There’s no escaping it: Rome means history. There’s layers of the stuff – Etruscan tombs, Republican meeting rooms, Imperial temples, early-Christian churches, medieval bell towers, Renaissance palaces and baroque basilicas. In this city a phenomenal concentration of history, legend and monuments coexists with an equally phenomenal concentration of people busily going about their everyday life. It’s hard to say what you’ll find most breathtaking about the eternal city, the arrogant opulence of the Vatican, the timelessness of the Forum, the top speed of a Fiat Bambino or the bill for your latte.
This is Rome’s most famous ancient ruin. The Colosseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was constructed by Vespasian in 72 AD. It is where you can also find the gardens and small lake of Domus Aurea di Nerone. It was inaugurated by his son Titus eight years later in a spectacular 100-day ceremony. First designed as a horse racing circuit, it also saw bloody contests between gladiators and fights with wild animals; however, although thousands of gladiators died here, no Christians were ever killed.
The Colosseum had a capacity of 55,000 seats and was always full. The name was written for the first time in a famous prophecy by the Venerable Bede in the 8th c. which said “while stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand. When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall. And when Rome falls – the World”. It is thought the name came from Nero’s Colossus, the enormous statue that stood outside the amphitheatre.
Palatino (The Palatine Hill)
Alongside the Roman Forum, this other lovely archeological area includes imperial and patrician residences. Emperor Domitian built a palace divided into two wings: a public part named Domus Flavia and a private part named Domus Augustana.
Originally the Domus Flavia had walls completely lined with polished marble because Domitian feared assassination and in this way he could see the reflection of those coming towards him. The courtyard still has its fine pavement in colored marble. The House of Livia dates to the 1st century B.C. and was the home of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. Fine mosaics can still be seen, along with frescoes imitating the veining of marble.
Close by there is an area in which a number of holes were found, certainly made for the posts of huts, possibly dating from the 9th century B.C.; it is thought that these were the first huts of Rome, attributed by legend to the hand of Romulus himself. Finally there are also the lovely Farnese gardens, bought by cardinal Alessandro Farnese who commissioned the gardens from architect Vignola.
During the Christmas period this square is packed with stalls selling toys, sweets and decorations for the Nativity scene or Christmas tree, making it a favourite spot for children. Its unusual shape recalls the time of Domitian who built a stadium for equestrian displays here.
After having gone through a period of total abandon, it was refurbished, and reached the height of architectural interest in the Baroque period when cardinals and noble families began to build their palaces and churches. The Fountain of the Rivers, with the obelisk, and the Fountain of the Moor, with the god of the sea, at the centre of the square, are both by Bernini.
In the fourth century b.c., the Circus Maximus was one of the largest stadia in Rome, with a capacity of 250,000 seated spectators. It was the venue for horse-races, athletics tournaments and animal fighting. The last races here were in 549 A.D. Now it is a DUMP! As you can see from my pictures, it is not worth seeking out or visiting!!!
This ancient structure was built in 27 B.C. and is one of Rome’s finest, best preserved and perhaps least appreciated ancient monuments. Its is located in Piazza della Rotonda and is known for its outstanding architectural harmony. Originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippus, Augustus’ son-in-law, it was then restored by Domitian, rebuilt by Hadrian who built the dome, and it was finally transformed into a church by Pope Bonifacius IV in the 17th century. Originally the dome was covered in tiles of gilded bronze but the metal was removed by Pope Constant II. The opening in the dome, the oculus, is the only source of light in the Pantheon, and according to popular legend, it formed the base for the bronze pine-cone that is now in the ‘Pigna’ courtyard of the Vatican.
The floor has been restored, and the original Roman patterns are still visible. Many famous Italians are buried here, including Raphael, and Vittorio Emanuele, the first king of Italy. The best part…it’s free!!! Its good to see that even the Pantheon is not above commercialization! There is a Pantheon Internet Cafe and a Pantheon Bar!
San Giovanni in Laterno
San Giovanni in Laterano is the oldest church in the world. It was founded by Pope Melchiade at the start of the 4th century on the ruins of the villa of the Roman family, the Laterani, after Emperor Constantine made a gift of the property to the papacy.
The church’s current appearance was created by Borromini who remodernised the church completely for the 1650 Jubilee. Although he retained the 16th c. ceiling and floor, the architect altered the appearance by joining pairs of columns in the central nave (there are five naves in total) to make a single pillar inside which he built coloured marble niches and placed statues of the apostles. In 1735, Alessandro Galilei renewed the fagade entirely in travertine stone and crowned it with 15 statues, and at the end of the 19th century the apse was also rebuilt.
The Gothic baldacchino shown above houses two golden reliquaries containing the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul. Nearby Scala Santa also houses what are believed to be the 28 marble steps used by Jesus outside Pontius Pilate’s house in Jerusalem. Pilgrims win indulgence for their sins if they ascend the steps on their knees, reciting prayers on each step.
Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps)
This irregular shaped piazza features various architectural styles but the main focus is the celebrated Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti or the Spanish Steps. These steps harmoniously connect the piazza with the pincio hill right above it. Rome’s fashionable shopping district begins just yards from the bottom of these steps. One of the most important fashion shows is held here and the steps are used as a catwalk! The fountain known as the ‘Barcaccia’ (boat) was commissioned by Urbano Barberini to commemorate the alliance made with the king of France, whose coat of arms can be seen on Trinita dei Monti. The square leads into several famous streets, via dei Condotti, Via Frattina and Via Borgognona with their luxurious boutiques, and via del Babuino with its antique shops. Below we’ve added some recent pictures we took in 2006 with Lauren’s cousin.
Fontana di Trevi
You cannot visit Rome and not throw a coin in the most famous fountain in the world as a gesture of luck. Legend has it that one must throw a coin into the water to ensure a return trip to Rome! Anita Ekberg bathed in front of it to a stupified Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Toto’, sold it to an American, passing himself off as the owner.
The design of Nicola Salvi for Pope Clemente 12th, it was completed in the second half of the 1700s. The statue represents Neptune with two Tritons at his side. The Rococo style Poli Palace stands behind the fountain. Below are some more recent pictures we took in 2006 with Lauren’s cousin.
Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin
This church harbors some of Rome’s loveliest medieval decoration. The portico’s Bocca della Verita was made famous in the Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday. Originally a drain cover carved as a river god’s face, medieval legends maintain that the face will chomp on the hand of a liar. FYI, Lauren’s hand is still intact!!!
Terme di Caracalla
These baths were built in the 3rd century A.D. by the Emperor Caracalla, and they operated for about two hundred years, before the barbarian invasions and the subsequent interruption in the water supply. The area was abandoned for a certain time, and then in 1400 the first excavations began, uncovering works that can be found in Palazzo Farnese and the Vatican Museums.
As well as the ruins of the baths, there are the remains of a temple dedicated to the god Mithra, conserving the benches used for the mystic meals taken by the followers, the floor in white mosaic with black strips, and the hollow where the blood pouring down from the sacrifices collected. In August, the baths provide the backdrop for opera performances.
The Roman Forum and Trajan’s Column
Not a lot to see here except for impressive ruins of a bygone empire.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Victor Emmanuelle)
We didn’t go into the Tomb but its truly an impressive site from the street below.