Around Rome.jpg

Sites in tucked away places

Rome has many treasures!!!

On the North Side:

Villa Giulia Museo Nazionale Etrusco (Etruscan Museum, west of Museo Borghese in Park). Tues-Sun 09:00-19:00; closed Mon, 06-320-1951

Etruscan (c.600 BCE) contributions include the “husband and wife banqueting” (atop their sarcophagus!), Apollo from Veio, and painting and statuary from cultic sites.


Borghese Gallery (north beyond walls; say “Bor-GAY-zay”). Metro: Spagna and 15 minute walk in the park; Tues-Sun 09:00-21:00; closed MON.; Guilded tours offered in English 09:10. Reservations essential on internet or 06-32810 (if you get Italian, press “2” for English. Get the reservation claim number. Two hour visits only allowed, allow 30 mins. Minimum for Pinacoteca upstairs; shop and cafeteria not included in time. Get tickets below in center front of building, where the info, WC and shop. This stately villa of Cardinal Borghese was delicately set in a garden, filled with frescoes, marble and statuary that will move any art student!


The Borghese Museum features:

Portico: The Roman reliefs (at both ends) are topped with panels by Michelangelo. The center of the Baroque movement can be felt in this house.

Main hall (center room): Five Roman mosaics decorate the floor. Look for the gladiators fighting with the Greek “theta” beside the dead ones. Their names are telling: “Licentious, Cupid, Serpent, etc.” The wall sculpture of the horse falling had a rider added by Peitro Bernini (the dad).

Room 1: (Begin right and follow counterclockwise around the outer rooms) Pauline, sister of Napolean Bonaparte, stripped nearly nude for Canova (1808) sending shockwaves across Europe! When asked, “How could you?” She replied, “The room wasn’t cold!” The pose is a Venus, the piece is pure white marble, a real beauty! This IS Neoclassicism (“steal the pose, symbolism and style, add your own subject!”)

Room 2: Bernini’s David (1624) is a major hit! The comparison between the “Labors of Hercules (160 CE) and the movement of David; along with the more mature, active and manly David are the birth of Baroque. (Movement and flow is essential; realism is helpful!)

Room 3: Take a moment and observe Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” (1625) and observe how the Cupid arrow smitten Apollo is driven while Daphne wants no part of it! She begins to take root and turn into a tree! All Apollo gets in the end is a handful of leaves. This work is delicate, as much air as stone! Note how he captures the emotional flash point. Note the point, this shows a lot of skin, but little genetalia!

Room 4 (center rear): Bernini’s “Rape of Proserpine (1622), carved in Carrara marble (ivory and very delicate) is a masterpiece of emotion. Pluto (underworld) caught the daughter of the earth goddess and brought her down to show her off. His three-headed dog (Cerberus) barks the announcement. She pushes him away. Look at his hand digging in her leg! Look at her tears as she struggles. Don’t miss the “Diana the Huntress” contrapossto (most weight on one foot) from the C2 BCE, an an ancient inspiration to Bernini’s baroque school. In the room you will see Ivory Carrara marble, Diana’s white marble, purple porphyry (emperors), colored marble floors. All this is marble in its rainbow of colors (heated ancient sea beds according to geological theory).

Room 6: Bernini’s Aeneas (Enea, 1620) When Aeneas’ Troy is in flames he takes off with his three most important things: his elderly father, his son and his stuff (in their hands) on his way to found Rome. Look at their expressions, overwhelmed in thought. The eternal flame (in the son’s hand) will end up in the Temple of Vesta. Bernini was a teen when he started on this, so this was a learning piece, where his dad probably showed him techniques, etc. The flesh of the old, young and child are an interesting study of their own. The “static” feeling was his inexperience.

Room 7: Look at the vast styles in this room, and you will understand the eclectic nature of the Cardinal’s tastes. He wanted to create a musical and artistic “theatre of the universe”.

Go outside, downstairs to the room you began in, then walk up the stairs to the Pinacoteca (you get 30 minutes only!)

Room 8: Caravaggio: Look for his paintings (1571-1610). He is known for bringing a gritty realism to the angels, saints, gods and sinners of his work. His Bacchus (a self portrait), David and Goliath (whose head is a self portrait) right down to the naked baby Jesus, he went for the realistic.

