10 Best Historical Sites in Rome – Last Minute City Breaks

10 Best Historical Sites in Rome

 

The eternal city of Rome was born on the 21st April, 753 BC which was the feast of Pales, protector of the shepherds.  It is believed that the name comes from the Etruscan Rumon, meaning river, which would translate as ‘city on the river.’

It is said that all roads lead to Rome and the Appian Way is the most famous of all, first built around 300 BC and extended to the port of Brindisi around 190 BC for military purposes. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus.

The city is divided into districts – the Colosseo is the most central, where you will find the most visited site in Rome, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum.  As you wander through this exhilarating city, you will discover cobbled lanes, charming hidden corners, vibrant colours and breathe in the sense of all the significant historical events that have taken place here.

Rome is full of priceless treasures, world-class museums, artistic masterpieces, mosaics, and frescoes all waiting for your discovery.  It is a beautiful and unique city, 3000 years in the making and a place you should not miss.

COLOSSEUM

colosseum

Construction was started on the Colosseum in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people and completed almost 10 years later. Titus, his son, opened the Colosseum in AD 80 with 100 days of games.  It is the largest amphitheatre in the world and could hold up to 50,000 spectators.  Games and grand spectacles, such as mock sea battles were held here – gladiators fought each other and also pitted their strength against savage animals.  It remains a symbol of Rome and her long and glorious past.

The Arch of Constantine stands proudly close by to honour Emperor Constantine after his victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312.

PANTHEON

PANTHEON

The Pantheon is the second most visited site in Rome.  It started out as a pagan temple 2000 years ago, believed to have been built by Marcus Agrippa.  It remains impressive even though its bronze roof and tiles were stripped away and after being melted down formed the canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s, as well as cannons.  Damaged by fire in AD 80, the Pantheon was rebuilt.  The remarkable 43-meter dome hangs suspended with no visible support (hidden inside the walls).  Light enters from the 9-meter central opening giving a beautiful, harmonious effect.  In AD 609 it was converted into a church by Pope Boniface IV who dedicated it to the Virgin and Christian martyrs.  It is a burial place of kings as well as the famous artist Raphael.

ROMAN FORUM

ROMAN FORUM

Walking through the Roman Forum or Foro Romano is to step back 2000 years in time and yet it lies at the heart of today’s Rome, close to the Colosseum.  It was here that the very fate of Europe was settled in this center of political and religious life.  The original glory is only hinted at by what is left standing, but the sense of history is impressive.  You should make a point of seeing the following temples: Antoninus Pius, Castor, and Pollux, Vesta and Saturn plus the Arches of Septimus Severus and Titus and the Curia or Senate House.

VATICAN CITY

VATICAN CITY

The Vatican lies in an area of less than half a square kilometer and is the smallest independent state in the world.  It contains the palace, gardens, St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the museums and the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel contains the greatest art of all time, namely Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece which took him four long, lonely years to finish from 1508-12.  It is a remarkable achievement for one man as Goeth remarked.  The name comes from Pope Sixtus IV or Sisto in Italian.  The chapel has the exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as outlined in the Old Testament.  Many other Renaissance artists contributed, such as Botticelli, Rosselli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino.

Next door is the mother church of Catholic faith, St. Peter’s Basilica, which was commissioned by Emperor Constantine in 324.  Dedicated to St. Peter, it is built on the supposed site of his crucifixion, where he was nailed upside down in AD 64 by order of Emperor Nero.

Michelangelo’s stunning statue, La Pieta is housed here.  The church is immense – the Statue of Liberty could fit inside.  The present church was built between 1506 and 1616 after the original was damaged in 846 by Saracens.  Many architects worked on this site, Michelangelo designed the dome.  Bernini designed St. Peter’s Square which is elliptic in shape.  It is here that the faithful gather to hear the Pope speak.  At the centre is an Egyptian obelisk brought from Egypt during the reign of Emperor Caligula in AD 37 but later moved to its present location.

The Vatican Museums started in the 16th century, are also here containing many famous works such as Da Vinci’s St. Jerome, the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus and the Trinity Sarcophagus.  You should also see the spiral staircase and the Raphael Rooms.

TREVI FOUNTAIN

TREVI FOUNTAIN

The famous Trevi Fountain is the third most visited attraction in Rome.  It was constructed in 1762, designed by Nicola Salvi for Pope Clement XII.  It portrays the sea god Neptune with two Tritons. It was here that the ancient Aqua Virgo aqueduct terminated at the junction of three roads or ‘tre vie’ which was designed by Agrippa.  It is said that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome – the money is collected for charities.  You cannot leave the city without a visit here!

SPANISH STEPS

SPANISH STEPS

The Spanish Steps (138) – were in fact paid for by the French diplomat Etienne Gueffier to lead up to the French church of Trinita Dei Monti.  The church was begun by Louis XII in 1502.  The steps were completed in 1726, designed by Francesco de Sanctis and named after the square at the base.  At the corner on the right as you ascend is the English poet, John Keats house where he lived and died in 1821 which is now a museum.

The steps are still a famous meeting place dating back to the 17th century when artists gathered there to find beautiful women to be their models.

CIRCUS MAXIMUS

CIRCUS MAXIMUS

The Circus Maximus was the largest sports arena in the world in Imperial ages and had a seating capacity of over 300,000.  It was famous for chariot races in particular, where four teams took part in each race with an identifying colour.  These teams were so popular they ended up becoming political parties. Prizes were outstanding, Diocles, the best charioteer, retired with the equivalent of 7 million Euros today!

A fire destroyed the arena in AD 64, and now the area is used for concerts, art exhibitions, and other cultural events.  A restored site has recently been uncovered where you can visit arched walkways, excavated ancient shops and a cobbled road.

The most infamous legend is that Romulus, the founder of Rome, brought abducted women from the Sabine tribe here to marry Romans. ‘The Rape of the Sabines’ resulted in the first Roman families who eventually built the city.

PIAZZA NAVONA

PIAZZA NAVONA

The Baroque style square of Piazza Navona is where the Roman stadium built by Emperor Domitian in AD 86 used to stand.  It boasted an even larger arena than the Colosseum and was used for sporting events such as chariot races and festivals.  Today it contains three beautiful fountains – the most spectacular is Fontana di Fiumi by Bernini.  It represents the four rivers thought to be the largest on each of the known continents at the time– figures represent each:  the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata.  It is a popular site to watch passersby and street performers while you sip an espresso or cappuccino.

CATACOMBS OF SAN DOMITILLA

CATACOMBS OF SAN DOMITILLA

Although there are the Catacombs of San Callisto and San Sebastiano, the largest and most impressive are the 15 kilometers of underground chambers of San Domitilla.  The catacombs are dedicated to the martyrs who are entombed there: Nereus and Achilleus.  There are over 80 painted tombs, a sunken 4th-century church and early Christian artwork, including a 2nd-century fresco of The Last Supper.

BATHS OF CARACALLA

BATHS OF CARACALLA

The Baths of Caracalla completed in 216 were not only hot and cold baths but also contained a swimming pool, dry and steam saunas, sports centre, gymnastics and social areas, libraries, hairdressers, and shops.  This amazing structure had huge halls with domes and vaulting supported by enormous columns and could hold up to 1,500 people.  There is still evidence of the mosaics and frescoes even now.

During the summer you can see Rome’s best operas and ballets performed at the baths.

Open daily 9:00-18:30 except Monday when it closes at 14:00.  If you have an EU passport, you will only have to pay E3 instead of E6.

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