• huw_c

Photographing the way around Rome

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Lesson 2 of Huws travel school: wander the backstreets

Rome is an incredible city.

In fact, if you ask anyone who wants to travel, I’m sure Rome is somewhere on their bucket list of places to see, and if it’s not it’s because they’ve already been.

The history, the culture, and the food (important one), all mesh together to form an amazing city full of vibrance, amazing architecture, and stories of an ancient time. It’s one of Europes amazing cities, and one that I encourage everyone to visit.

On a recent trip to this eternal city, I was lucky enough to have my camera alongside me the whole time, snapping away every step of the way. We broke the days down into monuments, and managed to figure our way through thousands of years of history (and thousands of photos) in 4 days.

Welcome to Rome, a photographers dream…

Welcome to Rome

We were lucky to secure really good flight times, arrive in the morning on the first day, leave in the evening on the last day. Perfect.

The 45 minute bus transfer (the cheapest way to get into town, and probably the best) landed us at Rome Termini station just after lunch, which was perfect. One 15 minute walk (and some interesting road crossings) later and we were checked in, all ready to go.

We dropped the bags, sorted the cameras, and made our way to the closest monument Rome hd to offer:

The Colosseum.

Lights on at the Colosseum

This enormous ancient amphitheatre is one of Romes major landmarks, and one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. We arrived there after a 25 minute tram ride just as the light was fading, which gave me those amazing orange lights to capture.

It looked remarkable.

Having only been in Rome a short time we snapped away photos of the Colosseum, before hunger kicked in. We’d only eaten a small airport breakfast all day, and it was already early evening. My stomach told me it was food time, so back on the tram it was into one of Romes restaurant areas, near the main Termini station.

Food done, the irrationally early morning that we had soon caught up with us, so we called it a day.

Day 2 dawned, and started early, we planned a route around the metro line A, seeing a few of the major Roman landmarks. We set off with happy feet and a keenness to get out and explore.

Turns out the metro stop we needed to get off at was closed the whole time we were there, which left us getting off at the stop before and walking the extra few Kilometres. In hindsight, I’m quite glad we did.

The architecture in Rome is diverse, an ancient city has left a few monuments, a medieval city had left more, and the Renaissance just sort of built around them, with modern architects filling in the gaps.

Amazing architecture is simply joined into the cities fabric

As we continued to zigzag through cobbled streets, we saw more and more of these. Usually historic city monuments are fenced off and left alone, but the Romans have simply weaved them into the fabric of their city.

As we carried on though these tall streets we emerged into a clearing, where the hustle and bustle of the famous Trevi Fountain took over the whole scene.

The Trevi Fountain

A remarkable work of art, Trevi Fountain is a relic of fantastic Renaissance architecture. Featuring huge marble statues, intricate stonework, and glorious blue water, it’s no wonder this has become one of Romes staple sights to see. We were lucky to get there early, it gets hugely busy later on in the day. We caught it just as the crowd started to build, leaving us with space to photograph freely.

As the crowds built we decided to make off back to the metro, giving us a big old loop around the closed Metro stop.

However, we made a wrong turn somewhere in those cobbled streets, and ended up quite far out of the way, although we weren’t complaining.

Tree lined corridors give a nice contrast to the bustling city a few meters away
Reflection shots

We’d ended up in the Villa Borghese gardens, a huge expanse of gardens near Piazza del Popolo. These gardens are relaxed, well kept, and provided a lovely place to chill out for an hour. They also gave me a place to get artistic with the camera!

We’d escaped the hustle and bustle for a while with out little detour. Refuelled with lovely Italian coffee we made our way out (the right way this time) back to the Metro, which took us to our next stop. The world famous (and utterly humungous), Vatican City.

The Vatican City

The Vatican is one of those places that everyone recognises, with the dome dwarfing anything else like it in the world, it’s a truly amazing building.

We decided that it was worth the trip up to the dome, and up all the way to the Cupola. We didn’t have claustrophobia before hand, we do now. The 320 steps up are narrow, winding, and with no windows and tight corridors, it was uncomfortable climbing. The roof slanting plays with your balance, the corkscrew stairs make you dizzy, and the final storey of steps are downright ridiculous.

If I’m making it sound unpleasant, it’s because it is.

But for a view like this, it was most definitely worth it:

View across St Peters Square and Rome from the top of the Cupola

The stairs were worse on the way down, but with no alternative route down, you’ve really just got to go for it. Squeezing through the tight corridors, and spiralling down the never ending steps made almost everyone we spoke to feel queasy, before you’re finally spat out underneath the dome and you can breathe fresh air:

Looking back up at the dome

The rooftop under the dome offers refreshments, gifts, but more importantly, photo opportunities:

The rooftop statues of the Vatican stand guard

After making our way back down to the ground floor, we were then able to make our way into the main church. The church itself is absolutely amazing, you can fit the statue of liberty (base and torch held high) under the dome with room to spare.