Room 9: Raphael’s Jesus taken from the cross shows Mary fainting in perfect geometric proportions. Look at the study in grief, responsibility and pain.

Room 10: Corregio’s “Danae” is a woman conceiving from Zeus, with cupid helping move the covers. Her eyes are fixed on the conception. This is a funny piece for a Cardinal! Borghese felt that passion was also something that should be celebrated!

Room 14: Bust of Cardinal Borghese (Bernini, 1632) gives us a place to say “grazie” to the sponsor of the show! Check out the bust of Pope Paul V (Borghese’s uncle), who hired Lorenzo Bernini’s dad, Pietro. The pope knew the son had talent but… It is worth looking at Bernini’s self-portraits in paint (1623 and 1630-35). He knew canvas like he knew stone. There is a marked improvement from the early to the latter.

Room 20: Titian’s (Tiziano Vecello)”Sacred and Profane Love” shows a respectable married woman with her twin sister and Baby cupid playing between. There is a subtle message here” - earth and heaven are two sides of one coin.

Piazza del Poppolo (“of the people” - Metro: Flaminio): The gateway to medieval Rome, the car-less square is adorned with an obelisk brought by Augustus to Rome (from Egypt). It once stood at the Circus Maximus.

St. Mary del Poppolo Free; Mon-Sat. 07:00-12:00, 16:00-19:00; Sun 08:00-13:30, 16:30-19:30. This church houses Raphael’s Chigi (ki-gi) Chapel (third chapel on left) and two Caravaggio’s of the left of the altar.

Via del Corso (Piazza del Poppolo to Piazza Venezia): Straight since Roman times, this is the street to walk after 18:00 (and along Via Condotti) if you want to see the fashionable Roman.

Ara Pacis and the Augustus Mausoleum (beside Ponte Cavour) – not yet re-opened to the public, this was the altar that signified the beginning of “Pax Romana” inaugurated in 9 BCE by Augustus, after he defeated Gaul and Spain. It contains some excellent art likenesses of the Imperial family.

Trinita De’ Monti or “Spanish Steps” at Piazza di Spagna (Metro: spagna; north inside walls). The area was cleared below the Church of the Holy Trinity (1495) with its impressive twin tower façade and the “Barcaccia” fountain - built in 1629 by Pietro Bernini (father of the great sculptor). The 137 steps were added to connect the passageway to the church (1722) from a property that was once the Spanish embassy (hence the name “Spanish steps”, though the building was financed by a French ambassador!), and finally the obelisk was discovered in 1808 in the gardens of Sallust, and brought to this place. Romantic musicians and poets “hung out” here (Keats, Wagner, Goethe and others) as this was an “elite” area in their day. (BTW: facing the steps, turn right and walk a block to the most lavish McDonald’s!) Go to the top of the steps at sunset for your skyline picture!

Cappuccin Crypt (Metro: Barbarini). Donation, Fri-Wed 09:00-12:00, 15:00-18:00, closed Thur. Below the Santa Maria della Immaculata Concezione Church on Via Veneto are the displayed bones of over 4,000 monks who died in the C16th-19th CE. The soil in the crypt came from Jerusalem. In the church, the Caravaggio of St. Francis is worth the time!

Via Veneto: the hip center of the 1960’s town still has the Amex office, the American Embassy, and some very good cafes. (Used to be called the “Ve-ve”).

Trevi Fountain (center north). Designed by the architect Niccolo Salvi (1735) in the time of Clement XII, it was adorned with a number of sculptures from the school of Bernini. The fountain is 85 feet wide and 65 feet high, and has become well known - but the Palazzo Poli (the building behind it) is lost in the decoration. The water has been “brought to you by the great aqueducts of Rome”. The theme is of the mythical Titan “Ocean” (Neptune) sitting atop a scallop chariot drawn by Sea Horses. Legend has it that those whoever drinks the water (now – one who throws in a coin over his shoulder) will assure his or her return to Rome.

