Rome By Night

Roaming around Rome at night is like enjoying the finest of theater. The Eternal City puts on a show for you. The Romans have wisely chosen to light their famous monuments in a soft orange glow that doesn’t glare the way most city lights do. Rome is safe at night – all the Romans are out – and the restaurants and bars are bustling. What could be better than to grab your camera and join the fun.

A woman entering an apartment in Rome
Rome's Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona near our apartment

For the last stop on our 7 month European adventure we rented an apartment for a month in the old town. It was on a small cobblestone street near the fabulous Piazza Navona, and we could walk to everywhere. I did not know at the time that Rome was going to captivate me more than any place I’d ever been. I became enthralled with its history, which showed up for me in its monuments, churches, ancient buildings, and the stories they tell. I would like to share some of those with you, as we wander along Rome’s streets together at night.

the colosseum

Colosseum in Rome

Rome’s most iconic site is its Colosseum, built between 72-80 AD by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people. After the great fire ripped through Rome in 64 AD, the selfish Emperor Nero built himself an enormous palace in the center of the city. When Vespasian came to power, he decreed that the land would be returned to the Roman people. He built a new amphitheater where the public could enjoy many forms of entertainment. This massive Colosseum could hold 80,000 people.

lions, tigers and…Gladiators

For four centuries people crowded in to watch gladiator combats, hunts, wild animal fights and larger combats such as mock naval battles. For these the arena was flooded with water, put on at great expense. Mostly, those who fought were men, though there were some female gladiators. Slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war were generally the stock of gladiators. The Colosseum remains one of the favorite tourist attractions in Rome.

Trajan’s Market

Trajan's Market in RomePeople at Trajan's Market in RomeThe Basilica at Trajan's Market in RomeColumn with carvings at Trajan's Market in Rome

Considered the world’s oldest shopping mall, Trajan’s Market had over 150 shops selling wine, oil, fruit, vegetables and other groceries. This large complex of warehouses, shops and offices was built by Emperor Trajan in 107 AD. The semi-circular, 3-story structure is one of the few high-rises that has been preserved. A column still stands that is adorned with intricate carvings depicting Trajan’s victories at war.

The Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine

preserving the future of our past

We loved this clever sign that stood near a monument in Rome. It is certainly in Rome’s interest, and the world’s, for Rome to preserve its past. The fence surrounding this 1700-year-old triumphal arch to the Emperor Constantine is there to protect it. The Roman Senate awarded the monument to Emperor Constantine in 315 AD in memory of his victory in an important military battle.

christianity becomes the official religion

Constantine believed that he won the battle because of the help of the Christian God. He therefore put an end to persecution of Christians during his reign and made Christianity the official religion in the Roman Empire. As one Rome observer said, “Prior to 300 AD it was illegal to be a Christian; after that time it was illegal to not be one.”

Vittorio Emanuele II

Vittorio Emanuele II monument in RomeThe columns of the Vittorio Emanuele II monument in Rome

This monument is pretty new by Rome standards but it certainly grabs your attention when you see it. To commemorate the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, this massive, white marble structure was squeezed into the heart of Rome in the late 1800’s. It celebrates Vitorrio Emmanuel II’s defeat of the papal army that unified Italy in 1861 and made Emanuele King. A 50 ton, 39 foot equestrian statue of him, now known as the Father of the Nation, sits in the center of the monument, below which lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The curved colonnade with 50 foot tall columns provides an impressive backdrop.

Garish to Romans

Many Romans find this monument too big and too bright to fit into Rome’s ambiance. Some object to all that was demolished in order to erect it. Everyone agrees, however, that the view from the top is one of the most “monumental” in all of Rome.

Castel Sant’ Angelo

Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome

We were thrilled when our 7 year old granddaughter visited us in Rome with her parents. We took her to see her first “castle”, but I was a bit disappointed. Castel Sant’Angelo doesn’t fit the typical fairy tale description for a castle like some we saw in other parts of Europe. But of course she enjoyed exploring it and we must be fair. Castel Sant’Angelo was not built as a castle. It was intended to be a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and was said to be very beautiful in its day.

Built in 123 AD, its function changed many times over the centuries and much of its decorations were “repurposed” for use in churches and other structures. By the 3rd century it had become part of the city walls, then an unassailable fortress and later a castle used by the popes. The Papal State also used Castel Sant’Angelo as a prison, torture chamber and site for executions.

