Malaysian discovers why Rome is one of the 'world's most romantic cities'

The writer and her husband managed to avoid the crowd of tourists at Trevi Fountain by going there really early in the morning. — Photos: SARAH ALIA AHMAD AFFENDY

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In the Eternal City of Rome in Italy that has existed for three millennia, history crawls from every crevice and crack. From 2,000-year-old ancient landmarks to elegant 17th-century plazas, all of them were built to last ... forever. There’s just no shortage of amazing sights in Rome, all of which were eagerly immortalised by keen photographers, including my husband and me.

While I thought Rome’s city centre appeared crowded at first, during our exploration I found the place to be relaxing and even romantic. Everyone seemed to be a tourist on vacation wandering around, just marvelling at the sights, which we found ourselves mirroring. Strolling through the never-ending via (street in Italian) that’s full of charm quickly became the most enjoyable activity for us in this city.

During our exploration, we could smell the delicious aroma of food, particularly all sorts of pasta, almost anywhere we went. Rome’s cuisine, like the city itself, consists of many layers. We tried everything from pizza to pasta, suppli (rice balls) to calzone. It’s a carbohydrate-heavy diet, but I believe that when one is in Italy, one is allowed to eat like an emperor or empress!

When we walked into The Colosseum, we felt like we were part of the movie Gladiator. While the feeling of being in this ancient construction was something to remember, I could not stop thinking about all the suffering, as well as cruelty, that once took place here. It’s believed that over 400,000 people died at the Colosseum since it was built. Back in the day, watching people fight to their death was considered “entertainment”; I just can’t fathom cheering on something like this.

That feeling stayed with me throughout our visit, but despite that, I tried to take in the amazing architecture and simply marvel at the challenges the Colosseum has had to endure over the years. After all, not much of what is built today has that kind of grandeur.

We also went inside to tour the artefacts on display, many of which tell the history of the Colosseum.

At the Colosseum. It is believed that over 400,000 people have died there since it was built in the first century.At the Colosseum. It is believed that over 400,000 people have died there since it was built in the first century.

I found the Roman Forum at Palatine Hill rather fascinating, too. Thousands of years ago it served as the commercial, administrative, and religious heart of Ancient Rome. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Forum was no longer in use and people started pillaging the place, taking with them most of the marble and stone that formed the buildings. Later on, the land around it even became a cow pasture.

It was only around the 17th to 18th century that excavation work on the Roman Forum began, revealing much of what we see today. Wandering through the colossal ruins we tried to imagine how they once looked in their full glory.

Our trip would be incomplete without visiting Rome’s most famous Instagram attraction, the Trevi Fountain. Being the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, it is a monument we could visit again and again and still feel as though it’s the first time we’re seeing it. Every inch of the Trevi Fountain is adorned with intricate details, from the meticulously crafted acanthus leaves on the Corinthian pilasters to the naturalistic rock formations and cascading water.

With its enchanting beauty and rich history, the visit to Trevi Fountain was one of the highlights of our adventure. We visited early in the morning so that we could check it out at leisure, and take a lot of pictures without the huge crowd in the background. While the fountain is captivating during the day, there is an entirely different charm that emerges when the sun sets and it comes to life in a dazzling display of lights.

The Roman Forum was once considered the headquarters of the Roman Empire.The Roman Forum was once considered the headquarters of the Roman Empire.

The surrounding area also holds many treasures. Just a few minutes from the Trevi Fountain is the iconic Spanish Steps. When we saw the piazza practically empty, we knew it was worth waking up early for; it felt like walking into a beautiful painting.

Tucked in the middle of this area is a well-known shopping street that’s lined with fashion stores and a few gelateria.

Beyond the city limits, we spent one afternoon exploring the charming neighbourhood of Trastevere. Dubbed the foodie neighbourhood of Rome, it is a bohemian area with lots of narrow streets and plenty of small cafes and restaurants.

The atmosphere here was incredibly lively, making it a great place to people-watch.

We stopped in the piazza in the middle of the neighbourhood to admire it. The scene was enough to draw a smile from our tired lips.

We took a leisurely stroll and came across a gelateria and treated ourselves to a scoop of pistachio-flavoured gelato that was very delicious.

It was also a huge treat for us to visit Galleria Borghese, home to an impressive collection of artworks, including masterpieces by some of Italy’s most well-known artists like Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Titian. Walking around, we saw stunning frescoes, breath- taking mosaics and impressive sculptures in every hall.

I was overwhelmed with the feeling of appreciation and respect for all the people working on the masterpieces on display.

Nestled within Rome’s historic centre is the Vatican City, where we first visited the famous Basilica. An event was happening coincidently during our visit so we were able to hear the church choir perform.

Listening to the choir gave me the feeling that I was standing in a special sacred place. It was one of the moments I will remember forever.

Next to the Basilica is the Vatican Museums. This museum holds more than 70,000 pieces of art, from the time of the ancient Egypt to modern religious works. I thought the massive building with dozens of columns was a piece of art in itself, and seeing it from the outside made me eagerly excited to go inside and see the paintings and sculptures it holds.

There were so many remarkable rooms and hidden gems inside the Vatican Museums. Among the best ones are the Gallery of Maps, the Raphael Rooms, and the Gallery of the Chandeliers. The key attraction inside the Vatican Museums is the famous Sistine Chapel, which has frescoes that Michelangelo spent four whole years to complete.

These frescoes were simply jaw-dropping amazing.

A place where history was made and an empire was born, Rome certainly did not disappoint. Five days of exploring the city’s seemingly endless atmospheric streets, trying delectable Italian food, and soaking up inspiring, romantic vibes just wasn’t enough and left us wanting so much more.

It’s a city so enchanting that it actually bewitched this traveller.

No doubt, I’m planning a return soon to uncover more of this city and its culture.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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