Things to Do in Rome
Portico of Octavia was a large courtyard with many columns originally built in the 2nd century BC. It was rebuilt about 100 years later by Emperor Augustus and dedicated to his sister, Octavia. It once covered an area of almost 445 feet long and almost 380 feet wide, larger than a football field, and it had more than 300 Corinthian columns. The Temple of Juno Regina and the Temple of Jupiter Stator stood in the middle. Today not much remains of the structure compared to what it once was. Visitors can still see five columns and the ruins of the entrance gate.
In the Middle Ages, the ruins of the Portico of Octavia became the site of a fish market. A stone to the right of the portico's great arch still marks the location. Nearby you can find the Teatro Marcello, the Tiber River and Tiber Island, the Temple of Apollo Sosiano, and it's not far from the Roman Forum.
The Capitoline Hill is one of Rome’s famous seven hills, and in Italian it’s called the Campidoglio. The Piazza del Campidoglio is the trapezoidal space atop the hill, with buildings on three sides and a grand staircase on the fourth. The piazza and surrounding buildings were designed by Michelangelo in the mid-1500s.
Michelangelo employed several visual tricks to give the space a balanced feel, despite its lack of literal symmetry. He designed facades for the existing buildings, made the staircase more of a gradual ramp, and crafted a pattern to be inlaid in the piazza that deceives the eye into thinking it’s a perfect oval (it’s actually egg-shaped). The buildings once served as government buildings, but they now house the Capitoline Museums. At the center of the Piazza del Campidoglio is a replica of an Ancient Roman bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. The original bronze is nearby in the Capitoline Museums.
At first glance, this ancient open-air theater appears quite a bit like a mini-Colosseum. Built during the later years of the Roman Republic, it was built nearly 100 years before the famous Colosseum. Named by the Emperor Augustus in 11 BC after his recently deceased nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the theater may be the oldest surviving of its kind in the world.
The structure’s archways and tiers comprise a semicircular design (unlike the Colosseum, which is completely circular.) The third tier was lost in reconstruction during the Middle Ages, but ornamental Doric and Ionic columns still frame the theater. In its prime the structure could hold more than 15,000 spectators and was one of the most popular entertainment venues in Ancient Rome. Live music and drama performances filled its seats until it was adopted by noble families and luxury apartments (which can still be seen today) were built atop the ruins.
Piazza della Repubblica is a square in Rome not far from Termini train station. The square was the original site of the Baths of Diocletian. It was known as Piazza Esedra until the 1950s, and many older locals still refer to it by its old name. In the center of the square is the large Fountain of the Naiads, or water nymphs. Figures of the four water nymphs adorn the sides of the fountain representing oceans, rivers, lakes, and underground water. When the fountain was unveiled in 1901, it was considered too provocative due to the nudity of the statues.
One of Rome's most well known streets, Via Nazionale, starts at Piazza della Repubblica. On this street and in the surrounding area you'll find upscale hotels, shops, restaurants, and cafes. Near the piazza is the Teatro Dell'Opera Di Roma, a lavish 19th century opera house. There are also several churches and ornate buildings in the area.
Caelian Hill is the most south-eastern hill of the of the famous “Seven Hills of Rome,” which are located east of the river Tiber and form the geographical heart of Rome, within the walls of the ancient city. The other hills are Aventine Hill, Capitoline Hill, Esquiline Hill, Quirinal Hill, Viminal Hill and Palatine Hill, where Romulus founded the city and where the main archaeological remains can still be seen today.
The hills were initially not grouped in any way, and only started to interact with each other when denizens began playing religious games and turned the valleys separating them into lively markets named fora in Latin. It wasn’t until the 4th century, however, that the Servian Walls were built to protect newly-formed Rome.
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.
The Castel Sant'Angelo is actually a tomb, Hadrian's Mausoleum. The Roman Emperor built it for himself and his family; their ashes were placed there in 138 AD. Other emperors are also buried there, but the tomb became a fortress in 401 AD; in 410 it was raided and the ashes were scattered. It is likely that Hadrian himself ended up in St. Peter's where a lot of the finest ornamentation of the mausoleum and other Roman buildings were taken.
It was named Castel Sant'Angelo after 590 AD when the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared on top of the building, signifying the end of the plague. From the 14th century, the popes turned the place into a residential castle, connecting it with St. Peter's by a fortified corridor. Since 1925, it has been a museum. The complex maze of rooms and corridors now house beautiful furnishings, paintings, sculptures, archaeological finds and historic weapons.
