Ancient Rome, Italy
Explore Ancient Rome area and its ruins around Rome / Colosseo on either side of via dei Fori Imperiali, which connects the Colosseum and piazza Venezia. Laid out between 1924 and 1932, at Mussolini’s request, the works for such an imposing boulevard required the destruction of a large area of Renaissance and medieval buildings constructed on top of ruins of the ancient forums, and ended forever plans for an archaeological park stretching all the way to the Appian Way. Via dei Fori Imperiali is a busy thoroughfare, but it has been partially pedestrianized in August 2013; said boulevard is also the location of a grand parade held every 2nd of June in occasion of the Italian national holiday. Heading towards the Colosseum from Piazza Venezia, you can see the Roman Forum on your right and Trajan’s Forum and Market on the left. To the right of the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine and the beginning of the Palatine Hill, which will eventually lead you to ruins of the Flavian Palace and a view of the Circus Maximus (see Rome/Aventino-Testaccio). To the left, after the Colosseum is a wide, tree-lined path that climbs through the Colle Oppio park. Underneath this park is the Golden House of Nero (Domus Aurea), an enormous and spectacular underground complex restored and then closed again due to damage caused by heavy rain. Further to the left on the Esquiline Hill are ruins of Trajan’s baths.
In Old Rome you must see the Pantheon, which is amazingly well preserved considering it dates back to 125AD. There is a hole constructed in the ceiling so it is an interesting experience to be there when it is raining. If you are heading to the Pantheon from Piazza Venezia you will first reach Largo di Torre Argentina, on your left. Until 1926 the area was covered in narrow streets and small houses, which were razed to the ground when ruins of Roman temples were discovered. Moving along corso Vittorio Emanuele II and crossing the Tiber River into the Vatican area you see the imposing Castel Sant’Angelo, built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian. This is connected by a covered fortified corridor to the Vatican and served as a refuge for Popes in times of trouble.
South of the Colosseum are the Baths of Caracalla (Aventino-Testaccio). You can then head South-East on the old Appian Way, passing through a stretch of very well-preserved city wall. For the adventurous, continuing along the Appian Way (Rome/South) will bring you to a whole host of Roman ruins, including the Circus of Maxentius, the tomb of Cecilia Metella, the Villa dei Quintili and, nearby, several long stretches of Roman aqueduct.
Returning to the Modern Centre, the Baths of Diocletian are opposite the entrance to the main railway station, Termini. The National Museum of Rome stands in the South-West corner of the Baths complex and has an enormous collection of Roman scultures and other artifacts. But this is just one of numerous museums devoted to ancient Rome, including those of the Capitoline Hill. It is really amazing how much there is.
There are more than 900 churches in Rome. Probably one third would be well worth a visit!
St. Peter is said to have founded the Church in Rome together with St. Paul. The first churches of Rome originated in places where early Christians met, usually in the homes of private citizens. By the 4th century, however, there were already four major churches, or basilicas. Rome had 28 cardinals who took it in turns to give mass once a week in one of the basilicas. In one form or another the four basilicas are with us today and constitute the major churches of Rome. They are St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni. All pilgrims to Rome are expected to visit these four basilicas, together with San Lorenzo fuori le mura, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and the Sanctuary of Divino Amore. The latter was inserted as one of the seven at the time of the Great Jubilee in 2000, replacing San Sebastiano outside the walls.
Take a look inside a few churches. You’ll find the richness and range of decor astonishing, from fine classical art to tacky electric candles. Starting with several good examples of early Christian churches, including San Clemente and Santa Costanza, there are churches built over a period of 1700 years or so, including modern churches constructed to serve Rome’s new suburbs.
Churches in Rome deny admission to people who are dressed inappropriately; you will find “fashion police” at the most visited churches (“knees and shoulders” are the main problem – especially female ones). Bare shoulders, short skirts, and shorts are officially not allowed, but long shorts and skirts reaching just above the knee should generally be no problem… however, it’s always safer to wear longer pants or skirts that go below the knee; St. Peter’s in particular is known for rejecting tourists for uncovered knees, shoulders, midriffs, etc. (you also generally won’t be told until right before you enter the church, so you will have made the trek to the Vatican and stood in a long security line for nothing) etc. The stricter churches usually have vendors just outside selling inexpensive scarves and sometimes plastic pants, but relatively few churches enforce dress codes and you can wander into most wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts, or pretty much anything without problems. It is, however, good to keep one’s dress conservative, as these are still churches and houses of prayer for many people (older Romans might comment on your attire if it is particularly revealing).
