Rome, Italy

Coming from DC, where landmarks are plenty, but not necessarily that big elaborate in detail, I was not sure what to expect in Rome. I knew that most of the historic attractions in Europe tend to be older than attractions in the US on average, so I figured the architecture and design of these landmarks would be more authentic. Every building I saw in Rome was bigger and had more detail than a comparable building in DC!

Warning: Tangent about cars imminent. Skip next paragraph if you don't care about cars.

Our plane arrived in Italy on June 7th, 2015 around 8:15 AM. Already, things looked very different, exit signs, airport vehicles, toilets, doorways, and stores. As a car enthusiast, I recognized a few models offered in the US, some under different brands, such as the Fiat panel vans. Obviously the Fiat 500 has grown in popularity in the US since its launch in 2011, and the Italian variant is nearly identical. A noticeable difference for me among all cars (exclusive to Italy and on the US market) was the front turn signal lenses. In the United states, these lenses' reflectors are required to be amber in color, even if the bulb has an amber coating on it too. In Italy and many other countries in Europe, the entire assembly and reflector can be clear in color, but the bulb must also be amber in illumination. In my opinion this very subtle difference creates a much cleaner looking car, much so that I did it to my 2004 Toyota Sequoia, despite Maryland's requirements for amber reflectors (never had a problem with it though, at night you can't tell the difference anyway). The same goes for tail light lenses in the US, in Italy, they can be clear as long as illumination is proper color. Interstingly enough, the US does not mandate amber turn signals on the rear of a car, but Europe does! A bit of a trade-off in regulation, now I learned that one by reading about US cars adapted for European markets. Oddly enough, cars cannot be modified at all in Europe. This even includes wheels and tires. People think I am crazy for noticing such subtle differences on cars, but its cool learning it all!

Here is a comparison, courtesy of Google images (yeah I know that's not a real source but you'll get the point, just pretend they are cars in a parking lot).

An example of what you would see in Europe. On many cars where
 the corner lamp  and headlight are one assembly, this looks even better
An example of what would be required equipment in most American states.
Not bad looking, but the clear still looks better in my opinion!

Getting on to the real purpose of the visit. Rome, The Ancient City!

Before I even stepped out of the van, I could not believe my eyes. Huge walls that were built centuries ago surround the city, most of the roads are paved in bricks, and there is not a single modern building within the ancient walls (newer buildings conform to traditional building styles). When I see a picture-perfect part of a city in a movie, I have come to expect that such an area is only blocks long. Not Rome. The entire city is as cinematic as you could ever imagine. Small alleyways packed with restaurant chairs and tables, large stone-paved courtyards filled with fountains and vendors of every kind, scooters and tiny cars, and historic structures from a number of different eras. It's like drinking from a fire hose, theres a lot to see, and only so much you can take in at once over a 5 day period. Here are the most notable things that I did get to see in and near Rome:

  • The Vatican
  • The Colosseum
  • The Catacombs 
  • Pantheon


The Vatican is one of the most well known landmarks in the world, especially among us Roman Catholics. It is also the smallest recognized country in the world, complete with its own currency and mailing system. For those familiar with the United States, a good but not exact analogy would be how the District of Columbia is not a state, but is a federal territory contained within the borders of the states Maryland and Virginia. 

The Vatican houses some of the best artwork in the world, including work from famous Renaissance artist Michelangelo. Everything from 3 dimensional sculptures, to textiles, to paintings.

Michelangelo is probably most known for his fresco paintings contained within the Sistine Chapel. Scenes from Genesis are featured on the ceiling, and The Last Judgement is painted on the wall behind the altar. The curved ceiling and wall surface required Michelangelo to use perspective and spatial understanding in order to produce the right effect. No photography was allowed on this section of the tour, so I have found a full panorama of the fresco on the internet. 

Image via

Many parts of the ceiling appear to be 3 dimensional architectural features, but these are in fact simply (but not actually that simple) elaborate 2 dimensional paintings. When I was looking up at Genesis, it appeared as though there were humans hanging onto the ceiling looking down on us. This guy had some serious talent.

Here are pictures I took throughout my tour, they are mostly in order, starting from the courtyard. These pictures are straight from the camera and have not been edited, those will come later. 

This modern sculpture is the same size as the ball on top of the St. Peter's Basilica dome

A view of the Vatican

An open doorway with scupture overlooking the Vatican

What is this 3D molding made out of? TRICK QUESTION! This is painted onto the ceiling to look like molding

Also three dimensional

Just in case all this stone bursts into flames

St. Peter's Basilica. Look at all the detail on everything

The amber window in the center is easily 2 or 3 stories tall, possibly bigger than that.

See if you can spot the person leaning up against the railing in the Basilica dome. Hint: look just below the right edge of the third window. 

