Anyone who knows me could guess I’d end a week-long celebration of Italian cities with Rome – perhaps my favorite place in the world. My first trip there was when I was 20, and I’ve just kept going back, including to live for a number of years. And heaven knows I have plenty of recommendations for visiting Rome. But in all the time I’ve spend there, there are a few sites I never appreciated until I took my children there.
Read on and see if any of them surprise you!
1. Circus Maximus
The former site of chariot races and other ancient Roman games, this large tract of land in the heart of Rome always seemed so much wasted real estate. It’s sometimes used for concerts. It’s a nice place from which to look up at the ruins of the Palatine Hill. But basically, it’s just a big empty oval field, where almost no excavation work has been done. I know it used to seat 150,000 people. I know the actual track level is several meters below the current level of the earth. But it bears so little resemblance to what you imagine the ancient world’s greatest sports theater should look like I was never that impressed.
But for two young boys it was a place of enchantment – where they could run freely, climb the steep sides, explore laterally and run back down again. And where, of course, I could sit and enjoy the sunset while watching them play.
Learn more about what we love about Rome:
2. La Bocca della Verità
Made famous by the film “Roman Holiday,” in which Cary Grant reputedly shocked co-star Audrey Hepburn by feigning to get his hand chopped in the gleaming marble mouth, this well-known slab of marble always seemed much less interesting than the church it stands beside. Santa Maria in Cosmedin is, in fact, a beautiful Byzantine church with a graceful bell-tower and an interesting assortment of collected (and mismatched) columns lining the nave. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the legend is that if you put your hand in the marble’s mouth and utter a falsehood, the mouth (or the person standing behind it) would sever your hand.
Of course, once I mentioned the Bocca della Verità and its reputed history to my two blood-thirsty boys, they were enthralled. Many recreations followed in which they took turns pretending to the the “mouth” while the other would tell a falsehood and wait to get mutilated. We hadn’t really intended to go there, but it became inevitable. We braved the wait (over 20 minutes!) and finally faced the large marble visage. My five-year-old was too frightened to try it, no matter how many times we assured him it was perfectly safe. He wouldn’t let me try it either until I told him what my utterance was going to be and he determined it was “true” enough to see me through unharmed. My older son, as you can see, was a bit more adventurous.
3. La Fontana di Trevi
The Trevi Fountain? you might be thinking. Really? I’ve never liked it. It’s not the most beautiful fountain in Rome (try Piazza della Repubblica’s Fontana delle Naiadi, the Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei, or Bernini’s famed Fontana del Tritone, which I prefer to his Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi). It’s so packed by people trying to sell the ubiquitous selfie-sticks and cheap plastic souvenirs that have nothing to do with Italy, it’s hard to even see the fountain. You have to practically walk with both hands covering your pockets to keep others’ hands out of them. But for my sons… well, it was a totally different experience, and one of my favorite moments of the trip. Their faces when they saw it, their belief that if they threw a coin into it they really would return to Rome someday… Suffice it say, maybe I changed my mind.
Read about three of my favorite (and hidden) sites in Rome.
By Peg Kern
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Originally published May 20, 2016.