Rome: Must See(s)
Oh my! Four times in Rome and counting! Here are some of the must see places in this city. There’s quite a lot so be more than free to remind me if I missed something. I could write a part 2 if that’s the case! :D
It is the smallest of Rome’s seven hills but was the religious and political center of ancient Rome. Many important temples once stood here, the most important of which was the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus, built in 509BC and was almost as large as the Parthenon of Athens. The temple and the hill served as the symbol of Rome as Caput Mundi (capital of the world). Located on top of the hill is Piazza del Campidoglio which was designed by Michelangelo.
Once the site of ancient Rome’s political, religious and judicial buildings, they say that the Empire was planned and developed in this relatively small space. Being the center of Roman public life, this was where triumphant processions would pass by along the Via Sacra (Sacred Way), the main road, as well as where elections, trials and even gladiatorial matches were held. It was referred to as the Forum Magnum or simply the Forum. The best way to view the Forum as a whole would be atop the Capitoline Hill.
Piazza Venezia – Victor Emmanuel Monument
Located at the foot of Capitoline Hill, the piazza got its name from Cardinal Venezia who built the nearby Palazzo Venezia.
The monument houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was built after World War 1 to honour soldiers who died and whose bodies were never found. Many criticized the building of the big white marble building since it clashes with the general architecture of the area. It even garnered nicknames such as “the wedding cake” and “the typewriter.” Either way, the view from the top is really nice so don’t forget to check it out!
Largo di Torre Argentina
Found in this site are the remains of four Republican Roman temples and the Theatre of Pompey. This was where Julius Caesar was stabbed by a group of senators on the steps of the Theatre of Pompey. Currently, people go there to see the hundreds of stray cats that made the ruins their home.
Also known as Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti in Italian. It was designed by Francesca de Sanctis at the request of Innocent XII during the 18th century, they are so called because the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See was once situated in the piazza. The Scalinata with its 138 steps is the widest staircase in Europe. At the base of the staircase are streets with lots of high end shops.
Fontana di Trevi
So called because it is at the junction of three roads in Rome’s Trevi district, this fountain stands 26metres high and 20metres wide and is one of the most popular in the world. The Trevi Fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732. It was completed in 1762. The central figure of the fountain is Oceanus, the divine personification of World Ocean, an enormous river encircling the world. He is flanked by two Triton. One is leading a docile animal while the other is struggling with a very unruly sea horse. These two symbolize the moods of the sea. Also found at the niches on either side of Oceanus are Abundance from which water spills from her urn and Salubrity holding a cup from which a snake drinks.
They say that if you toss a coin over your shoulder with your back to the fountain, you will be back in Rome. Well, to be more precise, if you toss a coin using your right hand over your left shoulder. Others are adding that if you toss 2 coins, you will fall in love with an Italian and that if you toss three coins, you will marry that person. I don’t know about the last two but I’ve been to Rome 4x already and I haven’t exactly tossed the coins properly! :D
With the amount of people tossing coins here, the city is able to collect EUR 3,000 daily! The money is then distributed to various charities in the city. Also, it is illegal to frolic in the waters of the fountain!
The fountain is walking distance from Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps.
Piazza Navona is built on the site of Stadium of Domitain and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. During the 15th til the 19th century, they would flood the piazza and use it for aquatic games and would stage naval battles.
Piazza Navona has three fountains:
Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers Fountain) was created by Bernini in the early 1650s is one of Rome’s most famous. It represents the four great rivers known at the time namely the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Rio de la Plata. It created a controversy since bread tax was raised to cover the cost of its building.
Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor), located at the piazza’s southern end, was designed by Giacomo della Porto and built in 1575. The fountain has statues of four Tritons and the basin is made of special antique rose marble. In 1654, Bernini carved the central figure, a muscular Triton riding a dolphin, that resembles a “Moor”. Thus, the fountain is called the Fountain of the Moor. During a restoration in 1874, the original sculptures were moved to the Villa Borghese and substitute copies were made and are still on the fountain.
Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) on the otherhand is by the piazza’s northern end. Also designed by Giacomo della Porto in 1574, it was completed by Antonio della Bitta in 1878 when he added the sculpture of Neptune fighting an octopus.
