Italy: Rome – Rick Steves Travel Talks

Italy: Rome – Rick Steves Travel Talks

This video is an excerpt from a much
longer Italy Travel Talk. To view other topics or to watch my Italy Talk in its
entirety, visit, or check out my Rick Steves YouTube channel.
Enjoy. “Buongiorno,” are you ready to go to Rome?
Rome is brutal. Rome crushes ill-equipped and
ill-prepared tourists, but if you know how to enjoy Rome, it is the
most magnificent city. Rome, along with Paris, and London, and Istanbul, is one of
four cities in Europe that really merits a one-week visit. And when you go to Rome,
you’re gonna enjoy the father of our civilization, basically. It has got so
much history. You need to see it in layers, you need to be prepared, you gotta anticipate the crowds, and the heat. Let’s talk about how we’re gonna enjoy Rome. Now,
when you’re thinking about Italy, there are three great cities, Venice, Florence, Rome,
this is our most popular itinerary. I would highly recommend considering open-jaws
in Italy, and doing Rome as the finale. Rome is where you gotta warm up
to it things aren’t anti climactic after
Rome, and I would fly home from Rome, that would make a lot of sense to me. Rome goes all the way back. It was, of
course, a thousand years the center of the ancient world in the west,
from a western point of view. To put the story of Rome into a nice easy kind of
spectrum, you’ve got the birth of Rome, five hundred years before Christ. It lasts
for a thousand years until 580, it grows for 500 years, it peaks for 200 years,
that’s the Pax Romana, and then it falls for 300 years. There’s a little more to the
story than that, but that’s Rome in a very tight nutshell. The first five hundred
years was the Republic, then it got so big they needed an emperor who could rule it
with an iron fist, and that was the Empire period from the time of Christ on
until it fell. You’ll find this symbol of Rome, Romulus and Remus being suckled by the
she-wolf, all over town. You’ll also find the great emperors being honored.
Everywhere you go in Rome you’ll find history. It’s hard to imagine the city
two thousand years ago with a million people in it, and that was ancient Rome,
classical Rome. When Rome was at its peak, the word “Rome” meant the civilized world
itself, much more than just the city. Here’s the Roman Empire at its peak, from
the time of Christ for 200 years. And notice how Rome is absolutely the center of
that realm. Notice how the lake was called “our lake,””Mare Nostrum.” And
notice that all of that green was the civilized world, people who spoke Latin
or Greek, and everything beyond that was the Barbarian world, not quite human, “bar,
bar, bar.” ‘Course it started to fall later on, but really when you think about the
ancient world, this is really what you’re thinking about. Now when you talk about
Rome itself, it’s on the Tiber River, originally inhabited where the Etruscan
civilization to the north met the Greek civilization to the south. Southern Italy was a Greek colony
called Magna Graecia. It was as far up the river she could go by boat, and the first
place you could cross with a bridge. Rome. And when we look at the Tiber we can see
the different neighborhoods of Rome, and it’s remarkably walkable when you’re
downtown in the center. You need to think of Rome in
neighborhoods, you can connect things very quick and easy by taxi. You can go
across the river when you want to see Trastevere and the Vatican, but most of it is in that medieval and ancient core. Of course, the ancient site of Rome
are really what most of us have in mind. You got the Coliseum, built two thousand years
ago to house 50,000 people with numbered seats, they could fill it and empty it as
quickly and efficiently as we do our great stadiums. I want to remind you,
there’s huge crowds and you’re going where everybody wants to go. There’s four or five
sights that everybody want to see in this city that everybody wants to see, and if
you’re going to those four or five sites you better have a reservation or a pass that
lets you pass the lines. There are plenty of ways to get around
the lines, but without taking advantage of that in advance you’re gonna be at the
end of this line really getting a sunburn and wasting a lot of precious
time. Once you get inside you need history, you
need guiding, you need information to help you bring–resurrect that rubble,
otherwise it’s hard to appreciate what it’s all about. But with the help of a
good guide, it does sense. I just love the challenge, as a guide, to sit my
tourist down in the rubble of ancient Rome and bring it to life. And that’s
what our guides do, anywhere in Europe we love to bring the story to life. We’ve
got some very good guides in Rome; it’s a city that deserves guides, and it’s a city that
has a lot of wonderful licensed guides. And there’s a lot of tour companies that
will let you do not have to hire a private guide, but book onto a tour and
have a local licensed guide show you around, and that would make a lot of
sense. we’ve also got my Rick Steves Audio Europe that has very important guided
tours to the great sights of Ancient Rome and the great sights of the Vatican. This app will be a
godsend for you if you don’t have the luxury of your own private guide. Take
advantage of that if you want to have that service. When you’re thinking of the
Roman Forum, this is the common ground between the Seven Hills of Ancient Rome. That’s where the magic of Rome happened, and then, right from the start five hundred years before Christ, war was
the business of state, Rome starts expanding, and bigger, and bigger, and
bigger, and this becomes the hub–the capital of a vast empire, and this was
the main drag of the capital of that empire, the Via Sacra. And today when
you sight-see, you walk down this Via Sacra and you tried to resurrect all that
rubble, and understand what it was like so long ago when they had their
triumphal parade going down this under the triumphal arches, and so on, and it
