Sightseeing guide for Rome

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is the most famous monument in Rome. Started by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavia family, it was opened by his son Titus in 80 A.D. The highly ostentatious opening ceremony, lasted one hundred days during which people saw great fights, shows and hunts involving the killing of thousands of animals. For the opening, the arena space was filled with water for one of the most fantastic events held in Roman times, real sea battles reproducing great battles of the past. Nowadays there is just the skeleton of what was the greatest arena in the ancient world. In the Middle Ages, when no longer in use, the Colosseum was transformed into an enormous marble, lead and iron quarry used by Popes to build Barberini Palace, Piazza Venezia and even St. Peter's. Entry was free for all Roman citizens, but places were divided according to social status, the seats at the top were for the people, the nearer you got to the arena the higher your social status.

The Arch of Constantine

This Triumphal Arch was completed in AD 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory over his co-emperor, Maxentius. There are statues of Dacian prisoners taken from Trajan's Forum and reliefs of Marcus Aurelius, including one where he distributes bread to the poor.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is the best preserved Roman monument, with the biggest brick dome in the history of architecture and is considered the forerunner of all modern places of worship. Michelangelo felt it was the work of angels, not men. According to Roman legend, it is the place where the founder of Rome, Romulus, was seized by an eagle and taken off into the skies with the Gods at his death. Originally, the Pantheon was a small temple dedicated to all Roman gods. The Pantheon combines a clearly Roman, cylindrical structure with the splendid outer colonnade of Greek inspiration.

St. Peter's Basilica

It is thanks to Peter, the first Apostle and the first pope and leader of the Church that the most important basilica in the Christian world, the St. Peter's Basilica, was built in Rome. Peter was given his name by Jesus because he was destined to be the foundation "stone" (in Italian "Pietra") on which the church would be built. He was imprisoned, and then miraculously released, following which he left Jerusalem and headed for Rome, the "Capital of the World", which was the centre of the immense Roman Empire at that time. Emperor Constantine decided to erect the first basilica in honour of the Saint. The first basilica was an immense and magnificent building, which guarded treasures of art and gold. Among the many works of art is the famous Navicella mosaic by Giotto, of which today, only a copy is still conserved in the portico. At the dawn of the 15th century, Pope Nicholas V and the architect, Bernardo Rossellino set to work on what would be one of the most famous and demanding building sites of the Renaissance. The architect Bramante built the immense central body in the form of a Greek cross held up by four gigantic pillars. Michelangelo was the designer of the 'cuppolone', the enormous dome, and was also responsible for the simple, yet majestic exterior with its gigantic columns crowned by a very evident horizontal fascia. In the end, it was Carlo Maderno who lengthened the central nave of the church and erected the monumental facade. From the portico, you enter the Basilica through five heavy bronze doors. St. Peter's is also an extraordinary museum. Baldachin by Bernini, or the sweet Pieta, which in Italian means 'Compassion', by Michelangelo are some of the valuable items in the Basilica. At the exterior there are magnificent marble columns of Bernini that enfold the surrounding square in a spectacular and metaphorical embrace.

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is a fantastic work of art that is much more than a mere sculpture. This triumphant example of Baroque art with its soft, natural lines and fantasy creatures embodies movement as the soul of the world. Indeed, as you get nearer the sound of its gushing waters grows constantly more intense, reaching a crescendo in the square, where you will find the most breathtaking sight. The statues are a symbolic representation of this great force of nature, a tumultuous spring that seems to flow out of the ground. The central feature of the monument is a chariot in the shape of a shell, drawn by seahorses with Triton as their guide. Before the enormous central niche stands Oceanus. To the side are the statues of Abundance and Salubrity. All around, natural and artificial forms merge together in a representation of rocks and petrified vegetation that run along the foundation of the palace and around the borders of the pool, which represents the sea.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

The three fountains, fed by the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, are the main decorative elements of the piazza. The most remarkable of these, la Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is an expression of Bernini's most consummate artistry. An obelisk from the circus of Maxentius was erected over a rocky grotto, from which a lion and a horse are to be seen emerging.

Piazza Navona

This piazza, which displays the genius of Bernini and Borromini, is one of the finest baroque masterpieces in Rome. Nowadays, the is surrounded by open-air cafes and the seasonal fairs. Of these the most popular is the one held in December and early January where toys and crib figures are sold. In the summer the piazza is full of painters, caricaturists, fortune-tellers and buskers, who entertain visitors.

The Spanish Steps

During the Renaissance period, the square was the most popular tourist attraction in the city. It is full of elegant hotels, inns and residences. At the end of the 17th century, it was called Trinita dei Monti, after the church that dominates the square from above, but it was later given the name we know today after the Spanish Ambassador who lived there. At the foot of the stairs, you will find the famous Barcaccia Fountain, the work of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. With its characteristic form of a sinking ship, the fountain recalls the historic flood of the River Tiber in 1598. The sun and bee ornamentation is a symbol of the Barberini family and a reference to Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the work. However, the main attraction of the square has to be the spectacular staircase of Trinita dei Monti.

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is situated in the area between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Foro was the name that the Romans gave to the central square of the urban settlement and it soon became a crowded place as the pulsing centre of a modern city. Here the masses would flock to see the meetings of the orators, attend criminal trials and discuss internal politics or the latest military campaigns or simply to comment on the games or running races. During the reign of Cesar the Forum became a place for celebrations and during the Imperial era it was the symbol of the Empire. It was only during the 18th century that the Forum was rediscovered and finally the definitive process of the recovery of the ancient ruins began, bringing this long-forgotten and barbarically plundered historical sight back to life.

