Rome

Rome

Cities don’t come much more ancient, impressive or chaotic than the Italian capital of Rome. Visitors have been coming to this historic tourist destination for over 25 centuries and this ‘Eternal City’ contains more sights than you could possibly ever see during one holiday. Therefore it makes sense to prioritise, visit your chosen tourist attractions and then simply relax, soaking up the vibrant Italian atmosphere present in this capital whilst perhaps enjoying a coffee on one of the numerous spacious plazas.

In a city so filled with icons of antiquity and the Christian faith, it’s hard to know where to go first. Of course, your own interests will govern your choices, but there are certain sites that are almost obligatory landmarks of Italy and of all Europe, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon. A word of caution: try to vary your experiences as you explore Rome, so that you don’t visit too many ancient sites or churches in a row. And intersperse these more serious attractions with a few that are simply tourist icons – the Spanish Steps and that place all tourists must go to toss in their coin, the Trevi Fountain. Rome is so big that it can overwhelm, so even the most devoted sightseer should take some time to kick back and enjoy la dolce vita in a park or sidewalk cafĂ©.

Tourism is big business in Rome and the city is divided into a series of distinct neighbourhoods, each of which has its own character. Located in the very heart of the city, the aptly named Modern Centre is where much of the accommodation and dining scene is based, often lining the Via Veneto. Old Rome and the Colosseo form the old heart of the city and this small area is generally referred to as the ‘Centro Storico’ (Historic Centre).

The Papal city state of the Vatican lies on the western side of Rome, together with the cobblestone alleyways of Trastevere, while the sizeable northern section is named the North Centre and is home to sights such as the famous Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Spagna).

Whilst it is true to say that Rome is certainly a spreading and sizeable city, much of the sightseeing is clustered within the Centro Storico, to the east of the Tiber River and west of the Stazione Termini. Located next to the Piazza Cinquecento, the Stazione Termini is the city’s principal transport hub, where many cheap hotels now reside. Your best way of navigating this area is simply on foot, bearing in mind the location of the principal landmarks. Pocket-sized ‘Roma’ maps of the city are provided by the Rome Tourist Board and will certainly help you get around, being available at the popular tourist information kiosk on the Via Parigi. Further tourism outlets are based at the Villa Borghese, on the Via Marghera, on the Piazza della Minerva and on the Piazza Colonna, next to the Palazzo Chigi.

The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine

The largest structure left to us by Roman antiquity, the Colosseum still provides the model for sports arenas – present day football stadium design is clearly based on this oval Roman plan. The building was begun by Vespasian in AD 72, and after his son Titus enlarged it by adding the fourth story, it was inaugurated in the year AD 80 with a series of splendid games. The Colosseum was large enough for theatrical performances, festivals, circuses, or games, which the Imperial Court and high officials watched from the lowest level, aristocratic Roman families on the second, the populace on the third and fourth.

Beside the Colosseum stands the almost equally familiar Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch erected by the Senate to honor the emperor as “liberator of the city and bringer of peace” after his victory in the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312.

Vatican City

The Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world, with an area of less than half a square kilometer, most of it enclosed by the Vatican walls. Inside are the Vatican palace and gardens, St. Peter’s Basilica, and St. Peter’s Square, an area ruled by the Pope, supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church. This compact space offers much for tourists to see, between its museums and the great basilica itself.

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica is Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Pieta, along with statuary and altars by Bernini and others. The unquestioned highlight of the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel, whose magnificent frescoed ceiling is Michelangelo’s most famous work. Inside the Vatican Palace are the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments, the Vatican Library, and a number of museums that include the Picture Gallery, Museum of Secular Art, Etruscan Museum, and others. The collections you can see in these cover everything from papal coaches to 20th-century art reflecting religious themes.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon – the best preserved monument of Roman antiquity – is remarkably intact for its 2000 years. This is despite the fact that Pope Gregory III removed the gilded bronze roof tiles, and Pope Urban VIII ordered its bronze roof stripped and melted down to cast the canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s and cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo. The Pantheon was rebuilt after damage by fire in AD 80, and the resulting brickwork shows the extraordinarily high technical mastery of Roman builders. Its 43-meter dome, the supreme achievement of Roman interior architecture, hangs suspended without visible supports – these are well hidden inside the walls – and its nine-meter central opening is the building’s only light source. The harmonious effect of the interior is a result of its proportions: the height is the same as the diameter. Although the first Christian emperors forbade using this pagan temple for worship, in 609 Pope Boniface IV dedicated it to the Virgin and all the Christian martyrs, and since then, it has become the burial place of Italian kings (Victor Emmanuel II is in the second niche on the right) and other famous Italians, including the painter Raphael.

Roman Forum

Walking through the forum, now in the middle of a throbbing modern city, is like stepping back two millennia into the heart of ancient Rome. Although what survives of this center of Roman life and government shows only a small fraction of its original splendor, the standing and fallen columns, its triumphal arches, and remains of its walls still impress, especially when you consider that for centuries, the history of the Forum was the history of the Roman Empire and of the western world. Roman political and religious life was centered here, along with the courts, markets, and meeting places. After the seventh century, the buildings fell into ruin, and churches and fortresses were built amid the ancient remains. Its stones were quarried for other buildings and it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that systematic excavations brought the ancient buildings to light from under a 10-meter layer of earth and rubble.

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