Buon giorno. Good morning. Having received port clearance in Civitavecchia, Italy, folllowing my Mediterranean cruise, I opted for a sightseeing tour in Civitavecchio and a post-cruise stay in the Eternal City of Rome.
SIGHTSEEING BUS IN CIVITAVECCHIA
An hour-plus drive took us through the Etruscan countryside, along the Via Aurelia, to Rome. Rome…that magical city of overwhelming riches and enormous poverty…where traffic flows like Chianti and cars are lethal weapons…where it's easy to be pick-pocketed, but difficult to be bored.
The enormous Roman Coliseum (or Colosseum), 137-feet high and 1,580 feet in circumference, once abounded with 50,000 spectators watching men being thrown to the lions. The Coliseum took its name from a colossal statue of Nero situated nearby. About the Coliseum Lord Byron wrote: "While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand. When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall. And when Rome falls—the world." Today this arena, completed in the year 80 AD, abounds with tourists and hundreds of cats that call the place home.
The Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Spagna) and the Piazza di Spagna at the foot of The Steps, both get their name from the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican that is located in the piazza. Built with French money in the 1720s, the tiers of steps lead to the French church Trinita dei Monti at the top of the steps.
On the piazza at the base of the Spanish Steps is Barcaccia a boat-shaped fountain by Pietro Bernini, father of the renowned sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Running perpendicular to the foot of the Spanish Steps is Via Condotti, one of Rome's most exclusive shopping streets. Other streets in the immediate area, including the mile-long Via del Corso, merge to form Rome's most famous shopping area.
THE BOAT-SHAPED FOUNTAIN"BARCACCIA"
Citta Vaticano (Vatican City) is an independent sovereign state within the Italian Republic. The State has its own citizenship, flag, diplomatic corps, newspaper, railroad station and broadcasting system. It issues its own postage stamps and currency, and it is the seat of the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City includes the Papal Palace, Saint Peters Church, Sistine Chapel (with Michelangelo's famed ceiling fresco), Vatican Library, Vatican Gardens, many museums, many tourists, and many pickpockets.
The Trevi Fountain, built for Pope Clemente XII on a wall of the Palazzo Poli (The Poli Palace), was completed in 1762. This spectacular white marble, mythical fantasy is a sculptural masterpiece that has been immortalized through paintings and movies such as "La Dolce Vita" and "Three Coins in the Fountain". Tradition has it that if you throw a coin over your left shoulder, into the cascading waters of the fountain, you will return to Rome. I did…I have…and I will.
Vatican City's absolute ruler may be The Pope, but many of the Italian men who sell religious cameos in St. Peter's Square are Jewish merchants. These super salesmen are not averse to getting your attention by shouting out some Yiddish words in Vatican Square.
Many tours in Rome include a visit to the Christian catacombs just outside the city gates. It's a worthwhile stop. However, if time permits, you might also visit the Jewish catacombs along the Apian Way. These burial sites, once under the jurisdiction of the Vatican, have been under the authority of the Italian government since 1984.
In this city of 900 churches, it is the Great Synagogue of Rome to which many visitors head as they approach the city. This imposing structure, with its square-base domed cupola, was designed by Christian architects at the turn of the 20th century.Within the synagogue is the Jewish Museum of Rome that features exhibits depicting "Two Thousand Years of Jewish History" as well as Talmudic references to Italian Jewry and a collection of beautiful Torah covers.
GREAT SYNAGOGUE OF ROME'S SQUARE-BASED DOMED CUPOLA
Bullet holes on the backside of the synagogue are a somber reminder of the Arab terrorist attack in October 1982. Four years later, in 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the sanctuary and told the Jewish community: "You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers."
Diagonally across from the synagogue, little remains of the Church of St. Gregory, remembered in history as one of the churches where Jews were forced to listen to conversion services during the Middle Ages. Both Hebrew and Latin words were inscribed across the top of the church door.
Just behind the synagogue is the ancient ghetto where Jews were once forced to live. Bound by the major shopping street called Via Portico d'Ottavia, the ghetto is now frequented by both Jews and Gentiles. Melding history, Jewish tradition and architecture, the ghetto abounds with restaurants, clothing shops, butcher shops, and bakeries.
YOU'LL NEVER GO HUNGRY IN ROME
Adjacent to the Portico (gate) d'Ottavia, Restaurant Da Giggetto, has been a favorite in the old ghetto since Luigi Ceccarelli (nicknamed Giggetto) took it over right after WWI. From 1923 onwards, it became famous for its Frascati wines and remarkable dishes such as the longtime favorite, Carciofi alla Giudea (artichokes in the Jewish style). Restaurant Da Giggetto's ambiance is old ghetto. Its clientele is new gourmand.
A ten-minute walk from the ghetto is The Roman Forum. At the foot of Capitoline hill, The Forum was the center of political and religious life in ancient Rome. It was here that Rome's great orators and philosophers met to discuss the events of the day.
When you've had enough sightseeing, head for the elegant Borghese Gardens, the most ancient park in Europe. Relax by the lake as rowers weave their way around geese, ducks, and swans in the mirror-like lake that reflects the Temple of Aesculapius.
THE TEMPLE OF AESCULAPIUS REFLECTS IN THE LAKE IN BORGHESE GARDENS
Shhhhh! If you promise not to tell anybody, I'll let you in on a little 3-word secret… Hotel Lord Byron. A short walk from the Borghese Gardens in the upscale Parioli neighborhood of Rome, this Art Deco, 5-star jewel exudes the elegant atmosphere of an old patrician villa. This 32-room hotel offers serenity, discretion, art, and impeccable service, all at a more affordable price than most other 5-star hotels in Rome.
ENTRANCE TO HOTEL LORD BYRON
But remember, mum's the word!
JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 40 travel writing awards and a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.