The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient building in Rome. It was built (and possibly designed) by Hadrian in AD 119-128 as a temple to the 12 most important classical deities; the inscription on the pediment records an earlier Pantheon built a hundred years earlier by Augustus’ general Marcus Agrippa (which confused historians for centuries). Its fine state of preservation is due to the building’s conversion to a Christian church in 608, when it was presented to the pope by the Byzantine Emperor Phocas.
The Pantheon has nevertheless suffered over the years – notably when bronze cladding was stripped from the roof in 667, and when Pope Urban VIII allowed Bernini to remove the remaining bronze from the beams in the portico to melt down for his baldacchino in St Peter’s in 1628. The simplicity of the building’s exterior remains largely unchanged, and it retains its original Roman bronze doors. Inside, the Pantheon’s real glory lies in the dimensions, which follow the rules set down by top Roman architect Vitruvius.
The diameter of the hemispherical dome is exactly equal to the height of the whole building; it could potentially accommodate a perfect sphere. At the exact centre of the dome is the oculus, a circular hole 9m (30ft) in diameter, the only source of light and a symbolic link between the temple and the heavens. The building is still officially a church, and contains the tombs of eminent Italians, including the artist Raphael and united Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II. Until the 18th century the portico was used as a market: supports for the stalls were inserted into the notches still visible in the columns.
Il Colosseo (Colosseum)
The Roman Colosseum or Coliseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian. It was completed by his son, Titus, in 80, with later improvements by Domitian.
The Colosseum is located just east of the Roman Forum and was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank. The Coliseum is huge, an ellipse 188m long and 156 wide. Originally 240 masts were attached to stone corbels on the 4th level.
Vespasian ordered the Colosseum to be build on the site of Nero’s palace, the Domus Aurea, to dissociate himself from the hated tyrant.
His aim was to gain popularity by staging deadly combats of gladiators and wild animal fights for public viewing.
Roman Gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. Most were men, but there were a few female gladiators. These combats were attended by the poor, the rich, and frequently the emperor himself. As gladiators fought, vicious cries and curses were heard from the audience around the Roman Colosseum. One contest after another was staged in the course of a single day. Should the ground become too soaked with blood, it was covered over with a fresh layer of sand and the performance went on. The gladiatorial games continued until Christianity progressively put an end to those parts of them which included the death of humans.
St Peter’s (Basilica di San Pietro)
It’s the world’s largest Basilica of Christianity, nested into the heart of the Vatican city, with its 186 meters of length (218 if we consider the porch too), a height of 46 meters in the central aisle, a main dome 136 meter high and 42 meters large in diameter. The huge façade is 114 metres wide and 47 metres high. It has a surface of 22000 square meters and twenty thousand persons can pray in it.
The indigenous St Peter’s Basilica, nowadays forgotten, was constructed by will of Emperor Constantine around 320 AD in the area where Saint Peter had been martyred (together with other Christians) close to the circus of Nero that, in fact, rose in the vicinity. For about thousand years the Basilica grew and got enriched, but it was also theater of pillage in the barbarian hordes.
The first repair and enlargement intervention was ordered in the middle of the 15th century by pope Niccolo V, who entrusted Leon Battista Alberti and his helper Bernardo Rossellino. Later pope Giulio II charged Bramante who in 1506 demolished the old Saint Peter’s Basilica planning a new one with a Greek cross plan. But at the time of the death of both pope and architect only the central pillars had been constructed. The St Peter’s Basilica was consecrated in 1626.
For recent generations, it was Anita Ekberg who made this fountain famous when she plunged in wearing a strapless black evening dress (and a pair of waders… but you don’t notice those) in Federico Fellini’s classic La dolce vita. Don’t even think about trying it yourself – wading, washing and splashing in fountains are strictly against local bylaws. And unlike the Grand Tourists, you don’t want to drink from it either: the sparkling water is full of chlorine (though there’s a chlorine-free spout hidden in a bird-bath-shaped affair at the back of the fountain to the right).
Tucked away in a tiny piazza and almost always surrounded by jostling crowds, the fountain’s creamy travertine gleams beneath powerful torrents of water and constant camera flashes. It’s a magnificent rococo extravaganza of rearing sea horses, conch-blowing tritons, craggy rocks and flimsy trees, erupting in front of the wall of Palazzo Poli. Nobody can quite remember when the custom started of tossing coins in to the waters (as celebrated in Three Coins in a Fountain, with its Oscar-winning ditty). The city council made such a poor job of collecting the coins that for 30 years a self-appointed collector waded in every morning and saved them the trouble. Now the money goes to the Red Cross.