West Side:

Vatican City (West side; Metro: Ottaviano – S. Pietro) Check out! Need help? There is a TI to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica, open Mon-Sat 08:30-18:30, closed Sunday. Here’s the place to book a free 90-minute Basilica tour (book the day before). The spiritual center of Catholicism, this has been the residence of the popes since 1377, since the Pontifical court returned from Avignon, France (1309-1377). Before 1309, the Pope held mass at the Lateran. The building encompasses the original Constantinian structure (C4) that housed the tomb of St. Peter, who was reported martyred at site of the “Tempietto” (now a Doric structure beside the San Pietro in Montorio Church is Trastevere - cp. John 21:18-19). Nearly 270 Popes have sat upon the throne of St. Peter. Vatican City is an independent state of about 100 acres (since 1929) ruled by the Pope.

St. Peter’s Square. The square is 240 meters wide and 340 meters long. In the center stands a 25 meter high obelisk with cross atop (rumored to have a piece of Helena’s cross relic within). The square, the surrounding colonnade and the 140 statues of Saints were designed by Bernini.

St. Peter’s Basilica. Modest Dress required! Open daily 07:00-19:00; Public Invited Mass at 17:00 M-Sat; 17:45 Sunday; Come at 07:00 and see the place with very few people! Climb the dome (08:00-18:00) by taking the elevator – usually inside and left ($4) and then walking 300 steps, it is worth the trip! By far the most imposing church in Christendom (6 acres, holds 95,000 worshippers, the church covers the area of the traditional tomb of St. Peter, who was martyred before the destruction of Jerusalem (probably about 65 CE) in the Circus of Nero. Excavations in the 1940’s and 50’s confirm the remains of the Circus are below the south side of the church. In addition, a cemetery of C1 CE Romans was exposed beneath the church. One particular funerary monument was examined and the bones of an elderly man were examined, and later declared to be those of St. Peter by Pope Paul VI. Excavations further support the first shrine built here was likely in the middle of the C2 CE (in contrast to the tradition that it was only 25 years after Peter’s death). The Constantinian church was made with 86 marble columns according to a basilica plan, with twin side aisles. That original Basilica was adorned with mosaics and frescoes, and was the site of the crowning of Charlesmagne in 800 CE. That structure showed signs of weakening and was replaced (by the current building) in a 175-year building project that began in the C15th CE under the auspices of Pope Nicolas V. In respect for the older structure, some features were incorporated into this structure (particularly in the grotto areas). In addition, the C15 bronze central doors were kept. Giotto’s mosaic of “Jesus walking on the water” was moved from the old Basilica to the typanaum above the central entrance. The “baldacchino” (the seven-story bronze canopy) inside was designed by Bernini. Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” is inside on the right. Though each architect that worked on the project over 175 years left his mark, three left were very influencial: Bramante (master plan design);  Michelangelo (the huge dome design), and Bernini (the altar, interior decoration and Piazza outside). The grottos below are the resting place of many a pope and important church figure. The dome is the largest anywhere, and the tallest building allowed in the city area.

The Vatican Palace (Museums and Chapels) Metro: Cipro-Museo-Vaticani. Mon-Fri 08:45-13:45; Sat 08:45-13:45, closed Sun except the last Sun of month (free). Sistine Chapel closes :30 before Museum. Afternoons are best. Taxis from the square take 15 minutes, say: “moo-ZAY-ee vah-tee-KAHN-ee”. Audioguides are available for about $5. DON’T exchange money here! Adjacent to the Basilica is the Papal Residence. Most of the building is open to the public, with the exception of the Pope’s apartment. The important features of the palace are the:

Vatican Museums that display the Gregorian collection of Pagan Greco-Roman art, the Vatican Pictorial Gallery (works include da Vinci, Raphael and many others). A special feature includes the “Stanza and Loggia of Raphael” (rooms covered with frescoes by Raphael.

Sistine Chapel. Pope Sixtus IV commissioned Giovanni de’ Dolci to build the chapel (1470).The frescoes were begun in 1481, and in 1508 Julius II commissioned young Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. He began in May 1508 and finished November 2, 1512. Three years later he began “The Last Judgment”. In the 1980 and early 90’s the chapel was restored.

Vatican Library houses over 60,000 manuscripts and 1,000,000 books, many of which are priceless.

