Rome Routes: The Musts
Hadrian wanted it as a mausoleum for the imperial family and construction began in 135 AD. Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 to 180 AD, decided to turn it into a fortress of vital importance for the control of the whole city and so it remained.
At the end of the XIIIth century, St. Angel’s Castle became the escape route for Popes who would reach it by way of the famous “Passetto” (little step) which is a direct pathway you may still admire today that connects the Vatican to the Castle. If you drive towards the Vatican along Borgo Sant’Angelo, raise your head to the right about as high as a first floor and you’ll see the battlements of the “Passetto” right above you.
Small wonder therefore that it was the Popes who brought on major changes to the castle over the years …
Nicholas V had the three towers built, Alexander VI (Pope Borgia) added a fourth. The pleasant looking lodge on the castle front was commissioned by Julius II whereas, Paul III, called upon artists such as Rafaello and Antonio Sangallo and their aids, to embellish his sumptuous apartments.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 09.00 to 13.00
Closed Mondays, 25/12 and 01/01
The ticket office closes an hour earlier.
It is the first church to be dedicated to Our Lady and it is one of the oldest in Rome. Its foundation is attributed to Pope Callistus I (217-22) over the spot where in 38 BC a miracle was purported to have happened when oil erupted and gushed all the way to the Tiber. This was later interpreted as the announcement of the birth of Jesus.
A step of the presbytery marks the spot where the Basilica was defined under the Papacy of Julius I before later being enlarged under Gregory IV to accommodate the tombs of Saints exhumed from the catacombs that had been exposed by hoards of the Saracens.
The famous mosaics may be admired on the Apse forming three different tiers: there are those of the 12th century depicting Pope Innocent XII and a model of the church located over those depicting Episodes of the life of the Vergin Mary, these being by Pietro Cavallini and the Roman School.
A niche along the right hand side aisle hosts weights and chains which were apparently used to torture the Martyrs. The Basilica of St. Mary’s in Trastevere was used during the Holy Year of 1625, in 1700 only for eight days, and again in 1825 to substitute St.Paul’s out of the Walls which was then closed because of an epidemic in the roman countryside.
Opening times: every day 08.00 -12.00 and 15.00 – 16.00
Entrance is free.
“Tiber Island” develops over an area of 270 x 70 metres and was apparently formed, so legend has it, as a result of hay stacks from Campo Marzio being thrown into the shallow waters. It was chosen as the site for the foreign cult of Aesculapius (the god of Medicine symbolised by a serpent) introduced to Rome from Greece following the pestilence of 292 BC. It was thus entirely consecrated to that god to the point of also being dubbed Aesculapius’ Island, because of this, it soon acquired a hospital function still true today with the presence of the Fatebenefratelli Hospital.
The subsequent construction of the two bridges Fabricio and Cestio at either end of the island connected by the Vicus Censorius (pathway) gave the island the shape of a ship. The temple of Aeuscolapius which was inaugurated in 289.BC, has now been absorbed into Saint Bartholomew’s church.
Over the last few years the Island has become known to the Romans as “Cinema Island” since open air film previews are organised throughout the summer months.
You are now standing in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, Knights of Malta square. The lay order founded in Jerusalem in 1050 as ”the Knights Hospitaller” built a hospital for the sick and needy. It later became the Sovreign Military Order of Malta and today enjoys Permanent Observer Status at the United Nations. It comprises 13,000 members, 80,000 volunteers and 20,000 medics in 120 different countries.
Its Sovreignty makes the unique view you will see by peeping into the keyhole very evocative indeed. The doorway is that of the Villa of The Prioriety of Malta and therefore aside from the rather magical perspective you will be treated to, you’ll experience standing on the grounds of one State while you look over another!
If you are a motor-racing enthusiast you may have wondered where did the idea for an oval circuit come from and, finally, the answer is before you. Here it is, The Circus Maximus was the Indianapolis of Roman times – they already spoke of Horse Power in those days but of a very different variety.. alive and four-legged!
The chariot races used to take place here usually during religious holidays and the drivers/slaves, often strapped to their ‘wheels’ used to hare around 7 laps of the stadium to seek their winner…. The 150,000 strong crowds and Emperors from the Palace opposite… probably laid their bets!
