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Rome Travel Guide - Sights to See
Transportation: There are now two subway lines called The Metro line A and line B. Also a good system of buses. Buses stop wherever you see a "Fermata" sign. This sign lists which bus stops there and its itinerary. Enter the bus through the rear door. From or to the airport (Da Vinci Fiumicino) you can take a fast special train from/to the side of Stazione Termini. A 3 day Transit Pass (Called BTI) is very good. Sold in machines or at newsstands.

St. Peter's Basilica: Square by Bernini, Dome by Michelangelo, this church was begun in 1452 and took 200 years to build. To the right as you enter the Basilica is the Papal Palace whose apartments have housed the Popes for centuries. The Piazza in front can hold 300,000 persons, and is surrounded by 300 Doric columns. This was the site in ancient times of Nero's Circus, of which something still remains (the magnificent Egyptian obelisk in the center of the Piazza). Once inside the church, head directly to your right and walk to a small chapel to view Michelangelo's "Pieta" - the only work he ever signed. It was carved when he was in his early 20's. Today it is behind bulletproof glass after being attacked some years ago by a demented man. In the center of the church, under the enormous dome is the Baroque-designed focal point. Under this is the tomb of St. Peter. There are also on display, glass-covered caskets with the remains of previous Popes. It is possible to visit the tombs under the main altar. Walk around the church to see it's enormous size. So early - avoid crowds.

Vatican Museums: (Bus #64 or Metro to Octavio) Hrs M-F 8:45-3:20. Sat 8:45-12:20, Closed Sun. The museums are located on Viale Vaticano, around to the right of St. Peter's...a long walk. Helpful hint: Enter the Vatican Museums when they open... walk fast, directly to the Sistine Chapel (signs will direct you). You'll be in the Chapel by yourself, long before groups catch up with you. It's heavenly! Afterwards, backtrack to see the rest of the Vatican Museums. Sistine Chapel: Michelangelo devoted 4 1 years to painting the ceiling after being "muscled" into it by Julius II. After the ceiling was completed, he was convinced to paint the "Last Judgement" on the Altar wall. If your neck doesn't develop a crick in it you'll see the ceiling is divided into major events from the Old Testament... Separation of Light and Darkness, Creation of Adam and Eve, The Expulsion from Eden, etc. The chapel will be very crowded during tourist season... wall to wall bodies. Notice also the paintings on the side walls... some by Botticelli. The ceiling has undergone a complete cleaning which is very controversial. Some say they now see the true works for the first time. Others say the cleaning has destroyed the originals. Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) contains over 15 galleries with examples from early Byzantine through the Renaissance... including Raphael, Da Vinci, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, etc. Pass through the Raphael Rooms, which contain the "School of Athens" frescoes. Pius Clementine Museum contains a vast collection of Greek and Roman sculpture... all with fig leaves, which an earlier Pope added. Museum of Modern Art, Etruscan Museum, Egyptian Museum, History Museum... if time? In peak season, the line to enter is horrendous - even at 7:30 in the morning. In the afternoon, you can walk right in.

Castel Sant'angelo (Hadrian's Tomb): Hrs. 9-8 Closed Mon. Originally constructed in 139 AD to house the ashes of the Emperor Hadrian (it does), this building is round in shape and at times has been a fortress, a Pope's retreat (a tunnel connects it with St. Peter's), and a prison. Today it is a weapons and uniform museum. Bus 88 - 87 - 280

Tomb of Augustus: This pile of bricks across the river from Hadrian's tomb has been here for 2000 years. It was once a circular marble-covered structure. Many Emperors of the first century had their ashes deposited in gold urns inside this building. In the 5th century, barbarians smashed through the gates and stole the golden urns, emptying the ashes on the ground outside.

