Things to see and do - Rome
Rome...between heaven and earth :
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Rome...between heaven and earth
Rome...between heaven and earthPedestrian, Public Transport, 14 km, 4 days
The spoil of riches that is Rome means that it can take at least a week to get all the way around! This walking tour will allow you to access the essence of the Eternal City in just a couple of days...Customise this route and add it to My travel book
Demonstrations one day, traffic jams every day ! On this vast square, car horns sounded by furious drivers rule, as well as backfire from countless vespas, the rumbling of buses, chaotic traffic hubbub (don't try and cross the road unless you feel suicidal !), or ceaseless "prontos" answering shrillish, ringing "telefoninos". Everyone crosses this square. To think that it was a small, quiet square during the Renaissance...
The Roman Forum, located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, was the civic heart of Ancient Rome. It was a major meeting place, a business centre, the Republic's political centre, a centre of Pagan religious activity, as well as an architectural centre, dotted with triumphal arches and temples dedicated to deified emperors. It stands in the middle of the seven hills, where villages were inhabited by peasant-soldiers, the Latins and Sabines. This marshland soon became the place where chiefs met to take common decisions, such as the birth of the Forum, that you discover today, and where soon temples and public buildings were erected. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Forum was abandoned. Over the course of time, it became a vast expanse of ruins, where Rome's inhabitants found stones to build their homes and cattle grazed. It was then called: the Campo Vaccino, or "Cow Plain" ! Then, the Renaissance arrived, as well as new interest for Ancient Roman remains, while churches squatted former Pagan temples, the wealthy decorated their homes with statues found in the Forum. You just had to dig to find something ! Serious archeological digs and clearing work only really started at the beginning of the 19th century. Today, mutilated walls, colonnades, ruined temples or churches make up a magnificent landscape, when seen from the Palatine Hill. Despite the irreparable ravages of time, this site offers the melancholy majesty of a great extinct civilisation.
It is the smallest of Rome's seven hills and consists of two "peaks" (the Capitolium and the Arx, or Citadel). It is also the most prestigious hill: where the first Romans settled and where temples dedicated to Jupiter Capitoline (for whom this was his favourite terrestrial home) and Juno were erected. Countless legends are set on this hill: including the Rape of the Sabine Women, Romulus' companions, or the Capitoline geese that saved the city by raising the alarm during the Gaul invasion of 390-388 B.C. It was where glorious Roman generals lived and also the site where traitors to the State were thrown to their deaths from the Tarpeian Rock. Today's Capitoline Hill is very different from that of Antiquity. It has a Renaissance style, mainly created by Michelangelo, who was asked to develop the hill around one of Rome's most important squares. This site must not be missed, as it houses the magnificent Capitoline Museum, and offers a superb panorama of the Roman Forum !.
Harmony, charm, majesty... You must visit this square as soon as possible, while trying to imagine that you're alone there, for a while. You'll need a lot of imagination indeed, as its is so often overrun... It was covered with monuments and temples in Antiquity, left to goats in the Middle Ages and was redeveloped, thanks to Michelangelo's designs (not always respected), from 1536 onwards. Once, overlooking the Forum, it is now open to the modern city, from which you can reach it via the Cordonata Steps. On either side of the staircase, the statues of the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, from the end of the Empire era, were found on the Campo di Marzo, in the 16th century. At the centre, the equestrian statue of Marcus-Aurelius, back in place, watches philosophically (he was often in that mood) the mixed crowd filling the square. Marius Trophies and military columns complete the decor of this trapezoid square, closed by the Palace of the Senate, flanked on your right by the the Palace of the Conservatori, and on your left by the New Palace, which presently houses the renovated and extended Capitoline Museum.
This palace was built on the ruins of the tabularium to house the Senate, which was founded after the revolt of 1143, when the people of Rome, exasperated by the clergy's corruption, stipped the Pope of his temporal power. In the 16th century, Michelangelo retained its walls, but redesigned the facade that Giacomo Della Porta, then Girolamo Rainaldi erected. In his lifetime, the master only saw the two-ramp staircase and had not planned the future fountain.
