With 33 countries under my belt, I’ve experienced some of the most amazing cities that the world has to offer. From great beaches, climate, friendly people, personal interests, world-famous attractions, architecture, history, and culture, there are many different factors that make a city great, let alone top ten!
#1 Rome, Italy – One of the oldest cities in the world, there is no other place that holds the beginning of life like Rome.
The city standing on seven hills by the Tiber River is a discovery of monuments among some of the most beautiful architectures and creations in the world. From the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica, every street houses an imperial Roman ruin. The people of Rome, including ancient gladiators, powerful emperors, and influential religious leaders, have shaped world history for 2,000 years and counting. When I walked the streets of Rome, I was filled with anticipation and wanderlust. After a decade studying ancient history in high school and university, I was immersed within its walls and ready to explore its vast, lively lands. Known as La Cita Eternal, everything done in Rome is accomplished in an endless, epic manner.
Being able to “live” history by going where historical figures went, feeling what they felt, and seeing what they saw was a remarkable experience provided by the Colosseum. It was an indescribable feeling to step inside the Colosseum and know that people, both influential and common, stood in that exact spot for thousands of years before me. The Colosseum is located near the ancient center of Rome and it’s still a marvel to behold. It is amazingly well preserved; built between 70AD and 80AD, the Roman Colosseum held up to 70,000 spectators for gladiator contests and animal hunts. It’s estimated that over 500,000 people and 1,000,000 animals were killed during the Roman games. I will never forget my visit to the Colosseum and my overwhelming desire to touch everything and blink less as I took in its history!
If stones could talk, the hallowed ruins of the Roman Forum, Imperial Forums, and Palantine Hill would speak of the most powerful government in the world. Although these lands and buildings no longer exist in their original grandeur, the ruins still hold important clues about Rome’s ancient rulers and elite. I didn’t see ruins and fragments, broken arches and overturned boulders. My continued studies and vivid imagination allowed me to wander amidst Circus Maximus, the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, Palaces of Tiberius and Caligula, and the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentiu. The rush of history and the “sacred way” hit me like a horse-drawn chariot; I was among gods!
Trevi Fountain is a commonly visited tourist spot, and I heard that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured to return back to Rome. I’m not one to follow legends too closely, but if there is any opportunity to increase my odds of returning to Rome, I’ll believe in superstition. You can’t turn a street corner in Rome without seeing a beautiful fountain, but Trevi Fountain is not to be missed. While making my way through intolerable crowds, I became increasing aware of the possibility of pick-pockets. With tourists from around the world searching in their pockets, purses, and wallets for money to toss into the fountain, the likelihood of petty crime was obvious, but I threw caution and coins to the wind and wished for a quick and safe return to Rome.
The Vatican Museums are vast and contain many treasures collected over thousands of years. They are located in the papal palace and the most famous room inside the museum is the Sistine Chapel. My ancient history studies may span over a decade, but I couldn’t imagine touring the museums or the chapel without a guide. Like the Roman Forum, there are very few markings or signs that explain the massive collections. The tour covered the Pio Clementino Museum (classical antiquity), the Gallery of the Candelabras, the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Geographical Maps (Renaissance Art), the Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel. When standing inside the chapel, we were packed in like sardines but it was worth it to see, first-hand, the many treasures and famed pieces of art. The Last Judgement, a painting by Michelangelo that took six years to complete, is located above the altar in the Sistine Chapel. It is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse. The souls of humanity rise and descend to their fates as judged by Christ and his saintly entourage. Standing before Michelangelo’s massive masterpiece, I understood why he prevailed as a painter. Then, if his greatness wasn’t obvious already, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel contains Michelangelo’s most famous fresco painting and the “Creation of Man” panel. Little description is needed for this work of art because it is popular around the world. I was able to snap off a few photos before getting a second warning and eventually being escorted out of the building. I would not have wanted to go to Rome and not see the Sistine Chapel, and I couldn’t leave without my own picture.
Perhaps there is no greater living testament to Rome’s history, than St. Peter’s Basilica. Over 2,000 years of Roman and Christian history are represented and found in St. Peter’s. In addition to its history, St. Peter’s is also the largest and most famous church in all of Christianity. It is the home of the papal seat and the center of the Catholic Church. St. Peter’s also rivals the greatest art museums in the world. I visited St. Peter’s and took in the wonder of St. Peter’s Square during a Vatican holiday and I was able to see the Pope, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals perform a service and walk the square before my very own eyes. Now, each time I see St. Peter’s on TV, I can’t help thinking I was there!
A destination ripe with history, Rome humbled me in mere moments; the imperial scale of the Coliseum, the founding grounds of ancient Roman law and justice – the Roman Forum, the grandiosity of Vatican City, the Holiness of St. Peter’s Square, Rome offered 2,000 years of continuous history in a surprisingly compact center. As a teacher, I reveled in its offerings and as a life-long history student I kept my eyes wide open and the pictures aplenty to never forget what I learned in Rome.
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