just–it covers with goosebumps when you can get a guide that can help you bring
it to life. Lots of propaganda, art back then was art to make the people follow
the Emperor, to fall in line. When you’re looking at Rome it’s hard to grasp the
immensity of their buildings, and the power of the empire. I mean look at this;
and then you realize if you get an artist reconstruction of it those are just the side niches, and you
see the little broken nub on the top, that would be the part of an arch that went
all the way across, and this was as big as a vacant–an empty
football field today, but it was all just veneered with fine marble, and all sorts
of elegant people in togas, and fountains and so on. It is hard to imagine the magnificence
of Rome at it’s zenith. And to this day, there are ancient doors that are still
swinging on their original hinges from two thousand years. Now the Capitol Hill
is the hill that overlooks the Roman Forum. And on the Capitol Hill you’ve got
two of the most important museums in Rome, the Capitoline Museums. And you can
step into those museums, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the outdoor
magnificence of Rome but remember the beautiful, beautiful statues, and there’s
lots of that, are taken out of the acidic and put inside so you can enjoy it there. Make a point to save time and energy for
those interior sites, and the Capitoline Museum is one where you will find a lot
of the textbook examples of Roman art, right there. Not very crowded, very easy
to enjoy, and a lot of antiquities. A short walk away is the Pantheon. And the
Pantheon is the building that gives you a feeling and an appreciation for the
magnificence, and the splendor of Rome at it’s zenith better than any other building.
When you step inside of the Pantheon, you realize how beautifully preserved it is. And you gotta recognize
it’s the one building that wasn’t really cannibalized because it went, almost
directly, from being a temple to all the gods, “pantheon,” to a church dedicated to the martyrs of Rome, or
the people who were killed during Rome for their Christian faith. And when you
step into the Pantheon and you look up at this incredible dome, and you think
of the technology they had way back then in the year 200, how on earth did
they build this thing. Exactly as wide as it is tall, 140 feet. It
was the biggest in Europe for 1400 years They poured the concrete so it got more
porous, and less heavy as it got to the top where it didn’t need to be so strong, and then
you got this beautiful, beautiful skylight in the center. This is free, it’s
right there in the center of Rome, you can pop in anytime you like. This is the
Victor Emmanuel monument here, and it’s a big, overbuilt, kinda
monstrosity built to the ego of the King just 110 years ago or
something like that, but I like the Victor Emmanuel monument because it
gives you a feeling for the pomposity and grandiosity of Rome, and if you put a
thousand of those buildings together, in my mind, that would be what Ancient Rome
was like. The cool thing about the Victor Emmanuel monument–the bad thing is it’s
sitting on a bunch of Antiquities and they can’t get it because this big buildings
there–the great thing about it is you can go to the top of that building if
you know about the elevator on the back side, and you can enjoy a beautiful view
from up there. It’s a cool view because you can look down on the Forum, you got
the best 360 degree look at the city, and you don’t have to look at the building
you’re standing on. Imagine this view from the top of the Victor Emmanuel monument, I love it, I really love it. One of my favorite buildings in all of
Europe is the Galleria Borghese because of what’s inside of it, the greatest
statues by the wonderful Bernini. Bernini was the father of the Baroque movement. Now
you have to get a reservation to get in to the Galleria Borghese. They only let
in a couple hundred people every hour or something like that, but it’s easy to get
a reservation. You go inside and you’ve got Apollo chasing Daphne, and you’ve got
a handful of other amazing masterpieces by Bernini and by Canova. I want to
remind you, if you know where to go in Rome, Florence, and Milan, you can see
almost all of Michelangelo’s great works of art. And when you’re in Rome, you’ve got a
chance to see Moses in the church St. Peter in Chains. And this is an
important, just tactical, you know, advice about your sightseeing in Rome. It’s a big,
grueling city. You spend a lot of time in traffic, and a lot of money on taxis, you
might as well see things neighborhood at a time. And if you’re going to go to the
Coliseum, which you’re gonna do, you should know that a five minute walk away
from the Coliseum is the St. Peter in Chains church, which has a Michelangelo’s
statue of Moses. It’s free, it’s not crowded, and it’s open an hour before the
Coliseum. If you’re stretching your day, here’s an example of being a smart tour
guide; get an early start, go enjoy St. Peter in Chains and Michelangelo’s
Moses at the crack of the day, the beginning of the day, and then have a
cup coffee, walk down, and be the first person into the Coliseum. You can do that
if you plan smartly, and that’s important. Also in Rome, like any city, you’ve got
all sorts of quirky sights you might not know about if you didn’t do your
studying. A lot of people are fascinated by human bones. If you like human bones,
you got em’ in Rome, man, you got em’ in Rome. Now you don’t go out to the
catacombs to see human bones, no bones in the catacombs, fascinating sights, but no
bones. If you want bones, you go to the Capuchin crypt. The Capuchin monks had an interesting
habit of hanging their dead brothers up to dry down in the crypt. When all the
flesh was rotted away, they would go down and decorate with the remaining bones.
100 years later, they charge tourists to see it with a funny little
slogan on the roof as you enter, “visitors, be mindful, they were as you are today,
and you will soon be as they are today,” alright. So it’s just a cheery little reminder
