Rome Part 3 – Vatican & The Colosseum

Our final day in Rome was jam packed. We somehow ended up with both a Vatican and St Peter’s tour in the morning and a Colosseum tour in the afternoon.

We decided to splurge on the the Vatican tour and take the one where we would skip the queues and get in an hour before it opened. It was well worth it. The experience started with a beautiful morning walk through the streets of Rome. It is a totally different experience to during the day. Peaceful. Quiet. Empty. You almost wouldn’t believe you’re in the same place.

We met our guide Giuliano – an animated Italian with a strange Italian/British accent. The tour was a maximum of 6 people and because they already had another group of 5, we ended up with a private tour. It was amazing. Through the whole tour we were whizzing past massive tour groups as the being just three of us, we were very nimble.

We made a bee line for the Sistene Chapel. With only a few tour groups allowed in early, it was quiet and relatively empty. Giuliano gave us a run down before we entered as you are supposed to stay quiet in there. The story of it is fascinating.

When Michelangelo was asked to paint the chapel by Pope Leo, he was not yet a painter, but a sculptor. He had never (officially) picked up a paint brush. One of the things I found really interesting was that some of the first panels Michelangelo painted were far more detailed than the latter ones. Not only did he realise after these first few that perhaps he had over extended himself – he also realised the detail and smaller figures were a bit lost from below. So he changed his approach and began to paint fewer, but larger figures.

The whole room is really stunning. I have to say though after seeing many other stunning painted ceilings I’m not quite sure why this one has been singled out – most likely because of it’s religious significance, but artistically, I think there are many we’ve seen that are just as good. Although I’m sure many would disagree with me.

Following the chapel, Giuliano guided us through the rest of the Vatican museums – rooms upon rooms of stunning, history filled art and artefacts: Greek and Roman sculptures (which we now know how to tell the difference between), mosaics, paintings, maps, tapestries and more. Tim and I both really loved the amazing maps of different regions of Italy that lined one of the grand hallways. Apparently if you put all the maps together they would create one huge map of Italy.

Finally we finished the tour with St Peter’s. The scale and grandiose of the building were impressive to say the least. The amazing painted domes were the standout for me, with light streaming through from above. It was originally supposed to be smaller (in Michelangelo’s original design), but it was made larger. There are lines marked on the ground to show just how much larger it is than other Churches around the world. Not that it’s a competition (but it kind if is).

By the end of the tour we were absolutely exhausted. It was a fantastic tour through and I would recommend Livitaly Tours and Giuliano to anyone heading to Rome. It was well organised and Guiliano was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He really made the tour with all his interesting little tid bits of information. I would not have known what I was looking at otherwise.

The second half of the day was a tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. This tour was a little lack lustre compared to the first. It was stinking hot and mostly out in the sun and we also had a bigger group. So we often kept to shady spots and had to travel at a pace that was acceptable to everyone – which meant we heard a lot from our guide, but didn’t see as much as I would have liked. There’s quite a lot to explore at the Forum and we didn’t see all of it.

I would recommend if you are going here to probably avoid a tour and find some kind of guide and do it yourself. If you are on a tour you only get to see what the tour guide shows you. And it’s not like a museum where by default you kind of end up seeing everything by walking past.

The Colosseum itself is pretty spectacular – something that made it more so was some ominous, dark clouds started to form in the distance. With the sun starting to lower in the sky, producing a beautiful warm light on the red bricks of the Colosseum, the clouds made a stunning contrast in the background.

Again the scale of the Colosseum was astonishing. It could hold 50-60,000 people. To think a building of that size could be built so long ago is just amazing.

Would I do the two tours in the one day again if I had the choice? Absolutely not. Can it be done? With a good pair of walking shoes and a lot of stamina, yes. A tip for those travelling to Rome in the future – book your tours in advance. We didn’t and it was what put us in the position to have to do this in the first place.

One of the best parts of the day was when the heavens opened up and in the sweltering heat, it started to rain. It was a welcome relief from the stickiness of the hot day and made the city look even more beautiful.

Rome was really a fascinating city. I loved it’s animated people – every one their own unique character (really, I felt like there was not a plain Jane in the whole city). I loved it’s architectural beauty – not so much the large monuments which it’s famous for, but its local winding streets. I loved it’s food, it’s markets it’s bars, it’s cafes. I did not love it’s 35+ degree heat and lack of green space.

A big thanks once again to our host Fanny for a wonderful stay. With any luck we will be back again some day and explore the many things we missed. You just can’t do it all in three and a bit days.