Baths of Caracalla

In Imperial Rome the Celian hill was a fashionable place to live and some of its vanished splendor is still apparent in the vast ruins of the baths of Caracalla. Completed by Emperor Caracalla in AD 217, the baths functioned for about 300 years, until the plumbing was destroyed by invading Goths. Over 1,600 bathers at a time could enjoy the facilities. A Roman bath was a serious business, beginning with a sort of Turkish bath, followed by a spell in the caldarium, a large hot room with pools of water to provide humidity. Then came the lukewarm tepidarium, a visit to the large central meeting place, known as the frigidarium and finally a plunge into the natatio, an open-air swimming pool. For the rich, this was followed by a rubdown with scented woollen cloth. Along with the baths there were also spaces for exercise, libraries, art galleries and gardens. Most of the rich marble decorations of the baths were removed by the Farnese family in the 16th century to adorn the interior of Palazzo Farnese.

Castel St. Angelo

With its unmistakeable cylindrical contour and particularly scenic position along the shore of the Tiber River, Castel Sant'Angelo is one of the town's most famous landmarks. Before it took its present shape, it used to be the Hadrianeum, a mausoleum that Emperor Hadrian built for himself and his successors. In the Middleage, the mausoleum functioned as an imperial tomb and later one became a practically unassailable fortress in a particularly strategic position that defended the northern entrance of the city. The popes also commissioned the construction of a covered fortified corridor connected to the Vatican Palaces, which was to be used in the event of danger as an extreme escape route. Castel Sant'Angelo also guarded the riches of the popes. There is a treasury room in the centre of the fort that worked as a safe during the Renaissance. The castle was also used to store enormous supplies of food in case an attack occured. However, in the past, Castel Sant'Angelo was sadly notorious for functions of a much more grave nature. Its courtyards were the scene of executions by decapitation and the heads of the condemned were then hung for days along the bridge as a terrible warning. In the small, damp and dark cells, the prisoners died of hunger and thirst or due to terrible tortures. Today it is home to the National Museum of Castel Sant'Angelo. The statue of Archangel St. Michael, high up on the enormous terrace, from which the castle takes its name is situated on the tower.

The Capitol

Michelangelo's spectacular Piazza del Campidoglio is flanked by the Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori, housing the Capitoline Museum with its fine collections of sculptures and paintings.

Hadrian's Villa

Built as a private summer retreat between AD 118 and 134, Hadrian's Villa was a vast open-air museum of the finest architecture of the Roman world. The grounds of the Imperial palace covered an area of 120 hectares and were filled with full-scale reproductions of the emperor's favourite buildings from Greece and Egypt. Although excavations on this site began during the 16th century, many of the ruins lying scattered in the surrounding fields have yet to be identified with any certainty. One of the most impressive ruins is the so-called Maritime Theater. This is a round pool with an island in the middle, surrounded by columns. The island was probably Hadrian's private studio. There were also theatres, Greek and Latin libraries, two bathhouses, extensive housing for guests and the palace staff and formal gardens with fountains, statues and pools. Hadrian also loved Greek philosophy. One part of the gardens in thought to have been Hadrian's reproduction of the Grove of Academe, were Plato lectured to his students. He also had a replica made of the Stoa Poikile, a beautiful painted colonnade in Athens, from which the Stoic philosophers took their name. The so-called Hall of the Philosophers close to the Poikile was probably a library. The most ambitious of Hadrian's replicas was the Canopus, a sanctuary of the god Serapis near Alexandria. For this a canal 119 metres long was dug and Egyptian statues were imported to decorate the temple and its grounds. This impressive piece of engineering has been restored and the banks of the canal are lined with caryatids. Another picturesque spot in the grounds is the Vale of Tempe, the legendary haunt of the goddess Diana with a stream representing the river Peneios. Below ground the emperor even built a fanciful recreation of the underworld, Hades, reached through underground tunnels of which there were many linking the various parts of the villa.

The Sistine Chapel

This chapel owes its name to Sixtus IV, the Pope who commissioned the building of the chapel at the end of the 14th century. The Chapel was decorated by famous 15th century painters such as Botticelli and il Ghirlandaio. Later, Michelangelo was called upon to paint all the frescoes on the chapel' s vaulted ceiling which are about 1.000 square meters. He painted frescoes representing stories from the Bible such as the amazing Universal Judgment, which caused a scandal because of the nudity of about four hundred people in it and the Creation of Mankind.

San Giovanni in Laterano

This is the Cathedral of Rome and at the same time the most important church after St. Peter' s. The current building complex is made up of the Church, the Baptistery, Palazzo Lateranense, the Scala Santa and the Hospital of San Giovanni.

The Vatican Museums

This group of museums is divided into several sections such as the Egyptian Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the Painting Gallery and the Raffaello Rooms and many more. The statue of Laocoonte in the courtyard of Palazzo del Belvedere is a highlight of the collection of these museums.

Galleria Borghese

This is one of the largest collections in the world. "Amor sacro e Amor Profano" by Tiziano, la Pieta by Rubens, "Davide con la testa di Golia" by Caravaggio, "Apollo e Dafne", "David and Pluto e Prosperina" by Bernini are some of the masterpieces this art gallery houses. Besides the arts of work, the gardens of the villa and their architecture are admirable too.

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