The world’s famous Colosseum was built in 80 AD for the Roman emperors to stage fight to-the-death gladiator battles and hunt and kill wild animals, whilst members of the general public watched the violent spectaculars. Entry was free, although you were seated according to your social rank and wealth. Gladiatorial games were banned in 438 AD; the wild beast hunting continued until 523.
The Colosseum is amazing for its complex and advanced architecture and building technique. Despite being used as a quarry for building materials at various points in history, it is still largely intact. You can see the tiered seating, corridors and the underground rooms where the animals and gladiators awaited their fate. Today the Colosseum has set the model for all modern-day stadiums, the only difference being today's teams survive their games.
In Ancient Rome, the Forum was the centre of the Roman Empire. Until the 4th century AD, a thousand years of decisions affecting the future of Europe were made here. When Roman soldiers were out conquering the world in the name of the Emperors, temples, courts, markets, and government buildings were thriving in the Forum.
Located between two of Rome's famous hills, the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, it is now a collection of ruins having spent centuries as a quarry for marble and a cow paddock. The Forum became a very dense collection of buildings in its time but mostly all that remains today is columns, arches, and some scattered marbles so it can be difficult to make sense of it all. Ongoing archaeological work continues, and getting a map or a guide can really bring the bustle of the ancient site to life. You can get a great view over the Forum from the overlooking hills in the Farnese Gardens and from Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio.
Standing proud behind the Colosseum and steps away from the beginning of the Via Sacra, the imposing triumphal Arch of Constantine was erected by the Roma Senate in 315 AD in honor of Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge that took place three years earlier. At 69 feet (21 meters) tall, the ornate monument was carved from a single enormous block of gray and white marble. In typical Classical style, the great central gateway is mirrored by two smaller side arches and supported by eight Corinthian columns. The arch is decorated with reliefs plundered from other long-forgotten memorials that describe feats of bravery by earlier Roman emperors, as well as inscriptions praising the achievements of Constantine.
The Pantheon in Rome is a remarkable building architecturally. Basically a cylinder with the floating dome on top of columns, it is the largest masonry vault ever built. In the center of this dome is a hole bringing in a shaft of light to show the beauty of this building and its relatively simple, open interior. Being inside the Pantheon feels very special.
Originally built in 27 BC and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD, the temple has been damaged and plundered over time. In 609 AD it became a Christian church dedicated to the Madonna. In the 17th century some of its bronze ceiling was taken and melted down for use in St Peter's Basilica. Important figures such as King Victor Emmanuel II and the artist Raphael are buried in the Pantheon.
The famous Spanish Steps lead from the Piazza di Spagna up to the Trinita Church. The staircase was constructed between 1723 and 1725 in the Roman Baroque style and is the longest and widest in Europe. The design is an elegant series of ramps with 138 steps in a fan or butterfly wing shape. In May, they are particularly beautiful when the ramps of the staircase are covered in spring flowers.
Architecture aside, what makes the Spanish Steps a favorite spot to hang out is the people watching. It's a place for tourists and locals to sit and enjoy the spectacle of Rome life.
The adjacent Piazza di Spagna is surrounded by wonderful tea rooms and cafes as well as being adjacent to some of the best shopping streets in Rome.
The Piazza Venezia defies many assumptions one might make from the name. It’s an open space, so it can be called a piazza, but it’s really a gigantic intersection and not a public square. And it’s in central Rome, not Venice. The name comes from the nearby Palazzo Venezia, in which ambassadors from the Venetian republic once lived.
The enormous Vittorio Emmanuele Monument faces one side of Piazza Venezia, and the interchange is also at the base of the Capitoline Hill and next to Trajan’s Forum. In short, although this piazza isn’t one in which you’re likely to spend lots of leisure time, you’ll certainly pass through it on your way to and from other major attractions in central Rome.
