Secret Rome: Why You Need To See Ara Pacis

At the time of publishing this post the world is under a travel ban due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I have chosen to keep publishing stories about traveling to Italy for three reasons. The first is that one day hopefully sooner rather than later, the world will open back up to travel, making this a great time to learn about more places we want to visit and what to see when we get there.   

Secondly I hope this will change the way we travel. Hopefully cruise ships and big bus tours and the mass tourism they bring will become a thing of the past, replaced by a more sustainable means of travel that involves smaller groups of people with a germane interest in discovering new places, rather than the masses descending on any city to check it off their bucket list. Third, in this time of crisis our minds need a place to escape to, even if only for a few minutes. So let’s escape to Italy together.

Ara Pacis

This is one of those completely fantastic secrets in Rome that’s hiding in plain sight. Even when Rome is bursting at the seams with tourists you will find very few people here. It is one of my absolute favorites and I wrote about it in detail in my best selling book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome. (Find it in the 13 Places To Discover Ancient Rome chapter)

The Ara Pacis in Rome. A celebration of peace brought by Emperor Augustus
The Ara Pacis in Rome

The Ara Pacis was built around 13 B.C to commemorate Augustus’ victorious return to Rome. Rome had been mired in decades of civil war, and had spent centuries at war with other countries. Augustus ended all the fighting, bringing about the first time of peace in years at the same time becoming the most powerful man in history.

Originally it stood at the northeast corner of the Campus Martius. The altar was angled so that at sunset on Augustus’ birthday the shadow of the point of the obelisk in the Campus Martius would fall onto the Ara Pacis, symbolizing that he was born to bring peace to Rome. He really was a master of propaganda!

Centuries later the Tiber river was expanded and over time the Ara Pacis, in all of its white marble glory, became submerged in 4 meters of mud. It disappeared for more than 1000 years.

2000 year old carvings on the back wall of Ara Pacis in Rome
2000 year old carvings on the back wall of Ara Pacis

In the 16th century fragments of it were found under an old palazzo. More were discovered in the 1800’s.

RELATED POST: BOOKS SET IN ITALY

In 1937 the Italian cabinet decided to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ birth by excavating the altar. 70 cubic meters of ground (beneath what at the time was the Cinema Nuovo Olimpia) were frozen and the altar was extracted.

When you visit the Ara Pacis you can see what a colossal undertaking that must have been. Working with comparatively few fragments and only a short amount of time, it’s amazing what they were able to achieve.

The Richard Meier designed Ara Pacis Museum
The Richard Meier designed Ara Pacis Museum

Buildings surround the mausoleum of Augustus were razed and the Ara Pacis was placed in its current location. It initially was protected by a pavilion but in 2006 got its current, very modern Richard Meier designed building. The building looks pretty incongruous surrounded by old Rome, but once you go inside you can appreciate the genius of it. There is an overwhelming amount of natural light, maximizing the magnificence of the altar.

Ara Pacis in Rome is bathed in natural light
Ara Pacis bathed in natural light

The Ara Pacis is both beautiful and majestic. A set of stairs lead up to the altar, all encased in white marble walls which are covered in carvings.

Carvings on the exterior of Ara Pacis in Rome
The right hand exterior of the Ara Pacis

The museum itself is really good. Entirely dedicated to the Ara Pacis, it is interactive and relatively small. Everyone working there is really well informed and incredibly helpful too.

RELATED POST: MUST SEE IN ROME – THE PORTICUS OF OCTAVIA

Ara Pacis carvings explained
One of the maps inside the Ara Pacis museum in Rome

This past summer while there I had a list of obscure things I wanted to find in the carvings that line the exterior of the marble walls. One of the guards came over, as this was his specialty. There were only a handful of visitors at the museum, so he was able to spend a half hour with me, going back and forth from the maps and interactive screens to the altar itself, finding the items on my list and pointing out missing pieces in between.

Agrippa and Julia on the exterior of Ara Pacis in Rome
Agrippa, Gaius and Julia on the exterior of Ara Pacis

I speak Italian relatively well, but I don’t speak archeological Italian, and he spoke only a little English, but was fully invested in helping me, taking me back to the English translations at the interactive area when we got stuck.

It really was a fantastic experience!

The windows look out over the Mausoleum of Augustus which is being restored but will be open to the public soon.

