Must Visit Places in Rome

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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.

Must Visit Places in Rome title meme

Vatican Museums

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.

Sistine Chapel

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.

Must Visit Places in Rome Vatican Museums
Must Visit Places in Rome – a tapestry in the Vatican Museums

Trevi Fountain

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.

Must Visit Places in Rome St Peters Basilica
Must Visit Places in Rome – St Peter’s Basilica

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.

Castel Sant’Angelo

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.

Must Visit Places in Rome Castel Sant'Angelo
Must Visit Places in Rome – Castel Sant’Angelo

Piazza Navona

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.

Roman Forum

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.

Must Visit Places in Rome Roman Forum
Must Visit Places in Rome – Roman Forum

The Pantheon

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.

The Colosseum

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.

Must Visit Places in Rome Colosseum
Must Visit Places in Rome – Colosseum, interior shot.

Visiting Rome

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!

Group shot in Colosseum

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Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

The Sistine Chapel, located within Vatican City in Rome, Italy 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.

Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel either, to protect the vibrancy of the artwork. So when my daughter, grandson and I toured the room, we strove to soak it all in. Although I grew up seeing limited photos of the chapel, that someone took, I had no idea what to expect. Several things surprised me.

Check out these fun facts you may not know about the Sistine Chapel and see if any surprise you!

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel title meme

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel

Because we could not take photos in the chapel, I’m sharing photographs of other ceilings within Vatican City, which truly contains amazing collections of art. While not painted by Michelangelo, these ceilings inspire awe as well, when you look up.

The photo of the chapel ceiling, used here in this post, is one I purchased from the Canva site.

Where Does the Name Come From?

The chapel is named for Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned the chapel’s construction in 1475. It rests on the foundation of the original Cappella Magna (Great Chapel). The chapel’s layout is reminiscent of the Temple of Solomon, as described in the Old Testament.

Size of the Chapel

The small size of the chapel surprised me. I think because the paintings are so complex, covering the ceiling and parts of the walls, I expected a huge room. In reality, the chapel measures a little larger than a professional basketball court.

Michelangelo Covered Another Artist’s Work

When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, beginning work in 1508, he covered the original fresco on the ceiling. Artist Piero Matteo d’Amelia created a blue night sky filled with gold stars.

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel St Peter's Basilica
Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel – this gorgeous view is in St Peter’s Basilica

Michelangelo Didn’t Want to Paint the Chapel Ceiling

Michelangelo considered himself primarily a sculpture, not a painter.  In fact, he didn’t feel qualified for such a massive project as the chapel ceiling. However, because the pope asked him to do the work, he could not easily refuse. Michelangelo even entertained the thought that his rivals set up the commission, just to see him fail.

Michelangelo Expressed His Unhappiness in a Poem

The artist disliked his commission so much that he wrote a poem about it.  His friend Giovanni da Pistoia received the lament, which included the line, “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture, hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy.” I somehow find it refreshing that the great Michelangelo could poetically tell it like it is!

Did He Paint Lying on His Back?

Although the story suggests that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling while lying on his back, he in fact built his own scaffolding. This allowed him to stand near the ceiling, providing better precision and control of his brushes. As his poem suggests, however, the cramped working conditions and long hours looking up created physical pain for him.

St Peter's Basilica ceiling
Ceiling in St Peter’s Basilica, which is also located in Vatican City.

Four Years of Work

It took Michelangelo four years to complete the Sistine Chapel ceiling, covering 12,000 square feet of space. He left the portrait of God until last, so that he could refine and perfect his technique. A year into the painting, a large portion of the fresco developed mold. He had to repaint that section. He tried to use this setback as proof that he wasn’t the right artist for the work, however the pope asked him to continue.

Depiction of God

Michelangelo painted God as an older man with white hair and a long white beard. While this image later became common, Michelangelo was the first to portray God in this way. The angels surrounding God create an image with their spread wings that resembles a brain. Scholars think Michelangelo perhaps showed off his knowledge of anatomy.

Cover Up Those Nudes

In the 1560s Pope Pius IV ordered painted fig leaves and loincloths added to strategically cover the nudity in Michelangelo’s paintings. Fortunately, when restoration work was done between 1980 and 1999, to remove layers of grime that built up over the years, these cover ups were removed.

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel museum
Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel – Vatican Museums contain beautiful ceilings too

The Last Judgment

Michelangelo also painted The Last Judgment on the wall above the altar. However, he returned 22 years after he completed the ceiling, to add this fresco. The artist included two figures in The Last Judgment that represent him and neither are considered flattering.

Acorn Motif

A reoccurring motif in Michelangelo’s work is the acorn. This is a nod by the artist to the patronage of Pope Sixtus IV, whose family name was Rovere, meaning oak in Italian.

Millions of Visitors

When we are not experiencing a pandemic, the Sistine Chapel draws more than five million visitors every year. If a visitor has exposed shoulders or clothing that ends above the knees, he or she is asked to cover up while within the chapel. Due to the high volume of visitors, sweat, carbon dioxide and skin flakes pose a threat to the frescoes. Methods of controlling humidity and temperature are underway.

Vatican City Hallway
Amazing ceiling in a museum hallway.

Well Worth a Visit

Our 12 day tour of Italy began in Rome. On our first full day there, we visited Vatican City. Nothing prepared me for the experience. The vast collections of art astounded me. St Peter’s Basilica moved me to tears. And the Sistine Chapel, which was near the end of our tour, truly was the highlight of an amazing half day spent exploring the vastness of Vatican City. I think my mouth involuntarily dropped open when I entered the chapel.

Is Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel worth seeing? Yes. Allot at least three hours and more if you have time. There’s so much to see and experience.

I hope the collection of fun facts you may not know about the Sistine Chapel inspires you to plan a visit. It’s a sight I’m extremely grateful for.

For now, check out this virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel ceiling
Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel – a section of the famous ceiling (Canva photo)

Check out things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David HERE

 


 

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