Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Eternal City is its historical continuity. The Ponte Fabricio, which spans the Tiber to the Isola Tiberina, dates from 62 B.C. and remains in daily use. And 2,000 years after it was built, the Pantheon still has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. One of the best introductions to the city remains “The Companion Guide to Rome,” by Georgina Masson, first published in 1965. We have long enjoyed following its detailed walking itineraries.
The inhabitants of the Eternal City love their food, and in few places do people enjoy the pleasures of the table with such obvious relish. But bear in mind that the best fare is not necessarily found in fancy restaurants but rather in the lively trattorias and osterias that the Romans tend to favor.
The city is particularly beautiful during the so-called “ottobrate,” from mid-September to the end of October. High summer is hot and disagreeable, and the Romans themselves leave for the seaside.
On our first evening back in Rome, we like to climb Michelangelo’s Cordonata Capitolina (Capitoline Stairway) to the Capitoline Hill. There’s an atmospheric spot to the right of the Palazzo Senatorio where you can lean on a wall and look out over the Forum. Piranesi made etchings of this view, and it’s the place where Gibbon decided to write “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
I was amazed to find the Trajan’s Market and the Imperial Forums Museum quite empty on a recent September visit. The exhibits are interesting, but the main reason to go is to walk around the semicircular arcades of Trajan’s Market and the ancient plaza below. What luxury, on that sunny afternoon, to have a major complex of ruins in the center of Rome almost entirely to myself.
Because the geography of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto has changed so much — and because the history of Rome’s Jewish community dates back more than 2,000 years — it helps to visit the neighborhood with a guide. Native Roman Micaela Pavoncello led us on an engrossing and personal tour through Jewish Roma Walking Tours.
Prati's Unspoiled Charm
Live like a local in Rome’s affluent, untouristy Prati neighborhood with the aid of the excellent company Italy Perfect, which has an extensive inventory of handpicked, upscale apartments there and elsewhere in the city. Arrangements are flawless, and the staff in Rome is friendly, efficient and reliable.
Our half-day class with InRome Cooking was great fun, including gathering ingredients at an open-air market and specialty shops and preparing five delicious recipes in a historic building (the school also runs classes at Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence). I also recommend taking a class at Su’Ghetto, where we ended up having a private tutorial in the kosher restaurant’s kitchen.
I am an avid admirer of Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who made an immense contribution to the fabric and artistic patrimony of the city. Some of his most virtuosic sculptures can be found in the Borghese Gallery, where timed entry tickets assure a civilized experience. Bernini fans should also pay visits to the Capitoline Museums, the Chigi Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the churches of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Many of Caravaggio’s greatest works are to be found in Rome. The Cerasi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo contains the sensational “The Conversion on the Way to Damascus.” The church of San Luigi dei Francesi holds three paintings, including the masterpiece “The Calling of Saint Matthew.” There are also three Caravaggios in the Palazzo Barberini, and the Galleria Borghese contains his “David With the Head of Goliath.” To learn more about the artist, I recommend “Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane,” by Andrew Graham-Dixon.
Historic Gelato and Coffee
A mandatory stop in Rome is Giolitti, steps from the Pantheon and the city’s oldest ice cream parlor. Try the fruit-flavored varieties, the essence of each season. And for some of the best coffee and people-watching in the city, make it a point to spend an interlude at Sant’Eustachio il Caffè.
Enviable Leather Goods
Whenever we visit Rome, we love to visit Del Giudice for the striking leather handbags, wallets and belts. The store is a few blocks north of the Pantheon..