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.
It's awe-inspiring to walk through the ruins of ancient Roman temples and amphitheaters, but to bring history to a human level you've got see where those ancient people lived. You can do that at the Case Romane del Celio.
Underneath the Basilica of Santi Givanni e Paolo, the Case Romane del Celio is a network of ancient Roman houses. There are homes from different periods – one from the 2nd century, another from the 3rd century – and for different levels of society. There are beautiful frescoed walls and a small museum displaying some of the artifacts unearthed during the excavation of the site.
Reopened to the public in 2011 after over 20 years of restoration work, the House of the Vestal Virgins is among the most fascinating of Rome’s ancient ruins. Dating back to the 6th century BC, the 50-room complex stood next to the Temple of Vesta, and was home to the six high priestesses of the Cult of Vesta. The priestesses, virgins chosen from noble Roman families, were tasked with keeping the sacred flame - revered as a symbol of Rome’s eternal life - of the Temple of Vesta alight and each served up to 30 years.
Today, the sparse ruins merely hint at the once-lavish residence and mostly date back to 64AD, when it was rebuilt after a fire. Visitors can follow the ancient Via Nova from Palatine Hill to the Temple of Vesta, and view the remains of the large atrium, two-story portico and a series of statues the Vestales.
Among the ruins on the Palatine Hill is a structure that experts believe was built for Emperor Augustus' wife, Livia. It's known as the House of Livia, and is still being excavated.
The House of Livia was probably built in the early 1st century B.C.E., with frescoes added later in that century. Livia made this her primary residence, staying even after the emperor had died, when her son Tiberius became Rome's second emperor. The building's frescoes are wonderfully well-preserved, and feature an ancient trompe l'oeil effect with painted ceilings designed to look like coffers and painted scenes made to look like views through open windows.
Anyone who watched “Roman Holiday” was no doubt charmed by Audrey Hepburn’s reaction when Gregory Peck feigned having his hand cut off in the Mouth of Truth. You might not believe that you’re in any danger of losing a limb if you tell a lie, but your heart rate might increase when you pop your hand in that mouth anyway.
The Mouth of Truth - or Bocca della Verita in Italian - is located in one wall of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin at the base of the Aventine Hill. The circular face with an open mouth resembles many of the Roman fountains around the city, but this one doesn’t spout water. For centuries, the legend has been that if you insert your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, your hand will be chopped off. Other attractions around the Piazza della Bocca della Verita are two small Ancient Roman temples. The piazza is almost directly across from the Ponte Palatino bridge over the Tiber River, which leads to the Trastevere neighborhood.
At the base of Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, the Barcaccia Fountain is one of the city’s most unique fountains. Designed in a Baroque style, it displays a half-sunken ship with fresh water overflowing its bow. Translated Barcaccia means ‘old boat.’ It dates back to the 17th century when it was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini. The fountain is said to be modeled after the boats left behind after the Tiber River would routinely flood. Sun and bee ornamentation is a symbol taken from the Pope’s family’s coat of arms.
Designed by Pietro Bernini, it features two heads on either end spouting water. Bernini’s son Gian Lorenzo went on to become a prominent Baroque artist with works all over the city. The travertine fountain has recently been restored after having been vandalized by football fans. It is one of the most well-known fountains in Rome.
Aventine Hill is one of Rome’s famous seven hills. It’s the southernmost hill, located on the eastern bank of the Tiber River. This hill is important in the myths involved with the founding of Rome. The brothers, Romulus and Remus, each chose one of the area’s hills on which to found a city. Remus chose the Aventine Hill, but it was his brother Romulus (set up on the nearby Palatine Hill) who saw more signs (supposedly from the gods) and who goes on to found the city of Rome.
Spots worth visiting on the Aventine Hill include the 5th century church of Santa Sabina, the rose garden, the orange garden, and the famous “keyhole” view of St. Peter’s Basilica at the building housing the Knights of Malta. The Circus Maximus is to one side of the Aventine Hill.
Many visitors to Rome see the enormous Vittorio Emanuele II monument from the outside only, snapping a photo of the landmark locals often derisively call “the typewriter” before moving on. But if you climb the steps, you'll find there are sights to see inside, too.
The monument was completed in 1910 as a memorial to the first king of a united Italy. Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the monument, added in 1921, and the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento – Museum of Italian Unification – is inside the monument itself. The museum entry can be difficult to find, with unmarked doors on the main steps, but you can also enter from via San Pietro in Carcere. Also inside the monument is the Complesso del Vittoriano, an art gallery with rotating exhibits, and the Sagrario delle Bandiere, a gallery of Italian naval flags and some other historical naval displays.
Rome is full of fountains, but some are more famous than others. The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona is one of the fountains that, thanks to popular culture and a colorful legend about rival artists, is on many tourist must-see lists.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the artist behind the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which depicts four major rivers - the Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata, and the Ganges - each representing a different continent. Sitting atop Bernini’s sculptures is an Egyptian obelisk.
The fountain was built in 1651 and sits at the center of the Piazza Navona, right in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The statue representing the Rio de la Plata faces the church, and appears to be cowering away in horror at the design - the church was built by one of Bernini’s rivals. This is a common story, and a fun one, but it can’t be true - the church was built many years after Bernini’s fountain.
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.
Ancient Rome was famously composed of seven hills, but there are even more hills in modern Rome that weren't even included back then. One of them is the Janiculum Hill, or Gianicolo in Italian.
