Rome exceeds all descriptions and classifications. Undoubtedly, the city is a world of incessant noise, intermingling scenes, landscapes and faces, and is almost an infernal affair: chaotic, yet enveloping. While staying there and strolling amongst evocative ruins, occasionally splashed with graffiti, or peeking through a shop window to check on the latest fashion, you will be entirely enthralled. Rome’s excessive eclecticism is probably best mirrored in the city’s outer diversity. When touring Rome you can, for example, admire structures by 17th-century architect Bernini, and simultaneously, upon turning around, bump into an Egyptian obelisk.
Perhaps this is the city which best deserves to be named ‘the cradle’ of Western civilisation due to the numerous influences, epochs and cultural trends, as well as the large number of learned men who have happened to pass through, occasionally leaving pieces of what would later be named ‘world heritage’.
Its colossal structures, regardless of the era to which they date back, form a strangely heterogeneous setting, a reminder that the ‘Eternal City’ has been through centuries of continued heights. Rome’s most distant past, which was dominated by slaves, gladiators, the praise of citizenship, the emergence of law, high art and imported pagan deities, has long been a site where cultures have intermingled.
An even more grand chapter in the city’s history is the spiritual reign of the Vatican, which has, in a way, also created an architectural trend within Rome. Having cleared the ancient ruins and taking the precious marble off the Roman temples for their new projects, the Vatican authorities shaped the par excellence Renaissance splendour, meanwhile incorporating olden structures into new ones. Michelangelo was asked, for example, to transform the Baths of Diocletian into a Catholic temple. Still, the great Roman ruins, such as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, have remained untouched by the ambitions of later architects, and recent guides even include reconstructions of these largely dismembered structures, thus enabling you to view them in their original splendour.
When it comes to museums and palazzos, Rome is the place to be. Culturally eclectic, the city is surprisingly consistent in its care for restored objects and pieces of heritage. Other than that, your experience of the city might be plagued by the endless lines outside museums and attractions, with ticket purchase in advance still being an uncommon practise. Also, while a half-an-hour wait at the doors of the Galleria Borghese was considered immense luck in older times, recently a policy to issue passes and combination tickets has made things easier. However, a wait at the Palatine and Forum Museum, the Palazzo Altemps and the Domus Aurea may be unavoidable.
While Rome seems to offer an endless list of newer and more exciting attractions, there are some classic cultural landmarks, which are to be explored by all means. One must visit the world’s largest church, St Peter’s Basilica with its enormous dome, along with the buildings at the historic Via della Conciliazione and the evocative Piazza San Pietro. A further must is the Sistine Chapel, decorated by Botticelli and Michelangelo, as well as the 4th-Century San Giovanni Cathedral and Baptistery in Laterano, together with the lavish Palazzo Lateranense, Scala Santa and the Hospital of San Giovanni.
Other than that, significant structures representing eras of heritage and development are the church of San Paolo fuori le mura, completed in the 5th Century, and the Santa Maria Maggiore, boasting Rome’s tallest bell tower. The Vatican Museums, a group featuring the Egyptian Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the Painting Gallery and the Raffaello Rooms, contain thousands of works of art collected by Popes over the centuries, while the 15th Century-founded Capitoline Museum houses discoveries tracing the entire history of Rome, from antique sculptures to the most recent paintings.
Rome's cultural richness is at times overwhelming, so let yourself relax sometimes, admire the city from the window of your hotel or sip an espresso at a local cafe and watch the everyday life of Romans unfold.