This "Sacred Way" was Antiquity's most prestigious Roman road and ran right across the Roman Forum. It, was used by all the triumphal processions of victorious generals. Follow its route to see traces of the round sanctuary called: Venere Cloacina, that was dedicated to Venus, the Goddess protectring sewers ! The Argiletum, one of Ancient Rome's busiest streets (leading to brothels !), has retained some of its paving stones and runs along the Curia.
The work on this huge arena began in AD 72, on part of the site occupied by Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea). Its three arcaded tiers of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns are topped by a wall, punctuated by band-moulded pilasters. It is the biggest amphitheatre in the Roman world. Originally known as the Flavian amphitheatre, it was later called the Colisseum, perhaps because of the huge statue of Nero which once stood near it, or simply because of its gigantic size: 527 m in circonference and 57 m high. The building was a symbol of Roman greatness and from the day of its inauguration by Titus, in AD 80, the games lasted for a hundred days! Inside, you'll see a 188-m by 156-m, very rounded oval shape, surrounded by an impressive wall, once topped by steps. It is believed that there was room for about 50 000 spectators - 45 000 seated and 5 000 standing. You can now see the wings, under the former arena.
Rome was born on this hill, after twins Romulus and Remus had been brought up here by the famous She-wolf. One fine day of 753 B.C., Romulus surrounded this hill with a ploughed field and, thus, the Eternal City was born. Of course, this is a legend, but nothing is straightforward. Indeed, where legendary tales situated Romulus's house, archeologists found huts dating from the 8 th century B.C., in 1949. This was a peaceful residential district during the Republic (Cicero, Anthony, Agrippa lived here and the future Augustus was born here). The Palatine Hill changed its look at the start of the Empire, when Augustus had his palace built there. The following emperors also lived there, but it was the last Flavian, Domitian who completely changed the district's layout. He made it his Imperial residence and gave it the appearance found by archeologists. The valley that split it into two hilltops was occupied by the Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana and Stadium. The Imperial Palace was extended, embellished and given a majestic facade. The Septizonium stayed in place until the 16th century, when Pope Sixtus V had it knocked down. The hill was abandoned when the last emperor left Rome. Then, it was fortified and patrician families built magnificent villas over the ancient remains and it retained a résidential look. Today, the Palatine Hill is a vast expanse of ruins, which are hard to comprehend, except for archeologists. You'll need plenty of imagination to mentally rebuild the magnificence of the ancient hill !, but it is potentially rich in future archeological discoveries.
This huge square and vestibule for St. Peter's Basilica, is undoubtedly the most famous in the world ! The work began in 1656, with Bernini incharge and under Pope Alexander VII. It was completed in1667. It has an almost circular shape (in fact an ellipse) and is lined on both sides by two semicircular colonnades, which form remarkably sober and solemn structures. An obelisk stands in the centre of the square. This granite monolith, cut in the 1st century B.C., at Heliopolis, was brought back to Rome on Caligula's orders. He had it placed in his circus, to the left of the Basilica. Sixtus V had it erected in the middle of the square by Domenico Fontana, who required the assistance of some 800 men and 75 horses to achieve the task. There is a relic from the Holy Cross at the top of the obelisk. The two fountains are attributed to Bernini and Carlo Maderno. The two disks inserted into the ground mark the focus of the square's elliptical shape: from these two locations, the colonnades seem to consist of a single row of columns. This is a perspective tour de force, much in vogue with Bernini ! A majestic stairway leads from the square to the Basilica. Of course, the square gives its full scope when the Pope makes an appearance and it is packed with crowds. Apart from great religious feast days, the Pope appears at his balcony for the Sunday Angelus (midday).
