While all roads may no longer lead to Rome, many of the cheap flights from UK airports do, with the Italian capital now firmly established as the ideal choice for a weekend break.
Though its attractions are many and varied, Rome is in essence a living, breathing museum, showcasing the height of the Roman civilization alongside the glories of the Renaissance.
Legend has it that, after being raised by a she-wolf, twin brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city in 753BC, after which it expanded rapidly across seven hills to become the centre of the Roman Empire and later the home of the Papacy and capital of the modern Italian republic.
A fortunate combination of excellent workmanship by the builders of yesteryear, alongside minimal damage from the countless wars the city has witnessed- including World War II – means that countless buildings and structures remain largely as they were hundreds of years ago.
Most iconic of all is the Coliseum, the ancient equivalent of Wembley Stadium, where Emperors and citizens alike witnessed gladiatorial combat and recreations of epic battles – though the infamous persecution of Rome’s enemies, including the Christians, took place at the nearby
Despite years of being plundered for material for other projects, the Coliseum still stands proud in the heart of the city, with tourists able to stand in the heart of the arena to contemplate history, as well as enjoy the contemporary kitsch of posing for a photograph with local men in Centurion outfits.
Perhaps more impressive, though certainly less well known, is the Pantheon, the ancient temple to all of Rome’s Gods and now a functioning Christian church containing the tombs of the artist Raphael and the Italian kings Umberto I and Vittorio Emanuele II.
In amidst all the history, Rome is a buzzing, modern and contemporary city. While Milan may be hailed as the fashion capital of Italy, its southern rival is not far behind, with numerous chic boutiques offering
the latest in designer fashion, including Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani and Gucci on the classy Via Condotti, with all stores open well beyond the UK-norm of five o’clock.
Likewise, the opening hours for Roman restaurants and bars take some adjusting to. Turning up anytime before ten o’clock for dinner is purely the habits of the tourists, with the locals preferring to dine on the finest pizza and pasta dishes well into the early hours, all washed down
with locally-produced wine.
For those feeling a tad guilty at the decadence Rome invites its visitors to indulge in, salvation is at hand. Created with the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the Vatican City, the smallest independent nation in the world and heart of the Catholic Church, is found within Rome’s walls.
At its heart lie St Peter’s Basillica, the largest church in the world boasting design input from, amongst others Michelangelo, Bernini and Barbieri, from where the Pope himself performs mass every Sunday when he is at home.
As if that wasn’t enough to confirm the Vatican City’s status as the sole Unesco World Heritage country, the Vatican Museums display the cultural treasures held by the church, including works by the masters of the Renaissance, Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio as well as Michelangelo’s
frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Given the sheer scale of the attractions of Rome, visitors should throw a coin over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain to ensure their return. However, legend also states that throwing two coins guarantees that the traveller will return married – well, it’s worth a go, isn’t it?!