The Seven Hills of Rome
To the modern visitor, the Seven Hills of Rome can be rather difficult to identify. In the first place, generations of buildings constructed on top of each other and the construction of tall buildings in the valleys have tended to make the hills less pronounced than they originally were. Secondly, there are clearly more than seven hills – in Roman days many of these were outside the city boundaries.
The seven hills were first occupied by small settlements and not recognized as a city for some time. Rome came into being as these settlements acted together to drain the marshy valleys between them and turn them into markets and fora. The Roman Forum used to be a swamp.
The Palatine Hill looms over the Circus Maximus and is accessed near the Colosseum. Legend has it that this was occupied by Romulus when he fell out with his brother, Remus, who occupied the Aventine Hill on the other side of the Circus. Also clearly recognizable as hills are the Caelian, to the southeast of Circus Maximus and the Capitoline, which overlooks the Forum and hosts Rome’s city hall, as well as the Capitoline Museums. East and northeast of the Roman Forum are the Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal hills. These are less easy to distinguish as separate hills these days and from a distance look like one.
The Servian Wall outside Termini Station.
The red line on the map indicates the Servian Wall, its construction is credited to the Roman King Servius Tullius in the Sixth Century BC, but archaeological evidence places its construction during the Fourth Century BC. Small bits of this wall can still be seen, particularly close to Termini railway station and on the Aventine hill. As Rome expanded new walls were required to protect the larger area. These were built in the Third Century AD by the Emperor Aurelian. Lengthy sections of this wall remain all around the outskirts of Rome’s centre. Much is in very good condition.
Among other hills of Rome, not included in the seven, are those overlooking the Vatican; the Janiculum, overlooking Trastevere, which provides excellent views of Rome; the Pincio on the edge of the Borghese Gardens, which gives good views of piazza del Popolo and the Vatican, and Monte Mario, with its famous Zodiaco (a panoramic viewpoint), to the north.
If you are in Rome for the art there are several world-class museums in the city. The natural starting point is a visit to the area of Villa Borghese in Campo Marzio, where there is a cluster of art museums. Galleria Borghese houses a previously private art collection of the Borghese family, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia is home of the world’s largest Etruscan art collection, and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna houses many Italian masterpieces as well as a few pieces by artists such as Cézanne, Modigliani, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh. The Capitoline Museums in the Colosseo district opens their doors to the city’s most important collection of antique Roman and Greek art and sculptures. Visit the Galleria d’Arte Antica, housed in the Barberini palace in the Modern center, for Italian Renaissance and Baroque art.
A visit to Rome is not complete without a trip to the Vatican Museums. You’ll need to go to the museums if you want to see the Sistine Chapel, but there is an enormous collection. You cannot miss any part of it, such as the tapestries, the maps and the rooms painted by Rafael as they are en route to the Sistine Chapel but there is much, much more to explore, including a stunning Egyptian collection and the Pinacoteca, which includes a “Portrait of St. Jerome” by Leonardo da Vinci and paintings by Giotto, Perugino, Raphael, Veronese and Caravaggio, to name just a few. Not to mention the countless, ancient statues…
Rome’s National Museum at the Baths of Diocletian in the Modern Center has a vast archaeological collection as does the national museum at Palazzo Altemps, close to piazza Navona. Further afield, the Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of the Roman Civilisation), in the EUR, is most famous for an enormous model of Imperial Rome but it is also home to an extensive display of plaster casts, models and reconstructions of statues and Roman stonework.
If you have plenty of time there is absolutely no shortage of other museums covering a wide variety of interests. Examples include the Museum of the Walls (see Rome/South), the Musical Instrument Museum and a museum devoted to the liberation of Rome from the German occupation in the Second World War (Rome/Esquilino-San Giovanni).
Check museum opening hours before heading there. Government museums are invariably closed on Mondays, so that is a good day for other activities. The Rome municipality itself operates some 17 museums and attractions. These are free to European Union citizens under 18 and over 65.
The Keats-Shelley House is recommended for fans of second-wave British Romantic poets (Keats, Shelley, Byron etc). This is the house in which John Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25 in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. It is located at piazza di Spagna, 26, right next to the Spanish Steps.
Feel free to explore Ancient Rome…