The Roman Forum: (Metro B: Colosseo... or Bus #64 to Plaza Venezia). The entrance is off Via del Fori Imperiali. The Forum is now free. 8:30-Sunset. Daily This is the heart of Roman History. It was once the center for trade, religion, and politics. From a swampy area that lay between two of Rome's Seven Hills, the city grew first into a busy trade area under Roman Kings. With the over-throw of ancient kings in 509 BC and the establishment of the Roman Republic, the Forum prospered and grew more elaborate. It was essentially a museum of incredible marble temples, roofed with gold, surrounded by magnificent columns. The scattered columns and scarred triumphal arches we see today are a shadow of what the Forum must have been. What happened to it? Invasions, lootings which began in the 5th century, combined with a thousand years of neglect and random earthquakes, plus natural erosion that raised the level of the land 20 feet around the Forum caused incalculable damage. Also Rome's various rulers had no qualms about ripping off the remaining marble to get needed building materials at a cheap price. In time, the Forum reverted to a pasture. Excavations began as early as the 17th century, but the most substantial work did not begin until the end of the 19th century. To tour the ruins, it's best to buy a map at the entrance. You'll begin the tour on the ancient Roman Road Via Sacra, which connects Capitol Hill on your right to the Arch of Titus off to your left. The random columns on the right belonged to the Basilica Aemilia. The next important building is the Curia, a large brick building on your right, which still has its roof. Continue down the Curia stairs to the Lapis Niger where you'll see the remains of black marble blocks that reputably mark the tomb of ROMULUS. There's a stone here with the oldest Latin inscription in existence. Pass through the Arch of Septimius Severus. Behind this arch to your right is a semicircular stair that led to the Rostra, the podium from which Emperors addressed the throngs. Further along, the three standing columns belong to the Temple of Vespasian, Porticus of the Dii Consentes. Continue to the ruins of the Temple of Saturn, which housed the public treasury. To the left of this temple are the ruins of Basilica Julia, which was dedicated by Caesar in 46 BC. Down the stairs you'll see the column or phocas which was the last monument erected in the Forum. Continue to the Temple of Julius Caesar and to your right the three columns belong to the Temple of the Castors. The next monument is the circular Temple of Vesta, which housed the sacred flame of Rome. Next to this is the Atrium of the Vestal Virgins. On your left you'll see twin bronze doors of the Temple of Romulus, and the doors are the originals, swinging on the same hinges they were mounted on in 306 AD. The three arches ahead of you on the left belonged to the Basilica of Constantine, which was the largest building in the Forum. Follow the paving stones to the Arch of Titus. Titus was the emperor who sacked the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. If you need more re-enforcement of history, continue on to...

Palatine Hill: It was on the Palatine Hill that Rome first became a city... around 753 BC. It's difficult today to make much sense out of the Palatine area. It appears to be built entirely of brick arches. Those arches, which are visible on practically every hill, are actually supports that once held imperial structures. Having run out of building sites, the Emperors simply enlarged the hill by building new sides on it. The ruins do indicate buildings of staggering sizes. You'll see the remains of the Baths of Septimius Severus, the Stadium of Domitian, Domus Augustana Palace, Flavian Palace, Temple of Cybele, Palace of Tiberius, and especially the Temple of Livia with frescoes inside that are 2000 years old. Livia was an ambitious woman who divorced her husband to marry the Emperor Augustus. According to historians she was the true power behind Roman Policy between the death of Caesar and the ascension of Tiberius (her son).

The Colosseum: (Metro B: Colosseo). Hrs. 9-7 Daily. Reservations recommended. After the great fire of 64 AD, the Emperor Nero snatched up a large amount of land adjacent to the Roman Forum and began construction of his famous Golden House. Where the Coliseum stands now was a great reflecting pool for his Golden House. After Nero's death, the stern Vespasian eventually came to power. The luxury of the Golden House embarrassed him, so he began breaking it up and making parts of it available to the public. In 72 AD, construction began on the Coliseum...and a marvel of engineering it was, since the enormous weight is resting in a swamp on artificial supports. The completed stadium was dedicated by Titus in 80 AD. The entire structure was originally covered with marble and could hold 80,000 spectators who watched games that nearly rendered extinct many species of animals. In addition, a hundred lions might be killed in one morning... along with untold numbers of men...all for the amusement of the mob. The games were quite popular. 1/3 of Rome's population had nothing else to do, except live on the public dole, and go to the games and lounge around the baths. Above everybody in the Coliseum was a great canopy to shield them from the sun. The sections of the Coliseum that are missing today went into construction of a number of Renaissance Palaces. Go early or make Advanced Reservations.

