I had wanted to go to Rome since I was little. Even at a young age, I knew there was something special about the city, which is known for it’s fascinating cultural institutions and delicious food. So, imagine my excitement when I found out I was finally going to travel to this popular tourist destination with my husband and daughters. It was a dream come true! We were in Rome for only five days, but we managed to see quite a few cultural and religious landmarks during our time there. In fact, on some days, we even went to two different ones! Keep reading to see which places stand out in our memories the most. Perhaps our little recap will inspire you and your family to take your own trip to Rome in the new year.
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of Rome’s four major (highest-ranking) Roman Catholic churches and a papal basilica (one granted special privileges by the Pope). Fortunately, we were able to visit the beautifully-landscaped Basilica the day we arrived. I tried to listen as our tour guide told us about the history of the Basilica–and the fact that Saint Paul’s tomb is said to be kept under the papal altar–but I missed some of her comments because I was so distracted by the church’s bright and decorative interior. I was particularly fascinated by the all of the circle-shaped mosaics featuring the faces of the popes that have been elected over the years. Our time there was made even more memorable due to the unexpected liturgical processional that filled the nave with singing about 30 minutes into our visit.
Another memorable part of our trip was the day we explored The Colosseum. It’s easy to see from the street that The Colosseum is a massive structure, but I gained an even deeper appreciation for the enormity of the venue while walking through it and listening to our tour guide. She told us about the builders, the different types of competitions and events that used to be held there, the number of times it has undergone reconstruction projects, as well as shared other interesting facts about it. My husband, daughters and I all agreed that The Colosseum was at the top of our respective lists of cultural icons we wanted to see in person and we would definitely have been disappointed if had not been included on our trip itinerary.
Speaking of seeing things in person, all of us had previously seen some of the art housed in the Vatican Museums in photos. So, it was exciting to see it up close with our own eyes during our visit to this popular religious and cultural landmark. For the sake of time, we didn’t try to go into all of the more than 50 galleries that make up the Museum, which is found inside The Vatican City, an independent city-state that exists inside of Rome. But, we did spend time in the Sistine Chapel (where visitors were instructed to not talk or take photographs), as well as the Tapestry Gallery, Raphael Rooms, Gallery of Geographical Maps, and several other galleries or rooms that I can’t remember the names of. Art was literally everywhere…on the walls, ceilings, and even outside. Just take a look at some of the photos I took during our tour.
Another Vatican City site that visited was Saint Peter’s Basilica, a well-known place of pilgrimage for Catholics around the world. Like the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Saint Peter’s Basilica is also one of the four major papal basilicas in Rome. It is a popular tourist spot for Catholics and non-Catholics alike likely due in part to the beautiful basilica’s religious and historical background combined with the fact that the Pope presides at indoor and outdoor liturgical services there throughout the year. Visitors may also be drawn to the basilica because the necropolis underneath it is said to house the tomb of Saint Peter. But, the only way they can see it is to arrange a Scavi Tour through the Excavations Office, which allows fewer than 300 visitors per day to explore the necropolis. Fortunately, our main trip tour guide had arranged a tour for us, so we were able to see it. If you and your family would like to take a Scavi Tour, try to book your visit way in advance to increase the likelihood you’re request will be honored.
Whereas it felt warm and humid in the Necropolis under Saint Peter’s Basilica, the air in the The Catacombs of Callixtus (also known as The Christian Catatombs of Rome) was much cooler and less humid. The Catacombs is known for being the largest and most important underground cemetery in Rome since it has been the burial place for hundreds of Christians, including dozens of martyrs and more than a dozen popes. The photos that I have from our visit were taken during the introductory part of our tour since we weren’t allowed to take any once we began to actually walk through the Catacombs. However, you can visit the Catacomb’s website to get an idea of what to expect if you ever want to schedule a tour.
We also recommend that your list of possible tours to take when visiting Rome includes the archaeological site of Ostia Antica. Although it’s actually situated about 15 miles southwest of Rome, it deserves to be included on every Rome trip itinerary. Once the spot of a bustling commercial center, the well-preserved site reveals a lot about the history of the ancient town, which was home to a public forum, public baths, homes–including some that resembled condos or apartment buildings–and many businesses. It also has a quick-service type of restaurant and souvenir shop that sells an assortment of souvenirs.
After exploring Ostia Antica, we headed to the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, the oldest public church in Rome. This church is the highest ranking–as well as the oldest–of the four papal major basilicas and it is home to six papal tombs. Since the building has a fairly modest exterior, we didn’t expect the interior to be as elaborately decorated as it was. Just take a look at a few of the photos that I took while we were there. From the colorful ceiling and walls to the beautiful columns and gold decorative appointments to the impressive statues, the church is filled with countless features that any art museum would be happy to have in its galleries.
In addition to visiting three of the four major basilicas in Rome, we also went to Saint Peter In Chains Church, a minor basilica. This Roman Catholic church, which is decorated with colorful frescos, is known for being the home of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. It’s also home to a reliquary that is said to contain the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. So, what’s so special about the chains? It has been reported that, when Pope Leo I compared them to the chains used during Saint Peter’s final imprisonment in Rome, the two chains miraculously fused together with one another.
It has been a lot of fun looking back on our time in Rome. And, although we really did fit a lot into the short amount of time that we were there, we’d like to go back again one day and see even more of the city! So, if you’ve ever been to Rome–or live there–please take a moment to tell me in the comment section below which cultural sites or landmarks you think we should visit during our next trip. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!