Mausoleum of Augustus renovations
The Mausoleum of Augustus, once the grandest building in Rome, is under renovation and will open to the public in 2022

I recommend first reading the Ara Pacis section of my Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome book to get some context of who Augustus was, who all the players that show up here are, and why their stories are so interesting. This will make discovering the different people represented on the walls of the Ara Pacis extra interesting.

You can take a virtual tour of Ara Pacis here

RELATED POST: HOW TO TRAVEL ITALY ON A BUDGET

You will probably only spend half an hour or so here. It is an easy walk from the Piazza Navona/Campo di Fiori area, is only a few minutes’ walk along the river to the Bridge of Angels and Castel Sant’ Angelo (in front of St Peters) and is just across the river from Trastevere.

Address: Lungotevere in Augusta, Rome

Do you belong to my Private Members Newsletter? It’s free to join, and you only hear from me twice a month. For news about interesting places to visit in Italy (places the tour buses don’t go to) foods to eat and fun things to do that keep you away from the crowds, you can join the newsletter HERE

What To Do If You Get Sick In Italy

Florence sunset

GETTING SICK IN ITALY – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Getting sick while you are on vacation is no fun at all. We plan to be healthy, but still it can happen, you wake up feeling like death warmed over, your tummy is in knots or maybe you have a splitting headache. If something major happens, such as your appendix gets going or you break a bone, obviously you will go to the hospital, but what about the other stuff?

This past summer I had a makeup job in Belize the week before I went to Italy. I woke up my third day in Europe with a nasty cough that progressively got worse, to the point where I had to sleep sitting up. It was miserable. It turned out I had breathed in spores in Belize that then took up residence in my sinuses and wrecked havoc on my summer. The bright side of the experience was that I got the opportunity to work my way through the Italian medical system, and see how incredibly functional and affordable it is!

Certaldo Alto

Had I been in the US I would have high tailed it to my nearest Target/Walgreens/ CVS store and loaded up on DayQuil and NyQuil, but they don’t have those products in Italy. I normally travel with a small kit of OTC medicines in case something goes wrong, but this time I had left the bag at home in the name of packing light. (Never again!)

Related Post: How To order Coffee In Italy

The first medical stop was to see a doctor. The owner of the vacation rental I was staying in hooked me up and got me an appointment. The doctor was great. He asked a million questions, including “Belize??? What the hell were you doing there?? Do you have any idea how many crazy illnesses they have in Belize???”

Then he went to a cabinet full of drawers and pulled out a packet of antibiotics, a nasal spray, an inhaler (that costs 10x more in the USA) and wrote me a prescription for some cough medicine. It was brilliant! None of this waiting an hour at the pharmacy like you do here. A basic prescription comes prepackaged and ready to go. Why don’t we have that here??

Next I went to the pharmacy to get my cough medicine. Again, it was super efficient. Everything is prepackaged and ready to go. No waiting around.

italy pharmacy

 

Because I was going to be moving around the country I couldn’t come back for a follow up visit, so the doctor wrote me some other prescriptions in case I needed them.

Normally your first stop isn’t to a doctors office, normally you start at the pharmacy. 

Pharmacies are easy to find in Italy because they have a big green cross in neon outside. It is a very different pharmacy experience than you have in America. 

Related Post: How To use Trains In Italy

The DayQuil/NyQuil/Benedryl products that we buy over the counter here aren’t sold over the counter there. In Italy you will speak to a pharmacist, and this is going to feel like you are speaking to a doctor. They will ask you tons of questions about what’s going on, so they can diagnose you correctly and give you the right products. If you want something for a cough they will ask you all about the cough, where it is coming from, is it wet or dry, and then decide which is the best option for you.

Normally the first stop isn’t a pharmaceutical, but will be a natural remedy instead. They do the same in New Zealand – it’s amazing how many ailments that we medicate in the US that they treat and cure overseas with non-pharmaceutical products! 

Across the course of traveling through Italy for 6 weeks with a never ending cough I was able to experience many, many pharmacies. They are all independently owned, not giant chains like they are here. In each and every one whomever was helping me asked tons of questions then made a decision specific to my needs. When I got to San Gimignano and was still coughing, the pharmacist said I needed to see another doctor, then organized it for me.

This doctor wrote some more prescriptions including a steroid to stop the cough. I ran back to the pharmacy and once again they just opened drawers and pulled out the boxes of medications. There was no waiting around, no pharmacy techs counting out tablets, instead the prescriptions are already in boxes waiting for you.