Arch of Constantine: (Next to the Coliseum). This famous memorial was erected in honor of Constantine's defeat of Maxentius in 306 AD. Historically the arch marks a period of great change in the history of Rome, because Constantine was a Christian, and had put a stop to the "death to the Christians". This arch is a tribute to the Emperor and was erected by the Senate in 315 AD.

King Victor Emanuel II Monument: (Bus #64... off Piaza Venetia). The King and his bronze horse stand in the middle of all that white marble. This monument was erected between 1885 and 1911 to celebrate both the king and the new country that he had created. Before Victor Emanuel, Rome had been the capital of the Papal States, under direct rule of the Pope... a rule that lasted from 731 to 1870. Eventually Vatican City was declared a "Separate State". This monument is a curious cross between ancient Rome and Italian "over-statement". The effect of all this stone is to permanently reinforce the face of Italian Independence on the consciousness. At the foot of the king's statue is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Domus Aurea: These are the remains of the Golden House of Nero. Hrs 10:20 -6. Closed Tue... on Via Labicana, facing the Coliseum. Part of this palace was pulled down by Emperor Vespasian and the Coliseum was built over its lake. The interiors were stripped of much decoration. As the middle ages approached and the level of the land rose, this palace dropped out of sight, only to be re-discovered during the Renaissance by the artist Raphael. The holes he chopped in the ceiling are still visible. Today the ruins are rather hard to imagine and the floor plan seems confused. The 2000-year-old frescoes are fascinating. Closed in 2006.

Theater of Marcellus: On Via del Teatro Marcello. Two rows of gaping arches. Caesar built this theatre and dedicated it to his nephew. Here, you'll see how one society used the ruins of another as part of their newer construction.

Palazo Farnese: (Bus #64... off at Via Del Baullari). Considered the most beautiful 16th century palace in Rome... begun in 1514 and was continued by Michelangelo.

St. Pietro in Vincoli: Between St. Maria Maggiore and the Coliseum or at the bottom of Via Cavour. (Go up a long stairway) This church does indeed house St. Peter's Chains, but a tourist does not visit for that. Instead, this small church houses one of Michelangelo's great masterpieces... The unfinished Tomb of Julius II with its magnificent "Moses"... thought to be a self portrait of the artist. A must see! Hrs. 7-12:30, 3:30-7

Temple of Fortuna Virilis (Ionic Columns) and Temple of Vesta: Near the Plazza della Bocca Verita. These are the oldest, still in one piece, buildings in Rome. They date from the 2nd century BC. (Near the River... across from Palatine)

The Campidoglio: (Bus #64... off Piaza Venezia). This is Capitol Hill, off Via del Teatro. This is the most sacred hill of ancient Rome, where the temples of Jupiter and Juno once stood. When you come to two lions sprouting water, turn and walk up the long shallow stairs. These stairs and the buildings/statues on top of the hill were designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century. The equestrian statue is of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and stands in the middle of the piazza. This is the only Bronze statue to have survived from ancient Rome. It was saved because it had been tossed into the Fiber River. (The original is now in the Capitoline Museum)

Capitoline Museum: 9-8. Closed Monday. This building is on the left of Capitol Hill, and contains an enormous collection of marble carvings from the ancient world. Note especially "Cupid and Psyche" and "The Dying Gaul". The far room holds a collection of busts depicting various Emperors. An outstanding museum - well worth a visit.

The Pantheon: (Bus #64...get off 2 stops past Piazza Venezia).8:30-7:30. Closed Sun. This ancient monument is the only complete, still in one piece, building left of ancient Rome. It was built in 27 BC. The Piazza on which it is located also contains an Obelisk and Baroque fountain. The Pantheon itself is in an astonishing state of preservation. The bronze doors are the originals, and the intact roof is a single piece of cast concrete. Each column is made from a single piece of granite. Several famous people are buried here... King Umberto I, Queen Margherita, and the artist Raphael. A highly celebrated effect is that of clouds passing over the open hole in the dome. This opening is the sole source of light in the Pantheon. There is now a MacDonald's on the Piazza, with outdoor seating.

