Can You Guess Where, and What, These Little Bits of Roman Antiquity Are?

Ancient ruins in Rome
It's no secret that Rome is a city chock-full of the ancient past. Reminders of a city, and empire, of 2,000 years ago aren't just rife in the Forum, Palatine and Colosseum, but beneath churches like the Basilica of San Clemente and San Nicola in Carcere, acting as the main event in open spaces like the Park of the Aqueducts, and even serving as forums for everything from ballet and opera to light shows and displays. In short, ruins are everywhere.

Maybe that's why some of my favorite ancient ruins in Rome aren't the big, famous monuments. They're the little bits of antiquity that you simply stumble across: an ancient column sunk into the wall of an otherwise-unassuming apartment building, a still-running fountain with a wornaway face that you just know must be 2,000 years old. These can be tough to find. That's part of the fun.

Here, I'll share with you my favorite "secret" bits of antiquity, tucked into street corners and buildings all across the city.

Can you guess where—and what—they are?

I've now published all of the guesses in the "Comments." To see how close you were, scroll to the bottom of this page for the answers!

Ready? Set? …Go!

1)Ancient column in Rome

2)Ancient decorations in Rome

3)Ancient ruin in Rome

4)Ancient ruin in Rome


Ancient ruins in Rome

6)Ancient wall in Rome


Ancient columns in Rome

Ancient ruins in Rome


1) I started off with a stumper: This elaborate ancient column is at the Via della Maschera d'Oro and Vicolo di San Simeone, located in ancient Rome's Campus Martius. No one quite knew what this one was!

2) A couple of you got this. This is a detail of the lovely Arco degli Argentari, or "Arch of the Money-changers," commissioned by the local money-changers and merchants who were active in the area's Forum Boarium. The arch, which was finished in 204 A.D., was built in honor of Emperor Septimius Severus, as the inscription—just to the right of the bas-relief of Hercules holding a lion skin—says. In the 7th century, the arch was incorporated into the Church of San Giorgio in Velabro.

3) This one was tricky, but it's one of the coolest ruins around. This is—wait for it—one of ancient Rome's fire stations. Truly. In particular, it's the barracks for Brigade VII, and dates back to the 2nd century A.D. The brigade was in charge of not only preventing and extinguishing fires, but public safety, too, particularly at night. It's located at Via della Settima Coorte, 9, in the heart of Trastevere. (When you go, bring a flashlight to look through the grille underneath: You can still see one of the big rooms of the barracks).

4) This is a piece of the Virgin Aqueduct, the famous aqueduct built by Agrippa in the 1st century B.C. and that supplies water to the Trevi Fountain. Believe it or not, this original piece is just off Via del Tritone; turn on Via del Nazareno, at the Burger King, and look down and to the left.

5) Yep, this was a "duh"… but it was so pretty I had to put it in. This lovely ancient column is located on Via Margana, just a few steps from Piazza Venezia.

6) Lots of you got this. This is a big chunk of the 4th century B.C. Servian Wall, located at the Termini train station (if you go inside Termini, you'll see more of it in on the lower level, including a big piece by the McDonald's).

7) These ancient columns and frieze are sunk into the building at Via di Capo di Ferro, 31, just off the Piazza della Trinità dei Pellegrini.

8) An ancient portal on Via Margana, in Rome's Rione XI of Sant'Angelo, just a few steps from Piazza Venezia.


Continue Reading

Weekend Trip to Verona (Maybe for Valentine’s Day?)

Verona view from Castel San Pietro

Verona—an easy day trip from Venice, or a weekend trip from Rome—just happens to be one of the most romantic cities in Italy. And not just because Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet there. It boasts everything from gorgeous scenery (hello, sunset over the River Adige) to atmospheric ruins, medieval palaces to what might just be the loveliest piazza in Italy.

Out today in the Guardian, here’s my pick for 10 of the best hotels, restaurants, and activities in Verona.

By the way: Yes, you can get there easily from Rome. The fast train, which takes just 3 hours, costs 63 euros on Trenitalia’s MINI fare or 70 for full-price. Valentine’s Day escape, anyone?


Continue Reading

New Year’s Resolutions… for the Italy-bound Traveler

Pantheon at night, Rome Forget losing 5 pounds or flossing. Well, you can do those too. But if you're already looking forward to taking a trip to Italy sometime in the New Year, there are some other resolutions to consider making.

