Celebrate Easter… with the Pope!

Via Crucis at the Colosseum with the Pope, Good Friday 2010

Lots of Romans head out of the city this weekend, going home for Easter. One Rome resident who'll be around Easter weekend, though, is the Pope — and if you want to catch a glimpse of him, you have plenty of opportunities! 

Today, the big Good Friday event is the Way of the Cross ("Via Crucis"). Be at the Colosseum at 9:15pm to see the Pope (and thousands of people); be aware that nearby streets will be blocked to traffic and that the Colosseo metro stop will be closed after 6:30pm. After all, just look at these crowds…

Tomorrow, the Pope will preside over the Easter Vigil at St. Peter's Basilica, starting at 9pm.

On Easter Sunday, the Pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10:15am, followed by the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter's at noon.

And, just for fun, here are a couple more photos from last year's Via Crucis at the Colosseum.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Pope Benedict at the Colosseum, Good Friday in Rome 2010 Colosseum for Via Crucis in Rome, Easter 2010

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The Week of Free Museums Across Italy… Is Here!

Raphael's Entombment at the Borghese Gallery, Rome

Hurrah — the "week of culture" is here!

From now until April 17, Italy's state-run museums and sites are free. (Yay!) In Rome, that includes the Colosseum, Forum, Palazzo Massimo, Galleria Borghese (where you can find Raphael's beautiful "Entombment," above) and Baths of Caracalla… to name a few. Take advantage!

Here's a complete list of sites with free entrances this week, from Pierreci (click on the drop-down beneath the map on the right to choose your region — Rome, of course, is Lazio).

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The Colosseum’s Underground… Has Re-Opened!

Colosseum hypogeum, open to the public
Good news: The hypogeum, arena and 3rd level of the Colosseum are open as of today, March 12.

Update, October 2011: The Colosseum underground and third level will be open through Dec. 31.

Update, September 2011: The Colosseum hypogeum and 3rd tier will be open through October 2011.

Update, June 2011: Here's updated info on the Colosseum underground, including how it will be open through July and what tour options you have for seeing the underground.

The woman at Pierreci said that they aren't accepting reservations for today or tomorrow, so if you're looking to check the newly-restored areas — closed again since Nov. 30 — out over the weekend, go directly there.

But from Monday, you can make reservations for the tour that takes you into the hypogeum — the underground, "backstage" area where gladiators and animals would have waited for their turns to fight — and up to the third level, as well as onto the arena.

As in the fall, you can't see these areas without a guided tour. Unlike in the fall, Pierreci says that when you book, you also have to pay by credit card in advance. Pierreci told me that  the cost is €9 for the guided tour, plus the €12 entrance ticket, and they said there is no reservation fee. 

English tours are offered daily at 9:40am, 12:20pm, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:20pm. To book, call +39 0639967700. (They should speak English).

As anyone who's been to Italy knows, things are always changing here — or one department might say one thing, but another might say something else. So if anyone has a different experience with this, please let us know in the comments.

Here are more photos and the story of what it's actually like if you're curious what all the hypogeum hubbub is about. And while some of the particulars of how to book have changed, this Q&A on how to see the Colosseum's underground should still be helpful.

Happy booking!

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The Colosseum’s Hypogeum: An Update

Hypogeum of Colosseum Lots of people are still asking (and Googling) about the underground level of the Colosseum, which I blogged about when it first opened back in October (including this Q&A on how to book, and this story on what it's really like).

Here's the bad news: As they said when they first opened the hypogeum, third level, and Porta Libitina, the tours ended on Nov. 30.

Here's the good news: I'm still fairly certain that there's no way they could have undertaken a €1 million restoration to those areas without planning on opening them ever again.

So if you're planning a spring or summer 2011 trip to Rome, hang tight. As anyone who's been to Italy once knows, that a reopening date hasn't been announced yet has absolutely no bearing on whether it will happen. And my guess is that, once the tourist season kicks back up, it will.

Stay tuned.