Also found in Piazza Navona is Sant’Angese in Agone Church which is right in front of the Four Rivers Fountain. It was designed by Bernini’s rival, Borromini. Locals say that 2 of the representation of the rivers are actually shielding their eyes due to the horrible design of the church while the statue of St. Agnes meanwhile is gazing out of the piazza so as to avoid looking at the fountain in front of her! :D
The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome. It was destroyed by a fire in 80AD, that’s why it was rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian. The present building can be dated back to 120AD. Despite its age, it is one of the most well preserved ancient Roman buildings owing to continuous usage. It was made a Roman Catholic church around the 7th century. They dedicated the church to St. Mary and the Martyrs and is locally known as Santa Maria della Rotonda.
Inside, very noticeable is the oculus, a central opening that opens to the sky. The Pantheon’s dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. It lets natural light in and allows the sun to create striking patterns of light across the walls. The inlaid marble floors are original and hasn’t been changed since ancient Roman times! The church is also a burial ground of some illustrious Italians such as King Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I as well as the very famous Renaissance painter, Raphael.
Castel Sant’ Angelo (The Castle of Angels)
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday: 9am-7:30pm; closed on Mondays, Dec25 & Jan1
Admission fee: €8.50
The Illuminati’s secret lair according to Dan Brown’s Angel and Demons novel, this building was initially commissioned as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family. It was then used by popes as a fortress and castle. They had a covered passageway built to connect the Vatican and Castel Sant’ Angelo and used it as a means of escape in times of danger. Perched high up on the building is a statue of the Archangel St. Michael from which the building got its name. It dates back to when Pope Gregory the Great, during a procession to plead for the end of a plague, saw an angel standing on the top of the castle sheathing its sword. This was interpreted as being a heavenly sign that the plague was about to end. Henceforth, it became known as Castel Sant Angelo. A small chapel was built on top the castle at the spot where the angel was supposed to have appeared.
Opening hours (San Callisto Catacombs): 9am-12pm; 2pm-5pm; closed on Wednesday
Admission fee: €8
Beneath the city of Rome are catacombs that date back to as early as 2nd century AD. Back then, people were cremated upon dying but early Christians were against it since they believe in resurrection. To solve this problem, subterranean cemeteries were made. The Catacombs of San Callisto is the longest with around 12miles of tunnels. However, only 500 metres is open to the public. 19 popes, 50 martyrs were buried here along with hundreds of thousand other Christians. There are many other catacombs in the area.
To get here, either take a tour or do it on your own (this is what I almost always do on trips). Take the metro and get off at San Giovanni then take bus number 218. It will pass by the catacombs. OR take the metro to Ostiense station and take bus number 118. If you’re unsure of your stop, just let the driver know where you want to get off.
Opening hours: Daily (except Christmas and New Year) from 8:30am until 4:30-7:15pm (depending on the time of the year)
Admission fee: €15.50
Probably the most iconic building in Rome, it was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater and commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72AD. It is considered a structural and engineering marvel and one of ancient Rome’s greatest work. It could hold more than 50,000 spectators and people were seated according to rank. The Colosseum used to be made of marble. However, these were quarried and used for the constructions of the cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran as well as the Palazzo Venezia. What you can see now is actually the skeleton (inner walls) of the original building. It was the battleground for gladiators and used as a venue for mock naval battles, animal hunts and executions. Thus it came to represent not just the ancient Romans’ wealth and extravagance, but its cruelty.
Vatican City – St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square
*I will make a separate entry for the Vatican that’s why I won’t go into details about it here :)
Vatican City is recognized as the world’s smallest independent state in both size (44hectares) and population (800). Inside of which is St. Peter’s Basilica. It is officially known in Italian as Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano. The basilica is believed to be built on the spot where St. Peter, the first pope, was executed. Entrance here is free but everyone should be dressed appropriately (no bare knees nor shoulders). It is considered as one of Christendom’s holiest site and most renowned work of Renaissance architecture. St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) which is located in front of the basilica was designed by Bernini in such a way so that the Pope could give his blessing to as many people who could see as possible.
These are the definite must see places when in Rome though the sights are not just limited to them. I always take my time when visiting certain places and I try not to hurry. Enjoy the sights. Take a break: have a cup of espresso in Rome’s best coffee shop and roasting house a quick walking distance from the Pantheon, Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe, while in one of the many piazza around. :)