With nicknames that include “The Capital of the World,” “The Eternal City,” and just l’Urbe or “The City,” Rome has a lot of expectations to meet. From its history as the city that ruled an empire whose influence was felt across much of the globe to its modern day role as the home of the Vatican, Rome has always held a prominent spot on the world stage.
For all its landmarks, no other building quite says Rome like the Colosseum. While lions, leopards and other big cats once fought in its arena, today only the padded paws of hundreds of felines, the unofficial mascots who stroll the site deemed one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” With a little imagination, travelers can almost hear the echo of Marc Anthony's eulogy for Julius Caesar at the rostra, the elaborately carved oratory platform at the nearby Forum. Once a bustling marketplace, today only fragments of the Temple of Saturn, the arch of Septimius Severus and other buildings remain as a reminder of the city’s proud past, a reminder shared with a large feline population.
The city's Largo di Torre Argentina (which includes part of the Theater of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was assassinated) is home of undoubtedly one of the world’s most picturesque feral cat colonies. Nearly 300 feral cats reside among the ancient ruins, cared for by the gattare, the women who feed the cats on a daily basis (an event that always draws public spectators).
An independent state, Vatican City (mv.vatican.va) is visited by over 4.2 million travelers each year. Members of every faith can be moved by the spiritual fervor of Michelangelo's frescoes as they gaze heavenward at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or by the pathos of the Pietà inside St. Peter's Basilica, in which Mary, her sadness immortalized in marble, cradles the crucified Christ.
Built in the 18th century, the Spanish Steps are adorned with pots of fragrant flowers each spring, but visitors at any time of year can enjoy a view of La Fontana della Barcaccia, where clusters of local residents often meet. For an understanding of the landmark’s allure for artists, visit the Keats-Shelley House, from where poet John Keats gazed down at the Spanish Steps during the final months of his life. Today a museum dedicated to the Romantics of his time, the house contains such literary-related treasures as strands of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's hair, poetry penned by Oscar Wilde and first editions from Wordsworth and Robert Browning.
Rome’s fountains are legendary and none more so than the Trevi fountain. The Baroque landmark features Neptunus Rex, since 1762 a silent witness to a steady stream of tourists. While sightseers are not allowed to frolic in the pooling waters a la Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita, the approximately 3,000 Euros that collect each day at the bottom of the fountain is testimony to the fact that visitors often act out a scene from another cinema treasure, Three Coins in the Fountain-- tossing money into the fountain to ensure their return trip to the Eternal City.