Pope’s passageway to safety

Pope Nicholas III connected the Vatican to the castle by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo, to allow the pope to get to the safety of the castle when danger arose. Dan Brown wrote about this passageway in his novel Angels and Demons and Puccini’s heroine jumped from the castle ramparts in the opera Tosca.

The Vittorio Emanuele II bridge taken from the bridge at the Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome

This castle is on the west side of the Tiber River. Access to it is across the majestic Ponte Sant’Angelo, a bridge adorned by a double row of angels sculpted by followers of Bernini. From this bridge, you get a wonderful view of the Vittorrio Emanuele II bridge and the dome of St. Peter’s.

The Vatican Complex

The Vatican Complex in Rome

The Vatican is made up of St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican palaces which house its museums including the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican today is a separate and sovereign country, independent from Italy with the Pope as its monarchy. The Vatican City State mints its own money and issues its own stamps, license plates and passports for its approximately 800 residents. It has its own flag and anthem, but it doesn’t levy taxes. It makes its money from admission fees, sales of souvenirs and stamps and from contributions. There is an interesting story behind all of this that I find intriguing.

A rich and powerful church

Having grown up attending a small country-like church in a nation that proclaims the separation of church and state, it’s hard to understand how a church could have amassed as much political power and wealth as the Catholic Church did. The Church ruled Rome and major parts of Italy for some eleven hundred years. Coming smack up against these facts during my travels had me scratching my head, wondering why there were big holes in my world history (and history of religion) education.

Map of Papal States

Map showing Papal States (in yellow) in 1796

The Church’s rule ended in 1870 when Vittorio Emanuele II’s troops marched into Rome and established a unified Italy. The Pope retreated to the Vatican and for over 60 years the Church would not recognize the sovereignty of the new Italian government. During those years, the successive Popes refused to make appearances or blessings from the Vatican window if Italian troops were present. Pope Pius IX said of himself that he was “a prisoner of the Vatican”.

The roman question

Italy was faced with what came to be called “The Roman Question”, that being, what to do about the Church. The Italian people were somewhat torn, as they wanted unification but they also had allegiance to the Church. The Fascist leader Mussolini solved the problem with the Lateran Treaty. This treaty established the .2 square mile Vatican area as a sovereign power, within but separate from Italy. It also compensated the Church $92 million (which is more than $1 billion in today’s money) for the loss of the Papal States.

Standing in the Vatican City State

As it is a recognized sovereignty, once you cross into the Vatican complex you are in a different country. I counted this experience as Country Number 22 on our European tour. That’s fair, isn’t it?

St. Peter’s Square

Via della Conciliazione toward the Vatican in Rome

Walking up the wide boulevard called the Via della Conciliazione, you get your first view of the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square. The view includes the great dome and facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and the 135 foot tall obelisk transported to Rome from Egypt. Two beautiful crescent-shaped colonnades with 284 columns represent, according to the architect Bernini, the outstretched arms of the Church embracing the world. As many as 400,000 people can congregate in the square for special occasions with the Pope.

A fountain in St. Peter's square in Rome

Fountain and colonnade by Bernini in Vatican complex

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome The dome of St. Peter's Basilica at night

The greatest church in Christendom rises on the grandiose St. Peter’s Square. It has the largest interior of any church in the world with a nave that is 694 feet long. It can hold up to 60,000 people. The original church was built in 320 AD by the first Christian emperor, Constantine, on the site where Emperor Nero had St. Peter the Apostle crucified. The church was rebuilt in the early 1500’s and given its silver-blue 434 foot high dome that can be seen from all over Rome. The architect was Michelangelo who was 72 years old when he took on the job.

a special mass

It was here on a Sunday morning that Phil and I witnessed the Pope canonizing a married couple. He said they were saintly role models who took care to educate their children in the faith. Each of their 5 daughters became a nun. “Papa Francesca”, as the Pope is called in Italy, is said to keep on his desk an image of the youngest daughter who died at age 24 and became a saint. It is to her that he regularly prays in time of need.

Pope in Popemobile

After the Mass, we watched as the Pope rode out into the square in his popemobile to greet the cheering crowd, some of whom wept.