Dont’t miss The Circus Maximus!
Directions: Just as soon as you turn into Via dei Fori Imperiali (very wide road with the Colosseum ahead of you), you will find a no transit sign and/or police asking you to turn back. You should tell police you are going to park in the appropriate areas (blue bays) directly behind them. Once you are passed the ”block” head to the far right hand side of the road to park. If there are no places available here, there are plenty of other bays over on the opposite side of the road, TAKE CARE WHEN CROSSING OVER! Remember parking in the blue bays is free for electric cars.
Leaving the side of the enormous white building on your right, walk about 80 metres towards the colosseum in the distance and you’ll see a lane to your right called ” San Pietro in Carcere ” which you should take to get up to the square. This is Capitoline Hill (see the next item on the menu bar) As you reach the square (designed by Michelangelo), walk along the left flank of it until you’ll see a small alleyway to your left. Turn into it and be AMAZED at the view over the Roman Forum!
At the time, the Roman Forum was the political, religious and financial centre. It represented the very definition of the true Piazza which it continued to be right up to the end of Republican life. It provides an extraordinary setting to over 3000 years of history which has muted in time to make way to the modern day needs of the glorious “Caput Mundi” … Capital of the World!
We are all accustomed to thinking of Michelangelo as a painter and sculptor probably because he was responsible for so many incredible works of Art. However visiting the Capitoline Hill (your navigator will take you to a free car park just to the left of the “wedding cake” or the Monumento Vittorio Emanuele as it is known by the Italinas and from there you’ll have a short walk up the hill to reach the square) you’ll be able to appreciate his mastery as an Urbanist and Architect.
He created a trapezoidal square to unite the two existing buildings of the Palazzo Senatorio ( home to the “Comune”) and the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Magistrates) with a new building “Palazzo Nuovo” which he placed opposite the latter, so as to delineate three sides of the square. He then placed the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on a pedestal of his own design in the centre of the square, having ‘borrowed’ it from its previous spot opposite the Basilica of St.John Lateran.
Those very buildings are today home to the Capitoline museums, the very first public museums in the world, founded by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471 following the gift he presented the Roman people of the Lateranese Bronzes (the “She Wolf”, the “Spinario” etc). The collection grew over the decades to include exhibits found in a number of archaeological sites of ancient Rome.
The itinerary you’ll follow inside the museums will take you through a number of sections: The Magistrate’s Apartments, which is the oldest part of the building, the Museo of the Conservatori Palace which since 2005 hosts the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, a paintings gallery holding the most beautiful collection of Medieval and Renaissance art, the Medagliere Capitolino with its extraordinary collection of ancient coins and precious stones, Palazzo Clementino, Palazzo Nuovo with its collection of ancient sculptures, the Galleria Lapidaria through a tunnel that connects the two Capitoline Palazzos at a depth of 8 metres and finally the Tabularium which used to be the head quarters of the roman archives.
Opening times: Tuesdays through to Sundays 09.00 – 12.00
The Ticket Office closes an hour earlier.
Days of closure to the public: Mondays, December 25, January 1, May 1.
The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is the true symbol of Rome itself and according to the famous prophecy by the venerable Bede, of its “eternity”. It was built by the Flavian Emperors; its original name is in fact the Flavian Amphitheatre whereas the name Colosseum originates in the XIth century inspired by its vicinity to the Colossus of Nero a 33 metre high bronze statue of Emperor Nero. It was actually built on the spot where the artificial lake of the Domus Aurea used to be. Emperor Vespasian had the first stone placed in 72 AD but it wasn’t opened until 80 AD by Titus. The opening ceremony lasted a small matter of 100 days and during the outrageous spectacles that even reproduced naval battles with real ships, some 5000 animals imported all the way from Africa are purported to have been killed. Of course the Gladiator fights were the big attractions as epic films like “The Gladiator” have amply recounted.
The structure of The Colosseum was damaged on various occasions by fires and earthquakes and was of course promptly restored to its original splendour until the very last “show” opened its gates in 523 AD. After that date, the place was abandoned to later make room for a cemetery and dwellings.