March 2011, update to the update: This theory turned out to be… true! As of Monday, March 14, the Colosseum is once again taking reservations for the arena, hypogeum and third level. Since some things have changed, make sure to check out the newest update by clicking the link above.

June 2011, update to the updated update: The Colosseum's now confirmed open through July, and you no longer need to use an official guide to get in.

October 2011, even more updates: The Colosseum underground is now open through December.

Want more tips for the very best of what to do and see in Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!


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Is Anything Open During Christmas and New Year’s in Rome? (Updated for 2014)

Rome at Christmas time, in Spanish Steps area Few places seem more appropriate to celebrate Christmas than Rome, the home of not only Catholicism, but of the ancient empire whose pagan festival, Saturnalia, was converted into the holiday celebrating Christ's birth.

Yet after booking a trip to Rome over the Christmas holidays, travelers often get a sudden fear that the city will be completely shut down, making it impossible for them to eat, sightsee, or do anything, really, but go to church.

While it's true that many Romans will leave the city for their family homes over the holidays, there are still plenty of people left in this city of 3 million. Here, what will be open—and what won't—in Rome over Christmas.

Will the Colosseum be open over Christmas

Will sites and museums be open? While some museums and sites will remain open even on Christmas Day and New Year's, most of the biggies will be shut. The forum, Colosseum and Palatine will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, for example, but open every other day as usual, including Dec. 24.

The Vatican's a tougher one: The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel will be closed on Dec. 8, Dec. 25, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. They'll also be closed every Sunday in December and January, as usual, except for the last Sunday of each month, when they are open and free. 

Check with other sites individually. Pierreci's sexy new site lists, in English, all of Rome's major museums and archaeological sights, along with their hours and closures. Outdoor sites like Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain, along with churches (see below), will be open.

(More, below, on what you have to know about visiting Rome over Christmas!).

Will the bus and metro be running? Yes. Often, the city even has an expanded service on Christmas Eve until the early afternoon. Service tends to end at about 9pm that night, though, and cabs are in very short supply, so if you need to be somewhere, give yourself lots of time to get there. On Christmas Eve, walking will probably be your best bet, so dress warmly!

Will restaurants be open over Christmas in Rome
Will restaurants be open?
Most restaurants will be open every day except for Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1. Some others might close on Dec. 8, Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.

But many places will also be open on even those holidays themselves, including both classic Italian favorites and the kosher restaurants in the Ghetto. Just remember to book in advance.

For 2013 (stay tuned to see if they'll put out a 2014 update!), The Rome Digest has a nice little list of good Rome restaurants that will be open over the holidays, including Metamorfosi, Romeo and Roscioli.

I want to go shopping. Can I? Throughout December and January, yes. However, most shops will close early on Christmas Eve and will not be open on Christmas Day. Other days some might be closed or have shorter hours include Dec. 8, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. If you want the saldi, you'll have to wait—usually, these after-Christmas sales kick off throughout Lazio on the third Saturday of January.

And what about churches? Ah, churches! They will, of course, be open on Christmas; many will offer mass at the same time they'd usually have their Sunday service. If you're interested in attending mass, check with the church in advance. Otherwise, you're fine to visit most churches as usual, being, of course, particularly respectful and refraining from taking flash photographs if a service is going on.

Also: Rome's best Christmas markets, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

Want more great tips and tricks for Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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The Temple of Venus and Rome: Worth a Visit, But Missing the Best Part

Temple of Venus and Rome, Rome, Italy It was a big, big deal when the Temple of Venus and Rome opened this month after a 26-year restoration. And so I was pretty psyched to go see it.

But I should, maybe, have been a little more tempered in my excitement.

First: Let me just say that the Temple of Venus and Rome is beautiful. It's also massive; at 350 feet long and 150 feet wide, it's thought to have been ancient Rome's single biggest temple. And it's impressive that so much of it is around today, given the fact that it was built by the emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius from 121 to 141 A.D.