about your mortality halfway through your vacation. Rome is crowded with
lots of tourists, lots of locals, and lots of thieves. Thieves target tourists, and I would say
in all of Europe, the place you’re most likely to get pick-pocketed would be
Barcelona and Rome, okay. You’re not gonna get mugged, there’s no violent risk, if you’re
using common sense there’s just the obvious risk of pickpocketing and purse
snatching, and if you’re a thief in Rome you go on the bus 69. That is the major
bus that goes from the train station to the Vatican through the heart of the
city, packed with tourists and pickpockets. You
can see em’ working on that bus. Be on the ball, wear your money belt and
understand that there are people eyeballing you, tourists are targeted. It’s
really fun to go to the Jewish ghetto. One of the early ghettos is in Rome, in
fact the Jewish community in Rome is the oldest Jewish community in Europe. That
was before the Diaspora, before the destruction of the temple. There was a
Jewish community of merchants there before Christ, and they’ve been in this
little part of Rome for over 2,000 years. To this day, Jewish families whose lineage goes
back 2,000 years gather together on their folding chairs and
just make the scene. And you can join them in the ghetto. Across the river from
the ghetto, you’ve got Trastevere. When you go across the river you get to
the “rough side of the tracks” kind of, in European terms, and there is Trastevere.
Across the river, that’s where your crusty poetry can be written, and then
also on the other side of the river you’ve got the Vatican Museum. People
would bury their dead outside of the city walls, and St. Peter was buried in a
little humble graveyard on Vatican Hill. Trastevere, literally ‘across the
Tiber River,” is a fascinating place to wander and check out. And then just
beyond that you’ve got, of course, St. Peter’s. Remember, there was a chariot
race course here before there was a Roman Catholic Church, and for halftime
entertainment they would kill Christians, and St. Peter was one of these who was
martyred there. And after the chariot race course–this obelisk, you see, was a
a decoration point on that chariot race course–St. Peter would have seen this
obelisk on the day he was killed. His followers took his body to a little hill
nearby and buried him there in the Vatican Hill, and for 300 years
or 200 years, Christians would worship quietly after dark, low profile
because it wasn’t okay. And then in 312, the Emperor Constantine became a
Christian, and Christianity became the leader religion of the empire. By 390 was
the only permissible religion, and you’ve got yourself a huge church built on the
tomb of St. Peter’s. St. Peter was the first pope, and from him we have all the
pope’s to this day. And this is the center of a billion Catholic Christians
and, it’s a beautiful place to check out, the cathedral itself is an amazing place.
If you’re going to Europe in Christmastime, Rome is a great place to be.
This is the square at Christmas with a giant manger scene. And when I look at
that dome right there, I’m looking at the dome that Michelangelo designed.
Taller than a football field on end. You can go to the very top, it’s an amazing,
amazing thing. Getting back to Christmas in Rome, Christmas lasts until epiphany,
January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas when Jesus
got the gifts from the three wise men. And you’ve got a big celebration on that
day and lots of celebrations before that. And Rome is really festive during
Christmas, it’s a fun time to be there. When you see a guy with a bushy beard
and a key that is Saint Peter, and you see him all over the place around the
Vatican. When you step into that glorious basilica, you look to the inside of
the dome and you see writing in letters as tall as me, each one of those six feet tall. And it says,
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” See that’s the reason for
the importance of that church in Christendom. You step into the church and
you’re just wonderstruck. One of my great treats as a guide is to take my groups
into that church. I go in first and watch people as they step inside. It’s an
incredible space. For years I went to St. Peter’s Basilica as a Lutheran with
an attitude, and it was a horrible experience, I didn’t enjoy it. Park your protestant sword, if you have
one, at the door. Become a Catholic, at least temporarily,
when you go to st. Peter’s Basilica. See it on its terms. Celebrate it. It’s an
amazing place. If you like to go to church, any day of the year you can go to
church at five o’clock right there on the tomb of St. Peter’s, and actually
experienced that church doing what it was designed to do, to facilitate worship. it’s
an amazing, amazing experience. Of course, in the church you’ve got some great art, you’ve
got Michelangelo’s Pietà. And this is one of the great art treasures of Europe, and just
to see that right there, where it was supposed to be, is just so great. You can climb to the
top of the dome. When Michelangelo had built his dome, remember here he said, “I
can build a bigger but not more beautiful than my dome in Florence,” but this was the
biggest dome to be built in Europe, it’s really quite an inspiration. And you can
go to the very top, and from the top you can get a view of that little country
called the Vatican. You can get a view of the great square, and that obelisk, and
you can look out into the city of Rome, and you can look down on the Sistine
Chapel from the top of that dome. That rectangular building is the Sistine
Chapel, and if you want to go to the Sistine Chapel you gotta walk through,
what I think, must be the biggest museum around the Vatican Museum. And the highlight, the finale, the
culmination of that museum experience, is the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum itself
is amazing, it’s very very crowded and it’s gonna be
crowded when you’re there, there’s no way around the crowd, it’s just a mob scene all
