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Rome, capital of Italy and the country’s most populated city. The area has supported humans for almost three thousand years.
Roman poet Tibullus called Rome the “Eternal City” in the 1st century BC. It’s also known as the “Capital of the World” and considered the art and cultural center of the world. Famous artists, sculptors, painters and architects flourished in Rome, creating masterpieces throughout the city.
Rome is the 11th most visited city in the world, the third most visited in Europe and the most popular tourist destination in Italy. And for good reason. Beauty abounds here. History, art and culture co-exist marvelously.
It’s a fascinating city to explore. While there…check out these must visit places in Rome.
Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent country, located within the city of Rome. It is the headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church.
Within the Vatican Walls explore the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica (more on these two sites below), the palace and gardens and St Peter’s Square.
Visit the Vatican museums. They include the Picture Gallery, Museum of Secular Art, Etruscan Museum and others. Collections contain art of all kinds, from sculptures to paintings to tapestries. The museums are stunning in their variety and beauty. There are small group tours available and a skip the line type tour you may want to book in advance.
The Sistine Chapel, located within Vatican City, contains one of the most famous frescoes in the world. On the chapel ceiling, Michelangelo’s masterpiece inspires wonder. Security officers within the room encourage silence out of respect for the space. Truly, the magnificence of the paintings instill reverence. It’s not difficult to observe the silence.
Visitors cannot take photos in the Sistine Chapel either, to protect the vibrancy of the artwork.
Built between 1473 and 1481, the chapel was originally known as The Great Chapel. It’s currently the site of the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected.
Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling, completed between 1508 and 1512 is regarded as one of the major artistic accomplishments in human history. It’s the ceiling and Michelangelo’s Last judgement, painted between 1535 and 1541, that draw visitors to the Sistine Chapel.
Read fun facts about the Sistine Chapel HERE.
This 17th century masterpiece is one of Rome’s most popular attractions. Immortalized in numerous films and stories, Trevi Fountain is a must see. Throwing a coin in the fountain continues a long standing tradition that assures a return visit to Rome.
This massive fountain, the largest in the city, is supplied by an aqueduct constructed by Agrippa in the 1st century BC, to bring water to his baths. The fountain was constructed between 1732 and 1751. It depicts the sea god Neptune with horses, tritons and seashells. The water collects in a large basin that is always filled with coins.
St Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s is considered the most famous example of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world, measuring the interior. It also has the world’s tallest dome.
Tradition says that the basilica is the resting place of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’ apostles. His tomb lies directly below the high altar. A church has stood on this site since the time of Constantine the Great. Old St Peter’s Basilica dates back to the 4th century. Construction began on the present day basilica in April 1506, with completion 120 years later, in November 1626.
The interior truly is magnificent, with its 150 foot tall walls and gold coffered ceilings. Michelangelo’s La Pieta is on display in St Peter’s. La Pieta depicts Christ lying in Mary’s lap, after his crucifixion. Due to a vicious attack on the sculpture in 1972, La Pieta now sits behind a bullet proof glass shield.
The Spanish Steps
The historic center of Rome, Centro Storico is filled with palaces, art filled churches and beautiful squares. Trevi Fountain is located in this area, along with Piazza Navona (see below) and Piazza di Spagna.
Located in Piazza di Spagna, The Spanish Steps leads up to the French church Trinita dei Monti. The steps provide a favorite spot for tourists to gather. People sit and enjoy a gelato or bask in the sun.
At the base of the Spanish Steps rests the Barcaccia Fountain. Via Condotti, the road through Piazza di Spagna, is Rome’s most fashionable shopping street. Visit Cafe Greco nearby, where artists, writers and musicians like to gather.
This huge, round structure on the Tiber River began as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, in 135 AD. Over the years, Castel Sant’Angelo served as a papal residence, a fortress and most recently, as a National Museum.
In its early years it protected the city from attacks. Located near Vatican City, popes fled to the Castel across a secret corridor during times of danger. They also stored their treasures there for safekeeping.
Travel across the pedestrian bridge to reach the Castel. Angel statues, created by Bernini, line the gorgeous bridge with its arches. Inside the Castel are five floors containing prison cells, a collection of weapons and papal apartments decorated with Renaissance frescoes. At the top is a terrace that provides beautiful views of Rome.
Located in Centro Storico, Piazza Navona is a classic Baroque square. Within the square is the outline still of a Roman stadium built by Emperor Domitian. Festivals and horse races took place there during the Middle Ages.
Borromini rebuilt the square in the Baroque style. He also designed the palaces and the Church of Sant’Agnese on the west side.
The centerpiece of the piazza is the Baroque fountain, Fontana dei Fiumi, created by Bernini. The fountain represents the four largest rivers on earth at that time: the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata.
Piazza Navona hosts one of Rome’s bests Christmas markets every December.
Once the center of Roman life, the Forum was the heart of the city. What remains now are standing and fallen columns, arches and partial walls.
At one time the Forum housed courts, markets and meeting places. The buildings all fell into ruin after the 7th century. Stones from those ancient structures were quarried for use in other Roman buildings throughout the city.
This 2000 year old monument is one of Rome’s most well preserved structures. Rebuilt in 80 AD after a fire, the work is extraordinary. The height is the same as the diameter. And the dome appears to hang suspended, without support. Those are actually hidden within the walls. Additionally, the building’s central opening is the only light source for the interior.
Originally a pagan temple, Pope Boniface dedicated the building to the Virgin Mary in 609. It then became the burial site for Italian kings and other famous Italians, including the painter Raphael.
Pope Urban VIII removed and melted down the bronze roof tiles, casting them as the canopy over the alter at St Peter’s Basilica and as cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo.
This large Roman structure is the symbol of Rome, much as Big Ben is London’s and the Eiffel Tower represents Paris.
Construction began in 72 AD and the structure inaugurated in 80 AD with a series of games held within. The Colosseum hosted theatrical performances, festivals, circuses and games featuring wild animals and gladiators.
Court officials watched from the lower levels, aristocrats occupied the next level while the general population sat in the upper levels. The Colosseum held 50,000 to 70,000 spectators. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum housed people and supplied building materials for other structures throughout the city.
A massive restoration project, carried out over the last decade, restored the facade and just finished in the underground areas. For the first time, beginning this month, visitors can see the passageways and rooms that gladiators, animals and performers occupied before riding to the Colosseum floor in elevators and pulleys.
Recently the Ministry of Culture announced plans to build a wooden arena over the lower areas, returning the Colosseum to a usable structure for concerts and cultural events.
My daughter, grandson and I visited Rome in 2017, the starting and ending point of our 12 day tour in Italy.
Our time there seemed magical as we explored sites I’ve read about all my life. Standing inside the Colosseum was a surreal experience. Remember the movie Gladiator? I could easily imagine such life and death battles taking place there.
Vatican City proved the biggest surprise for me, with its immense collections of art. And standing quietly in the Sistine Chapel, looking up at Michelangelo’s incredible work, brought tears to my eyes.
Have you visited Rome, Italy? Share your experiences with me in the comments!
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