There’s nothing like turning on Netflix and getting a surprise… one of the shows you were interviewed for a year ago has come out! If you have Netflix, catch me talking about Caesar (and, obviously, Cleopatra) on the new season of Roman Empire: Master of Rome. And stay tuned for next season… I may or may not have even more to say there.
Wondering what to see in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome? Good question. I talked about visiting the Jewish Ghetto — specifically in terms of when to go, what to expect and what makes its history so fascinating — before. But I didn’t go into exactly what to see in the Jewish Ghetto once you’re there.
The thing is, most people don’t come to Rome’s Jewish Ghetto with a long list of must-see sights in mind. After all, the Jewish Ghetto doesn’t have anything as well-known as, say, the Pantheon or Colosseum or St. Peter’s. Instead, people usually come to soak up the atmosphere, grab a bite to eat and then… carry on their way.
You could do that. But if you want to be a little more organized? Here are my six favorite sights to see in the Jewish Ghetto.
Theatre of Marcellus (Teatro di Marcello)
Also known to tourists as “that other Colosseum,” the Theatre of Marcellus is not the same thing as the Colosseum. The Colosseum was the home of vicious gladiatorial combat. The theatre of Marcellus? For plays, concerts and poetic recitals. Despite being more high-brow (and a bit less violent), though, this monument has a history almost as sad as the Colosseum. It was begun by Julius Caesar as a gift to the people (yay!), but left unfinished when Caesar wound up in a pool of blood about five minutes away (boo). Emperor Augustus, Caesar’s successor, finished it and dedicated the theatre in 13 BC to his nephew and son-in-law (noble families preferred to double up wherever possible). He was said to be a stand-up lad, beloved by Augustus, and was slated to be his successor (yay!)… until he fell ill and died at the age of 19 (boo). The theatre remained in use for several hundred years (yay!), until it was largely abandoned and became a quarry for other buildings by the end of the 4th century (boo).
Today, it’s been revived somewhat: People live in apartments on the upper floor (truly), while the sight itself hosts small concerts in the summer. You can’t go in during the day. But you still shouldn’t miss it. (As if you could!).
Portico of Octavia (Portico d’Ottavia)
Under scaffolding for ages, the Porticus Octaviae has finally been restored… hurrah! Its size seems impressive now, but when you see it, squint your eyes and try to imagine that these columns kept going: This is actually the fragment of a larger, colonnaded pathway that enclosed the temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina inside. It gets its name from Augustus’s sister, who it was dedicated to around 27 AD. And that brick archway might seem relatively new, but it actually was built in the 5th century, which destroyed the columns that were originally there.
If you’ve been researching a trip to Rome, at some point, you’ve probably heard about the Colosseum underground tour. (You may even have heard about it here… or even here). And if you haven’t visited before, you might be wondering: is the Colosseum underground worth it?
First, let’s talk about what the Colosseum underground actually is.
When people hear “underground” in Rome, they automatically think catacombs. But when it comes to the Colosseum, that’s not exactly — okay, not at all — the case. We’re not talking about a spooky cemetery; instead, we’re talking about a backstage area.
That’s right. Think of the Colosseum’s underground as where all of the work required to host these massive, bloody pageants really went on. It’s where gladiators waited for their turn to fight. It’s where the animals were caged. It’s where the mechanical lift (yes, you heard that right) was hoisted up to spring said gladiators and animals through hidden trap doors in the arena stand, stunning and, one would assume, impressing the crowd.
To recap, a few months ago, I published a massive 2017 update of my popular guidebook for Rome. But it was still available as an e-book only (either for Kindle or as a PDF). Many of you emailed to ask if I’d be publishing a print version of the Rome guidebook, too.
It took me a little while (turns out, designing and formatting a book and its cover for print is complicated!). But in December, it finally hit Amazon here. Here’s a little peek at what the cover looks like:
If you’ll be in the city for more than a couple of days, visiting the Jewish Ghetto in Rome is a must. As well the oldest Jewish settlement in all of Europe (dating back to the 2nd century B.C.) — and, as you might expect, home to a striking synagogue, kosher bakeries and Jewish-Roman trattorias — it isn’t only worth a stop for visitors interested in Jewish history.
That’s because the Jewish Ghetto is also one of the loveliest, most atmospheric areas of Rome. Compact and very pedestrian-friendly, it’s one of my favorite places for a stroll.