I also love the cleverness of the temple. One side of it was in honor of the goddess Venus, the other in honor of the goddess Roma, which doesn't seem that clever — and might even seem a little odd — until you think about how Venus mothered Aeneas, whose descendant founded Rome. Not to mention that Venus was the goddess of love, or "amor" in Latin, so you have "Roma" and "Amor" back-to-back. Literally. (Cute, huh?)

More gushing goes to the fact that the restoration is (finally!) finished. It took €264,034.80 (although after €100,000, who's counting that €.80?) and 26 years, and it's done… and done well.   

So what was I slightly-less-excited about than I otherwise would have been? Well, the fact that I was expecting, from the hubbub of media articles surrounding the temple's re-unveiling, the visitable part to look something like what you see below. Cella of the Temple of Venus and Rome, from MIBAC, Rome

In fact, though, that part is closed to the public: All you can do is peek through the window, getting a glimpse of the floor (although not of the apse). (The photo is the promotional photo used by Rome's culture ministry). An archaeologist at the Sopraintendenza office around the corner from the temple told me it's because the marble is just too delicate. And, as a big proponent of, you know, keeping old stuff preserved, I can completely support the choice to keep that section roped-off to the public. Still, after seeing articles like this one with images of people walking around the cella, I couldn't help but be disappointed. Just a little bit.

Then again, I know I'm just being greedy. And picky. And wouldn't even feel this way had I not seen photos of people walking around the area, which must have come from the opening ceremony.

So if you're paying a visit to the ancient forum, don't misunderstand — the temple is well worth a stop. It's impressive even for its sheer scale alone. So I don't want to talk anyone out of going. You absolutely should. After all, entrance to the temple is included in your ticket to the forum and Colosseum, so what's stopping you?

Entrance to the Temple of Venus and Rome is to the left of the Arch of Titus as you face the Colosseum, before leaving the forum.

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Travel Virtually to Rome’s Top Sites

School of Athens by Raphael in the Vatican museums Memories fade, and photographs don't always do justice to Rome's top attractions. Now, though, a spate of virtual tours allow travelers to explore some of Rome's most popular buildings and art, from the Sistine Chapel to the Capitoline Museums — all from the comfort of home.

Below, some of the best of the virtual lineup. Prepare to want to start planning your next trip to Rome!

St. Peter's Basilica, now visitable virtuallySt. Peter's Basilica. Gorgeous virtual tour by the Vatican itself. Highly professional and stunning.

The Sistine Chapel. Also by the Vatican.

The Vatican Museums, including the Pinacoteca (below), Raphael Rooms, Etruscan Museum and Egyptian Museum.

San Giovanni in Laterano, or St. John Lateran, the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope) and the mother church of Catholics.

St. Paul Outside the Walls, founded in the 4th century on the burial place of St. Paul and one of Rome's four papal basilicas.Raphael's paintings at the Pinacoteca, Vatican museums, Rome

The Capitoline Museums. They're the oldest public museums in Rome and boast some of Italy's best ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Now, you can visit all 45 of their rooms… digitally.

The Pantheon. Rome's single best-preserved ancient building; the tour isn't as professional as the previous virtual tours, but still pretty great.

Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a beautiful example of the blending of the Baroque and Renaissance styles of architecture. It's famous for its Caravaggio paintings — which, bummer, you can't see in the tour — but also for its Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael, which you can.

The Ara Pacis, the altar made from 13-9 B.C. to commemorate Emperor Augustus' victories and the Pax Romana. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Ara Pacis").

Circus Maximus, where ancient charioteers once raced (make this full-screen for a better image)

Largo Argentina, with the remains of four ancient Republican temples

And, yes… the Colosseum! Colosseum, Rome
Finally: Yes, virtual tours of what actually exists are all well and good — but virtual tours of what ancient Rome would have looked like? Maybe even better.

UCLA's Digital Roman Forum includes both modern and ancient views of the forum, including the basilicas Julia and Aemilia. Pick a time between 700 B.C. and 500 A.D., click on the map, and see what that spot looks like in 360 degrees today — and an image of what it would have looked like then rotates with you.

