ROME: 10 SIGHTS

The below suggestions of ten sights and sites to see in and around Rome are taken from Blue Guide Rome (with updated opening times and practical information). For something a little off the beaten track, how about a visit to the ruins of ancient Ostia, Rome's former port? (See number 10 below.)

 

The Blue Guide has far more information than is given here, this is meant only as a starting point in planning your trip:

  1. The Capitoline Hill
  2. The Forum
  3. The Colosseum
  4. Galleria Pamphilj and Galleria Colonna
  5. Santa Maria del Popolo
  6. Villa Borghese
  7. The Pantheon
  8. Piazza Navona
  9. The Vatican Museums
  10. The city of Ostia

(See MAP»)

1. The Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio), in the heart of the city, is the best place to start a visit to Rome. It was of the first importance in the city's early history, and today it preserves its ancient feeling of pride combined with a sense of intimate elegance. In the little piazza created by Michelangelo on the very summit of the hill, around a copy of the splendid equestrian monument to Marcus Aurelius, stand the town hall of Rome and the Capitoline museums (website »), with the city's superb collections of Classical sculpture, the arrangement still reflects their history as the oldest public collection in the world. There are superb views of the city and of the Roman Forum off the quiet street which encircles the top of the hill.

Open 9-8 except Mon.

2. The Roman Forum (website ») is one of the most evocative places in Rome. Its ruins stand in the centre of the modern city as a romantic testament to her past greatness. This was the heart of ancient Rome, and almost every event of importance in the city's development, from the time of the kings through the Republican and Imperial eras to the Middle Ages, is reflected here. Many buildings survive from those times, some with columns or vaults still standing, others only identified by their foundations. The huge paving stones of Rome's most important ancient road, the Sacra Via, are still visible here and pass the well preserved triumphal arches dedicated to Titus and Septimius Severus.

Open 8.30-dusk; T: 06 3996 7700. Combined ticket with the Palatine and Colosseum, valid 2 days. You should allow at least half a day for a complete visit. In summer the Forum is occasionally floodlit at night and tours are available; for information call the number above.

3. The Colosseum is the most famous monument of ancient Rome, although to this day it is still one of the least-studied works of the Roman period. It is the largest amphitheatre ever built by the Romans, and its design was copied in similar buildings all over the Empire. Despite being pillaged for centuries for its stone, the huge building preserves its remarkable grandeur and the northeast side appears almost undamaged. The magnificence of the interior, which could probably hold more than 50,000 spectators, can still be appreciated, and it retains an extraordinary atmosphere. Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Roma, the largest temple in Rome, and the well preserved Arch of Constantine, are close by. The Domus Aurea, Nero's golden house, is on the Oppian Hill just above the Colosseum.

Open 8.30-dusk; T: 06 3996 7700. Ticket (valid for 2 days) includes entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatine. Since there can be long queues here, it is a good idea to visit the Roman Forum and Palatine first and with that ticket you can go straight to a special desk at the entrance of the Colosseum and do not need to wait in line. Only the first storey is open to the public (reached by various flights of stairs, or by the lift on the northeast side).

4. Galleria Doria Pamphilj (website ») and Galleria Colonna (website »): These two collections represent the most important private collections in Rome open to the public. They are housed in the families' sumptuous palaces, which are still their residences and are beautifully kept. The power of both the Doria Pamphilj and Colonna families was enhanced when two of their members became pope (respectively Innocent X and Martin V). In the 18th century Olimpia Pamphilj married Filippo II Colonna.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj open daily 10am to 5pm; T: 06 679 7323.
Galleria Colonna open Sat only 9am to 1pm.

5. Santa Maria del Popolo: This church, dedicated to the Virgin, was apparently built at the expense of the city (the popolo Romano), hence its name. The peaceful interior is a wonderful place to see works of art of all periods, including masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio. There are push-button lights in some chapels and in the apse.

Open 7am to 12pm & 4pm to 7pm.

6. The magnificent Villa Borghese is Rome's most famous public park, and the most extensive in the centre of the city, with a circumference of 6km and an area of 688 hectares. It is connected with the Pincio and the Villa Giulia, so that the three form one huge green area, intersected in every direction by avenues and paths, with fine oaks, giant ilexes, umbrella pines and other trees, as well as statues, fountains and terraces. It owes its origin, in the 17th century, to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Paul V's nephew. In the 18th century Prince Marcantonio Borghese, the father of Prince Camillo Borghese (who married Pauline Bonaparte), employed Jacob More from Edinburgh to design the gardens.

villa borghese

The park also contains the suburban villa that houses the famous Museo and Galleria Borghese (website »). The ground floor has famous statues by Bernini (including his David, Apollo and Daphne, and the Rape of Persephone), all commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, his first important patron. Also here is one of Canova's best-known works, a portrait of Pauline Borghese in the guise of Venus. Another room has six paintings by Caravaggio (including Boy with a Basket of Fruit and the Madonna of the Palafrenieri). On the upper floor are two beautiful works by Raphael (Entombment and Lady with a Unicorn) and one of Titian's greatest works: Sacred and Profane Love.

