Rome holds high esteem as one of the best city break destinations in the world. The capital of Italy, a food mecca, the gateway to Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast and the ancient capital of the world. So unsurprisingly, Rome’s visitor numbers are extraordinary. In fact, in any given ‘normal year’ nine million people flock to see the Eternal City’s copious sights and sounds.
There are no stats yet for just how many visitor numbers there will be this compromised year, but I saw it with my own eyes and the crowds were certainly gone. As an average 16,500 people visit the Colosseum on any given normal day. Yet, in the two hours I spent at the attraction, there can’t have been more than a little over 100. Feeling smug, I spared a thought for Roberto Cercelletta’s successor, the infamous Roman thief who routinely stole up to $1,000 a day from the waters of the Trevi Fountain. Looking at the loose change in the basin this summer, they might have been best to seek out the Italian furlough scheme.
As distinct to Rome as a marble column are the conga lines of tour groups. Guides wielding flags in the sky, stalked by stickered and colour coded gangs vying for space close enough to hear their rehashed commentary. Yet, not a single flag bearing tour leader was weaving through the city this September. Without them, you can criss-cross and zig-zag from Roman Forum to Trevi Fountain, whistle through a list of secret churches famed for frescos, Caravaggios and courtyards, frustration and fancy-free. There was no destination where this was more rewarding than the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Entire collections to ourselves and the opportunity to stand back and truly take in a tapestry, ancient map or Roman bust without it being obscured by others. The Sistine Chapel takes on an entirely different level of serene calm when you have it almost entirely to yourself.