It's a work in progress and only shows you what the sites look like today, but this other virtual tour of the Roman forum features 360-degree views of a dozen different spots in the ancient landscape.

Now, if only you could also virtually enjoy the taste of pasta alla gricia or the feel of the warm Roman sun on your neck…

 

 

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Trattoria Luzzi: At the Colosseum, a Good Option Among the Bad

 

Pizza capricciosa at Luzzi, a trattoria near the Colosseum, RomeEveryone seems to love Luzzi, a trattoria just down the street from the Colosseum.

Tourists love it because it has checkered tablecloths, waiters who speak English and are (gasp!) friendly to them — but who still yell at each other across the room in Italian, and an earlier opening time for dinner than most other 8pm-and-after restaurants.

Locals love it, although a little less, because the waiters are nuts but (usually) fast, and the
menu's cheap: €6 and under for most pizzas and pastas.

The only people who don't love it is foodies. That's because Luzzi is not for those of us who pick apart whether the guanciale tastes smoky or if the pasta is fresh, or who want a wine list (you won't find one here). Luzzi doesn't serve some of the best food in Rome. It doesn't even serve some of the best cheap food in Rome. (For that, see: places in San Lorenzo and Testaccio, including Il Pommidoro and Nuovo Mondo, and some in Trastevere, including Roma Sparita).

But Luzzi fits a certain need. That need is for a place that's fun, cheap, and reliably okay within a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum, an area where you can't throw a guidebook without hitting a terrible, touristy, overpriced place that caters to, and is filled with, people with their noses in the same guidebook. And some of its dishes are pretty good, including the amatriciana or fettucine alla bolognese (both €5.50), and starters like the octopus grigliata or the antipasto that you get yourself. Help yourself to the array of veggies and other goodies in the back, and you'll be charged depending on the size of your plate — this big plate cost about €4 (below).

Antipasto at Luzzi, RomeIn the evening, though, your best bet at Luzzi is the pizza (shown at top). It doesn't hold up to the pies coming out of Luzzi's neighbor Li Rioni, but then again, Li Rioni is a dedicated pizzeria, no pastas on the menu. Luzzi isn't. And even so, their pizza's pretty darn reliable, always with a proper thin Roman crust and fresh ingredients.

(Well, almost always. Never, ever order their pizza at lunch; it seems Luzzi's pizza chef is only on at dinner. So what you'll wind up with, instead, is a kind of undercooked, floppy monstrosity that scares away all the other pizzas on the playground).

So am I recommending Luzzi or not? If you're in the Colosseum neighborhood and are at risk of winding up in one of the other myriad and awful places in the area, if a friendly, bustling atmosphere is more important to you than if every dish is perfect, or if you're used to places where guitarists sing "That's Amore" to you and where spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu and you want to try something a little more authentic, then yes. If you're the type who likes to reserve dinners in advance and eat the very best of what Rome has to offer…mmm…probably not.

(That doesn't mean I don't love you, Luzzi!)

Luzzi. Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 88. Open for lunch and dinner daily except for Wednesday. 06 7096332‎. For a map, click here.  

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Underground at the Colosseum: How Do You Get There?

DSC_0104_004 I've gotten a lot of messages asking more about how to access the subterranean and third levels of the Colosseum, which officially opened to the public today.

Well, I've been there, done that (I was actually lucky enough to be on the very first public tour of the newly-unveiled areas at 9:40am this morning!), so I'm happy to share!

Update, April 5 2012: After being closed due to floods, Colosseum officials just announced that the underground will reopen this Saturday, April 7.

Update, October 2011: The Colosseum underground and 3rd tier will be open until Dec. 31.

Update, September 2011: After months of keeping mum, officials finally have confirmed that the Colosseum underground will be open through October.

Update, July 2011: It's been confirmed that the Colosseum's underground is now open through September… but possibly no later! Click the link for info on the three major (and only) ways to get to the Colosseum underground. (The post below gives you info on how to book by taking a tour with the Colosseum directly — but that's not necessarily, or always, the best way).