The Tiber River runs through Rome, and Tiber Island is its only plot of land, located toward the southern end of the river. At 885 feet long and 220 feet across at its widest point, the island has two bridges that have connected it to each side of the river since antiquity. Ponte Fabricio connects the island to the left bank of the river near the Theater of Marcellus, and Ponte Cestio connects to the Trastevere neighborhood on the right bank. The original bridges have been rebuilt several times.
The island has always had a strong connection with medicine. It once had an ancient temple dedicated to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Throughout history, people with contagious diseases were sent to the island for treatment and healing, or sometimes simply to wait for death. To this day, there is still a hospital on the island. Tiber Island also hosts a film festival in the summer.
More Things to Do in Rome
Upon exiting the Vatican Museums, visitors have the opportunity to wind their way down the impressive 1930s double-helix staircase designed by Guiseppe Momo, but don’t mistake these steps for the iconic Bramante Staircase of 1512, designed by the innovative Donato Bramante, who lays claim to an immense amount of the Vatican's architecture. This set spins down and out of the Pio-Clementine Museum. This staircase is only visited by tourists on specialized tours through the Vatican and served as the inspiration for the more visible Vatican Museums steps.
The Bramante Staircase was designed in the architectural style known as the double-helix, which essentially means there are two layers to the stairs, allowing people to go upwards without meeting those walking down the stairs, and vice-versa.
No matter what you call it, it’s impossible to miss the imposing Vittorio Emmanuele Monument on the massive Piazza Venezia in central Rome. Built in the early 1900s to honor a unified Italy’s first king, the structure serves double-duty as the home of the tomb of Italy’s unknown soldier as well as the Museum of Italian Reunification.
Another reason to visit the Vittoriano is to ride the “Roma del Cielo” elevator to the top of the monument for some of the best views overlooking the city of Rome.
One of three churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary that face the large Piazza del Popolo in northern Rome is the church that bears the same name as the piazza - Santa Maria del Popolo. Of the three, this is by far the most popular tourist draw, primarily for the incredible artwork it contains.
The present-day Church of Santa Maria del Popolo was rebuilt in the 1470s from an earlier church built on the site in 1099. Gian Lorenzo Bernini updated the facade to its Baroque style in the 1650s, and also worked on the Chigi Chapel in the church.
Santa Maria del Popolo contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, mosaics by Raphael, chapels designed by Bramante and Raphael, and two fabulous paintings by Caravaggio. Because of this stunning collection of in situ art, the church is as much (if not more) a tourist attraction for art and culture lovers as it is still a house of worship.
The Great Synagogue of Rome has a storied past, with the city housing one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. The first set arrived in the city in the second century BC, and by the mid-16th century, the area of Trastevere on the west banks of the River Tiber became a Jewish ghetto, which lasted for three centuries until it was disbanded by King Victor Emmanuel II. The Great Synagogue was built across the river from Trastevere shortly afterwards in memory of the dark days of the ghetto; the Art Nouveau structure is stopped with a distinctive square dome and ornamented with floral reliefs.
On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the synagogue, making him the first pope since early Christianity to do so. The synagogue celebrated its centenary in 2004 and serves as a hub for the Jewish community of Rome, as well as housing for the offices of the Chief Rabbi.
The name “San Luigi dei Francesi” means Saint Louis of the French, and this church is France's national church in Rome. It was built in the 1500s at the instruction of a Cardinal in the Medici family who would later become Pope Clement VII. Catherine de Medici had married the French king, contributed to the church's construction, and donated the land on which the church was built – further cementing the French connection. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi occupies the site of a former church, Santa Maria, which was owned by the Medici family. It was begun in 1518 and consecrated in 1589. The interior is all Baroque ornamentation, so there's no shortage of stuff to see, but the biggest attraction inside is the series of three St. Matthew paintings by Caravaggio. These paintings were commissioned for the church, so it's a great chance to see artwork in its original home rather than an art museum.
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.
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.
One of the many ancient Roman ruins atop the Palatine Hill is the Domus Augustana, part of the huge Flavian Palace, built for Emperor Domitian.
The Domus Augustana – sometimes called the Domus Augustiana – was the luxurious residence of the emperor (his official name was Titus Flavius Domitianus, hence the name of the palace). The palace complex was built in the late 1st century, and the Domus Augustana was lived in by emperors until about the third century. It's fairly well-preserved.
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