With a history spanning several millennia, since its inception Rome has been a prominent political and cultural centre of both the old and new world. As such, the city is home to such a treasure trove of intricate, ancient architecture and historical intrigue that attracts millions of tourists each year. Last year, in fact, broke record visitor numbers. Sure, every tourist will return with their own top tips and esoteric takes on the best and worst of the Italian capital, but there are a select few cultural sites that simply must be on your itinerary. These are those; our 8 IDEAL sites to see on a trip to Rome.
COLOSSEUM AND THE ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
Built by the Romans in 70-80 AD, the Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheater is perhaps the most iconic and renowned landmark here. Indeed, Rome’s most famous classical ruin is unmissable, physically and metaphorically speaking too. Indeed, it’s estimated to have accommodated about 50,000 spectators during past gladiatorial tournaments and the sheer spectacle of the building still stuns to this day. Owing to its popularity and selfie opportunities, you’ll most likely have to put up with long lines, especially during the peak holiday season. Go early, then, to appreciate the enormity of this marvellous structure from all angles without interupption.
Being one of the best preserved Roman buildings, the Pantheon was built under Emperor Hadrian around 126-128 AD. The exact day of its construction is unknown, but by doing your own investigation into past records, you can illuminate your knowledge prior to visiting; dip into library journals, buy research papers, watch documentaries or consult experts. The myths surrounding its history are worth the effort.
What we do know is this; originally designed to be a temple for Roman deities, it was converted into a Roman Catholic Church in the 7th century AD. This magnificent architectural feat is instantly recognizable due to its portico of eight granite Corinthian columns; eight in the front and two groups of four at the back. The 2000-year Pantheon is deemed the largest unreinforced dome in the world, with an interior lined with magnificent stone patterns, and its only source of natural light the large circular opening in the centre of its dome. Make a day of it; the adjacent Piazza della Rotonda square offers the perfect setting for a strong espresso, gelato or pizza with company.
ST PETER’S SQUARE
Rome’s independent state, the Vatican, is the world’s capital of Catholicism. The Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square is where to soak it up; lined by beautiful religious statues depicting previous popes and other prominent Catholic church figures, it’s a place where you’ll feel immersed in history at every turn. At the end of the square, there’s the iconic Basilica where Papal Masses are held regularly. You can enter the St. Peter’s Basilica for free, but you’ll have to pay a small fee to access the dome (either by steps or an elevator) from where you will be able to enjoy a splendid view of the entire city. Worth the contribution, we think.
If you’re determined to include the Vatican trip to Rome, then ready yourself for huge queues at St Peter’s, and pre-book your slot. If you wish to see the Pope himself, you should go to the square on a Wednesday when he delivers his General Audience address.
Designed and constructed by Nicola Salvi, this beautiful fountain is a tribute to Oceanus, a Roman god, who is represented riding in a chariot pulled by tritons. There are few fountains like this in the world, so take the chance when in Rome to marvel at its lavish decorations and detailed sculptures. Found near the Pantheon, both can comfortably be done in a morning or afternoon. Tradition dictates that you toss a few coins into the water for good luck when visiting. Make a wish!
THE ROMAN FORUM
Being one of the most famous ruins in Italy, the Roman Forum provides you with a glimpse into ancient Roman political and public life. It now sits in the middle of a thriving modern city, the juxtaposition of which is worth the trip alone. Around the back of another famous landmark, Palazzo dei Senatori, you’ll find a panoramic view of the Forum, where you fully appreciate its fallen and intact columns, impressive arches and walls, and the scale of the spectacle.
Built under Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, the Piazza Nova was initially meant to be a venue for sporting events and festivals. It still maintains the shape of a stadium but where spectators used to sit now stand buildings surrounding the square. The transformation took place in the 15th century when the site was paved over, and a square was built in its place. It’s still one of the most popular public spaces in the city, and a stroll through it will enable you to view beautiful fountains, watch street performers, and unwind while sipping a cappuccino (before 11am, of course).
Palatine Hill is the most central of the seven hills which Rome stands proudly on. Although it’s mostly covered in ruins, it still has some intact structures, such as the Temple of Cybele and the Flavian Palace. Admission to the Roman Forum will also give you access to the Palatine Hill too, a site where residences of prominent historical figures, such as Augustus, the first Roman emperor, were located. It also offers a splendid view of the city.
After you’ve taken in all the sites, it’s time to unwind in the Trastevere district, which will give you a glimpse into the life of modern day Romans. This cozy neighborhood is located south of the Vatican and offers an unmatched atmosphere of a unique embankment no other European city boasts. You’ll undoubtedly appreciate its detachment from Rome’s tourist heavy centre. An added bonus; the quiet neighbourhood has dozens of excellent, affordable restaurants.