Did you know there’s a pyramid in Rome? Neither do most people. And not only is there a pyramid, but it’s a pretty legit — and ancient — pyramid: dating back to 12BC, it was the over-the-top burial tomb of Caius Cestius, a Roman praetor with a thing for Egyptian style.
At 120ft (36m) tall, with a base of 97ft (29.5m) on each side, the Pyramid of Cestius is pretty hard to miss. It’s been largely overlooked for years, though, for a few reasons. For one, it’s located in Testaccio — a neighborhood that, while very much in the center of Rome, is just off the beaten tourist track. That’s changing, thanks to recent trends like the gamut of food tours that now run through the area. But the quarter remains less trodden than, say, the streets around Piazza Navona.
Not to mention that Rome’s pyramid was in bad shape. Once gleaming, white marble, it had become so dirty that, by the time I first laid eyes on it in 2009, it was a sooty, dark brown-gray. It was so bad that, having just scoured five years of photographs to see if I could find proof for you, it turns out I don’t have a single one — probably because, in all the dozens of times I walked past, it was so grimy I hadn’t felt moved to take a picture.
And finally, except for the occasional “extraordinary opening”, the pyramid was closed to visitors.
Last year, Rome launched a nighttime light show in the Imperial Forum (Fori Imperiali) at the Forum of Augustus. This year, it’s not only bringing the Forum of Augustus show back — it’s also starting a second one, at the Forum of Caesar. (Both will run from 22 April to 30 October 2016).
I did the Forum of Augustus tour last year. It was excellent. I’m sure the Forum of Caesar tour will be the same.
What makes these light shows/tours so cool? For one thing, both lead visitors through a usually-inaccessible archaeological site: the Imperial Forum, which was built by Caesar and the emperors who followed him and which, unlike the Republican Forum on the other side of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, you can’t buy a ticket to wander through. Instead, usually, all you can do is peer down at the Imperial Forum from the road. (Or from the museum at Trajan’s Market).
In July, I filmed my first video for BBC Travel: It’s about how Rome’s ruins are at risk — and what’s being done (or not) to save them. The video is part of what we hope will be a series called Dissolving History, about cultural heritage under threat around the world. You can watch Dissolving History: Rome here.
But even when I’m not writing about cultural heritage directly, I’m writing about it somehow. It’s rare that I write a travel story — or take a trip at all — without somehow touching on the destination’s monuments and museums, its artifacts and archaeology. And I have a feeling it’s the same for most of you.
So it’s an important topic. And a surprisingly fun one. Check out the video for more.
And here are some behind-the-scenes shots, if you’d like to see…
I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Italy’s Minister of Cultural Heritage Dario Franceschini. Here, I’m debriefing with his aides after the interview.
Rome’s Domus Aurea, Nero’s famed “Golden House,” has reopened to the public. (Well, partly. More on that in a moment).
I haven’t seen this much excitement over a site’s opening since the Colosseum’s underground was unveiled back in 2010. And you know what? Having toured both, the excitement over the Domus Aurea may be even more merited.
First, the basics. Emperor Nero built his palace back in 64AD. (Yes, he’s the “fiddled while Rome burned” guy; although that’s an urban legend, you can’t deny his, erm, ingeniousness in using the land conveniently cleared by the fire for his dream palace). The property, which included open gardens and pastures as well as rooms and galleries, stretched all the way from the Palatine Hill to the Esquiline. Some scholars place it at 300 acres.
And let’s just say that the term “Golden House” doesn’t even begin to describe the property’s dazzle and opulence. “The vestibule of the house was so big it contained a colossal statue 120 feet high, the image of Nero; and it was so extensive that it had three colonnades a mile long. There was a lake too, in fact a sea, surrounded with buildings as big as cities,” Suetonius wrote. (Nota bene: The Colosseum later was built on the site of that lake). “Behind it were villas with fields, vineyards and pastures, woods filled with all kinds of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house everything was coated with gold and adorned with gems and shells. The dining-rooms had fretted ceilings made of ivory, with panels that turned and shed flowers and perfumes on those below. The main banquet hall was circular and constnatly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water.”
In other words: Nero would have killed on MTV’s Cribs.
Anywhere you go in Rome, you're walking on a buried, ancient world. Beneath your feet lie the remnants of the city that ruled an empire: temples and streets, villas and churches, monuments and tombs. And while we've all heard of the catacombs, there are many, many other underground sights in the city that are every bit as fascinating. If not more so.
I wrote about seven of my favorite hidden, yet accessible places for an underground Rome fix for the Globe and Mail, online here.
I love sharing Rome's hidden gems (and views) with others — so I was thrilled to do this slideshow for BBC Travel on Rome, behind the lens. Check it out to see some of Rome's most stunning, least-known sights… and perhaps to get some ideas for your next trip to the Eternal City!
"The ancient Greek theatre of Taormina, Sicily, was designed with serious drama in mind – and not just the costumed kind. Perched 250 metres above the Ionian Sea, the amphitheatre’s 360-degree view encompasses the still-active Mount Etna, the sparkling Mediterranean, the medieval village of Castelmola and, of course, Taormina itself.
From here, the town’s pastel palazzi and pretty cathedrals spread across the lush hillside like icing on a cassata siciliana, a traditional Sicilian cake.
It’s hard to look away—or say goodbye. Which is why I’ve come back to the town for a second time."
Read the rest of my story on the ancient seaside town—out in today's issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper—online here.
When it comes to Rome in summer, let’s get back to basics: what the weather in Rome in June, July, August, and September is really like… and how to deal.
In this first installment of the Rome summer guide, you’ll find out about some surprising ways to beat the heat, why Rome’s water fountains are freakin’ awesome, which of Rome’s sights have nada shade, why dressing skimpily isn’t always the answer, and—of course—what that heat is a great excuse for (hint: it comes in a cup or a cone…).
Want to survive enjoy Rome in summer, at the height of its temperatures? Read on!
What to know about summer weather in Rome (caution: heat ahead)
Rome in summer? Hot? Um, yes (at least for this New England girl). Rome’s average temperature in both June and September reaches a high of 81° F. The heat peaks in July, with a high of 88° F. And August isn’t much cooler, at 87°.
It's no secret that I adore Monti, the ancient rione a stone's throw from Rome's Colosseum and forum. Want to find out why? Pick up the April issue of National Geographic Traveler (that's the U.S. version of the magazine), where I've written about some of the area's hidden gems and hottest spots—from an ancient basilica to an artisanal gelateria. Here's a sneak peek, but when the article goes live online, I'll share it here, so check back. (Update, March 17: You can now read the story about Monti online!).
And stay tuned for news of an article on another fantastic Rome neighborhood, for another great travel magazine, coming soon. (What can I say, I hate to play favorites).