Update, March 2011: The Colosseum's underground has reopened! Some things, including the exact price and the ability to pay in cash on the day of, have changed. Click the link for more info.

Why is this special? It's the first time since antiquity that the hypogeum and third levels have been officially, safely open to the public. (Actually, even better than that, since even in antiquity the hypogeum would not have been open to the public). And it's the first time the arena has been open to the public during the daytime.

Do I have to book in advance to see the hypogeum and third levels? Yes, you must book in advance. 

But why? Because the areas are archaeologically sensitive, they don't want the Colosseum's 19,000 or so daily visitors clambering around on their own. Instead, the Colosseum's official guides are taking groups to those areas, with a maximum of 25 people per group.

How do I book? The best (and, I think, so far only) way to book is to call Rome's cultural association, Pierreci, directly. Their phone number is +39 06 39967700. Websites might start cropping up soon, if they haven't already, offering to sell you these tickets online; they'll charge you a surcharge for this, so just call Pierreci instead. 

Do they speak English? Yes, they should. If you can't follow the rapid-fire Italian for your options through the automated system, press 0 the first time you're asked a question, 3 the second time. (Assuming, of course, you're an individual booking for a group tour). That should bring you to an operator. Once you speak to someone, if you just ask, "Parla inglese?", you should be able to communicate with them in English fine. They are, after all, offering English guided tours!

The first group on the Colosseum's third level

But I don't want to make an international call. That's expensive. Download Skype (www.skype.com). It's a free voice-over-internet program and takes thirty seconds to download. It's intuitive, it's easy, and you can call phones internationally for much less than what most phone cards would cost you. Plus, calling Skype to Skype is free.

How much is it? It costs €12 (the normal entrance price, which includes your entrance to the Forum and Palatine), plus €8 for the guided tour, plus a €1.50 reservation fee. You do not pay in advance.

What times are the tours? I don't know, and I'm not sure there's a regular schedule. But it seems like lots of tours in both Italian and English (perhaps other languages, too) are being given. The operator will give you a list of times that you can choose.

Should I book now, or wait till I get to Rome and have more of an idea of my schedule? Book now. Seriously, everyone and their mother will want to do this. You need to get a slot as soon as possible.

How long are they doing this for? So far, till November 30. But I can't imagine they won't continue it after that.

 So I have my reservation number, and I'm in Rome. Now what? When you go to the Colosseum, you'll see a long line on your right. Don't stand in it–that's for people without reservations. You also might see a long line on your left. Don't stand in that one, either, which is for big group tours. Instead, go down the middle. When a guard asks you for your ticket, say you have a reservation. He'll let you through to the ticket windows at the end. Get in the line for reservations ("prenotazioni"), which should be very, very short. At the window, present your reservation code. You're then given your ticket, plus a little sticker saying you're one of the chosen few for the tour. The meeting point is currently in front of the elevator, but that may change (like everything does!), so make sure to ask.

What if I have a RomaPass? If you tell the person at the reservation window that you already have a ticket to the Colosseum, you can pay just the reservation and tour fee and use your pass.

Can I use my ticket for something else? Yes. It's a normal, combined Colosseum ticket, so you can use it for entrance to the Forum and Palatine for the rest of the day and the following day (the deadline will be printed on your ticket).

What does the tour cover? The tour includes the hypogeum (subterranean area), arena, Porta Libitina, and third level.

How long is the tour? This morning, it took us an hour and a half to get through it all. I don't know if that's how long they'll all be.

Can I sightsee more around the Colosseum after the tour? The tour ends inside, so yes.

Is it worth it? Yes. It's incredible. And this is absolutely how the Colosseum is meant to be seen. Once you see the Colosseum from its almost-top, and peer up at the seating from where gladiators and animals would have waited for their turn, and walk through the gate where gladiators' dead bodies were taken out, you'll feel badly for those who "only" got to see the Colosseum's first and second levels.

Whew! I hope that covers everything, but let me know if I left anything out!

Worker unlocking the door for the third level of the Colosseum A guard allowing us up to the third level of the Colosseum.

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