“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.” – Giotto di Bondone, Italian painter and architect
The blue sky has just broken through the early morning haze when the Emerald Princess pulled alongside its berth in the old Roman port of Civitavecchia.
Located some 80 kilometres west of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea and built upon an ancient Etruscan village, Civitavecchia was founded by the Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century. It became a free port under Pope Innocent XII in 1696 and eventually the main sea harbour for Rome.
While Civitavecchia has a number of sites worth seeing including Forte Michelangelo and the Terme Taurine baths, the city is mostly a jumping off point for the richer treasures of Rome. However, because Rome is 90 minutes inland from the port, it can be an expensive shore excursion for passengers hoping to pack in a full day of sightseeing. For example, a full-day guided shore excursion by cruise-ship tour bus can run about US$180 per person or more.
So how can the average family spend a day in Rome without breaking the bank?
If you don’t need hand-holding and can organize your own day, the best way to see Rome is to take the train from Civitavecchia, buy a guide book with a good map, walk around to the main attractions, and find yourself a reasonably priced restaurant for lunch. My wife Gail and I did, and we’ve never had more fun in Rome for less money.
Our day began at 8:30 am when we boarded the ship’s free shuttle bus from the port into the city of Civitavecchia (most ships offer a free shuttle into town). From there, it was a short 5-minute walk to the train station with about 40 other savvy passengers, where we paid 10 Euros each for a return ticket to Rome. The trains to and from Rome depart about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about 90 minutes.
Once we arrived at Termini Roma, we walked southwest along Via Cavour to the Colosseo, where we began our sightseeing tour of Rome, which the ancient Romans called the “Eternal City” because they believed that no matter how many empires came and collapsed, Rome would endure forever.
Built between 72 and 80 A.D., the Colosseo was a remarkable architectural achievement for its time, and was in active use for over 500 years. The massive structure stands some 48m (157 ft.) high and occupies 2.4 hectares (6 acres) of land, and in its prime was able to hold 50,000 blood-hungry patrons cheering for their favourite gladiators. While a great deal of stone and marble was removed after it fell into disuse, parts of the Colesseo are still intact, including a good portion of its beautiful façade.
Next, we walked up the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), which was once the centre of the Roman Empire with its majestic buildings, homes and temples. Unfortunately, the ruins consist mainly of fallen stone, fragments of buildings, and a few arches and columns. However, they are still worth seeing, if only to walk in the footsteps of the great Roman emperors and generals.
North of the Roman Forum we discovered Trajan’s Column, which commemorates in a series of intriguing reliefs the Roman emperor’s victory in the Dacian Wars. Completed in 113 AD, the 30-metre high column has a spiral staircase inside with 185 steps that provide access to a viewing platform on top.
The Pantheon was our next stop, about a 30-minute walk northwest of the Forum. Built as a temple to the seven gods of Rome around 125 A.D., the Pantheon was a spectacular engineering achievement for its time as it features a huge dome with a 5.4m wide (18 ft.) circular opening at the top, constructed without the aid of any supporting columns. It’s one of the best preserved Roman buildings and has been in continuous use for nearly 2,000 years.
After leaving the Pantheon, we took a short walk eastwards to the Fontana di Trevi, which along with the Colesseo is probably one of the most photographed sites in the city. Designed by the great artist Nicolo Salvi and completed in 1762, the beautiful fountain features Neptune standing on a chariot being pulled by winged horses.
It was now 1:30 pm, so we walked further north to the Spanish Steps, strolled by the street market with the day’s catch, and sat on the patio of a nearby restaurant for some pasta and wine. Built between 1723 and 1725, the 136-steps that rise from the Barcaccia fountain at the bottom to the Trinita dei Monti church at the top, are named after the Spanish Embassy which was located nearby.
After a delightful lunch (38 Euros for two including wine and tip), we ascended the steps, walked southeast towards the Piazza Barberini, and then jumped in a taxi for the short ride to the train station where we caught the 3:46 pm departure for our return trip to Civitavecchia.
Regrettably, we hadn’t had time to see St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museum, which we might have been able to fit in had we gotten up earlier, or taken one of the ship’s shore excursions. However, we had been able to see many of Rome’s most famous attractions, and we had done so at our own pace, and at a fraction of the cost of a guided excursion. Or as Gail told me, enough of a savings to pay for that “to-die-for” Furla purse we found on the way back to the ship!