My lens wasn’t wide enough to capture the whole space, and this is my widest angle lens fitted to the camera for these:

St Peters Basilica & dome, front view
Wide View of the Basilica dome and wings

The Vatican proved to be well worth the time, and after spending an entire afternoon there we decided to make tracks and head back towards the city centre for food.

Having racked up 25000 steps, equivalent to 45 flights of stairs climbed, and 2 camera batteries drained, we decided an early night was due.

Photos backed up, camera charged, photographer fed, it was an early night needed. Same again the next day? Oh yes.

Day 3 had a similar plan to Day 2 in essence;

Metro, walk, photos, repeat.

We’d planned an even bigger route for the day, mainly focusing around the historic city centre, and working our way back throughout the day towards the colosseum for some evening shots.

Metro out for 3 stops, up to the surface, and 45 minutes of amazing backstreets later (more on that soon) the narrow streets opened up onto one of Romes most impressive sights, the Pantheon:

The Pantheon

This historic roman temple is another of the postcard examples of Romes deep history, dating back to biblical times. With a cool inside temperature and a hush from the visitors, the feeling in there is almost eerie. Built as a temple to the pagan gods of Ancient Rome, the site holds thousands of years of history under its dome.

The Pantheon Pillars
The Main alter in the Pantheon

It’s an amazing place, steeped in mythology as well as history, the Pantheon is a roman sight not to be missed.

However, the main sights are one thing, but Rome is a city that rewards walkers the most. Those who are willing to wander the backstreets are those who gain the best of Rome. From gorgeous little churches nestled into the alleyways, to authentic roman eateries, the backstreets are where the best sights are.

Rome (being the capital city of Italy) isn’t short of official buildings either. But in true Roman style, function has not given way to form, with the government buildings being some of the most beautifully designed.

The Supreme Court of Italy demonstrates this idea wonderfully, being set in the Palace of Justice. It definitely fits the title of palace:

The Palace of Justice

Another example of this is the Italian Capitol, sitting as the centre of the historic city, right down the road from the Colosseum and Roman Forum (what is left of Ancient Rome, more on that later);

The Capitol Building

The Top of the Capitol Building

As luck would have it (or impeccable timing, I’m still not sure which) we arrived here at the setting of the sun, some 25000 steps after we began the day.

Roman ruins to the left, Roman forum to the right, Capitol behind, Colosseum in front, and here I am in the middle of the road...

This landed us walking towards the colosseum just as the sun dropped out of the sky, and gave me my favourite condition to photograph in, blue hour...

Blue Hour at the Colosseum

Orangey yellow lights (technical term) lighting the archways, tripod set up, and 60 minutes of perfect lighting gave me some gorgeous photos of this incredible monument (note: a rather sketchy road island also gave us some fantastic light trials, contrary to advice from locals to not stand there, worth it though).

And just as we’d planned, this left us a 25 minute tram ride away from the hotel. Perfect.

Another few hours of backing up photos, camera battery charging, and packing for the flight home, and day 4 had already come around.

Day 4, and due to us having to get the bus back towards the airport around 3/3.30, we decided to stay relatively close to the hotel (which would save my lugging my duffel bag and all my camera kit around for the whole day). Lucky for us, we’d left one major thing to see, the remarkable Roman Forum. Big enough for us to kill 5 hours in, massively interesting, and entry was cheap (big plus when you're on a budget). We were initially put off by the 16 euros per person entry fee, but through broken Italian we discovered that under 26 year olds with valid ID can get in for no more than 2 Euros per person. Out came the passports and in we went, happy with the huge saving.

I wasn’t really sure as to what the Roman Forum and its surroundings was if I’m honest, other than it was the leftovers of Ancient Rome. On the surface, I wasn’t wrong, but walking around the sites it became clear this wasn’t just a big archaeology dig.

An area of the Roman Forum dedicated to the temples of ancient Rome

The site is huge, with remanence of the Imperial Place on Palatine Hill, the gardens of the Imperial family, and the Roman Forum itself.

The site was once the centre of the ancient city, housing markets, temples, and official buildings where the Roman Empire was coordinated. Time has eroded the site away, leaving a few ancient stones, with only a handful monuments left standing.

They tell the story of an empire that once ruled across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

One of the Roman Forums still intact temples

Walking through the scattering of ancient monuments, imaging what it once looked like, it truly remarkable. The site is a working dig, as more and more ancient relics are unearthed daily.

The ancient archway that greets you at the entrance
Ancient Basilica are a prominent Roman sight
A couple photograph the Bascilia of Maxentius, a monumental piece of ancient architecture

Unfortunately for us, as the sun was setting it was time to hop back on the tram, grab the trusty duffel bag, and head back towards the airport. Our Roman holiday was picturesque to say the least, and Rome served as the perfect European city to explore with a camera.

Keep your wits about you, don’t give into scammers, and wander the backstreets. Rome will prove to be everything you expected from this iconic city, and more.


Big thanks to Polkadot Travel for the flights & hotel: https://www.polkadottravel.co.uk/