Rome Attractions Without Crowds | Hotel Gregoriana Roma

Rome Attractions Without Crowds

“Rome is not like any other city. It’s a majestic museum, a living room to tiptoe through."
Alberto Sordi, Italian actor

As we travelled throughout Italy in 2023 there was a recurring theme voiced by locals - Italy has never been this busy! The figures showed a record breaking 192.7 million people arrived at Italian airports last year. Rome’s Fiumicino airport welcomed by far the highest proportion of passengers with 40.5 million, followed by Milan Malpensa with 26.1 million. The total number of tourists visiting Rome in 2023 was 49.2 million! And the good news? Indications are that 2024 promises to be much the same. This is why we need to become savvy travellers by not missing out, but knowing how to do it better. There are iconic must-see historic attractions all over Italy, but nowhere more so than in the Eternal City.

The Spanish Steps - there are rules now

Since August 2019, sitting on the Spanish Steps is no longer allowed. The ‘Step Police’ will blow a whistle at anyone seated. It’s also forbidden to eat on them and fines can be hefty for offenders. It seems harsh, but these measures are in place to protect important landmarks and historical monuments in the city, apart from the fact that it was becoming increasingly difficult to negotiate the steps with so many tourists sitting on them.

Why are they called the Spanish Steps?

The correct name is “Scalinata della Trinita dei Monti”, comprising three terraces and 138 steps, making it the widest staircase in Europe. Back in the 16th century there was a steep dirt hill in front of the French monastery church, which was built between 1502-1587. The Trinita dei Monti is, by one of the many quirks of Roman history, maintained by France, making it perhaps the most famous church that’s not in France. French diplomat, Etienne Gueffier, died in 1660 leaving part of his fortune for the construction of the stairs. A competition was held in 1717 for the best design and the winner, a little known Italian architect named Francesco de Sanctis, gave the world the Spanish Steps. They wouldn’t be built, though, until 1723-1725. It is only because the Spanish Embassy was located in the piazza at the bottom of the hill (and still is) that the steps ultimately became known as the Spanish Steps.

My tip

Walk the steps and take photos before 7:00am. During the day when they are crowded, there are some easy steps at the end of the street beside the Spanish Piazza opposite Via della Croce that take you to the top of the Spanish Steps.

The Trevi Fountain

You used to be able to share the fountain with just a handful of tourists at 7:00am, but times have changed. The crowds are surging by 6:30am, so this requires an early arrival at 6:00am. Although it was one of 1,352 fountains in 4th century Rome, the Fontana di Trevi has always stood out from the rest. The fountain dates back to ancient Roman times to the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct completed by Marcus Agrippa in 19BC. It provided water to the Roman baths and fountains of central Rome. The fountain was built at the end point of the aqueduct at the junction of three roads. These three streets, tre vie, give the Trevi Fountain its name. In 1730, the Pope held a contest to design a new fountain. Nicola Salvi won, but it is thought he may not have been the first choice. Alessandro Galilei, an architect from the same family as famous astronomer, Galileo, originally won the commission, but it was given to Salvi after a public outcry. Why? Galilei was from Florence. Salvi was a native Roman. Say no more. Salvi never saw his fountain completed as he died eleven years before the completion in 1762. Gangs of thieves used to steal the coins. They were eventually caught by a television show using a hidden camera in 2011. The most famous thief stole coins for 34 years before he was caught in the summer of 2002. Legend tells us that anyone who throws a coin in the Trevi Fountain is destined to return to Rome. Throw in two coins and you’ll fall in love. Go for three if you see yourself married and living in Rome! I’ve been throwing coins for years - still waiting. Don’t just hurl randomly. Stand with your back to the water and toss the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder. This way the coin passes over your heart on its way into the Trevi. It is estimated that around 3,000 euros are collected every day. The money is given to a charity organisation called Caritas which helps Rome’s needy. Last year the Trevi Fountain accumulated a record breaking 1.6 million euros according to Caritas. Twice a week on a Monday and Friday morning the water is drained and the fountain is cleaned.

A hidden in plain sight treasure

Overlooking the Trevi Fountain is Rome’s oldest pharmacy founded in 1552! Above the shop is a sign with the date. On the shelves you can find ancient medical components such as “dragon blood” or “sacred wood”, used to improve the circulatory and immune system. The pharmacy, called Antica Farmacia Pesci, is now run by the third generation of the Ciotti family.

The Pantheon

Considered the ancient Roman’s greatest architectural achievement, the Pantheon is perhaps the most influential building in art history. Its dome was the model for the Florence cathedral dome and for Michelangelo’s dome of St Peters. Although the Pantheon was originally a pagan construction, it was turned into a catholic church in the early 7th century and is still used as a church today.

The Pantheon dome remains the single, largest unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world.

It is the same width and height - 43 metres high and 43 metres wide. At the top, the oculus is the only source of light. It is completely open and measures 9 metres across. When the rain comes in, it drains away through 22 holes in the sloping marble floor. The columns at the front of the Pantheon are single pieces of granite, 40 feet high, quarried in Egypt and shipped down the Nile and across the mediterranean to Rome. They travelled completely covered in grain to avoid damage.

This is not the original Pantheon.

It is the third version. The first one was built in 27BC, but burned down. The second was built 1st century AD, but also burned down. The third, built in 125 AD, luckily survived the fires. This explains the strange inscription above the entrance which means: “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.” Agrippa was around in the 1st century BC and built the first pantheon. The inscription was added as a nice little nod to him as the original founder. The third version was built by Hadrian. Italy’s first two kings are buried here, Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I. Under Umberto lies his queen, Margherita, for whom the classic pizza was named in 1889. Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter, is buried here. What many people don’t know is that Maria Bibbiena, his fiance, is buried alongside him. It’s a bit sad really. Raphael became engaged to Maria, the niece of a powerful Cardinal, in 1514. He put off the marriage for six years because he was having a passionate love affair with the baker’s daughter. And then it was too late for Maria because she died. Raphael died not long after at just 37 years of age in 1520. Margherita, whom he loved to his death, joined a monastery in Trastevere a few months after he died.

My tip

Early morning around 7:00am is fantastic to capture photos of the Pantheon when Piazza della Rotonda is relatively empty of tourists. People start queuing quite early to enter the Pantheon when it opens, but at the end of the day there are less people. With closing time around 7:00pm, the last entry is fifteen minutes before so this is a good time to avoid waiting.

Images and Text by Deborah Taylor, 'CIAO ITALY'

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