Three New Year's resolutions for before you go:

1. Get in good walking shape. I'm constantly surprised by the constant surprise of travelers who, coming to Rome, don't expect to walk very much. For those of us who only log steps from home to car, car to office, there's much more required of your feet — and heart — in Rome than home.

But that's not a bad thing. Walking is one of the best ways to see any Italian city; while you can take cabs, buses and metros, sometimes the only way to get a sense of the winding streets, or even to get to certain sites (hello, Forum and Palatine Hill), is on foot. So if the only thing between you and strolling for 8 hours straight is aerobic endurance, start changing it now. Your body — and wallet, and travel companions — will thank you.

Walking in Rome Walk away, sister.

2. Have a plan for the practicals. Make sure you have an idea of not just what you'll see where, but also how you'll do things like get from the airport to your hotel or avoid long lines for popular sites. Also make sure you know how you'll access money (hint: many places don't accept credit cards, your account can be shut down by your bank unless you tell them you're traveling abroad first, and withdrawing from an ATM is generally far more cost-effective than exchanging hard currency).

No, your trip won't be a complete disaster if you don't think some of the more practical issues through. But you might wind up spending way more money, and having more of a headache, than necessary.

3. Not let the hype get to you… too much. Yes, Italy is fantastic. But depending on when and where you're going, it can also be chaotic, hot, crowded, disorganized, unreliable, and expensive. (A lot of that can be avoided or mitigated with a bit of planning, but sometimes things just, well, happen).

It's unlikely that you'll be disappointed — but don't go into it imagining the picture-perfect scenes and stereotypes of a movie like Eat, Pray, Love, either. Will a lot of your trip replicate the magic of Julia Roberts' (er, Liz Gilbert's) experience? Probably. But as long as you don't expect perfection, the little misperfections won't "ruin" the whole shebang.

Three New Year's resolutions for once you're there:

1. Go off the beaten path. Especially if it's your first trip to Italy, you'll probably want to hit up the greats: Rome, Florence, Venice. But if you can, consider adding in a daytrip out to the countryside or to a smaller city — some of my favorites from Rome are Spoleto and Orvieto. It'll help you not only to get away from the crowds, but get a sense of what Italy means for the millions here who aren't city dwellers.

Umbrian countryside near AssisiThe lovely Umbrian countryside.

Even if your time doesn't allow a daytrip, you can get "off the beaten path" within those cities, too. I'm talking lesser-known archaeological sites, museums beyond the Vatican, and myriad art-filled — and crowd-lesssmall churches. (And yes, there's just as much potential to get away from the crowds and see the non-headling gems in Florence and Venice).

2. Travel ethically. The impact of millions of visitors on Italy isn't benign — at its worst, it contributes to pollution, ruination of art and architecture, and weakened or overcommercialized local economies. Luckily, though, there are lots of ways you can help, from eating in-season foods to avoiding plastic water bottles. Click here for five more tips for how to travel ethically in Italy.

3. Get out from behind the camera. Okay, so maybe your neighbor, sister and Great Aunt Linda have all said they want you to take lots and lots of photos while you're in Italy because they want to see them all. But let's be serious. Nobody actually wants to see 38 photos in a row of the Trevi Fountain, even if some are of you with the Trevi Fountain, some are of you and your hubby with the Trevi Fountain, and some have a pretty clear view of the Trevi Fountain while others show the crowds, the mayhem and even that Bangladeshi guy who's trying to sell those ever-so-interesting flying spinning lit-up plastic discs.

And while you want to take photos so you can remember the Trevi Fountain, do you really need 38 to spark one memory… especially when you can just Google what the heck it looks like?

So: Unless photography's a big hobby, get out from behind the camera lens. Trying to enjoy your trip while also zooming in and out, playing with your different settings, forcing your subjects to smile until their faces freeze (and suffering their decreasing level of amenability), and sending silent death vibes to that random idiot who just will not get out of the frame — well, it's hard. And you know what? It doesn't help you remember the flavor of that killer pasta amatriciana or the feeling you had while standing in front of the Pieta for the first time all that much better.

Resolve to snap once, snap twice, snap three times (and please: keep your flash off in the Vatican's gallery of tapestries!)… and then put it away. Your travel companions will thank you. (Below, a true-to-life example of forcing the unwilling into photos).

One forced smile for the school picture What, a forced smile? This smile?


Continue Reading