Gianicolo Hill sits on the western side of the Tiber River, near the Trastevere neighborhood, and takes its name from the god Janus – there was once an ancient cult to him located on the hill. Today, attractions on the hill include the San Pietro in Montorio church, a Bramante-designed shrine on the supposed location of St. Peter's crucifixion, and a botanical garden associated with the University of Rome. But the main draw is the view overlooking Rome – it's one of the best in the city.
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.
The Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome’s oldest churches, originally built in the 4th century. While the structure has been renovated and expanded upon since then - most notably in the 12th century, when it was essentially torn to the foundation and rebuilt - the floor plan still reflects its 4th century roots.
Although there is some dispute as to which was the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, there is an inscription in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere that indicates this is the first such church. The original church on this spot was built in 340 under Pope Julius I, and in the 1140s Pope Innocent II tore it down in order to rebuild it completely.
Ponte Sant'Angelo is the bridge across the Tiber River leading from the centre of Rome to the Castel Sant'Angelo, once Hadrian's tomb, then home to the popes, now a museum. The bridge dates from 134 AD when Hadrian built it to lead to his mausoleum, calling it Pons Aelius or Bridge of Hadrian. But when word got out that the Archangel Michael landed on top of the mausoleum to end the plague in Rome in 590, the bridge and castle both changed their name to Sant'Angelo.
The most striking feature of the now pedestrian-only bridge are the ten statues of angels which line it. These were commissioned by Pope Clement IX in 1669 from the famous artist Bernini. Unfortunately Bernini only finished two himself and these were taken into the pope's own collection. Those on the bridge were actually made by other sculptors to Bernini's scheme.
By Rome's standards, the Church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola seems like it isn't very old at all – only consecrated in 1722 – but that's because prior to 1650, it was a private church.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus – better known as Jesuits – and the original church on this site was built entirely by Jesuit labor in the 1560s on the foundation of an earlier building. That church, built as the private chapel for the Collegio Romano (the first Jesuit university), was expanded slightly in 1580, but by the early 1600s it was already too small for the number of students at the college. Construction on the current church was started in 1626, a mere four years after Saint Ignatius of Loyola was canonized, and it opened to the public in 1650. The interior reflects the church's Baroque style with heavy ornamentation. There is gold decoration everywhere, enormous frescoes, and Jesuit iconography and stories depicted throughout.
Ponte Sisto is a stone pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River in Rome. It connects the historic center of Rome on one side of the river with the Trastevere neighborhood on the other side. The bridge dates back to the late 1400s and uses the foundations of an older Roman bridge that was destroyed in the early Middle Ages. Today the bridge is one of the few bridges crossing the Tiber River that does not allow vehicles. This makes it a pleasant crossing point for visitors exploring the city by foot.
The bridge also provides nice views of the city. From here, you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Ponte Garibaldi, Ponte Mazzini, Tiber Island, and Gianicolo Hill. The bridge connects Via dei Pettinari and Piazza Trilussa. Several boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes can be found in this area on both sides of the bridge, some offering views of the river and the bridge itself.
Sitting in the heart of atmospheric Trastevere, Piazza Santa Maria is the focal point of the district and has several different faces. By day it is the haunt of young families and tourists, by night clubbers and students come out of the woodwork to party in the surrounding bars.
The piazza’s western flank is dominated by the ornate Romanesque church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is one of the oldest in Rome, founded around 350 AD as Christianity was becoming prevalent. Several extensions and improvements ensued down the centuries, and now the church has a 16th-century portico and glittering medieval frescoes and mosaics in the apse as well as on its exterior, which glint when floodlit at night. The octagonal raised fountain in the center of the piazza has its origins in Ancient Roman times and was restored and added to by Baroque master architect Carlo Fontana in 1692.
One of the liveliest squares in the Rome’s ancient heart, pedestrianized Piazza della Rotonda is lined with endlessly crowded bars, cafés and restaurants and is the perfect spot for all-day people watching. The rectangular space is also home to the Pantheon, dating from 27 BC but entirely reconstructed by Emperor Hadrian in the early second century AD. It is remarkably intact and its simple but exquisite interior is softly illuminated from the shafts of light peeping through the hole in its round dome. The church is also the resting place of Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the artist Raphael.
Piazza della Rotonda was formed in the mid 15th century to the orders of Pope Eugenius IV, who wanted to clear the stalls, hovels and stores that were spoiling the view of the Pantheon. A fanciful marble fountain was built in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta, to which a Baroque Egyptian-style obelisk was added in 1711.
The enormous Trajan's Column near the Quirinal Hill was built in the 2nd century AD to commemorate Emperor Trajan’s victories in war. The column itself is 98 feet tall, but standing on its pedestal the entire structure is 125 feet tall.
The column is decorated with the story of Trajan’s war triumphs told in pictures, spiralling around the outside of the column, with the story starting at the bottom. Trajan’s ashes were originally interred in the base of the column. Amazingly, the column itself is actually hollow and contains a spiral staircase that leads to a viewing platform on the very top.
Trajan's Column was originally topped with a statue of Trajan himself, but in the late 16th century the then-Pope Sixtus V ordered that a statue of Saint Peter be put atop the column. It’s the statue of Saint Peter that you still see today. In order to see all of the bas relief carvings, you’ll need to visit Rome’s Museum of Roman Civilization.