The result of 3000 years of ad hoc urban development, Rome’s cityscape is an exhilarating spectacle. Ancient icons such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Pantheon recall the city’s golden age as caput Mundi (capital of the world), while its many monumental basilicas testify to its historical role as a seat of the Catholic Church. Lording it over the skyline, St Peter’s Basilica is the Vatican’s epic showpiece church, a towering masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Elsewhere, ornate piazzas and showy fountains add a baroque flourish to the city’s captivating streets.
No photograph can prepare you for the thrill of seeing the Colosseum for the first time. More than any other monument, this iconic amphitheater symbolizes the power and drama of ancient Rome, and still today it’s an electrifying sight. Its muscular form has survived in remarkably good shape and it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to picture it in its pomp, its steeply stacked stands full of frenzied spectators as armored gladiators slug it out on the arena below
Museo e Galleria Borghese
The greatest gallery you’ve never heard of, the Museo e Galleria Borghese houses some of Rome’s most spectacular works of art. You’ll need to book ahead, but it’s a small price to pay for the chance to see a series of sensational baroque sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, as well as a celebrated statue by Canova and paintings by the likes of Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian. And when you’ve finished, the surrounding Villa Borghese park is the perfect place to digest what you’ve just seen
Rome boasts many artistic highlights, but few are as overpowering as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. A kaleidoscopic barrage of colors and images, they come as the grand finale of the Vatican Museums, Rome’s largest and most popular art museum. Inside the vast complex, kilometer upon kilometer of corridors are lined with classical sculptures, paintings, and tapestries as they lead inexorably towards the Raphael Rooms, a suite of four rooms brilliantly frescoed by Raphael, and, beyond that, the Sistine Chapel
St Peter’s Basilica
You don’t have to be a believer to be bowled over by St Peter’s Basilica, Rome’s largest and most spectacular church. Everything about the place is astonishing, from the sweeping piazza that announces it, to the grandiose facade and opulent interior. Topping everything is Michelangelo’s extraordinary dome, a mold-breaking masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and one of Rome’s landmark sights. This is a building that was designed to awe, and even in a city of churches like Rome, it stands head and shoulders above everything else.
The best preserved of Rome’s ancient monuments, the Pantheon is a truly extraordinary building. Its huge columned portico and thick-set walls impress, but it’s only when you get inside that you get the full measure of the place. It’s vast, and you’ll feel very small as you look up at the record-breaking dome soaring above your head. Adding to the effect are the shafts of light that stream in through the central oculus (the circular opening at the dome’s apex), illuminating the royal tombs set into the circular marble-clad walls.
To walk through the tumbledown remnants of the Roman Forum is to retrace the footsteps of the great figures of Roman history – people like Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Pompey. And while the ruins can be confusing, it remains a stirring experience to stand at the heart of what was once the heart of the Roman Empire. Nearby, the Palatino (Palatine Hill) is where it all began: where Romulus supposedly killed Remus and founded the city in 753 BC, and where the ancient Roman emperors lived in unimaginable luxury
Via Appia Antica
The first great superhighway of the Roman world, Via Appia Antica, is a gorgeous place to be on a clear, sunny morning. Running through lush green fields and strewn with piles of greying ruins, it’s the very picture of pastoral Italian beauty. But the bucolic scenery belies its bloody past. It was here that Spartacus and 6000 of his slave army were crucified, and it was here that the ancients came to bury their dead: well-to-do Romans in elaborate mausoleums, the early Christians in the catacombs
In ancient times, Cam – Campidoglio (the Capitoline Hill) was home to Rome’s two most important temples. Nowadays, the main reason to make the short, steep climb to the top is to admire the views over the Roman Forum and visit the Capitoline Museums on Piazza del Campidoglio, itself one of Rome’s most beautiful squares. The world’s oldest public museums, harbor some fantastic classical statuary, including the celebrated Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf), an icon of early Etruscan art, and some really wonderful paintings
A stop at Rome’s largest and most famous fountain is a traditional rite of passage for visitors to Rome. Every day crowds gather to toss coins into the fountain’s water to ensure that one day they’ll return to the Eternal City. The fountain, designed by Nicola Salvi in the 18th century, is a gloriously over-the-top rococo affair depicting wild horses, mythical figures, and cascading rock fall. After a recent restoration, it’s looking particularly splendid and is most spellbinding when illuminated after dark
Rome’s monumental piazzas each have their own distinct character: there’s the awe-inspiring majesty of St Peter’s Square or the market clamor of Campo de’ Fiori. But for sheer jaw-dropping beauty, nowhere can beat Piazza Navona. Set atop an ancient Roman arena in the heart of the historic center, the piazza is the very picture of elegant baroque styling with its three ornamental fountains, domed church, and handsome palazzi (mansions). Adding to the spectacle are the ringside cafes and the everpresent street artists