day long. I think it’s worth it. Most tourists stick to the main route, you know,
but you can verge off of that and have a lot of peace and quiet if you like, but
it’s just an amazing thing. You got the art treasures of western civilization, the Laocoon, you got Apollo Belvedere, you got lots of beautiful rooms all designed and frescoed by Raphael, and when you
get to those rooms you’re gonna have a human traffic jam. It’s gonna be this
crowded, and you’re just gonna shuffle through with all the mobs, everybody with
their cameras up, videoing the thing, you know, and it’s just, you can get a bad
attitude about it, but I’ll warn you right now, gird yourself for the crowd, and just
look above the masses of sweaty people, and enjoy the wonder of art 500 years ago that brought Europe– helped bring Europe into our modern age. the
finale, the reward for all those crowds, is the Sistine Chapel. And on the ceiling
you’ve got the whole story of creation designed by Michael, painted by
Michelangelo, frescoed by Michelangelo, God giving Adam the spark of life. and
then, much later on, the Pope asks Michelangelo to come back down and paint
the last judgment above the altar, a whole different part of art history. The
ceiling was High Renaissance, this is Counter Reformation.
Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, has torn European in half, there’s all sorts of
wars everywhere, the Catholic army of Spain has actually plundered Rome, sacked
Rome, and the church is reeling. And the church is coming out swinging with their
Counter Reformation art, and here we have Jesus coming down on judgment day, his
fists raised, Mary is cowering at his side. You used to be able to go to Mary for some help, but she’s
saying, “I can’t do anything right now, he’s really, really intense right now.” And
there’s people, people are going to hell, and people are going to heaven
according to how they followed the dictates of the church. Counter
Reformation art. Understand who pays for the art, and why, what’s the context.
All across Europe your sightseeing experience becomes much
better. There are different overlays of your Roman experience, you
can do Ancient Rome, you can do Baroque Rome, you can do Catholic Rome, you
can do fascist Rome, you can do today’s shopper’s Rome, and Antique Rome, you can
also do pilgrims Rome. And a lot of us neglect that whole fascinating slice of
Rome, but a lot of people come to Rome on a pilgrim’s agenda, not on a tourists agenda. You can climb the Holy steps, the Scala Santa, as people have been doing
for centuries. These are the steps to Pontius Pilate’s mansion, brought back to
Rome from the Holy Land by Constantine’s mother in the fourth century. And ever
since then, pilgrims have come to Rome, said the Lord’s Prayer on each step
as they climb it on their knees, hoping to get less time off in purgatory. A lot of Italians don’t go to church a lot, but if they ever have a near miss on their
motorcycle they’ll go right down to church, and hang their helmet up right
there on this chapel where you got this saint that you thank when you have a
near death experience on your motorcycle. You know, Catholicism is really in
the DNA of Catholics and you find that when you go to the churches. I mentioned
Fascist Italy. Mussolini had a chance to really, really pump it up during
his reign, and build a lot of impressive buildings. And you can go out to a
futuristic, planned city called EUR when you’re in Rome. EUR is a
chance to see what society would be like if it gave the reins to a fascist
dictator. It’s no question asked, it’s either you’re with us or against us,
it’s violent, neo-pagan, super duper patriotism. It’s all of everybody in lockstep. It’s
really a chilling kind of thing and you really see it at EUR, you really see
it, I find it quite powerful. Outside of Rome, just half an hour, is the ancient
port of Ostia Antica. Now if you don’t have time to go to Pompeii which is the
ultimate ancient site, three hours south of Rome, go to Pompeii– or go to Ostia, it’s just
half an hour away and it rivals Pompeii, it’s amazing, Ostia Antica. At night the flood
lights come on, people come out, the police close down the main drag, and everybody
is out making the scene, strolling. In Italy, of course, that’s the “passeggiata.” In Rome it’s a little coarser, it’s called the “strùscio,” that’s the “great rubbing.”
Everybody’s out rubbing and you’re saying “bello” or “Bella,” make sure you
get your gender right, and people are sizing everybody up, it’s sort of a meat
market out in the streets. It’s multi-generational, everybody’s out
checking out the scene, cruising up and down the Via Del Corso I find it
fascinating, one of the great sights of Rome is just to be out in the evening
strolling the Via Del Corso, or sit down at a nice corner, pay too much for a cup
of coffee or a drink, and watch the whole scene in front of you, it’s a beautiful
thing to do in Rome. All over Italy you got that great coffee culture and you can
certainly enjoy that. I love to lace together the great night spots in Rome,
and when I do that I find that I can go from the Campo de Fiori to the Piazza
Navona with its wonderful fountains, you can drop by the Spanish Steps, and you
can go to the Trevi Fountain. And the Trevi fountain is one of the romantic sites of romantic Europe, where
people from all over the world gather to throw a coin over their shoulders to
guarantee that they’ll return to the great city of Rome, the Eternal City of
Rome. You know, I throw a coin over my shoulder and it works, you go back every
year if you want to, but I think if you’re on a tight budget you don’t
really need to do that. Rome is a brutal city. Rome is, in so many ways, the capital, the
father of our civilization, and if you prepare well for Rome, it’s also a very
enjoyable experience. I hope you enjoy Rome. Thank you. If you’ve enjoyed this video, you’ll find
lots more at, and on my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Happy travels, and thanks
for joining us.