Castello San Angello. When power and piety failed, sometimes the Popes took refuge in a complex near to the Vatican. An imposing structure on the west bank of the Tiber, this complex once included the “Imperial Tomb of Hadrian”. It was fortified and used as a castle. Clemente VII fled to this castle during the sacking of the city by Emperor Carlo V (1527). Today it houses a military and art museum.

Trastevere: This area has the look of medieval Rome, but has always been the “working class” Roman. The Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches (C4 CE) and though the current fountain in C17th CE, it replaces one of the oldest fountains in the city. The fragments on the portico are of C12th CE origin, but the granite columns are from a Roman temple. The Cavallini (c. 1300) below the altar looks like it is Renaissance art, but is way ahead of its time!

Center City:

Pantheon (central area of medieval city.) Free; Mon-Sat. 08:30-19:30; Sun 09:00-13:00, 14:00-18:00, tel. 06-6830-0230. This ancient temple is the only classical monument still intact and well worth a visit! Erected in 27 BCE by Agrippa and dedicated to the Julia family. The structure was remodeled by Hadrian in 117-129 CE. Since it became a church to the martyrs after the Edict of Milan, nobody quarried it, and barbarians left it alone. The portico is called “Romes umbrella” because a huge crowd hides here when it rains! The place has HUGE monolithic columns (largest in Italy – brought from Egypt!) The original bronze doors are still used! The dome is 142 feet high and wide (biggest until the Renaissance). Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s is higher but a foot smaller! During the Renaissance, Brunelleschi got permission to sample the material on the dome (concrete) and the whole is still near the door (to the right of the entrance). Now the monument contains the tombs of Raphael and the first two kings of united Italy. The steps outside show Rome has risen five meters since the construction of the Pantheon! Beautifully floodlit at night! Due north of Parthenon are two famous Gelateria, the most acclaimed at Via della Maddalena 21 called Gelateria della Palma.

Piazza Colonna: A large column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius (emperor with a philosophy degree c. 160 CE) adorns the Piazza next to the Prime Ministerial residence (can’t miss it!)

San Luigi dei Francesi (due east of Piazza Navona). Free, Fri-Wed. 07:30-12:30; 15:30-19:00; Thur. 07:30-12:30. Mass at 07:30 and 19:00, modest dress. This is a magnificent chapel painted by Caravaggio!

Santa Maria sopra Minerva (1 block southeast of Pantheon). The Bernini statue of the elephant carrying an obelisk marks the square. Built when Rome was at a low point, the GOTHIC (only one!) church is a Dominican sanctuary built over (sopra) the pagan Minerva temple. The high water mark on the right of the door and on the lower frescoes marks the last flood (1870) before the Tiber was contained. St. Catherine’s body is under the altar (head in Siena). Michelangelo’s Christ Bears the Cross is left of the altar. The face was done by a student, the body a “pumped up” version of Jesus. Fra Angelico is buried nearer the door on the left side. The south transcept (right) is Filippo Lippi’s “Life of St. Thomas Aquinas” scenes.

Chiesa di St. Ignazio (full block east of Pantheon). This chapel features a fake “painted on” dome inside and an “over the top” Baroque approach to artwork!

Gesu Church (south side of Vittorio Emmauelle St.). Daily 06:00-12:30, 16:00-19:15. Home of the Jesuits, the famous “Counter Reformation team” of the Catholic church. Note the “all roads to heaven pass through Rome approach to Baroque church art.

Largo Argentina (Sacred Area excavations, now cat hospice!) This is near the spot Julius Caesar was killed! Now the cats are cared for here by “volunteers”. The excavation is hard to understand, but uncovered one of the oldest known areas of ruins in the city.

Piazza Navona (due west of Pantheon). Preserving the original design of the Circus of Domitian (Brother of Titus, Emperor between 81-96 CE), and was called the Agonal Circus. It is one of the largest squares in the city, and is decorated by three fountains. The center fountain was a work of the master Bernini, and features the four statues of the four great rivers: Danube, Ganges (India), Nile and Rio de la Plata (Estuary east of Argentina near Buenos Aires). Now a sea of Italians swirl around the Bernini fountain. Tre Scalini café (left of obelisk) is a world famous ice cream and chocoholic spot!