Those of you taking the bus around Rome will find Piazza Venezia to be a major transportation hub, which is useful for getting around the city. And if you’re ambitious enough to be driving in Rome, you’ll probably pass through the intersection a number of times.
Atop the Quirinal Hill is the Piazza Barberini, one of Rome’s public squares that also serves as a bit of a traffic intersection. The piazza itself is pedestrian-only, making it at least possible to enjoy yet another of Rome’s public spaces, although the cars zipping around it make it slightly less than peaceful.
In the middle of the piazza is the Triton Fountain, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 1640s. The piazza itself takes its name from the Palazzo Barberini, former home to a noble Roman family, one of whom eventually became Pope Urban VIII. That palace is now home to the Museum of Ancient Art.
Another fountain by Bernini - the Fountain of Bees - once occupied a corner of the Piazza Barberini, but it was moved to another spot on the nearby Via Vittorio Veneto. One of Rome’s two Metro lines (Line A) has a stop at the Piazza Barberini.
The Trastevere neighborhood of Rome is one of the city’s oldest districts; walking through its cobbled streets during the day you’re apt to forget the busy Roman streets and crowds outside the Colosseum. In the Trastevere, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into an Italian village. Because, in a way, you have.
The name “Trastevere” means “across the Tiber” (which is “Tevere” in Italian), which should tell you it lies on the opposite side of the river from monuments like the Roman Forum and Colosseum - it’s actually on the same side of the river as Vatican City. There are many inexpensive places to eat in the Trastevere, but the area is essentially hotel-free. To stay here, you’ll need to book an apartment rental or guesthouse, as that’s basically all that’s available for lodging.
By day, the Trastevere is almost unfailingly charming, and the small Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is straight out of an Italian countryside hill town.
There are many churches in Rome - and throughout the world - dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The largest one is the Basilica Papale (or Papal Basilica) of Santa Maria Maggiore near the Termini Train Station in central Rome.
As you might guess from the name, Santa Maria Maggiore is technically part of the Vatican - just as a foreign embassy might be. As part of Vatican City, the Basilica is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes all extraterritorial properties of the Holy See in Rome.
Although the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore has been expanded upon and redecorated over the centuries, it was originally built in the mid-5th century and much of the original structure is still in place. In the years after the papacy was moved back to Rome from Avignon, part of the church was used as the papal residence until renovations to the Vatican Palace was completed.
The Appian Way (Via Appia), an important Imperial Roman road dating from the 4th century BC, was built to quickly move supplies and Roman soldiers to strategic points of the Roman Empire. The Appian Way was the first and most important Roman road, stretching from Rome to Brindisi on the southeast coast of Italy.
It was the work of architect Appius Claudius Caecus (hence the road's name). You can still walk the long straight cobblestone road, and along the way are catacombs and churches.
As the Roman Empire began its terminal decline, Rome was the focus of attacks and invasions by barbarians. In the third century AD the Aurelian Wall was built around the city's seven hills for protection. The Aurelian Wall had many gates, one of them being the Porta San Sebastiano (which still stands today). It was once called the Porta Appia because it marks the point where the Appian Way begins.
The Parco degli Acquedotti is one of Rome’s green spaces, and also one with major Ancient Roman structures in it. As the name tells you, a visit to the Parco degli Acquedotti means you get to see a Roman aqueduct - but in this park, you can actually see two.
Located just under five miles from Rome’s city center, the 593-acre Parco degli Acquedotti is criss-crossed by two different aqueducts, both of which were once critical parts of the Ancient Roman infrastructure. The two aqueducts in the park are Aqua Felix and Aqua Claudia. There’s also the ruins of a 2nd century palace in the park.
The Parco degli Acquedotti is largely undeveloped - so much so that livestock can sometimes be found grazing in its fields - but it’s close enough to the city that in nice weather it can be a welcome respite for both Romans and tourists to get away from the hectic city. You can reach the park via the Metro Line A, or by bus to the nearby Piazza Cinecitta.
