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23 April 2024
Alan Morris with his tour guide in the Forum, Rome, Italy.

In 2003 I went to Rome with my friend Paul Dunne for a long weekend trip. I had never been to Italy before & was looking forward to spending time in Italy's capital city, Rome. 

Rome 2003

Whilst in Rome we originally meant to look around by ourselves as we stayed in the middle of Rome within walking distance of a lot of things. After spending our first day walking around we met a man in The Forum who told us he was a tour guide & offered to show us around the Forum for free. He said if we enjoyed the guided tour we could leave him a tip. He was fantastic & we booked him for a few days to show us around lots of other places. During our time there we visited the following places.

The Forum.

Near the Colosseum in Rome is a rectangular area, surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings. The citizens of Rome called this space, originally a marketplace, the Forum. We had just arrived in The Forum when we met a tour guide who showed us around. It was a very interesting place to visit, made a lot more interesting by his stories & knowledge about it.

The Colosseum.

The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome. It is built of travertine limestone & brick-faced concrete & when it was built it was the largest amphitheatre in the world, holding fifty to eighty thousand spectators. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir, Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian. These three Roman emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name, Flavius. The Colosseum could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators at various points of its history over the centuries, having an average audience of some 65,000 it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles (for only a short time as the hypogeum was soon filled in with mechanisms to support the other activities), animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine. Although substantially ruined because of earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions and also has links to the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum. In 2018, it was the most popular tourist attraction in the world, with 7.4 million visitors. The Colosseum is also depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin. The Colosseum was very interesting & bigger than I imagined. We hired a set of headphones that gave a description of what we were looking at as we walked around.

The Pantheon.

The Pantheon doesn't look much from the outside but inside it is beautiful. We got dizzy looking up at the ceiling & through the oculus in the roof. The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, now a Catholic church (Basilica of St Mary & the Martyrs), on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It was completed by the emperor Hadrian & probably dedicated about 126 AD. Its date of construction is uncertain because Hadrian chose not to inscribe the new temple but rather to retain the inscription of Agrippa's older temple, which had burned down. The building is cylindrical with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest concrete dome with no reinforcement. The height of the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 feet. The Pantheon is a state property, managed by Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities & Tourism.

St Peters Basilica.

The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter is a church built in the Renaissance style located in Vatican City. Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno & Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture & the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome St Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. Catholic tradition holds that the basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter. Saint Peter's tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the basilica. A church has stood on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. The old St Peter's Basilica dates from the 4th century AD. Construction of the present basilica began on 18 April 1506 & was completed on 18 November 1626. The pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year both within the basilica or the adjoining St. Peter's Square. Whilst in Rome went to look around & we climbed up the inside of St Peters Basilica. The steps going up are quite steep & because they are curling around the inside of the dome & the dome is slopped you are always walking slightly bent & to one side. The view from the top was worth it & I would advise anyone to do it if you are in Rome.

The Trevi Fountain.

Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown into the fountain using the right hand over the left shoulder. This was the theme of the film Three Coins in the Fountain. An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated €1.4 million was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subside a supermarket for Rome's needy. I of course threw coins into the fountain in the correct fashion.

Piazza Navona.

Defined as a public space in the last years of the 15th century when the city market was transferred there from the Campidoglio, Piazza Navona was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture & art during the pontificate of Innocent X, who reigned from 1644 until 1655 & whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili faced the piazza. It is the home of many sculptures one of which is the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Appian Way.

The Appian Way is one of the earliest & strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic. It connected Rome to Brindisi in southeast Italy. Its importance is indicated by its common name "Appia longarum Regina viarum" or "the Appian Way the queen of the long roads". The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who began & completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC during the Samnite Wars.


The Romans constructed aqueducts throughout their Republic & later Empire to bring water from outside sources into cities & towns. The aqueduct water supplied public baths, latrines, fountains & private households. The remains of the aqueduct that Paul & I were shown was just outside the city of Rome but was very impressive.


The Catacombs of Rome are ancient underground burial places. There are at least forty, some discovered only in recent decades. Though most famous for Christian burials, either in separate catacombs or mixed together, people of all the Roman religions are buried in them, beginning in the 2nd century AD, mainly as a response to overcrowding and shortage of land. The original Roman custom was cremation, after which the burnt remains were kept in a pot, ash chest or urn. From about the 2nd century AD, inhumation (burial of unburnt remains) became more fashionable, in graves or sarcophagi, often elaborately carved, for those who could afford them. Christians also preferred burial to cremation because of their belief in bodily resurrection at the Second Coming. Paul & I had a great tour of the Catacombs that you cant do. The tour guide that we had met in the forum took us into areas the public never goes & the monks who look after the site hardly ever see. He was a young man & got lost in the catacombs for many days whilst working for the monks. Because of this, he is allowed to go in on his own. He told us to hang back from our tour guide as we started the tour & he would collect us. We did this & as we walked at the back of the group we were grabbed by him exciting a tunnel we had not seen in the dark. He pulled us down an unlit tunnel & around a corner a short way in. We waited for the noise of the group that we had been with to fade then he lit a torch & took us into deeper levels of the catacombs that the public never see. We were surrounded by many hundreds of skeletons in alcoves in the walls & he showed us around many chambers before we rejoined the back of the tour group & then left to continue our journey around Rome's other sights.

Spanish Steps.

The Spanish Steps are a set of steps climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base & Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. The monumental stairway of 135 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier's bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, between 1723 & 1725, linking the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, located above & the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, located below in Palazzo Monaldeschi. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis & Alessandro Specchi.

Trinità dei Monti.

The church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti often called merely the Trinità dei Monti, is a Roman Catholic late Renaissance titular church. It is best known for its commanding position above the Spanish Steps which lead down to the Piazza di Spagna. The church and its surrounding area are French State property. Paul & I very nearly spent a lot longer here than we wanted to. We had just arrived & saw some very large Italian men at the door. I thought they were doormen watching visitors to the church & went to have a look inside the church. As I approached them I removed my hat, a sign of respect I have always followed when entering a church even though I am not religious. The two suited men who saw me do this thanked me & showed me into the church & showed me to a seat. It was only a short while after being seated that I realised that I had walked in on a private wedding ceremony. With as much quiet as possible, I snuck back out just before the doors were closed. It was later that I discovered that ceremonies in this church can last for up to four hours & that if I hadn't left when I did I would have had to sit through the entire ceremony.

After spending a fantastic weekend in Rome I often find myself re-watching the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian. Every time I watch the film I have to ask myself "What did the Romans ever do for us?" I have to say a lot, the Romans did a lot for us & they certainly gave me a weekend full of great memories. I will go back one day.

  Photos from my 2003 Rome trip.