Visiting the Jewish Ghetto in Rome? Here are a few things to know first. (After you read this, don’t miss my follow-up post on what to see in the Jewish Ghetto).
The Jewish Ghetto in Rome today
The biggest misconception about the Jewish Ghetto has to do with its name. The word “ghetto” (understandably) tends to throw up some confusion.
First, no: the “Jewish Ghetto” is not an inappropriate nickname. That’s what the neighborhood is called, and what locals (and Jewish locals) call it. Second, it’s not a “ghetto” in the modern sense — though it has its own very sad history of discrimination and poverty.
In the 16th century, the quarter was walled off as the residential area for Rome’s Jews, a heart-wrenchingly common occurrence in Italy and, of course, across Europe. (In fact, the word ghetto is an Italian word: the first Jewish ghetto was in Venice, in the quarter known today as Canaletto). Today, it’s an extremely safe, very well-heeled quarter of the city.
The other thing to keep in mind when you visit the Jewish Ghetto is that this is the spiritual and cultural home of Jews in Rome. And that’s a big deal. Rome is the longest-running home of Jews in all of Europe — thanks to the less-happy fact that they were brought over as slaves in the 2nd century BC.
But when you visit the Jewish Ghetto today, remember that, despite the towering synagogue and the kosher restaurants, it’s a far cry from the thriving, bustling Jewish community it would have been a century ago.
About 2,000 Jews of the area’s 7,000 were rounded up in a single day in 1943 and sent to concentration camps. Only 16 survived. Today, Rome is said to have less than 20,000 Jewish residents, only a few hundred of whom live in this quarter.
Having trouble figuring out Rome airport is best to fly into—or which airport is most central? I don’t blame you. Rome has not one, but two, airports—Fiumicino (FCO) and Ciampino (CIA)—and they’re both international. So how do you decide between them?
First of all, keep in mind that you may not have to decide. If you’re coming straight from the US or Canada, your flight will land at Fiumicino. Easy.
But if you’re coming from Europe or elsewhere, you may have the option. Here’s how to decide which Rome airport is best to fly into.
Fiumicino is the main international airport (but still not enormous)…
Both airports serve airlines from all over. But when people talk about Rome’s “international” airport they usually mean Fiumicino, Rome’s main international airport. If you’re flying an airline like Alitalia, American Airlines or British Airways, you’ll be coming into Fiumicino.
Still, compared to international airports like London Heathrow, Fiumicino isn’t huge. There are four terminals, three of which are in the same building; only one, Terminal 5 (which serves passengers coming from the US and Israel), requires a short shuttle bus to get to. I find the size to be nice. It’s small enough that it’s always very easy to find someone after they’ve landed (and to navigate yourself), but large enough that it has some nice shops while you’re waiting for your flight. And I don’t know about you, but I’m always glad that I don’t have to walk 30 minutes from the gate to the exit.
Seven years ago, when the Colosseum opened its underground to the public, it was a huge deal. Now, the powers that be seem to be trying to outdo themselves: They’re topping off an extraordinary €25 million restoration with opening the Colosseum’s uppermost level. (See what I did there?)
You already could go up to the third level as part of the underground tour (confusing, I know). So despite the breathless media coverage, it’s not as if this is the first time visitors are getting the option to see the Forum and Arch of Constantine from above. Still, it is the first time they’ve been open to the public in 40 years… and, like the rest of the Colosseum, they’ve been restored to (some of) their former splendor.
Like the third level (and underground), you only can access the top tier of the Colosseum as part of a special tour. The tours, which begin on 1 November, must be pre-booked; they cost an extra €9 on top of the €12 admission fee. You should be able to book the top level Colosseum tour online, though it doesn’t seem to be an option quite yet. Watch this space.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.
Sometimes, I get a call from a client who needs help planning their second, third, even fourth trip to Rome. The issue isn’t that they need to know how to use Rome’s public transport, or where to eat, or whether to book the Vatican Museums in advance. What they want to know is if there’s anything to do in Rome when you’ve done… everything.
The good news: I always can help. And it’s not because I’m some kind of genius. It’s because you could spend years, even a lifetime, in Rome and never see everything the city has to offer. (I’d know). As much as it seems like you’ve checked off just about every item in your guidebook, I promise: You haven’t. There are always more fascinating, unique sights to see.
So whether you’ve already seen Rome’s main attractions — or you already have them in your itinerary and have more time to play with — here are some sights to add.