In Ancient Rome, a “circus” was an oblong arena where events like chariot races, games, and other performances were held. As you might guess, the Circus Maximus was - in a word - huge. It was the Roman Empire’s largest stadium, measuring more than 2,000 feet long by 387 feet wide and capable of holding an audience of 150,000.
First built in the 6th century B.C.E., the Circus Maximus was expanded over the next several centuries (and rebuilt occasionally after fire and flood damaged), until it was rebuilt by Emperor Trajan in the early 2nd century AD. In addition to chariot and horse races, the Circus Maximus also held religious ceremonies, and parades. The last recorded uses of the Circus Maximus are in the 6th century AD, and today there’s very little left of the structures. The site is now a public park, and you can see the overall oblong shape where the Circus used to be, as well as some of the starting gates.
The area of Rome known as the “centro storico,” or “historic center,” is sometimes referred to as whatever lies inside the ancient Aurelian Walls, but the border the walls created aren't exactly the same as what many people refer to as the Centro Storico today.
UNESCO designated the “Historic Center of Rome” a World Heritage Site in 1980, declaring the area inside the Aurelian Walls plus Vatican City (which was outside the walls) to be the city's Centro Storico. To most visitors, however, the Centro Storico is much smaller, and where many of the main attractions are located. In the Centro Storico, you can visit sights such as the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and the Capitoline Hill. The Forum and Colosseum are just outside the smallest interpretation of the Centro Storico, as are Vatican City and the Trastevere neighborhood.
Piazza di Spagna is one of Rome's best-known meeting places, thanks to a stunning statue, the iconic Fontana della Barcaccia and an attractive square that lies at the foot of the famed Spanish Steps. The landmark's central location grants travelers easy access to top attractions like nearby Trinita dei Monti, Keats-Shelley Memorial House and the Column of the Immaculate Conception.
Piazza di Spagna is also a prime destination for people-watching, thanks to the large number of visitors and locals who gather in the public garden and scenic space to celebrate sunshine when there's warmer weather.
Contrary to popular belief, St Peter’s Basilica isn’t the cathedral of Rome. This honor goes to “the Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist at the Lateran.” Quite the mouthful, but the church is more commonly known as the St John Lateran’s Basilica or Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The basilica is the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome, and on top of that, it’s the seat of the Bishop of Rome—the Pope himself—and considered one of the most important Catholic church in the world.
Although one might think so, St John Lateran isn’t a person. The church is named after its location at the Lateran Palace, ancient seat of the noble Roman Laterni family and later the main papal residence. When the palace came into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, he soon donated the property to the church.
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of four major basilicas in Rome and was once the largest basilica in the world. It held that title until St. Peter's Basilica was completed in 1626. The original church was built in the 4th century but burned down in 1823. It was replaced with the one that stands today. It is where St. Paul is presumed to be buried, which is why it is named after him. His burial site was located outside of the Aurelian Walls that surrounded Rome at the time.The basilica's art gallery has paintings from the original church, some dating back as far as the 13th century. There are also some rare documents and engravings that were saved from the fire. The outside of the church has 150 columns and a huge statue of St. Paul. The facade is decorated with mosaics designed from 1854 to 1874.
Thermae Antoninianae, as per their Roman name, are, simply put, one of the largest and best preserved ancient thermal complexes in the world, and second largest in Rome itself. Built in 212 AD during the reign of the notoriously spiteful Emperor Caracalla, the complex was built as part of a political propaganda but had the particularity of being open to Romans from all social classes, as it was completely free of charge; the public opinion’s regarding the emperor was drastically improved in the following years, as they attributed their pleasant experience and extravagant surroundings to him.The Aqua Marcia aqueduct (the longest one in Rome) was specifically built to serve the great imperial and 25-hectares large complex, which was really more of a leisure center than a series of baths. Visitors could relax in the complex’s three different baths, exercise in one of the two gyms or the pool and catch up on their reading at the library.