Capitoline, Palatine and Colosseum area: Piazza Venezia was the great square filled with fascists that chanted for Mussolini in the 30’s, but eventually hung him from a meat hook in Milan (15 years later)!

Monument to Victor Emanuelle II (northwest of the Colosseum). The “Vittoriano” was designed by Guiseppi Sacconi to celebrate Italian union under Victor Emanuelle II of Savoia, the first King of Italy (post-1861). It was begun in 1855 and dedicated 1911 (completed 1935). A neoclassical marvel, it houses the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” (a WW I addition) under the statue of Rome. Known by younger Romans as “the wedding cake” or “the dentures” it is stark white marble that is not often thought so well of. Good view from the stairs, look up the Via del Corso at the boulevard that divides the city.

 “Il Campidiglio” Capitol Hill (central north of Forum; Metro: Colosseo). Museum: Tue-Fri 09:00-19:00; free last Sun of month; Sat 09:30-23:00; closed Mon. Euro 8. Palazzo dei Conservatorio has audioguides at small fee. The area once acted as an acropolis for the Republican Rome, with the Temple of Jupiter complex – a political and religious center of the city. It is still the center of the government. The place is now for the Mayor and two museums. Michelangelo designed the capitol square between 1534 and 1549. He built them according to the “giant order” to make the two stories feel like one colossal story. Note the welcoming feeling of the statues. The grand staircase (the “Cordonata”) was designed (Michelangelo) with the entry of Emperor Charles V (1536) in mind. On the left of the square is the Capitoline Museum (with its impressive sculpture collection). The main building is the Senate Chamber. Take a good picture of the Forum ruins from the side of the hill of the Mayoral palace! Also check out the “nose” fountain (“il nasone”) where cheap guys take out their dates for “a drink”. The museum is worth a visit. It encompaases two buildings (Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo) connected by a passage underground.

Palazzo dei Conservatori is one of the oldest museums in the world (500 yrs.) Note in the courtyard the giant chunks of Constantine statue that used to be whole and in the Basilica of Constantine (Forum). The Capitoline Wolf (Romulus and Remus with the Wolf; kids added in Renaissance) are located inside. Michelangelo incorporated the equestrian Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE) statue - the only equestrian statue to survive the ancient forum intact (restored in 1981 and moved to the ground floor of the Capitol Museum to protect it). Take a close look at the “Boy Extracting a Thorn” sculpture and “Commodus as Hercules”. The café upstairs has a nice view, especially at sunset. (To get to the other museum, follow the signs for “tabularium” to Palazzo Nuovo, home of the portrait busts.

 Palazzo Nuovo: The “must sees” include the “Dying Gaul”(first floor) and “Capitoline Venus (first floor) and the Marcus Aurelius equestrian (spared because it was mistaken for Constantine) original.

Trajan’s Column, market and Forum: With a long narration of nearly 2,500 figures, this forty-meter column tells the story of the Dacian victory (103 CE) in present-day Romania. Once set upon the ashed of Trajan and wife, today it is topped with St. Peter. The column marked Trajan’s forum, built to accommodate the 1 million plus shoppers in the city at that time. Trajan’s market still has a few interesting features.

Palatine Hill (central north of Forum; Metro: Colosseo). Daily 09:00-15:00. The original housing district of Rome (now under corrugated roof in the corner – called the Quadrata (Iron Age houses including the “House of Romulus”) was later replaced by Imperial headquarters. We get our word “palace” from this hill! The Forum was tucked along the lower slope (to the north of the hill) of this hill and the south slope of Capitoline Hill (the hill located north of the Palatine Hill). One ancient tradition of Rome holds that Romulus drew a “sacred line” from the base of this hill to define the city. It is generally not considered worth the entrance fee to look closely.

Forum (Arch of Titus, Sept. Severus; Metro: Colosseo). Daily 09:00-15:00.