The first basilica was built in 324 by Constantine on the site of St. Peter's tomb. After numerous misadventures, it started to take on its present shape under Pope Julius II. From 1547 to 1666, ten great architects successively worked on the edifice: Bramante, Sangallo, Michelangelo, Giacomo Della Porta, Domenico Fontana, Maderno and finally, Bernini, who gave it its Baroque style. The interior is extremely vast, housing 450 statues, 500 columns and 50 altars awaiting 60,000 faithful. In this huge structure, unsuitable for meditation as it is always overrun by noisy crowds, you'll only need to spot where crowds have formed to catch a glimpse of works of art such as, Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Pietà, sculpted in 1499-1500 at the age of 25, and continually machine-gunned by camera flashes; St. Peter's chair (in the apse), an extraordinary work by Bernini, designed to house the remains of a bishop's throne attributed to the first of all popes. It is a great, sculpted bronze throne, supported by the four doctors of the church and crowned by a "glory". You'll probably end up treading on a few toes before admiring some funerary monuments. Queue up to kiss the foot of St. Peter's statue , then go and admire the astonishing 29 m-high canopy. Look up to see the dome (even climb up to it for a wonderful view of Rome).
Let's get things straight: there are wonderful works of art, collected by popes, exhibited in Vatican palace galleries, but you won't be able to stop and see them properly, as you'll be caught in a compact crowd that will not enable you to achieve such an eccentricity. The flow will enable you to catch a glimpse of beautiful Egyptian collections, a sculpture collection, some Greek and Etruscan or Roman antiques (Laocoon from the Golden House). You'll sweep through majestic galleries (including the Gallery of Maps), then take a steam bath in the Raphael Rooms (if the crowd doesn't take shortcuts), or guess at what you might have seen in the Grisaille Room. You'll be hurled across the Nicolas V Chapel and Borgia apartments, and finally, wait a good fifteen minutes in a narrow staircase before gaining access to the Sistine Chapel. There, after having just managed to look up, you'll probably be jostled out into a few end galleries and projected, in an extreme state of exhaustion (and accute misanthropy) out of the building. It seems strange that the superb art gallery is the most peaceful part of the museums. Perhaps because it is not on the official circuit. It contains numerous masterpieces, that you can take your time to look at. The Raphael Room is a marvellous example of the painter's work. You can also see Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and many others there.
This square's name stems from the field of flowers that once stood there. In the Middle Ages, it was the main popular meeting place of the city. There were numerous, sometimes disreputable, inns (you can still see the Hostaria della Vacca sign, mixing the Borgias' coat of arms with the landlady's, who was Pope Alexander VI's mistress and Caesar and Lucretia Borgia's mother)... Today, things have hardly changed (apart from the inns, which are certainly reputable nowadays!). In the morning, big market stalls, decorated with plaited garlic and pepperoni, take over the square and stallholders hail the customers... At sunset, it is young people's turn to meet there and fill the square, before or after going to bars, "birrerias " (Italian pubs), enotecas and pizzerias, on the square or in adjoining streets, or enjoying an avant-garde film show. At the centre of the piazza, the hooded monk Giordano Bruno, solemnly gazes upon this secular hustle and bustle. lt is true that he was burned at the stake here in 1600; a misfortune that perhaps does not incite to be lenient. You must take time to appreciate this square, with its ochre-coloured houses, topped with terraces that are often turned into hanging gardens, with ancient remains embedded here and there in their facades or detectable in building layouts, like the edifice in Via del Biscione which sports the rounded shape of the Pompey Theatre. Here, Rome is popular and intimate.
Anita Ekberg in evening dress, bathing in the fountain: this picture from the Fellini film, La Dolce Vità, has increased this monumental fountain's fame. It is is a late Baroque masterpiece and the place is now hard to imagine without the blond Swedish girl's or Marcello Mastroianni's presence ! Instead, you might be in the middle of a thick crowd, dominated by groups of Japanese tourists and having to elbow your way to see something of the fountain... The fountain is fed by a 20 km-long canal, built by Agrippa in 19 B.C., called the Acqua Vergine. One of the high reliefs, repaired by successive popes, reminds us that the canal finishes at this location. Pope Clement XII charged Nicola Salvi to build the fountain in 1732. The architect gave the fountain a similar size to the palace onto which it is leaning and drew a triumphal arch from which springs forth the figure of the Ocean, perched on a chariot, guided by two marine horses and two tritons, while, Abundance and Salubrity watch over them from their niche. Meanwhile, the good public bow to tradition by throwing two coins into the green waters. One will ensure that you will return to Rome, while the other enables you to make a wish.