There are couple of famous sayings about Rome. “All roads lead to Rome” and “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Sound advice when you are visiting this ancient city. There is so much to see and do it is hard to know where to start. There are piazzas, churches, and famous sights everywhere waiting to be explored, but these are a few that shouldn’t be missed.
St. Peters Square – Whether you are a Catholic or not, at the top of any list of things to do in Rome must be to see the Pope. Sunday at noon is when the Pope says the Angelus prayer to the adoring crowds below him in the square. There is also a general audience in the Pope VI auditorium on a Wednesday morning. Go to the Vatican’s Bronze Door at about 9 am and ask the Swiss Guard for tickets. If you can’t attend in person, luckily the Pope has moved into the digital age and his addresses can be heard online at www.radiovaticana.org
Trevi Fountain – Tradition says you must throw a coin into the water of this glorious fountain to make sure you return to the Eternal City. It does get crowded in the piazza, but that is also part of the attraction of this incredibly flamboyant work of art. The Baroque statue depicts the Tritons and Neptune’s chariot being pulled by two horses. This is a beautiful place in the daytime, but it’s really spectacular at night when it is lit up.
Colosseum – The Colosseum was built in the 1st Century AD as a place for Romans to gather and enjoy life. This massive amphitheater was a feat of ancient architecture and stood tall and strong, representing the same power as the Roman Empire itself. When Emperor Nero committed suicide, his successor, Emperor Vespasian, wanted to show the citizens of Rome he was building something for them as Nero had only spent money on himself which led to his untimely death.
In 80 AD, the Colosseum was completed and 100 days of games followed watched by an audience of 50,000. It is easy to sit on one of the stone benches, close your eyes, and hear the roar of the crowds and lions, imagining the battles as those who were led into the arena fought to the death.
Make sure you take time to explore the hallways and corridors below the ground where the preparations were made for the fights and the gladiators had time to think of what was ahead of them. There are also views of the city to be had from the newly opened higher areas of the Colosseum as well.
The Vatican Museum – Any visit to Rome would not be complete without going to the Vatican Museums. There is so much to see it would be impossible to list them, but the collections of art, statues, and artifacts are some of the best in the world.
There are Raphael’s Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and an Egyptian Museum, but the main attraction has to be the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s famous ceiling that he painted from 1508 to 1512 is just breath-taking. The Old and New Testaments are shown in the most magnificent colors along with original sin and the creation of Adam.
Villa dei Quintili – The Via Appia is famous as a road leading into Rome, and along here is the extremely lavish Villa of the Quintili. The Quintili brothers built the villa in 151 AD in the Roman countryside when Marcus Aurelius ruled. The next Emperor, Commodus, was not quite so lenient and executed the brothers to get his hands on the villa.
The villa is still in a very good state of preservation and the original thermal baths can still be seen, as can many of the original buildings.
Pantheon – The famous temple of Rome was built in 25 BC by Marcus Agrippa for the many gods of Rome. A century and a half later, it was destroyed by fire and the structure we see today was built in 125 AD. Eventually, the Pantheon was converted to a church in 609 AD and this helped keep the building safe from later destruction.
It is quite unbelievable how the men of the Roman Empire managed to create the domed roof with its oculus (opening) at the top. Until the 15th Century, it was the biggest dome in the world and it still remains the biggest unreinforced solid concrete dome at just under 44 meters in diameter.
Gianicolo – From here, there are some of the best views of the city, but it is not included as one of Rome’s seven hills as it is actually outside the ancient city. Standing to the west of the Tiber and just above the Vatican, the Gianicolo is a place to stand and absorb the absolute silence. However, the silence is broken rather loudly every day by a single cannon blast. This tradition has been going on since the 19th Century so that the citizens know the exact time once a day.
Ostia Antica – Hop on the train and only half an hour from the center of Rome there is Ostia Antica. This amazing Roman site is hardly ever mentioned, but for hundreds of years, it was the main port and gateway to the city. Dating back to the 4th Century BC, the ancient ruins here can be explored in relative peace without the crowds of Pompeii.
The buildings are well-preserved with a Roman theater, temples, the oldest Synagogue in Europe, shops, houses, and much more. An example of a Roman public toilet can be found here, but take heart: if you need the toilet, the on-site museum does have some more modern conveniences!