This area is a tough one to visit and make sense of the first time. It has that “some assembly required” feeling – but without most of the pieces. It takes a bit of time and patience to understand, but the area is important! From the time of the Republic through the Imperial era, this was the heart of Rome. Several areas recall Augustus, Trajan (Trajan’s column: consisting of 19 blocks of marble with a “helicoidal band” documenting the Dacian War of Trajan) and the passage from the Republic to the Empire. The area was severely damaged by fire in 64 (Nero) and later in 283 (Diocletian) but was restored each time. In the C4 CE, the area deteriorated as the importance of Constantinople grew and the vulnerability of Rome became apparent. The edge of the Forum is marked today by the Arch of Constantine (315) built by Senatorial decree on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Emperor, in honor of his Milvian Bridge victory over Maxentius (312). Special sites inside include:

·         Arch of Titus: (with a drinking fountain opposite) overlooks the “Via Sacra” (a slanted Cardo reminiscent of the Sacred Way of Athens). The Via Sacra cuts through from the Forum to Capitoline Hill. Look closely and you can see the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple and the carrying away of the victuals.

·         Basilica of Constantine: Once huge and marble decorated, now only a few arches of recess apses exist today.

·         House of the Vestal Virgins: keeping the eternal flame lit, these ladies are marked by a lined courtyard.

·         Basilica Julia: A first century law court is in the corner opposite the Curia. Note the games in the pavement.

·         Arch of Septimus Severus (200 CE): This arch celebrates military victories. In front, the “Lapis Niger” stone covers the legendary tomb of Romulus. Left of the arch is the “rostra” where speakers would utter, “Friends, Romans, countryman..”

·         Curia: This plain brick building was the place of the Senate (isn’t that worth a peak?) The marble is gone, but the structure is mostly intact.

·         Basilica Aemilia (C2 BCE: This pre-Christian Basilica design was the hall type that later became the standard for churches everywhere.

Mammertine Prison (near Arch of Septimus Severus at Forum). Daily 09:00-12:30, 14:30-18:30; Donation.

This 2500 year-old cistern was used as a prison during the period of Peter and Paul’s captivity and martyrdom causing some to feel they were here. This is a sobering place. When you get inside, look up at the whole in the ceiling, the original “lowering place” to the floor far below you! You will find a list of people and how they died inside, as well as legendary places to see the face of Peter in the wall, and a miraculous fount area that Peter used to baptize prisoners in another tradition.

San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains Church); Metro: Cavour. Free; Mon-Sat. 07:00-12:30; 15:30-19:00; modest dress. Originally erected in C5 CE, the church is most famous for the Michelangelo “Moses” statue commissioned by Pope Julius II for his planned massive tomb in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica. Julius died after only this one was complete (and the unfinished Rachel and Leah –also here; “Prisoners” now in Accademia in Florence; “Slaves” now in Paris). The tomb was never erected. Look carefully at the Moses. It took (off and on) 30 years of “fitful work” of the artist.

 Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden house) Metro: Colosseo. Wed-Mon. 09:00-19:45 (closed Tues); Reservations required, 30 people enter every 15 minutes with Italian escort. Autoguides (Euro 1.60) are available. Reservations call: 06-3996-7700. The massive house once had its front doors near the current “Arch of Titus” site, and was spawled across the valley at the site of the current Colosseum. A part of the house has been somewhat restored. There was also a colossal 33 meter tall statue of Nero (64-68 CE). The property had an artificial lake (where the colosseum is now) and a game stocked forest. He was a spender (his mistress soaked daily in the milk of 500 wild asses!) Nero is credited with burning Rome (possibly to expand his house further -64), killing Peter, and kicking his pregnant wife to death. He was stabbed as he cried, “What an artist dies in me.”

Colosseum (south central) Metro: Colosseo. Daily 09:00-19:00 (in season); Euro 7; buy tickets (faster) at entrances to Palatine Hill – just inside the Forum entry or on Via di San Gregorio. Named after the colossal statue of Nero that was taken down here, this immense amphitheater was begun at the time of Vespasian’s victory in Jerusalem (likely with the proceeds from the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem!) and was completed during the reign of Titus, his son (c. 80). This is the best example of truly Roman engineering genius. Today’s remains contain the symmetry without the beauty of the original structure, essentially two theatres put together. Jewish prisoners helped to build the structure, technically called the “Flavian Amphitheater”. With 80 arches in each tier, it was built up to seat 50,000 spectators (with an overflow capacity to 87,000). Note the lowest level has Doric columns, the middle has Ionic and the upper Corinthian. During its use, great cloth awnings could cover the spectators! The entertainment included the “Naumachie” (naval battles), the “Munera” (gladiatorial fights) and “Venationes” (wild animal-hunts). Now, each Good Friday procession begins here and moves to the Capitoline Hill.