The Vatican Museums

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica behind a columned building, taken from the Vatican Museum at night

The church dome viewed from a Vatican courtyard

If you want to see the thirteen museums housed in the two Vatican palaces, lace up your walking shoes. You will have to walk about 4.4 miles but you will be rewarded with glorious art. From the Renaissance on, every great artist is represented here. It is important to save enough energy for my favorites, the Raphael Room and the Sistine Chapel both of which are near the end of this long route.

pros and cons of visiting at night

We visited the museums both in the day and at night. The night visit, while much less crowded, would have disappointed had it been our only visit, as some of the display areas were poorly lit at night. I am very happy to have gone to the Sistine Chapel in the evening, however. I took all the time I wanted to sit on the benches around the room for relaxed viewing. On one side was the story of Moses, while the corresponding story of Jesus was portrayed on the opposite wall. And then there was that glorious ceiling….(No photos were allowed, so I took the one below from the internet – apparently someone took photos in there.)

Sistine Chapel ceiling

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The Raphael Room

The story goes that Pope Julius II did not like the previous pope and refused to live in the apartment that had been occupied by him. Julius’ new apartment had already been frescoed by several artists when he was introduced to the newcomer to Italy, Raphael. The Pope was so impressed with his work that he decided to have the apartment scraped and painted again by Raphael. The young artist was 25 years old at the time.

Raphael’s Art

The Liberation of St. Peter from prison is masterfully set around a window. Its use of three different qualities of light is fascinating.

A part of the work, "The Liberation of St. Peter" by Rafael in the Vatican

The Liberation of St. Peter by Raphael in the Vatican

Raphael's "The Mass at Bolsena" as seen in the Vatican

The Mass at Bolsena by Raphael

The Mass at Bolsena depicts the miracle that is said to have occurred at a Mass in 1263, when a doubter questioned whether the host actually becomes the body of Christ in the Eucharist. The bread began to bleed onto the table and formed the shape of cross and proved the point. The young man in red gazing outward is Raphael. It is one of the few times that the artist put himself in his painting.

"School of Athens" by Raphael in the Vatican

Raphael’s famous School of Athens

The most famous of Raphael’s paintings displayed here is the School of Athens. It represents the harmony between the values of antiquity and Christianity. It is praised for the artist’s masterful use of perspective. The subject is a debate between Plato and Aristotle. Raphael inserted portraits of contemporary figures, including the Pope, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo who was Raphael’s rival at the time.

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps in Rome

A natural gathering place, the Spanish Steps is a fun stop for anyone in Rome. Families, lovers and tourists seeking rest gather here night and day. The Bernini-built fountain in front of the steps represents a flooded boat at the center of a basin and heralds back to a flooding of the Tiber in which a sunken boat was visible. There is a lovely French church at the top of the stairs which was not visible due to renovations.

Trajan’s Temple – Old and New Together

Columns remaining of Hadrian's Temple with a new building behind, in Rome

It was a curiosity when we saw these 11 old columns standing in front of a newer building. They are all that remains of Trajan’s Temple (reign 98-117 AD), left standing when the stock exchange was built right up next to them in the 17th century. When we looked over the railing there, we could see where excavation has taken place to uncover remains of a street 20 feet below. We came face to face with the reality that Rome is a city built on a city – we learned that there are actually two levels below the current cobblestones we were walking on. It’s a very old city….

A Free Evening Concert

Church in Rome giving free concert

I love what can happen when you wander out at night in Rome without an agenda. You never know what delight you will encounter. This lovely church was offering a free music concert so we popped in to enjoy a few songs in a lovely setting.

 The Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome

The Pantheon is the only architecturally intact building from classical Roman times. Built in 125 AD, it was originally a pagan temple dedicated to all Roman gods. Pantheism, from which the temple took its name, is the belief that the Universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent god (Wikipedia). This pagan temple was converted to a Christian church in 609 AD.

The inside of the Pantheon

The most striking part is the 140 feet high unsupported dome that has one opening in the center, called an oculus. This 30 foot wide opening lets in a beam of light that displays itself in different places around the room as the day goes on. It also allows in air, as well as rain, from the outside. A small section of the floor was often wet and roped off when we visited. The oculus is said to operate in reverse by letting prayers from within flow freely up to the heavens.

The oculus inside the Pantheon

The 30 foot wide oculus

The 16 huge, 60-ton granite columns in the portico were quarried in Egypt and brought to Rome on special barges. It takes 4 adults with linked arms to reach around one of the columns.

A couple in front of the Pantheon at night in Rome

These are the images we captured in our fantastical night roaming around Rome. It’s a magical place to explore, day or night.

How about you? Have you seen Rome by night? What did you like best? If you haven’t been there yet, would you like to go? Leave a reply in the space below. I’d love to hear what you think. Thank you for reading my post, Rome By Night.