Piazza Navona: (Bus #64...off Corso Rinescimento). One of the most beautiful Baroque sites in all of Rome, Piazza Navona, dating from the 1/th century, is an ochre-colored gem, which is unspoiled by modern buildings and traffic. Great chariot races were once held here and the piazza was even flooded by the Popes and used to stage mock naval encounters. The twin-towered building is the Church of Saint Agnes. In the center of the piazza are Bernini's Baroque masterpieces... Fountain of the Four Rivers, which symbolizes the Ganges, Danube, Plata, and the Nile Rivers, as well as his Fountain of the Moor, and the Fountain of Neptune. The Piazza is a great place to relax, have lunch or dinner, watch people, and enjoy history. If you'll walk to the northern exit, turn left for half a block and view the fragments of the original stadium that once stood here, you'll be able to see how much the level of the ground has risen since ancient Rome.

Piazza Barberini (Barberini Palace): (Metro B to P.Barberini). The fountain in the center of the Piazza is Bernini's Fountain of the Triton. The Barberini Palace is now the National Art Gallery and contains works by Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, and a grand fresco ceiling in one huge gallery. Hrs 9-7 Closed Mon

Museo delle Terme: Located on Piazza della Repubblica. Hrs. 9-7:45 Closed Mon. This is the National Roman Museum located in the old BATHS OF DIOCLETIAN, which were originally the city's largest. The museum contains fantastic early statues and sarcophagi... "Dying Gaul, Apollo of the Fiber, Discus Thrower". There are also fragments of ancient Roman homes. Connected to the museum is the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was converted in the 16th century by Michelangelo, from the baths to the present church. Inside, you'll have a good idea of the scale of an Imperial Roman Bath House.

Church of Santa Maria del Popolo: Completed in the 15th century. Chapel designed by Raphael... two paintings by Caravaggio.

The Spanish Steps: The name comes from the Spanish Embassy, which was located here in the 19th century. The steps were built by the French, and led to the French church at the top... Trinita dei Monti, which is early 16th century. What you'll see on the steps will mostly be tourists (American... because the American Express is nearby). It's still a colorful sight. The steps became famous in the 19th century because sleek young men and women lined them flexing muscles and exposing ankles, hoping to attract an artist who would like them as a model. It was then that the custom of "pinching the behind" of a lady began, as she made her way up the steps. At the foot of the steps are two nearly identical houses. One is a Tea Room, the other is the house where the English poet John Keats lived and died. Expect huge crowds.

Borghese Gardens (Villa Borghese): (Metro B to Villa Borghese). Reservations Mandatory. Hrs 9-11-13-14-17 Closed Mon. This park was developed by Cardinal Borghese. In later years a Borghese prince was to marry Napoleon's sister Pauline. The most striking feature of the gardens are the trees...their trunks rising some 50 feet without a single branch, only to burst forth in an evergreen canopy high above. The park is a great place to relax and to have lunch. The Villa Borghese is an early 17th century summer palace which now houses many art treasures, including Canova's famous Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, several sculptures by Bernini... David, and Apollo and Daphne and upstairs in the painting galleries, works by Raphael, Botticelli, Correggio, Titian, Veronese, and Rubens. The prime attraction are the most superb collection of Caravaggio's you'll ever see.

Fontana di Trevi: These famous fountains are an 18th century extravaganza of Baroque stonework, ruled over by a large statue of Neptune. The tradition of throwing coins into the fountain (insuring a return to Rome) is an evolution of earlier times. In earlier times visitors drank the water (do not) and left an offering to the spirits of the place. Today, the area is loaded with tourists. Throw in a coin so you'll return to Rome. Walk across the street, buy an ice cream (The world's best in the country where it originated), sit down, relax, and watch. Huge crowds.