NB: This is the only museum in Rome where it is obligatory to book your visit in advance. (T: 06 32810; you are given a booking number and the time of your visit; you should go to the entrance at least 15mins beforehand to pick up and pay for your ticket, and deposit your bag). Open 9am to 7.30pm; closed Mon. Entrance allowed only every two hours, at 9, 11, 1, 3 and 5. Ticket valid for two hours; during that time you can visit the rooms on your own at will. The ticket office, information desk, bookshop, bar and toilets are on the lower ground floor (often unpleasantly crowded). The collection of sculptures is mostly on the ground floor, and the gallery of paintings on the upper floor. Unless it is raining, the entrance to the ground floor is up the outside steps through the doors under the central portico (with fragments of a triumphal frieze showing the Emperor Trajan); otherwise it is from the lower ground floor up a spiral staircase. Handsheets are in each room.

7. The Pantheon survives virtually intact as the most magnificent symbol of the Roman Empire. Dedicated to all the gods (pan theon), it was conceived as a secular Imperial monument as much as a shrine. The original temple built by Agrippa was rebuilt and probably also designed by Hadrian. A pedimented pronaos precedes a gigantic domed rotunda, with a rectangular feature as wide as the pronaos and as high as the cylindrical wall inserted between the two. This combination of a pronaos and rotunda gives the building a special place in the history of architecture. The visual impact of the domed interior is unforgettable. The use of light from the opening in the roof displays the genius of the architect. In 609 it was converted into a church, the first temple in Rome to be Christianized.

Open Mon to Sat 8.30am to 7.30pm; Sun 9am to 6pm; free entrance. T: 06 6830 0230.

8. One of the loveliest parts of the city centres on the delightful Piazza Navona, one of the places which best illustrates the spirit of Rome: the entirely successful adaptation of a Classical building (in this case a Roman circus) to the urban structure of succeeding centuries; the triumph of Bernini's Baroque style with his splendid fountain of the Four Rivers, which also provides a setting for an Egyptian obelisk brought to the city by a Roman emperor; and the relaxed festive atmosphere typical of the Romans, who come here to enjoy the scene.

The highly distinctive Baroque architectural style of Francesco Borromini can be seen both in the faςade of Sant-Agnese in the piazza, and in the courtyard of the Sapienza and church of Sant-Ivo nearby. Also in the district is Palazzo Altemps, now part of the Museo Nazionale Romano, with the beautifully displayed Ludovisi collection.

The form of the piazza, preserving the dimensions of the Stadium of Domitian, a building which could probably hold some 30,000 spectators, represents a remarkable survival within the modern city. Its appearance, surrounded by stately palaces and churches and with fountains in its centre, has remained almost totally unchanged since at least the beginning of the 18th century, as numerous paintings and prints of old Rome attest. It is the most animated square in Rome, beloved of the Romans as well as visitors, and the cafés and restaurants have tables outside for most of the year. It is usually very crowded and many street artists, buskers and performers of all kinds are always at work here.

9. The Vatican Museums (website ») contain some of the world's greatest art treasures, and are unique in their scope, quality and abundance. They include the largest collection in existence of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, a picture gallery, Egyptian and Etruscan museums, collections of tapestries and early Christian art, as well as magnificently decorated halls and chapels. The palace also contains the famous Sistine Chapel frescoed by Michelangelo and the Stanze decorated by Raphael.

Opening times: 9am to 4pm (with last exit at 5.45). Closed Sun except for the last Sun of the month (unless it is a holiday) when it is free entry 9am to 12.30pm (with last exit at 1.45pm). Also closed on New Year's Day, 6 Jan, 11 Feb (the anniversary of the founding of the Vatican City State), Easter day and Easter Mon, 1 May, Ascension Day, Corpus Christi (both usually fall in May or June), 29 June, 15 Aug, 1 Nov, 8 Dec, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and whenever special reasons make it necessary. Information T: 06 6988 4947.

10. The excavations of the city of Ostia (website ») are one of the most interesting and beautiful sights near Rome. At least half a day is needed for the visit, and Ostia is a splendid place to have a (discreet) picnic. There is also a café near the museum. Some of the lovely mosaics discovered in the ruins are occasionally covered with wind-blown sand. The ruins, in a beautiful park of umbrella pines and cypresses, give a remarkable idea of the domestic and commercial architecture of the Empire in the late 1st century and in the 2nd century AD, and are as important for the study of Roman urban life as those of the older cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Getting there: Ostia is extremely easy to reach by public transport. The fastest way is by train from Stazione Ostiense beside Porta San Paolo. Services run every 15mins for Ostia Antica (journey time 30mins) going on to Ostia Lido. Ostia Antica station is only a few minutes' walk from the site entrance.