22 responses to “Rome By Night”

  1. Judy Wood says:

    Hi Carol,
    Thank you very much for that wonderful account of your stay in Rome. The architecture with the lighting is incredible. I will go in the next few years to see what you so beautifully described for myself. Thanks for sharing!

    • CarolSue says:

      Hi Judy,
      Thanks so much for your nice comment. I hope you do go to Rome soon. It is a magnificent place and you will enjoy it so much. Glad you liked the descriptions – I was fascinated by it all.
      Best always,

  2. David & Charlie says:

    Carol & Phil
    Great photos, and always love to read about what you both are up to 🙂
    The highlight of OUR trip to Rome was being able to connect with you guys and enjoy the afternoon. Great fun – and can’t wait to run into you again!
    Safe travels !
    David & Charlie

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear David and Charlie,
      We too enjoyed our afternoon together in Rome. What a great place for travel lovers to meet for the first time. Let’s not let it be the last. I am so enjoying staying connected to you on Facebook. You guys are terrific. Let’s go to Rome again.

  3. Ellen Schlosser says:

    Carol and Phil,

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us. Your blog is always a treat!

    Please let us know when you plan to go back to Italy. We would love to tag along.

    Hope to see you soon, cuz.

    Ellen and David

    • CarolSue says:

      I would love to travel with you and Dave – let’s go! Take care ’til I visit you in the Spring on our Eastern Seaboard Adventure. Luv to you both.
      Cousin CarolSue

  4. Liz Harris says:

    I feel like I got a bird’s eye view of your journey through Rome, a place I long to visit in person. I especially like the Special Mass story, because it made me ponder the lives of a family who dedicated all of their daughters to the church.

  5. Karin Stoll says:

    Wowow, I feel like I’ve audited a college course…Thanks deah…Missing you, Karin

  6. Pete Hueseman says:


    Beautiful pictures of many things in Italy and Rome. I would love to see it all in person and thanks for sharing them. I probably won’t go to Europe until the ISIS thing is resolved. You are lucky there were no problems when you were there. Keep having fun.
    Pete Hueseman, R.Ph., P.D.

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you so much, Pete. Too bad about ISIS. I’m glad we got home before that mess, too. Hope you do go to Rome soon. Take care, and thanks for reading.

  7. Delia says:

    Love sharing your photos of Rome by night! Five years or so ago it was unexpected good fortune that our cruise ship was re-routed to the port of Civitavecchia last minute. Our van driver “crazy Franco” got us to downtown Rome in less than the usual 2-hr drive, and had connections to bypass the long lines to tourist favorites. You didn’t mention the Trevi Fountain. After throwing our coins in it to make a wish, we had a yummy lunch just around the corner in a little hole-in-the-wall place frequented by mostly locals. I fondly remember that whirlwind of a day visiting as many of Rome’s highlights as we could, and look forward to the opportunity to return with more time to explore and experience the night life.
    Hope to get together with you when you come to Kauai – when will that be? Until then, ciao bella! Delia

    • CarolSue says:

      Great to hear from you, Delia, and love the tale of your visit to Rome.I hope you do get to go back and do it again, plus enjoy the night scene. Trevi Fountain was empty and under renovation when we were there. We threw in a coin over our shoulder anyway – to ensure that we will go back!
      We come to Kauai January 11 for several weeks and would LOVE to see you guys. We will make it a point. ‘Til then, take care.

  8. Vickie Lambe says:

    Hi Phil & CarolSue:

    So happy to see y’all enjoying your travels! Live life to the fullest as long as you can! Hope to see you in the spring of 2016! Until then, happy trails!


    Your cousin,

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Vickie. We’re looking forward to visiting you when we start our “Eastern Seaboard Road Trip” in the Spring. Take care and keep a light on for us.

  9. Susan says:

    As I may have told you, I have recently decided Rome is where I want to go, and your travel log has only fueled and cemented my desire. Thank you for sharing your journey.
    Twenty-two countries in Europe alone? How blessed you are. I thought of you and your travels this past weekend as the events in Paris unfolded. Keep traveling. It brings us all closer together.

  10. Elsa Dixon says:

    Thank you so much for a wonderful read – through your insightful descriptions and beautiful photos, I was transported into the Roman world. What a great inspiration to keep on traveling.

  11. Steve Hoch says:

    An especially great post Carol! The mix of history and great pix was special, even among a set of great ones. Thanks!

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