Arch of Constantine. From his victory over Maxentius in 312 CE and the following Edict of Milan, Constantine changed western history by changing the Roman Empire from foes to ally of Christianity (or at least a brand of it!)

The Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus, Metro B: Circo Massimo).The 600-meter long oval area is filled with dirt and a garden area today, but this ancient racetrack was originally cut as far back as the time of the Etruscan kings. Augustus added an imperial stage that was later restored by Trajan, Caracalla and again by Constantine. This huge area could seat up to about 200,000 spectators and was the hub of the Roman entertainment world for hundreds of years!

The Theatre of Marcellus (Teatra Marcello; southwest of Capitol Hill). Begun by Julius Caesar and dedicated by Augustus to his Nephew, this was one of the greatest theatres of ancient Rome. It was designed for 15,000 spectators, but was later looted. It is now perhaps the oldest inhabited building in Europe! The remains of the building were redesigned in the medieval period to act as a fort for the Pierleoni family, and later transformed into a palace for the Savelli family (nobles).


East Side:

Termini: The central train station, dominates the east side of the city. The area is a haven for pickpockets! Nearby are several important sites:

National Museum (at Palazzo Massimo near Central Train station). Tues-Sun 09:00-19:45; Closed Mon. A less than sensational sandstone building 100 meters from Termini (enter at far end by Largo di Villa Peretti) houses an excellent collection, including the Roman copy of the “Greek discus thrower” One teacher of Roman History has said, “Rome lasted 1000 years – and so do most history courses on it!” This museum is like a walk through a 1000-year history, a time machine offering the “highlights” version through the statues of emperors. Note the way Romans changed the Greek tendency to “idealize” people. Several statues reveal a realism not seen before in Greece! It is essentially a square building with halls and rooms around a center court. The basement houses coins and daily objects, the ground floor follows the historyn of Rome from Monarchy to Republic to Empire. The first floor (above ground floor) is “Rome from peak to fall”. The second floor houses rare frescoes and mosaics (schedule a free tour).

 Baths of Diocletian (near Central Train station). Museum of the Baths: Tues-Sun 09:00-19:45; closed Mon. Nearby, in about 300, the largest baths in the world were built by Emperor Diocletian (Emperor from 284 -abdicated 305 CE). They operated until about 537, when a barbarian invasion destroyed the aqueduct that fed the area. The Aula Ottagona (Octagonal Hall) has several interesting exhibits: the “Defeated Boxer” and the “Roman Aristocrat”. The museum is only partially restored. Santa Maria Degli Angeli (facing Piazza Reubblica) was built from part of the ruins of the central hall of the baths when Pope Pius VI (1561) consecrated the ground. The church is dedicated to the thousands of Christian martyrs who built the baths. Sit in the church and imagine the floor level used to be 15 feet lower than you sit now!

Santa Maria della Vittoria (at Largo Susanna). Free; Daily 07:00-12:00; 16:00-19:00. This church has the infamous “Ecstasy of St. Theresa” by Bernini. She is left of the altar in a not to be missed presentation. This C16 CE Spanish nun described being “stabbed in the heart with God’s arrow of fire”. When the angels removed it, the ecstacy took place. Only Bernini could capture this!

San Maria Maggiore (Metro: Termini). The largest (Major) of the churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, this church is reputed to retain the original shape (despite many decorative alteration) of the structure built in the fourth after a reported appearance of Mary. It was made into a church at the time of Pope Sixtus III (432-440 CE).

St. John in Lateran (south-east; Metro: San Giovanni). The Cathedral of Rome, a church was first erected on the site by Constantine and called the “Basilica of the Savior” under the Bishop (Pope) of Rome St. Sylvester (314-335). Destroyed and reconstructed numerous times, the current structure is from the C17. The doors were taken from the Curia in the Forum (1660), and the travertine façade was added in 1735 by Alessandro Galilei. The Scala Sancta (“holy steps”) are reputed to be from Jerusalem, the steps Jesus used to exit the Lithostratos area of Pilate (John. 19).

