t celebrated his famous victory over Maxentius.
Restauration works from the 1980s proved that it was actually raised during the times of Hadrian, with sections from the times of Trajan and Aurelian.
By the time we finished visiting the Colosseum, it got too crowded to truly appreciate the monument from up-close, so we moved on to explore the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum
We entered the Roman Forum by walking on Via Sacra, which used to be the main street in Ancient Rome. It takes you from the Colosseum to the top of the Capitoline Hill, passing through some of the most important religious sites of the Roman Forum.
It’s a bit difficult to get around, but you don’t truly need a guide. You have detailed information next to each site, and you can also look for free apps to help you get your bearings.
Below is a list of what you can discover in the Roman Forum, and I recommend this order:
Temple of Venus and Rome
Located on the Velian Hill, the temple offers a wonderful view over the Colosseum. Its podium (145 meters long and 100 meters wide) makes it the largest temple of Ancient Rome.
The Temple was built by Hadrian in 135 and dedicated to the goddesses Venus Felix and Roma Aeterna.
Arch of Titus (Arco di Tito)
Walking up the Via Sacra, you will come across the Arch of Titus in the Southeastern side of the Roman Forum.
Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius
The Basilica is also known as Basilica Nova or the Basilica of Maxentius, and it used to be the largest building in the Roman Forum.
The construction of this magnificent building, one of the most imposing in Rome, was started by Maxentius in 206 and finalized by Constantine in 312. The initial entrance used to be in the East was changed to the Southern side. This might have happened in order to change the orientation of the building and thus the perception of this huge space.
Temple of Romulus (Tempio dei Divo Romolo)
The name of the temple might trick you into thinking it’s dedicated to the legendary Romulus, when in fact it refers to a son of Maxentius — Valerius Romulus. And it seems it’s not even an actual temple, but it’s believed to have been the office of the urban praetor. 🙂
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
This temple is in excellent condition, even to this day. It was erected in 141 when Faustina, the wife of Emperor Antoninus, died and was deified. After the Emperor’s death, the temple was equally dedicated to him, as well.
In the 7th century, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina became a church, dedicated to San Lorenzo in Miranda.
Basilica Emilia (Basilica Aemilia)
The Basilica was founded in 179 BC, and it was restored several times by Augustus. It used to be a building where people could go about their business in the Forum, protected from the weather elements.
Basilica Emilia was once 100 meters long and around 30 meters wide. It had two rows of arches, standing on top of one another, which, on the ground floor, represented the entrances of various shops. The interior (90 meters long and around 29 meters wide) was accessible through three separate entrances.
Unfortunately, today we can only see the plan and some rebuilt elements of Basilica Emilia, the only remaining Republican basilica out of four.
The Senate House (Curia Julia)
The large building, mostly intact, is Curia Julia, which used to be the House of the Senate. The Curia’s construction was started by Caesar and then finished by Augustus. It was redone by Diocletian, then converted into the Basilica of Sant’Adriano al Foro in the 7th century.
The interior is dominated by a wooden ceiling, 21 meters high, 27 meters long and 18 meters wide. The marble floor is the original one, in part.
Arch of Septimius Severus (Arco di Settimio Severo)
The arch is located in the northwestern side of the Roman Forum and it stands 21 meters high.
It was erected in 203, and it has 3 openings standing on a bronze rectangle. On the facade, one can notice a grand inscription about the Arch being dedicated to Septimius Severus and his sons, Caracalla and Geta, celebrating the victories of the emperor. Its decorations present not only his victories, but also deities, Roman soldiers and their prisoners, and other scenes from the campaigns against the Parthian Empire (ancient Iran and Iraq).
The Rostra (Rostri)
The Rostra was a platform where speakers would stand facing the Senate House and deliver orations to those assembled in front of them. The platform stood during the republican and imperial times.
Temple of Vespasian and Titus
This temple was built in 81 by Domitian. Only three columns remain, part of a hexagonal pronaos. You can see it in the above image, on the right side.
Temple of Saturn (Tempio di Saturno or Aedes Saturni)
Dedicated to the god Saturn (doh!), its eight majestic granite columns stand at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, in the Roman Forum. Over time, the building was redone several times, the last time after the 283 fire.
The Column of Phocas (Colonna di Foca)
The Column of Phocas is the last monument which was built in the Roman Forum. It was dedicated to Emperor Phocas on 1 August 608.
Basilica Julia (Basilica Giulia)
Basilica Julia, 101 meters long and 49 meters wide, used to be the largest and most luxurious building in the Roman Forum. It was built by Caesar, redone by Augustus, and restored by Domitian after the 283 fire.
The grand central hall (82 meters long and 18 meters wide) was surrounded by a double row of pillars. This was used for meetings and other official business during the early Roman Empire.
Temple of Vesta (Tempio di Vesta)
The circular sanctuary, subject of great veneration, used to shelter the sacred fire, the symbol of the state. The Temple of Vesta imitates in marble the simple structure of the cabin it replaced during the time of Septimius Severus.
House of the Vestals (Atrium Vestae)
Atrium Vestae was the sanctuary of the vestals which used to guard the sacred fire. Their home was large and beautiful but shut-in. The name of Atrium Vestae comes from the large court surrounded by the portico.