In the XVth Century it became a true open-air mine and a great deal of the travertine marble which made-up the original structure was newly extracted to build palazzos such as the Chancellery, Palazzo Venezia, and the Ripetta Harbour. This continued until Pope Benedict XV didn’t consecrate the area to the Passion of Christ and had it restored once again.
Modern day chariots…quite a Buzz!
The building itself measures 188 m by 156 and reaches a height of 52 metres. It would hold from 45,000 to 70,000 people depending on the show scheduled.
If we observe the top floor we can see traces of the Velarium, crudely translated as a series of awnings, in practice these were spectacular blue silk sail like covers with golden stars (…they probably inspired today’s European flag coming to think of it…but that’s personal speculation…) but what was truly remarkable was how these awnings were made to work. It was thanks to a small matter of 240 masts being fitted to the outer perimeter, if you look up, traces of where they were anchored are still very visible.. The “awnings” were fastened to the masts/poles through an intricate system of pulleys thanks to the valid help of a mere 1000 Naval seamen. ‘No expenses spared’ in those days, mark you, between slaves and the Navy .. labour costs were very reasonable!
You should continue your visit to the Roman Forum which was the centre of the political, religious and economic way of life. It represented the very definition of the true Piazza which it continued to be right up to the end of Republican life. It provides an extraordinary setting to over 3000 years of history which has muted in time to make way to the modern day needs of the glorious “Caput Mundi” … Capital of the World!
Opening times for the Colosseum: From the last Sunday in October to March 15: 08.30 – 16.30 – from March 16 to the last Saturday in March: 08.30-17.30 – from the last Sunday in March to September 30: 08.30-19.00 –
Closed: January 1, May 1 and December 25.
The ticket office closes one hour in advance.
NB: You can ask your ticket to include a visit to the Palatine and to the Roman Forum
The original construction dates back to between 27 and 25 BC when Agrippa, son-in-law to Ottavian Augustus, had it built as an offering to the gods for his victory over the Persians; After burning down in 80 AD it was rebuilt by Emperor Adrian in 125 AD. The round temple topped by a dome very much represents ancient Rome’s answer to high tech. architecture. Superimposing a sphere over a cylindrical base with a structure entirely made of concrete was certainly no mean feat.
Once you catch your breath following the great sense of unexpected space you’ll experience as you enter, if you look up you’ll see the Oculus, the 9 metre opening providing the only source of light. To make sure the whole construction didn’t collapse, the area immediately around the Oculus was built with Pumice stone. Its height incidentally equals its width 43.3 metres, a perfect sphere … or is it a cylinder?
The Pantheon becomes a Christian Church in 608 AD when Emperor Phocas presented it to Pope Boniface IV who consecrated it to St.Mary of the Martyrs. The ‘All Gods’ temple hence becomes the Church of all Martyrs, so much so that Pope Boniface IV “looted” the roman catacombs and some 28 waggons full of bones later… had them re-buried in front of the altar. Raphael was buried here in 1520 after his death at only 37 years of age, members of the Italian Royal family, the Savoia’s, are also buried here: Vittorio Emanuele II, Umberto I and Queen Margaret.
One of the spectacular recurrences worth taking part in is the celebration Mass on Pentecoste Sunday which the Romans refer to as the “domenica delle rose” – “Roses Sunday” when rose petals are dropped from the entrance of the church over the people exiting evoking the Holy Spirit’s descent over Mary and the Apostles in the Cenacle.
The Pantheon – Opening times: every day from 08.30 to 19.00
Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful piazzas of Baroque Rome but its history dates back a great deal further. In fact, in Roman times, it used to be the ancient Domitian Stadium built in the first Century AD with a capacity for some 30,000 people lining its full length of 275 metres separated by the width of 106m. As you sit at one of the bars try to imagine athletics ‘track’ events going on around you because that’s what went on here in roman times.. Depending on how vivid is your imagination things could get a little dusty!!
The square took its present form thanks to Pope Innocent X (John Baptist Pamphilij) who wished to celebrate his reign. In fact it was his rather ambitious, power craving young sister in law, Lady Olimpia, who the Romans not too kindly referred to as “Pimpaccia”, who managed to have the Bernini appointed for the design of the square.
