Rome’s ancient monuments, whether time-blackened or gleaming in the wake of a recent restoration, are a constant reminder that Rome was one of the greatest centers of Western civilization. In the heyday of the Empire, all roads led to Rome, with good reason. It was one of the first cosmopolitan cities, importing slaves, gladiators, great art, and even citizens from the far corners of the world. Despite its carnage, brutality, and corruption, Rome left a legacy of law, a heritage of art, architecture, and engineering; and a canny lesson in how to conquer enemies by absorbing their cultures.
But ancient Rome is only part of the spectacle. The Vatican has had a tremendous influence on making the city a tourism center. Although Vatican architects stripped down much of the city’s ancient glory during the Renaissance, looting ancient ruins (the Forum especially) for their precious marble, they created more treasures and even occasionally incorporated the old into the new—as Michelangelo did when turning Diocletian’s Baths complex into a church. And in the years that followed, Bernini adorned the city with the wonders of the baroque, especially his glorious fountains.
No More Lines
The endless lines outside Italian museums and attractions are a fact of life. But reservation services can help you avoid the wait, at least for some of the major museums. Buying a Roma Pass is a good start—holders can use a special entrance at the Colosseum, and for your first two (free) museums, you can skip the line (so be sure to choose busy ones).
For the Vatican Museums, buy an advance ticket at www.biglietteriamusei.vatican.va; you pay an extra 4€, but will be able to skip the line at the main entrance (which can be very, very long). Note that St. Peter’s is not included: There is no way to jump the line there.
Coopculture operates an online ticket office that allows you to skip the line at several sites, including the Colosseum and the Forum, with a reservation fee of 2€ and 2€ to print tickets in advance.
Select Italy also allows you to reserve your tickets for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Galleria Borghese, plus many other museums in Florence and Venice. The cost varies depending on the museum—there’s an agency fee on top of ticket prices—with several combination passes available. Contact Select Italy at (tel) 800/877-1755 in the U.S., or buy your tickets online.