The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the central area of the city around which ancient Rome developed. Here was where commerce, business, prostitution, cult and the administration of justice took place. Space where religious activities were conducted and the communal hearth of the city.
The Roman Forum was designed by the architect Vitruvius with proportions 3:2 (length to width). For centuries, the Forum Romanum was the site of the city’s most important public buildings, such as the Arch of Septimius Severus, built in AD203 and the Roman Forum Rostra or platforms for public speeches. The reliefs on the triple arch represented many of Rome’s victories over oriental tribes and the Rostra was decorated with prows of warships captured during battles. The Roman Forum became the spectacular showcase of the Roman Empire filled with beautiful statues and architecture.
The main sight of the Forum include the Arch of Titus (Arco di Tito), the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Vesta, and the church of San Luca e Martina. These are all linked by the Sacra Via, the main road through the Forum.
We could not speak of Villa Borghese without considering at once the Borghese Museum and Gallery. Cardinal Scipione Borghese was also a real protector and the young Bernini was commissioned with several sculptures. Today these works are considered to be among the most important ones by the principle of (not only Roman) Baroque.
Galleria Borghese is divided in two sections: the Museum is on the ground floor and displays sculptures, while on the upper floor the Gallery collects paintings.
The museum displays, in addition to Bernini’s above mentioned works (“Proserpine’s rape”, “Apollo and Daphne”, “David throwing a sling”…) also Roman time wonderful works (“sleeping Hermaphroditus”), as well as the famous “Lying Venus” by Canova, portraying the beautiful features of Maria Paola Bonaparte (1780-1825).
Palatine Hill is the center-most of the famous seven hills of Rome. Located in between such attractions as the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum, evidence from archaeological digs demonstrates that the hill was inhabited as long ago as the tenth century BC. The hill has a strong link to Roman mythology. It is believed that on Palatine Hill, the twins Romulus and Remus were found in the Lupercal Cave by their four-legged shepherd mother, who raised them. Ultimately, this is where Romulus decided to build the city. Therefore, it was on this hill that the Roman Empire began.
Capitoline Museums consist of two palaces:
The smaller building of Capitoline Museums was opened to the public in 1734 by Pope Clement XII.
This Palace contains mostly fine selections of Greek and Roman sculptures as Discobolus. Portrait busts of Greek politicians, scientists and poets can be seen in Hall of the Philosophers.
Palazzo dei Conservatori
The Palazzo dei Conservatori was was the seat of the city’s magistrates during the late Middle Ages. Its halls covered with colourful frescos are still occasionally used for political meetings and the ground floor is the seat of the municipal registry office.
Masterpieces as huge sculpture of Constantine, Bernini’s Medusa and fabulous paintings by Veronese, Tintoretto, Caravaggio or Van Dyck can be seen here.
Outside the palace, the ‘She Wolf’ with Romulus and Remus can be found.
Possibly the square that better represents the ‘bombastic’ Baroque Epoch in Rome.
It was built exactly at the same place where the Domiziano Stadium was located, in 86 bc (the Roman ruins are still visible in the crypt of San’ Agnese in Agone Church).
Piazza Navona, which is a pedestrian area now, has 3 baroque fountains and the central one (Fountain of Four Rivers) designed by Bernini.
Opposite to the piazza Navona fountain, we can find Sant’ Agnese in Agone Church, which facade (by Borromini) is one of the most famous baroque masterpieces of Rome.
Piazza Navona is a lively place with plenty of stylish restaurants, gelato (ice-cream) bars, and everyday musical or artistic performance.
Piazza di Spagna takes its name from the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, but is famous for the Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti), an elegant cascade down from the church of Trinità dei Monti. The steps (completed in 1725) could more accurately be called French: they were funded by French diplomat Etienne Gueffier, who felt the muddy slope leading up to the church – itself built with money from a French king – needed a revamp. At Christmas a crib is erected halfway up; in spring the steps are adorned with huge tubs of azaleas; sometimes fashion shows are held here. At the foot of the stairs is a delightful boat-shaped fountain, the barcaccia, designed in 1627 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and/or his less famous father Pietro; it’s ingeniously sunk below ground level to compensate for the low pressure of the delicious acqua vergine that feeds it.
