Rome, the Eternal City, actually has a fairly compact layout and much of it can be covered on foot. During my 2010 trip to Rome I discovered the city in several ways: first I took a sightseeing bus to get a lay of the land. Then, in a self-guided walking tour, I focused in on all the major sights in Old Rome. Finally I spent two days exploring the city by bicycle. The subway system in Rome is also very easy to figure out as there are only two lines that cross at the Roma Termini Railway Station. After a few days I had a very good mental map of Rome and was able to find my way around very easily.
Here is a list of some of the main attractions and where they are on a map of Rome:
- The Colosseum (often referred to as the Coliseum) is Rome’s most iconic landmark. Talk about Rome and automatically most people will think of an image of this huge ancient amphitheatre. Completed around 80 AD, this huge structure was capable of holding up to 50,000 spectators and enthralled its audiences with gladiator combats, mock sea battles and animal fights. Despite the fact that much of its stone cladding was stolen over the centuries, it is still an awe-inspiring building and definitely is on any must-see list in Rome.
- The Arch of Constantine is adjacent to the Colosseum and is a monument to a battle victory by Emperor Constantine in 312 AD. It can be viewed free of charge and today it is also a popular backdrop for wedding pictures.
- The Roman Forum (or in Latin: the Forum Romanum) was the centre of Ancient Roma’s power and today is one of the world’s most significant archeological locations. On this central square would be held political speeches, gatherings and criminal trials; it was even the food court of Ancient Rome. The best view of the Forum Romanum can be had from the terraces of the Campidoglio.
- The Palatine Hill, adjacent to the Roman Forum, has several ruined villas that used to belong to some of Rome’s patrician families. To avoid the long lineups for the Colosseum, you can purchase a combined ticket for the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum.
- The Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most popular public spaces and was originally a stadium for chariot races, which is evidenced by the longitudinal shape of this piazza. The center of the square is anchored by the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (the Fountain of the Four Rivers); the Fontana del Moro is at the southern end while the Fountain of Neptune is at the northern end. The anchor of the Piazza Navona is the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone which features designs by Francesco Borromini and others. Lots of outdoor cafes line the square and it’s perfect for people watching.
- The Pantheon is the most well-preserved building of antiquity. Built in 27 BC, this ancient temple has been a Christian church since the 7th century and still is in continuous use. Its interior ornamentation and designs are virtually intact and the round opening in the dome lets in daylight (and rain that drains into various holes in the ground). To this day the Pantheon features the largest dome made of un-reinforced concrete in the world.
ROME / NORTH CENTER:
- The Trevi Fountain is also among Rome’s most popular sights. Every day thousands of people crowd around this Baroque-era fountain and toss coins worth about 3000 Euros into the fountain on a daily basis.
- The Spanish Steps on the Piazza di Spagna are also a people magnet. Visitors and locals alike sit down and relax on some of the widest steps in Europe. Be aware though that eating on the Spanish Steps is forbidden by local regulations. The Piazza di Spagna features a Baroque fountain called the Fontana della Barcaccia (the “Fountain of the Old Boat”).
ROME / MODERN CENTER:
- The Trevi Fountain is also among Rome’s most popular sights. Every day thousands of people crowd around this Baroque-era fountain and toss coins worth about 3000 Euros into the fountain.
- The Palazzo Barberini was designed in part by Bernini and today holds the National Gallery of Ancient Art with paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio and many others.
- The Quirinal Palace (Palazzo del Quirinale), located on the highest hill of Rome, is the seat of the President of the Italy and on occasion the public is allowed to view the gardens, but be prepared for long lineups.
- The Vatican is the center of Catholicism and an independent city state, the smallest state in the world. It is inhabited by about 1000 people which mostly include priests, nuns and guards, and most famous of all, the Pope.
- St. Peter’s Basilica is the most important sight in the Vatican. This magnificent church is absolutely gigantic and its beauty will definitely overwhelm you. Its dome was designed by Michelangelo and with a height of 120 metres it is significantly higher than the Statue of Liberty (which measures 93 metres). Although admission to St. Peter’s is free of charge, be aware that a strict dress code is in force that forbids uncovered shoulders, excessively short skirts or hats. You can buy scarves or t-shirts on the side of the Piazza San Pietro to cover up.
- The Vatican Museum is most renowned for its famous staircase and the magnificent Sistine Chapel whose frescoes were painted by Michelangelo. “The Last Judgment” is widely regarded as Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Other outstanding Renaissance artists like Raphael, Bernini and Boticelli also left their mark here.
- St. Peter’s Square (the Piazza San Pietro) is a huge elliptical space with an Egyptian obelisk in the middle. It was laid out by Bernini in the 1700 century. The square is often the location of outdoor masses and religious celebrations that are attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
- The Castel Sant’Angelo was originally a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian when it was completed in 139 AD. It became a fortress in the Middle Ages, a refuge for various popes and even a prison. Since 1901 it holds a museum, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.
- Trastevere literally means “beyond the Tiber River” and is located on the left bank of the river. With its humble origins as a fishing village, this area is full of narrow cobble-stoned streets and atmospheric plazas that today hustle and bustle with restaurants, bars, clubs and boutiques.
- Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome’s oldest churches and features gold mosaics mosaics from the 13th century.
- Tiber Island (or Isola Tiberina) is an island in the middle of the Tiber River that has long been home to a major hospital and a small synagogue. It’s also a great place for an ice cream and an easy way for getting from Trastevere to other points in Old Rome.
Rome has a lot to offer and much of it can be explored on foot, so bring good walking shoes and a good map.
Have a peek at some of my travel stories from Rome from my 2010 trip to Europe.
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