14 thoughts on “Italy: Rome – Rick Steves Travel Talks

  1. Everybody don't have the "set up" that you have Rick Steve's to just go & romp around Rome for a week or so & come back!

  2. Do not go to Italy without downloading Rick’s tours. Used them a month ago in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Thanks Rick!

  3. Only one God and one vine to God an that's Jesus Christ The real one of the bible The color of Jasper , color of bronze burned in a furnace eyes of fire

  4. @8:35 Please show more respect for this building Mr. Steves. The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument holds great national significance for Italians. It is an architectural and artistic tribute to the Italian Risorgimento: the complex process of unification undertaken by Victor Emmanuel II throughout the second half of the 19th Century. It is regarded as a national symbol of Italy and every year it hosts important national celebrations. The largest annual celebrations are Liberation Day (April 25th), Republic Day (Italian: "Festa della Repubblica Italiana") (June 2nd), and Armed Forces Day (Italian: "Giornata dell'Unità Nazionale e delle Forze Armate") (November 4th). During these celebrations, the Italian President and the highest government officials pay tribute to the Unknown Soldier and those who died in the line of duty by laying a laurel wreath. Would you appreciate foreigners' snickering about the architecture of Washington Monument and Arlington cemetry? I know Americans aren't big on respect for other countries, but please…

  5. This was a fantastic talk! My boyfriend and I are now going to see Michelangelo's Moses which we didn't see highlighted in any of our travel books. I like that there is also an acknowledgement of the propaganda in some of the art which is another interesting part of history.

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