Piazza del Popolo: One of the few reminders in Rome of Napoleon's once considerable influence. The Baroque churches on either side of the Piazza date from the 17th century. This square was originally part of Emperor Lucullus's estate and later the burial site of Emperors... Nero, among them. The Obelisk is thousands of years old and originally stood in the Circus Maximus.

Basilica of St. John in Lateran: In the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano. The Popes used to reside at this church. The major religious relic here is a piece of the "last supper table". One enters the church via the "Holy Stair"... the custom being to mount the steps on one's knees.

Via Veneto: This posh, tree-lined street is the most famous boulevard in Rome. Along it you'll find The American Embassy (where the Queen of Italy once lived), many famous hotels, sidewalk cafes, elegant shops, the famous Harry's Bar, and at the end, the brickwork of the Aurelian Wall, which was begun in 271 AD.

Baths of Caracalla: (Bus#93). Hrs 9-7 Closed Mon. These baths are now in ruins, but they originally were the greatest baths of ancient Rome. They could accommodate 600 at one time. Even with the bus ride, it's still a healthy hike to get to the baths and there's so little left of them that it's hardly worth the trip. However, opera is staged here during the summer, and the ruins provide a spectacular setting.

Piazza Venezia: The Piazza takes its name from Palazzo Venezia which is on the western side of the square. It was constructed in the 15th century by Cardinal Pietro Barbo, who when on to become Pope Paul II. Later, it was from the balcony on the first floor that Mussolini spoke to the crowds that filled the piazza. On the south side of the square is the enormous Victtorio Emmanele Monument. Off to the left behind this monument is the Risorgimento Museum, dedicated to the nationalist movement. To the east is a building constructed in a neo-gothic style, the Palazzo della Assicurazione Benerale di Venezia.

Area Sacra dell'argentina: The remains of 4 temples were discovered here during rebuilding in the 1920s. They are the oldest ruins in Rome, dating from the Republican era. Known only as Temples A B C D, the oldest (Temple C) dates from the early 3rd century BC. Behind temples B and C are remains of a great platform. This has been identified as part of the Curia of Pompey, a rectangular building where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin: Piazza Della Bocca Della Veria 18. Metro: Circo Massimo. This is a small church whose origins go back to the 3rd century. People come here not for great art treasures, but to see the famous Boca della Verita "Mouth of Truth" large disc under the portico. According to legend, the mouth is supposed to chomp down on the hands of liars who insert their paws. The actual purpose of the disc is really not known. It's said that it was meant to collect the faithful's donations to the church.

The Appian Way and the Catacombs: (Bus #ll8 from front of the Coliseum near the Arch of Constantine). The Appian Way was built 300 years before the birth of Christ, to connect Rome with her possessions in the south. It later became lined with marble monuments. During the early stages of Christianity, some important Catacombs were located here. The bus will take you past the Baths of Caracalla, down a narrow road lined with villas, eventually to the Church Of Domine Quo Vadis? which contains a slab showing the footprint of Jesus, and further on to the Catacombs. At the Catacombs, you'll see the famous Christian city of the dead whose accidental discovery amazed 16th century Rome. Visiting hours 8:30-12, 2:30-6. The tour will be conducted by multilingual Friars.

Villa d'Este in Tivoli: There is a "do it yourself" bus to Tivoli, but it's not the easiest - so better to take a regular tour. The Villa is open daily, except Monday from 9 -5. The Villa was built by Cardinal d'Este in the 16th century. It's the grandest playground of water and fountains you'll ever see. There are terraced gardens of trees and vegetation interspersed with every conceivable size and type of water fountain one can imagine (except a drinking fountain). The 600 varied types of fountains are run strictly through the aid of nature. No pumps or electricity are used on any fountain. There are fountains you can walk under, walk over, long reflecting pools, and fountains which shoot water high into the air (without pumps). Water is used here as a medium of sculpture. The Villa itself is attractive but unexceptional. While in this area, you can also visit Villa Adriana... 20 minutes away. These are ruins of a once grand city built by Hadrian. In many ways, they are more interesting than the Roman Forum.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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