Vatican City & Museums
Vatican Museums in Rome house their fabulous masterpieces in palaces originally built for Renaissance popes such as Julius II, Innocent VIII and Sixtus IV. Most of the later addition were made in the 18th century, when priceless works of art accumulated by earlier popes were first put on show.
Vatican Museum is home to the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms as well as to one of the world’s most important art collections.
The museums feature:
– Sistine Chapel
– Raphael Rooms
– Etruscan Museum
The massive walls of the Sistine Chapel, the main chapel in the Vatican Palace, were covered with frescoes of some finest artists of the 15th and 16th centuries.
The 12 paintings on the side walls, by artists including Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Signorelli, show analogous episodes from the life of the Christ and the Moses. The decoration of the Sistine chapel, treasure of Vatican museums, was completed between 1534 and 1541 by Michelangelo, who added the great altar fresco, the Last Judgement.
Raphael’s Rooms – decorated Pope Julius II’s apartments were built at the beginning of the 16th century and are part of Vatican museums now. Julius was so impressed with Raphael’s work that he chose him to redecorate the four rooms. Raphael and his pupils began the task in 1508, replacing existing works by several better-known artists, including Perugino.
The frescoes express rigid and philosophical models of the Renaissance.
Planetario & Museo Astronomico
The new Planetarium is hosted inside the Museum of Roman Civilization and it ideally represents the final destination of a journey that, starting from the vestiges of the ancient past, will bring the visitors to the wonders of a faraway future throughout both humanistic and scientific cultures.
The Planetarium takes up 300 sqm and is covered by a dome manufactured by the French firm Denis.
The star projector is a SN 95 II by RSA Cosmos (the old Zeiss Model II is now in exposition).
The dome has a diameter of 14 meters and is able to seat more than 100 people in comfortable ergonomic armchairs, arranged in concentric rows.
Apart from the star projector, the dome is also equipped with a digital system Sky Explorer supported by a single digital channel In Space System, that allows projecting images, videos and animations in three different directions of the dome with three NEC digital video-projectors.
Moreover, there are twelve slide-projectors used for panoramas and all-sky projections and an 8 channels audio system.
This extremely modern equipment-set is expected to offer both automated and live shows.
The shows will be aimed to both pupils form school groups but also to a more general public, with an estimated annual attendance of around 100.000 visitors.
The museum’s exposition covers an area of about 400 sqm, but it is quite different from any traditional museum or science center. This museum wishes to be a sort of “astronomical theater” where the visitor’s curiosity and want of discovery will be enhanced by the help of images, animations and of a huge collection of models and dioramas. The visiting tour starts from the Earth then goes on with a “landing” on the Moon, followed by a journey to the Solar System planets and the interstellar space. The virtual journey is supposed to stimulate the visitors’ interest in crucial themes such as Time, Space and the Origin of the Chemical Elements, which will all be developed throughout the visit. The visitor will then be cast back to Earth through a virtual “black hole”.
Stadio Olimpico was built to serve as the centerpiece of the Foro Italia sports complex, a project initiated by the regime of Mussolini. Construction started in 1928 and a first tier had been finished in 1932. Stadio Olimpico officially opened on the 17th of May 1953 with a match between the national teams of Italy and Hungary. Capacity amounted to 100,000 at that time, which constituted mainly of terraces. Stadio Olimpico served as the centerpiece stadium for the 1960 Olympics, and for this all terraces got converted into seats, resulting in a capacity of 53,000 seats. During the Games, the stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the athletics competitions.
When Italy got awarded the 1990 World Cup, it was clear that the stadium needed a massive renovation. While initial plans only aimed to refurbish the stadium, a few redesigns later an almost complete new stadium had been built. The stands were now much closer to the pitch and the stadium had been equipped with a roof. This resulted in a capacity of 74,000 seats.
Stadio Olimpico underwent a last refurbishment in 2007 to keep it eligible to host future Champions League finals. This included, among others, the replacement of all seats.
Both AS Roma and Lazio have at times expressed unease at playing in the much-too-large and aged CONI-owned stadium. In the mid 2000s, Lazio had plans to move to a new stadium, but these came to nothing.
All these attractions are the most famous ones but they are only a small selection of all the places you can visit in Rome…