Temple of Julius Caesar (Tempio di Divo Giulio)
Also known as the Temple of the Comet Star. Wondering why? Well, in 44 BC the most famous comet of antiquity could be seen in the sky for 7 days. Named Comet Caesar or the Great Comet of 44 BC, it was considered by the Romans a sign to deify the recently assassinated Julius Caesar. Thus, Caesar became the first Roman to be deified after his death.
Temple of Castor and Pollux (Temple of Dioscuri)
Close to the end of the Basilica Julia, one can see the remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Three beautiful white columns still stand on its gigantic podium.
Initially dedicated to the twin sons of Jupiter in 484 BC, the Temple was restored in 117 BC (this is when the podium was built) and in year 6 AD (this is when the columns were erected). Here, the Senate united.
The Palatine Hill
At 40 meters above the Roman Forum, stands the majestic Palatine Hill, where the imperial palaces used to be built in ancient times. It’s a vast area to explore, with various surprises behind the gorgeous vegetation (e.g. a bathtub hidden between some bushes).
What impressed me the most was the Farnese Aviaries. We actually got lucky we got to see these, as they were still under restoration until April 2018.
We left the Palatine and the Roman Forum through an exit on Via dei Fori Imperiali. We walked towards Campidoglio, went down the Cordonata Capitolina and wondered on the streets a bit, ending up at Teatro Marcello.
The construction used to be an ancient open-air theatre. Now it resembles a miniature Colosseum, in an area full of ruins and ancient columns. But this is Rome, where history blends with everyday life, and on top of the theatre you now have private apartments, and, in this setting, during Summer, there are still concerts. How amazing is that?
Bocca della Verita (Santa Maria in Cosmedin)
Yes, we walked a lot and even saw the Tiber a bit, but quickly got farther away from its bank because Mathieu was terribly allergic to the trees growing there. So we ended up right next to Bocca Della Verita and Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The church was closed, maybe because of the time, maybe because it was under restoration.
I had planned to take him to see Bocca Della Verita on the last day if we still had some energy and time left. I know there’s quite a big fuss about it, but I’m not really impressed. And I was happy to see Mathieu wasn’t either. I showed it to him through the fence. “Do you want to come back, stay in line, then put your hand in its mouth for a few seconds…?” He smiled, shrugged, and said no. He’s perfect!
Passing by Circo Massimo (yet another so-called must-see which we didn’t find impressive on our Rome holiday), we headed out to Rome’s public rose garden, to rest a bit, because it was a long day and we needed a break. The garden was so beautiful, full of amazing, colorful and diverse roses, but we only walked some more while I took some pictures and left, because Mathieu’s allergy was acting up and he looked in pain.
Giardino degli Aranci
A much nicer experience for him, as well, was our stop in Giardino degli Aranci, a beautiful orange garden. This is one of the nicest spots to watch the sunset over Rome and the Vatican, but we were there an hour too early. On the bright side, it wasn’t very crowded and we could finally sit on a bench. A good one, too, because it came with an amazing view!
Of course, the longer we stayed, the more crowded it got. And no view was worth feeling like a sardine at the end of a hot, tiring day.
Giardino Storico di Sant’Alessio
Here’s a tip: if you walk a bit more and you pass Giardino Degli Aranci, you’ll end up in another garden, with kind of the same view and almost entirely empty. It’s not as well maintained, but it’s a good alternative to share your potentially romantic moment with just one other person instead of tens. 🙂
Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta
This place is worth a stop to go stare down a keyhole. Il Buco di Roma (Buco della Serratura di Roma) is a famous keyhole. If you look through it, between perfectly aligned hedges, you will see the perfectly framed dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, from the Vatican.
I tried getting a picture, but it’s really hard to focus properly.
Pizzeria da Remo
Tired and famished, we reached Pizzeria da Remo. Mathieu loves pizza, he’s capable of eating pizza daily for a year (true story, and we almost did that during our Rome holiday!). Therefore, we went to a lot of pizzerias during our Rome holiday. My pizza expert enjoyed all the different doughs, though they were different from what he was used to.
The place isn’t pretentious and it has a very small terrace, but a generous interior. We arrived early compared to Italians, so we caught a table outside. Before our pizzas arrived, however, everything was full.
This is the first place where we had French people seated at the table to our right. The huge number of French tourists in Rome pleasantly surprised us, and, somehow, every time we were eating, there were French people next to us. I think we heard more French than Italian on this trip!
The last planned stop of our first day of the Rome holiday was Pizzeria da Remo. But, while searching for a bus or a subway station, we also got to see the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. And, right across the street from it, there is Porta San Paolo.
The Colosseum by night
I begged for one last stop before going to bed, so we went to see the Colosseum at night. And it was truly lovely to go around it and catch glimpses of the full moon through its arches. And we finally got to get close to the Arch of Constantine, as almost nobody was around this time.
When we finally got “home”, we were tired, but not as much as I had expected. However, the hardest day was yet to come. Day 2 of our Rome holiday was supposed to be the most tiring (and it was!). It was also probably the best day of all our Rome holiday!