Eternal Rome

Colosseum

The Eternal City is a treasure trove of world-famous sights that are easy to explore

It’s called the Eternal City for good reason. For some two thousand years, Rome has remained one of the richest and most unique cultural centres in the world. Here you can immerse yourself in layers of history and be thrilled by the captivating cornucopia of sights each has left behind. But there are some highlights you really shouldn’t miss and happily, most are within walking distance of each other.

The treasures of ancient Rome

The beating heart of ancient Rome was the Roman Forum. As the social, political and religious centre of Rome, it was where everything happened. Here you’ll find the remains of Rome’s Curia – or Senate House, monumental temples, the House of the famed Vestal Virgins, its great basilicas – or meeting halls – and the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated. A short walk up the hill will take you to the Palatine, one of the seven hills of Rome, which the aristocrats and emperors made their home. In this peaceful leafy area, you’ll find the ruins of the houses of the emperor Augustus and his wife Livia and later emperors. From the picturesque Farnese Gardens, created in the 16th century, you can enjoy terrific views of the Forum below.

One of the great icons of Rome, the monumental Colosseum, lies close by. It began life in 80 AD, with an orgy of violent contests between gladiators and animals which lasted 100 days. But despite its dramatic and bloody past, the vastness and symmetry of the building remain mesmerising. Nearby, the huge green space of the Circus Maximus – now deceptively quiet – is where the chariot races were held which also thrilled the crowds.

One of the greatest relics of ancient Rome is also its best preserved. The Pantheon was built as a temple in the 1st century BC, by the statesman and general Marcus Agrippa. Rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian in the first century AD, it became a church in 609. With its soaring dome and exquisite marble floors, it’s an awe-inspiring marvel of architecture and rightly draws crowds in large numbers. It’s also the resting place of Raphael whose tomb often is strewn with flowers.

The glories of the Renaissance

Rome was at the centre of the tremendous flowering of intellectual and artistic activity we know as the Renaissance and some of the greatest geniuses of the time made Rome their home. The popes were tremendous collectors and patrons of the arts so it’s little wonder that many of the most astonishing treasures of the times lie in the Vatican City. The Vatican Museums contain one of the world’s greatest art collections and are so vast that you may want to plan your visit. The great highlights however, remain the four rooms painted by Raphael and the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s stupendous masterpiece.

Built over the tomb of the disciple and martyr, St Peter’s was designed by Bramante and begun in 1503 on the orders of the indomitable Pope Julius II. This colossal basilica is one of the world’s great hubs of Christianity and is where you’ll find the Pieta, the magnificent sculptural ensemble Michelangelo created in 1499 at 24 and the only work he ever signed. He also largely designed St Peter’s tremendous dome that crowns the church.

For an outstanding example of a private palace of the era, visit the Villa Farnesina, on the far side of the Tiber in the Trastevere district. Built by a weathly banker between 1506 and 1510, its sumptuous interior was decorated by masters like Raphael. Surrounded by pretty gardens, it’s delightfully uncrowded.

Strolling about

Some of the most arresting sights of Rome are its great outdoor spaces which are all the more romantic at night. The Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most strikingly beautiful squares with its gorgeous Baroque fountains by Bernini. It takes its long shape from the stadium which lay here in antiquity. For centuries, the Piazza di Spagna has been a favourite meeting spot for locals and visitors. Keats-Shelley House lies at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, which are often decked with flowers and sweep up from the Piazza to the Church of the Trinita dei Monti.

A magnificent, stately flight of stairs lead from the Piazza Venezia to the Piazza del Campidoglio. Sitting on the Capitoline Hill, one of Rome’s seven hills, the great civil centre here was designed by Michelangelo and overlooks the Forum. The Piazza is bordered by the Capitoline Museums which house a tremendous collection of ancient sculptures and paintings.

At the end of the Corso, where you can shop to your heart’s content, lies the spacious Piazza del Popolo,, which revolves around the Egyptian obelisk the emperor Augustus brought from Egypt and is flanked by elegant lookalike churches built in the 17th century. From here you can make your way to the Villa Borghese Gardens, a green oasis where the Galleria Borghese, a noted collection of art, stands.

Today, if you want to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll have to fight your way through the crowds. But if you haven’t visited before this fountain, presided over by the mighty Neptune, is a must-see. And the coin ensures that you’ll return to Rome so just to be sure, you might want to toss one in.

Next Steps

Our Silver Travel Advisors can book you a short break in Rome, or find you a tour of Italy that includes this marvellous city. Call 0800 412 5678 to discuss

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Diana Bentley

Freelance travel writer & broadcaster

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