These smaller domes are much larger than they appear

The Swiss Guard

Nothing like plastic stacking chairs to add to the authenticity of a good picture


The Colosseum is one of humankind's most notable achievements, still being the largest amphitheater in the world, and one of the oldest standing structures in Rome. Some of its most notable features are listed below:

  • The capacity to seat about 50,000 spectators
  • Ancient Romans were admitted entry at no charge (that's a different story today)
  • Over 80 entrances allowed the seats to be filled in about 20 minutes
  • It was built in only 9 years by slaves
  • Seats were numbered similar to a modern stadium, complete with seat, row, and section numbers. 
  • The Colosseum had a retractable awning for a roof, which was supported by wooden masts
  • It was used between 72 and 485 A.D.
The massive structure has since suffered damage from natural disasters, as well as erosion from the elements. The majority of it still stands today and is preserved enough for people to get an idea of how the structure housed its spectators and displayed its performances. The arena grounds actually had a series of walkways and trapdoors underneath, which allowed gladiators and animals to be lifted into the arena. The only thing that remains from this elaborate system is the ground tunnels are the stone walls themselves, and a partial replica of the wooden arena floor.

The staircases were arranged similar to modern stadium stairways, with the exception of the fairly steep ramp in between half flights of steps. This made walking up and down the steps in sandals interesting. The hallways outside of the seating areas felt almost identical to a partially enclosed football or baseball stadium.

From the ground level, the building looks much smaller, I have a feeling this is the result of an illusion caused by the seating arrangement, since from the top level it looked significantly bigger. The outside itself is of course as large as you would expect it to be, about the size of some modern stadiums.

While very crowded from the peak of Rome's tourism season, it was amazing to step foot in one of the worlds oldest standing arenas.

Exterior. A Thorough cleaning was in progress, so it is now much lighter looking in color currently than it did before.

The interior concourses resemble those of a modern football or baseball stadium.

The basement level of the massive amphitheater can be seen below a partial reconstruction of the main floor.

Seating was arranged in a similar fashion to a modern stadium, with numbered sections, rows, and seats. Much of the functional structure has deteriorated since it was last used.


The Pantheon is one of the most well preserved buildings from the ancient Roman city. While it's exact date of completion is not known, but it was dedicated around 126 AD according to Wikipedia. 

The building is circular in construction, with a rectangular front pediment supported by Corinthian columns. The main structure is housed under the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, which features an opening in the center for light entry. This building has been in continuous use (mostly as a church) since it's construction, almost 2000 years ago.

The interior of the Pantheon can be seen via this Photosphere that I have taken. While you get a fairly good perspective of size from the people and the height of the building and dome, it is still very difficult to see how big it is through photography. For best viewing results zoom all the way out, and then zoom in one or two clicks to reduce distortion.


The catacombs were damp, and eerie, as you could imagine. A number of unevenly carved tunnels full of the deceased with no structured exit routes would frighten many. Luckily for us, the establishment that maintains the display had set up a number of safety gates which prevented visitors from walking too far into the less documented underground tunnels. These tunnels span for miles in all directions, with no organized structure. It was all carved out by hand with basic tools by lamp light. As you could imagine, this was no easy task. water droplets lined most of the low ceiling, and many of the tombs that we walked inches past at eye level have been left untouched. A few of the nicer tombs featured elaborate paintings and stone carvings, along with some graffiti left behind by visitors in the 1700's and 1800's. The present day sections that were open to the public were lit by a minimal number of low wattage light fixtures mounted on the ceiling which may have made the tunnels even more creepy than in total darkness with a flashlight.  While photography was prohibited, I was able to sneak a few photos and videos. The videos will be added to a future compilation post, but the pictures can be seen below:

These sections carved out in the wall of the tunnels were where bodies of the deceased were laid to rest. After a body or group of bodies were placed inside, it was sealed with a marble slab containing the information of the person. 

These tombs span for miles, many of which are at eye level. From the ground to the light fixture, the hallway is about 6.5 feet tall at a maximum. The size of the tombs ranged from infant to adult lengths. Visitors used a lamp fueled by olive oil to navigate the dark tunnels. 

While what I saw gave me a concept of the entire system, it would have been neat to see some of the lesser known parts. While this system of tunnels is considered large for an underground structure, the catacombs of Paris are even larger, and therefore theirs is less documented. The two-hundred miles of tunnels in paris can reach depths of 300 feet below street level. People in recent times have been known to lose their way, either through unpreparedness or accident, and die a slow and agonizing death in complete darkness. This is not a place you would want to be without a bucket full of flashlights and a few days worth of food. It is probably a place you don't want to be at all unless you are an archeologist.

This concludes the first five days of the roughly 18 day trip. More to come, including visits to the Amalfi Coast, Florence, and the Italian countryside. 

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