Last summer I visited Rome for the first time and was completely captivated by it. As a French and Latin student, I was drawn to both the flamboyance of the Italian language and of course, the overwhelming history of the city. This September, I chose to spend twelve intensive days learning about the Classical world in the heart of its capital, on a undergraduate summer school run by the British School at Rome.
Rome is the longest continuous, political centre in the world, its continuity is shown by the juxtaposition of architecture from ancient times right up to modern day on almost every street corner. Sigmund Freud compared Rome to the unconscious mind, stating that nothing in Rome is ever lost to memory, but incorporated and swept along in its development. This never seemed truer, as we wandered the streets, absorbing Rome’s complex history.
The course itself focused on Rome, from the founding to the fall of the Empire. Our mornings were spent visiting the Roman sites, and in the afternoons, we were left to discover the city’s bustling modern life.
Despite being a capital city, areas of Rome have the distinct aura of a quaint, Tuscan towns; you can really lose yourself in Trastevere on the west bank of the Tiber, winding through the pedestrian streets and small squares with intimate cafes and restaurants, which buzz with life in the evenings.
The centre of Rome is small for a capital city and easy to explore on foot, although popping down to the metro for a blast of air conditioning is often welcome. Wandering from the imposing Vittorio Emanuelle II monument, the backdrop to the Forum Romanum, down the Via del Corso takes you towards the Spanish steps and main shopping area for a change of scene. Although, it is primarily a spot to drool over beautiful, expensive clothes that make you wish you weren’t a student. Within walking distance is the Pantheon, with a 30ft wide oculus at the top of its vast dome; at Pentecost, rose petals are showered down from this on to the congregation below.
The Vatican Museum is of course well worth a visit. The steady flow of ‘socked and sandled’ tourists on the pilgrimage to the Sistine Chapel sweeps you along, irrespective of your interests.
For a less rushed experience, visit the Centrale Montemartini, an old industrial factory transformed into a museum. It is a fascinating combination of old and new, which heavily underlines the timeless quality of Roman sculpture and mosaic.
Exploring the city by night is great fun; all the sites are beautifully lit up, surrounded by small, vibrant bars and the squares alive with every generation of Romans enjoying the respite from the heat of the day, leading to a fantastic, relaxed atmosphere.
Whilst barely scraping the surface of Rome’s sites, food, nightlife and attractions I hope to have shared my enthusiasm for this magical city and leave you to go and discover the rest for yourself.
For more about the Ancient Rome Summer School, click here.