Santa Groce In Gerusalemme (southeast corner inside walls). Near Porta San Giovanni is a church that houses Helena’s relics of the cross. The original structure on this location was an Imperial palace built in the C2nd CE. The palace was slowly adapted for use as a church, and finally completed redesigned in 1144 and again in 1743-44, when the façade was added. It also contains an excellent C15th CE mosaic.


South Side:


Baths of Caracalla (Metro: Circus Maximus, Five minute walk). Mon 09:00-14:00; Tue-Sun 09:00-19:15. This huge shell was the site of the 1,600 at-a-time bathing experience! Inaugurated by Caracalla in 216 CE, the baths were an important center in Rome until the Goths sacked the aqueducts in C6th CE. It is a large roofless shell now, used for concerts between 1938-1993, but discontinued to preserve the structures. Niches were for ancient statuary, now variously located in museums (Octagonal hall, Naples Archaeological Museum, etc.)

St. Paul’s Outside the Walls (south of city near Tiber River); Less than 2 miles from Porta San Paolo, the original building was built in the C4 CE as a splendid church in Rome to recall the martyrdom of the Apostle Paul. Many believe it contains the actual tomb of the Apostle. When it was built, it was one of the world’s most important churches. The structure was rebuilt many times, and was completely refurnished after a devastating fire in the C19 CE. In the reconstruction, all extant parts of the C5 CE mosaic were interwoven into the new artistry.

Via Appia Antica (south of Rome). Metro A to Colli Albani stop, take bus #660 to Via Attica Antica (last stop); best segment between 3rd and 11th milestone.

One of the most important roads of ancient Rome, it connected the southern and southeastern regions to Rome. The road was built in 312 BCE and eventually extended all the way to Brindisium. Some of the connections along the road were mentioned in Acts 28 as part of Paul’s journey to Rome. Today, the three kilometer walk (retracing a small part of the road) begins at Porta San Sebastiano (the ramparts walk and Roman defense museum is available there!)

Catacombs (southeast of the city along the Tiber River). South of Rome, archaeologists have identified some sixteen groups of burial chambers used between the C1 and C4 CE by early Messianic followers of Jesus (that used the Jewish form of burial). Roman custom was to cremate their dead. These rock-cut corridors (from a softer volcanic bed) have been estimated at more than 150 miles of total length (if added together!) The forty known catacombs are all within a three mile radius. Three specific areas are well visited – St. Calixius, St. Sebastian and St. Domitilla. All are located along the Via Appia. Niches were carved into a wall and ceiled with a name marker when used. Paintings (NO PICTURES PLEASE!) and simple art was added to the interior halls along the rock face between the niches. Many included Biblical scenes. During times of persecution the area also served as a hiding place for Christians, and a place of underground worship. When persecution eased, small chapels were built beside the necropolis to recall the martyrs. Forgotten for generations, the area was rediscovered in the C19th and has drawn many pilgrims in recent years. Now guides assemble groups by language and take groups through. It is hard to get the feel, but an important stop. (Tip the local guide - he spends all his time here!) See their website at and see the latest! When the barbarians invaded in the 800’s the tombs were ransacked, and many relics were moved to churches. These were excavated in 1850.

 St. Calixius: (Callisto): Thur-Tue 08:30-12:00; 14:30-17:30, closed Wed. Official cemetery for Christians of Rome, burial place of C3rd CE popes. Sixteen early Bishops (popes) buried here. Buy ticket (Euro 4.20) and wait for your language to be called. St. Sebastian: 300 meters past St. Callisto, same hours, same price. Domini Quo Vadis Chapel (one half mile from Porta San Sebastiano, south of the city). The chapel marks the place where a tradition reports Paul met Jesus when he fled the persecution in Rome. Paul asked: “Domine quo vadis”: “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “I am going to be crucified anew.” Paul turned and went back into the city, eventually suffering martyrdom.

We do our best to keep information current, but prices and times change all the time. Check local details for careful planning!