Things to Do in Rome
Palazzo Barberini is a 17th century palace in Rome, Italy that now holds the National Gallery of Ancient Art. The museum contains an impressive collection of paintings and is a good alternative to some of the more popular and crowded art museums in the city. One of the paintings you can see here is Raphael's La Fornarina, which is a portrait of his lover, a baker's daughter. Also found here are Hans Holbein's portrait of King Henry VIII, Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice Cenci who was beheaded for patricide in 1599, and Caravaggi's realistic portrayal of Judith beheading Holofernes.
Another big draw for this museum is the palace's Gran Salone. The ceiling of this huge ballroom was painted in 1630 by Pietro da Cortona, a master of Roman Baroque. The painting shows the Glorification of Urban VIII's Reign which includes a group of huge Barberini bees, the heraldic family symbol. There is a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs.
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.
Rome may be home to the Vatican, but not everyone who lives - or dies - there is Catholic. In fact, with the many English travelers coming through Rome on the Grand Tour, followed by the many writers and artists who moved to Rome over the years, a cemetery for non-Catholics was required.
The first burial in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome was in 1738. It’s also commonly called the Cemetery of the English (Cimitero degli Inglesi), although the official name is now “Non-Catholic Cemetery,” with graves for anyone who isn’t Catholic - not just Protestants or the English.
Of course, the moniker “Cemetery of the English” is understandable, given some of the graves located here. The most famous are John Keats (1821) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822). Other notable graves include American poet Gregory Corso, Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, and sons of both Goethe and of Percy and Mary Shelley.
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.
Yes, Rome has a zoo. It is a zoological garden with more than 1,000 animals located on the original site of the Villa Borghese. Open since 1911, it began as a place to collect and display animals in danger of extinction. Paths winding through the park allow visitors to observe lions, elephants, tigers, monkeys, and giraffes, among others. There is also a small barnyard area with goats, pigs, cows, and other livestock. Most notably the bio-park is home to a rare Kleinmann’s tortoise, which was rescued from a smuggler's suitcase in 2005.
Bioparco has been renovated and renamed from its original construction to illustrate its commitment to ecological practices and scientific knowledge. There is a small lake with seating to relax as well as a children’s area. All in all there are more than 200 species on the 17 hectares of zoo land here. It is one of Europe’s oldest zoos still in operation.
Not to be confused with Florence's Palazzo Corsini, Rome's own Palazzo Corsini and the land it sits on changed hands many times over the centuries before coming to house the offices of the National Academy of Science and first-floor Corsini Gallery as it does today. Surrounded by formal gardens, the Baroque palace's gallery exhibits Italian art with Renaissance showstoppers such as Caravaggio's St John the Baptist (1606), St Sebastian (1614) by Rubens and works by Guido Reni, Fra'Angelico and Carracci. In addition, late 18th-century pieces, historical art and landscape paintings are included.
Otherwise known as the National Gallery of Antique Art or the Galleria Corsini, this gallery is somewhat of a hidden gem with its light crowds and extensive collection of ancient art. Travelers will love exploring the manicured grounds and can note that the gallery's Roman sister collections include Palazzo Barberini and Galleria Borghese.
More Things to Do in Rome
Having just opened in 2014, Cinecitta World is Italy’s newest amusement park and the largest film studio in Europe. Dedicated solely to film and entertainment, eight film sets, four theaters, and twenty attractions comprise the main area. The park was built in the Castel Romano complex atop former a film studio, and remains an homage to great Italian cinema produced here in the 1960s. Films such as Gangs of New York, Ben-Hur, and Dante's Inferno were brought to life in this space.
Visitors today are immersed in the experience of filmmaking, having the chance to go behind-the-scenes in former and imagined movie sets. Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone created the soundtrack for the Western themed set, and designer and art director Dante Ferretti completed the initial drawing plans. The idea is that the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred during the experience. The park also has two rollercoasters and live themed shows daily.
Featuring Greek and Roman antiquities that once belonged to Rome’s nobility, the Palazzo Altemps offers a glimpse into the past — as well as into Rome’s Renaissance. The collection contains many marble statues in addition to frescoes, mosaics, and intricately decorated ceilings. Most famously it also houses the Ludovisi art collection. Curated by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in the 17th century, it includes such classical pieces as Trono Ludovisi (Ludovisi Throne), a carved marble block with a relief of the goddess Venus. The Galata Suicida (Gaul’s Suicide) is another grouping of masterful statues that is a highlight for many.
Aside from the Roman pieces there is also a fine Egyptian collection on display featuring many Eastern antiquities. The building itself features a large scenic courtyard and many rooms filled with classical sculpture. The 15th century palazzo is one of four buildings across the city that make up the National Roman Museum.
Officially called the Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round, Santo Stefano Rotondo gets its more commonly-known nickname from its shape – it's one of the world's oldest and largest circular churches.
The church was built in the 5th century, and although it was altered in the 6th and 7th centuries and then quite drastically in the 15th century, the central part of the church remains the original 5th century design. In addition to the church's shape, the other main attraction are the gruesome frescoes that line the outer wall. There are 34 scenes of martyrdom depicted, painted in the 16th century, each with a brief explanation of who was martyred and who gave the order.
Amid the ancient ruins and Renaissance frescos of Rome is MAXXI, Italy’s first national contemporary art museum—and a welcome change of pace. True to its name, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts (Museo Nazionale Delle Arti del XXI Secolo) features over 300 artworks from 1970 on and by artists around the world, like the avant-garde sculptures of Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, and includes a second space dedicated solely to contemporary architecture. Changing exhibits and an array of paintings, installations, video art and photography put a modern twist on the Eternal City’s art scene, with the added benefit of skipping the crowds found at Rome’s more historic sites.
Given its location on the outskirts of the city center (and its lack of mention of any of the four Ninja Turtles’ names), MAXXI is often overlooked by tourists, offering art buffs the chance to stroll its dynamic 300-foot-long (90-meter) galleries at leisure.
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.
Some call the entire Palatine Hill an open-air museum, but there's an actual Palatine Museum set among the ruins, too.
Most of the appeal of a visit to the Palatine Hill is to walk through the ancient Roman ruins, imagining what it might have been like to live and work in them 2,000 years ago. Besides the structures themselves and the frescoes that are forever adhered to the walls, the items that archaeologists have recovered during excavations of the site are often put into the Palatine Museum. Some pieces in the museum's collection date from well before the city of Rome was officially founded, while most of the artifacts date to the 1st and 2nd century.
Things to do near Rome
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