I speak Italian pretty well, but I don’t speak medical jargon. (I don’t speak mechanical Italian either. If you need your car taken in for an oil change and tire rotation I don’t know any of the words!) I found that in every pharmacy I went to up and down the country, they spoke English, or enough English for us to communicate.

I am a big believer in bringing some OTC meds with you in case you do catch a cold or get an upset tummy etc while on your trip, but if you don’t have what you need don’t worry. 

Volterra Stairs

What To Do If You Get Sick In Italy

Don’t get freaked out!

Act on it immediately. You may need to take a day out of your trip and sleep it off – whatever you have to do to nip it in the bud. You are better to deal with it quickly and stop it from getting worse, than to get really sick and ruin your trip. If it is a tummy issue you really need to act quickly because public bathrooms are few and far between in Italy.

Go to your nearest pharmacy and expect to speak at length with the pharmacist or the tech. They will sort you out. 

If your illness is beyond their ability to help they will help you find a doctor, and in most cases a doctor who speaks English.

If you do need a doctor and they can’t help you find one, your hotel or your landlord can help you.

 Related Post: Should You Buy Travel Insurance?

 Italian OTC (Over The Counter) Equivalents

You won’t find Advil, Motrin, Excedrine etc in Italy, but you will find these equivalent products.

Asprin = Aspirina

Ibuprofen products, like Advil are Brufen, Moment, and the best one for headaches – Nurofen.

Acetominophen products, like Tylenol are Paracetamol are Tachipirina and Efferalgan.

Naproxen products, like Aleve, are Momendol, Naprosyn and Naproxene.

Antihistamines: Reactine and Zyrtec, and a product called Telfast which is close to the American Allegra. The pharmacist will probably recommend a nasal spray as well.

Medicines To Pack

I recommend packing a small first aid kit when you travel. Make sure you have bandaids, a small tube of neosporin, a small tube of the painkiller that works for you (Excedrine/Tylenol/Motrin). You may encounter plants or air that sets off allergies you weren’t expecting, so pack an antihistimine. I bring Zyrtek with me because I find it works quicker and better than Claritin.

You should pack for tummy ailments too – something for upset stomach and something for a backed up stomach. Being in a place with different water from home and with different food from home could set you off in either direction.

Pack an insect repellent. Italy has some hungry mosquitos! But if I’m there you will be safe because they will buzz right past you to come eat me! One cool trick I learned was to pack a few tablespoons of baking soda. If you get bitten (or like me, eaten alive), mix a teaspoon of baking soda with just enough water to make a paste, paint it over your insect bites and let it dry. Once its all the way dry, rub it off rather than washing it off. It takes the redness, the itch, and the swelling out of insect bites really quickly! You can use the same trick for sunburn.

If you have OTC medicines you recommend packing, please tell me in the comments section below!

16 Luscious Italian Words And Phrases You Need In Your Life

I’m back in Italy now, leading the 2017 Glam Italia Tours. Are you following us on Instagram?

If you are following us in real time, today we are on our way to one of my favorite cities in the world, Rome. I am always deliriously excited to get back to the eternal city, so it seems appropriate that today’s blog post is all about some absolutely delicious Italian words and phrases to wrap your tongue around. These came to me a few years ago via Buzzfeed, and were put together by Luke Lewis.

Remember ~ everything sounds better in Italian!

16 Luscious Italian Words And Phrases You Need In Your Life

1.

unsplash.com / Via Joshua Earle

Related Post: How To Use Trains In Italy

2.

unsplash.com / Via Alex Wong
4.

unsplash.com / Via Lechon Kirb
5.

unsplash.com / Via Padurariu Alexandru
6.

Jens Mayer / Via unsplash.com

Related Post: How To Order Coffee In Italy

7.

unsplash.com / Via Olu Eletu
8.

unsplash.com / Via Elijah Hail
9.

unsplash.com / Via Morgan Sessions

Related Post: Everything You Need To Know About Renting Cars In Italy

10.

unsplash.com / Via Joshua Earle
11.

unsplash.com / Via Jordan Sanchez
13.

unsplash.com / Via Shlomit Wolf
14.

unsplash.com / Via Margot Pandone
15.

unsplash.com / Via Todd Quackenbush
16.

unsplash.com / Via Volkan Olmez
Luke Lewis is BuzzFeed’s Head of European Growth and is based in London.

Best Boutique Hotels in Italy at Tablet Hotels

Luscious Italian Words and Phrases