The Maestro was going through a bit of a bad patch at the time and this was his chance to fall back into the graces of the Pope, that is why he thought up something new and outstanding almost defeating the laws of physics: notice how the slender obelisk happens to lie practically on thin air!!
The sculptures around it represent the four great rivers of the world: The Danube, The Ganges, The Nile and The River Plate. A number of legends revolve around these statues underlining the great rivalry between their creator Bernini and the designer of the nearby church of St.Agnese in Agone Borromini. The River Plate for instance apparently lifts his arm to protect himself from the imminent collapse of the Church whilst the Nile seems to hide its face with a veil so as not to see the obscenities at the hand of the Borromini…
unfortunately none of this is true since Bernini had completed his fountain in 1651 before Borromini started work on the church. Today the piazza is particularly colourful during the Christmas season as festive stalls populate it until January 7th.
Trevi Fountain is the epitome of the “Dolce Vita”, in other words the ever swinging, cinema driven, super film star frequented snazzy Rome of the 50’s and 60’s …here’s your chance to throw three coins in the fountain, not forgetting to make a wish to return to Rome, just as the song goes and as Audrey Hepburn did in that epic film with Gregory Peck “Roman Holidays”.
Going back to the fountain, it takes its name from the Trevi “Rione” or Quarter, that in turn derives from “trivio” literally “three ways”. The history of this fountain, of medieval origins, is connected to that of the Acqua Vergine (Vergin Water) which goes back much further. Tradition has it that the name “Acqua Vergine” derives from the fact that it was a beautiful nymph to show Emperor Agrippa the spring. None other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini began work on the fountain before soon coming to a halt but the fountain is to be considered one of the last magnificent testimonies of the Roman late Baroque.
The structure as we see it today was designed by Nicola Salvi commissioned by Pope Clement XII and completed only after his death by Giuseppe Pennini. The artist placed the basin below street level opposite a Roman Arch of Triumph of sorts, in fact, viewed centrally it is reminiscent of the “Arco di Costantino” (Constantine Arch) providing the background to Ocean’s chariot driven by his impetuous horses.
What makes the Trevi Fountain unique is the fact that it is literally cut into the side of a building (Palazzo Poli) and thanks to the gushing water the otherwise severe architectural traits merge beautifully with the sculptured naturalistic elements.
Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous places on earth and certainly one of the more important in the city despite the many changes over the centuries. The area covers the ancient “Platea Trinitas” (the Trinity’s open area), where both the French and Spanish Embassies once took residence. Perhaps contributing to the name of the Piazza, such illustrious ‘tenants’ influenced the area’s re-styling which gave place to the construction of a number of today’s ”attractions” majestically carried out by some of the greatest artists of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries.
One that cannot go without mention is the “Fontana della Barcaccia” (literally the ”rotten-boat” fountain) designed by Pietro Bernini but finished by his son Gian Lorenzo in 1629 following his father’s death. It is located at the bottom of the famous Spanish Steps and commemorates one of the many floods of the river Tiber. Interestingly the ‘boat’ became part of the Barberini family coat of arms. The symbolism behind it is the Church being lead to safe haven by Pope Urban VIII. The boat however is actually imbedded below street level because of the insufficient water pressure in that particular spot.
The imposing Steps known the whole world over are 135 in number and are the fruit of Francesco de Sanctis’ scrupulous work. They were inaugurated in 1725 by Pope Benedict XIII on occasion of the Jubilee.
On the right hand side corner of the Steps you will be able to see where John Keats lived and died before being buried at the non-catholic cemetery over at the Pyramid (worth a visit). The “real” Piazza di Spagna is really a little further on by the Column of the Immaculate erected in 1856 following the proclamation of the Marian Dogma.
It is now a consolidated tradition, that in the spring of each year, the steps are lined with hundreds of beautiful azaleas of various colours contributing to an incredibly unique atmosphere.