Nota bene: I’m assuming you really have seen “everything in Rome” for this post, so I’m not including things that have been written about many, many times already, like the Colosseum underground,Borghese Gallery or even Basilica of San Clemente or Appian Way. My litmus test for this list was whether a visitor normally would have seen these attractions in their first three or even four trips to Rome (no!) — and whether I’d recommend that they do (yes!).
(PS: There’s so much you can do in Rome once you’ve done “everything”, this won’t be the only post like this. Stay tuned!)
What to do in Rome when you’ve done everything? Here are 10 more sights to explore:
Rome’s other “Central Park”: You’ve visited the lovely Villa Borghese and seen views of Rome from the Janiculum Hill and Garden of Oranges. What’s next? Monte Mario. Little-known to most visitors, this massive park (actually a nature reserve) is located on Rome’s highest hill just northwest of the city center — and has some extraordinary views of the city. (Also shown at top of post).
The ancient world of Aventine Hill: If you’ve been reading Revealed Rome, you know I’m a big fan of ancient underground sites — and that many of them can be found beneath churches. One of my favorites, though, is the Church of Santa Sabina in the Aventine.
That’s not just because of the church’s underground, which includes 2nd-century homes and a 3rd-century shrine. It’s also because, even if you can’t access the underground (open only on pre-reserved tours), you can get a glimpse of how the ancient/early Christian world would have looked: this is one of the few churches in Rome that’s been left with its 5th-century structure largely intact.
“Is a Roma Pass worth it?” has to be one of the questions I get most frequently — and from those who have done a bit of extra research, that question sometimes expands to “Should I get a Roma Pass or Omnia card… or some other combined sightseeing card for Rome?”.
That question has only gotten more complicated over the years. In simpler days, Rome had one combined sightseeing pass, called the Roma Pass, for tourists who wanted to skip lines and use public transport. Now, there’s a dizzying array of options. Not only does the Roma Pass now have a 48-hour and a 72-hour version, but it has competitors: The Rome City Pass, confusingly also called the TurboPass, which includes the Vatican (but you’ll pay a premium for the addition); the Omnia Vatican & Rome card, which also includes the Vatican (but will charge you even more); and the Archaeologia Card (refreshingly bells-and-whistles free, and which focuses on Rome’s ancient archaeological sites). Though what they offer varies, all of them promise skip-the-line benefits to some of Rome’s most popular sites.
If you already feel overwhelmed by the choice, I can make it simple for you.
I couldn’t be more excited to announce that, after five years, my new Rome guidebook is out.
The original 2012 version of the Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks to the Eternal City sold thousands of copies (and got rave reviews). This book builds on that success with an in-depth update and serious expansion: It’s crammed full with more thantwice as many fun, easy-to-digest tips and tricks than the previous version.
Like the previous version, the new book is not your normal “Rome guidebook”. Instead of providing information easily found elsewhere, it gives you tips and tricks to experiencing Rome like a local, including items like…
how to pick an authentic Roman restaurant at a glance
budget accommodation options you may not have considered
the one place to never take a taxi
secrets to skipping the lines at the Colosseum, the Vatican and more
off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods that should be on your list
how to eat gluten-free, vegetarian or with other dietary restrictions
key tips for booking (and taking) trains
here to find drinking water, and bathrooms, while out and about
how to protect yourself from pickpockets
the best neighborhoods in Rome for shopping
…and much, much more. Buy it on Amazon here or by clicking the cover at left.
I’m also really excited to say that, for the first three months of publication, I’m donating a significant portion of the profits (€1/$1/£1 per book, depending on location of sale) to a cause I believe in: the American Institute for Roman Culture, a nonprofit which protects and campaigns for Rome’s cultural heritage. So if you’re thinking of buying a book, now is the time to do it!
Note:Bought the book before today, and now wish you’d waited for the new version? Don’t worry: You can replace the older version with this update. If you’re using a Kindle device or app, turn on Annotations Backup to back up your notes, highlights and bookmarks. Then go to the Manage Your Content and Devices page, select “Automatic Book Update” under the Settings tab and select “On” from the dropdown menu. Your e-book automatically will be updated to the new version.
If you’d prefer to receive the book as a PDF, order it through Paypal by clicking on the button below. When I receive the order confirmation, I will e-mail you the book as a PDF. (Just be aware that this is a manual process, so can take me up to 48 hours to e-mail over).