Monday, November 5


The Eternal City celebrates its long history with monuments, churches and restored ruins that offer a glimpse into life during the days of the great Roman Empire. Here are my favorite picks for the top 10 essential attractions to round out your visit to Rome.

1. Colosseum
The Roman Colosseum is a testament to the architectural and engineering skills of the ancient Roman people. Offering insights into the culture that celebrated the Gladiator games at this huge entertainment arena.
The first bloody fight ensued in A.D. 82, starting a tradition of battles between men and beasts in a public forum with crowds reaching 50,000.  The Emperor's entrance to the Colosseum is marked by a cross in the picture above on the far right side, lower corner. Placed here in the 13th century in repentance for all the blood shed in this place. Outside of the Colosseum, look out for the photo op beneath the Arch of Constantine,
which was built in 315 AD to commemorate the victory of Constantine over Marcus Aurelius .....the coup that made Christianity mainstream.  With this one battle, a once obscure Jewish sect with a handful of followers was now the state religion of the entire Western world.  From the Colosseum, cross over to Palatine Hill.

The word 'palace' comes from this place, once a home to emperors. Rome's first king, Romulus, and Rome's first emperor, Augustus, built palaces on this hills. The view from the garden is lovely. *To avoid lengthy lines, order tickets for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill online and ahead of time -- they're good for 2 consecutive days.

2. Roman Forum
This is ancient Rome's birthplace and Civic Center. The Forum was the center of city life, playing host to festivals, celebrations, funerals and rituals. The city grew around this grassy area that was the common ground between Rome's famous seven hills. It was empty marshland until the 7th century B.C. The area lost its luster and fell to waste around the 8th century A.D. and remained that way until excavations in the early 20th century. 
Today, you can pick up a map for a self-guided tour of the structures and arches or join a tour group for a more detailed history of the area. Then climb to the top of Palatine Hill for sweeping views of the city. It's a  Roman gem not to be missed.

3. Pantheon
For the greatest look at the splendor of Rome, the Pantheon is a must-see! Rome's temple to the 'gods' is remarkably intact, a great feat considering that it was originally constructed in 27 B.C.. After the fall of Rome the barbarians left the Pantheon alone because it was a church dedicated to martyrs and the locals didn't use it's stones as a quarry leaving the original structure intact and pristine. An altar was later added for Christian worship after the country abandoned its pagan gods and legalized Christianity. After the Renaissance, the Pantheon took on yet another role as a designated tomb for some of the city's artists and elite including the painter Raphael and former kings of Italy. The Pantheon's architecture has inspired copycats around the world with its tall columns, expansive interior and impressive dome with the sun shining through 
the oculusa 27-foot hole in the center of the rotunda. Truly an architectural feat of it's time.

4. Vatican City and Museum
A stop at Vatican City should be on your 'to see' list when in Rome. Even though it's located in Rome, Vatican City has been an independent state since 1929 and the smallest in Europe coming in at only 440,000 square meters. The first impressive site is St. Peter's Square itself designed by Bernini in the late 17th century.
 As long as you're dressed appropriately (no bare shoulders or shorts or skirts above the knee), you may enter St. Peter's Basilica and see Michelangelo's Pietá,
 a stunningly beautiful and sad sculpture. This is the only piece of artwork Michelangelo signed. EVER. Continue up to the roof where you can take in the view of the large square and city beyond. Also contained inside the Vatican's walls, the Vatican Museums hold Italian masterpieces, including Michelangelo's painted ceiling at the Sistine Chapel. It is overwhelming. You could spend the whole day staring at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and still not see everything.

A wonderful map of Vatican City can be found here.

5. Piazza Navona

Rome is known for beautiful and charming squares lined with restaurants and open-air cafes. The loveliest of them all is the large public square at Piazza Navona, once the site of sporting events at Domitian's stadium in A.D. 89. 
The square contains 3 fountains, and the largest and most memorable is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers with each of the 4 statues representing a river from different continents.

6. Trevi Fountain

This bubbly Baroque fountain is a delight at night. Travelers' lore lists various reasons for throwing 3 coins in the fountain at the marvelous Trevi, with benefits ranging from finding love to returning to the city. Take some time to explore this masterpiece showing the god Neptune riding in a shell-shaped chariot led by seahorses. 
And you can feel good about your charitable donation as the money, nearly $3,500 each day, from the fountain is used to support food programs for the city's poor.

7. Galleria Borghese

The Galleria Borghese is just as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, boasting a prime location in the sprawling gardens at Villa Borghese. Once a cardinal's mansion, inside the museum, you'll find Bernini sculptures including Apollo and Daphne and his take on young David preparing to take on Goliath. 
The impressive collection also includes works by master artists Correggio, Raphael, Rubens and Caravaggio. Acquiring tickets will be your biggest challenge -- the museum admits only 360 visitors every 2 hours so you'll need to make reservations far in advance.

8. The Ancient Appian Way and the Catacombs of San Callisto

In it's day, the Appian Way was the largest, widest, fastest road ever, the wonder of its day, called the 'Queen of Roads". Built in the 4th century BC, this has been Rome's gateway to the East. 
The Appian Way stretches 430 miles to the sea where boats sailed to Greece and Egypt. Today it is lined with tombs, funerary monuments and some 40 catacomb sites. 
While some may find the underground tunnel system of the Catacombs of San Callisto a bit morbid, in reality they celebrate the life of Christians during ancient Roman times.  Rich in early Christian symbolism, such as the dove, fish and anchor, which functioned as a secret language among fellow Christians.
 This artwork can be seen in various spots throughout the tombs. Not merely a macabre display, these Christian creations tell the story of life, death and resurrection and show a unique interpretation of the church's teachings of good, evil and eternity.

9. Castel Sant'Angelo and Museum

This fortress on the Tiber River was originally designed by the Emperor Hadrian to be used as a mausoleum for his own family. And it was certainly a resting place fit for royalty, rising above the city with glorious views. Over the centuries, it moved beyond its original purpose and served as a military fortress in 401 and later a papal residence and even a prison. It's now a museum where you may tour the apartments and see the statue of the archangel Michael rising above the terrace.

10. Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps may be the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe, but that's not what draws visitors to this popular hot spot. It IS the place to be and be seen. An aqueduct powers the Barcaccia fountain that bubbles at the foot of the steps, while the Trinità dei Monti church rises far above the crowds at the top of the steps. But the best spot is somewhere in between the two. Grab a gelato and take a seat in the middle of the wide staircase and watch the city go by as beautiful people hurry into the nearby high-end shops, designer boutiques and restaurants.

I love visiting all of these places but if I had to pick my favorite Rome experience it would have to be a 'Rick Steves' Walk'. Grab one of his walking tour books and set out to discover the undiscovered Rome. Whether you follow the ever so chic 'Dolce Vita' stroll, the "Romantic Night Walk Across Rome' or another of Rick's favorites, you will soon uncover the true gem that Rome was and is today.

Rome's Top 10 Ruins, Hot Spots and Must Sees! Stop by and see them if you ever find yourself in the Eternal City.....'ll be glad ya did!



"Travel is rich with learning opportunities, 
and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective."
~ Rick Steves

1 comment:

  1. It was fun to take this tour with you. I saw most of these places when my sister invited me to Rome some years ago. We went to Florence and Pisa as well. Nice to look back again.
    Hugs, Coleen