The best place to admire the beautiful Piazza del Popolo is to stand with your back to the main gate you can see at the north end, with the obelisk and the two churches in front of you. Should you not fancy actually going to the spot I’ve just described then … just imagine you’re standing there …. If you don’t fancy that either …..then go and sit at either of the two bars at the church’s end of the square for a soothing albeit expensive refreshment and just soak the square in while you continue reading !
The Square was designed at the beginning of 1800th century between 1811 and 1822 in fact, by the French Architect Giuseppe Valadier.
The obelisk in front of you, all 34 metres of it including the base, is a tribute to Emperor Augustus victory of Egypt and that’s where it comes from . In fact on the northern and western sides of the base the inscription in latin still legible today says: “ Augustus has offered this gift to the Sun God for subduing the people of Egypt to the will of the Romans … The Romans as you know were into Gods at the time and Augustus was no exception … So …. He said to himself … I should take a little momento back to Rome with me …… so why not a 34 metre obelisk … so it was sent from Heliopolis in 10 BC … and we imagine it arrived in 10 AD …. there is no actual record of how long it took to get to Rome but we’ll leave that to our collective imagination … ome thing is for certiain …DHL used slave drawn carts in those days … !
You have the chance of visiting the most important church in the world of the whole of Christianity. It all started at the beginning of the 15th century when Julius II decides to knock down the ancient Basilica dating back to the Constantine Era. It was completed a mere 100 years later, give or take a decade, to include the magnificent dome by Michelangelo and the baroque facade by Carlo Moderno. It was finally consecrated in 1626 and although the Basilica appeared imposing enough, none other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini was called upon to add to perfection. He must have enjoyed the Vatican’s cuisine a great deal because his work lasted for a brisk thirty years’! True, he did take his time over detail, but after all, the end result was that he managed to capture the exceptional symbolic importance the icon of the Catholic Church simply had to convey, turning it into the formidable spectacle it is today.
The Church is 186m long (two football pitches if you find that easier to relate to) whereas the dome extends to over 132m. The colonnade in the piazza outside, set into two semi circles erected by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, provide another great example of the symbolism we mentioned earlier: they seem to welcome and embrace the whole of man kind. The columns are 284 and the colonnade is “surrounded” by 140 statues of the Saints. The ellipse thus formed, is 240m wide and extends for over 340m… there is really plenty to see so you’re advised to take our word for it ..!
As you enter the St. Peter’s Basilica, just as you go through the central doors, you’ll immediately notice unless distracted, a large red marble circle inlaid into the floor. You’ll be looking at the rather famous “Rota Porphyretica” or “The Coronation Circle” if you prefer. Indeed Popes crowned Emperors on this very stone. On Christmas Eve of the year 800 it was to be Charlemagne’s turn to be crowned Roman Emperor at the hand of Pope Leo (795-816). Frederic I known as Redbeard and Frederick II were other ‘notables’ that followed in the centuries.
Going along the right-hand side of the Basilica towards the Altar of the Confession we find a bronze statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio dated circa 1300 although some have dated it as far back as the Vth century. Tradition has it that the right foot of the Saint’s statue should be touched in sign of worship and you’ll easily notice how worn down it has become so much so that it has been substituted twice over the years … we’re on our third foot at present! On June 29, being the recurrence of the Saint’s martyrdom, the statue is donned with Papal attire and the fithful pay their respects during this, solely roman, holiday. The treasures enclosed in this absolute Temple of Christianity are truly numerous: The Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Pope’s Tombs, The Relics of Peter the Apostle. These masterpieces all testify the spiritual events of time of the Vicars of Christ on earth.
A visit to the Vatican Museums is MANDATORY, it is the first public collection made available to the world by Pope Julius II in 1506. There are nearly thirty sections that span from the Egyptians to Contemporary Art. The museums take up an area of almost 2 kilometres and provide a ride back into history through the eyes of history’s greatest artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raffaello who have made this ‘treasure box’, held in the smallest State in the world, quite unique.
St. Peter’s Basilica – Opening Hours:
Winter period: 1 October – 31 March from 07.00 to 18.30
Summer period: 1 April – 30 September from 07.00 to 19.00
Tel: +39-06-6988 3731
NB – PROPER DRESS SHOULD BE WORN WHEN ENTERING THE BASILICA.