The UNESCO World Heritage listing encompasses the whole historic centre of Rome within the city walls at their widest extent in the 17th century
1. THE ROMAN FORUM
Once the centre of public and political life in Ancient Rome, the Forum is now the most impressive archaeological site in Rome, attracting more than 4.5 million visitors every year. Located close to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill in the historic centre of Rome, the Forum is a sprawling labyrinth of ancient ruins, including the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Titus and the House of the Vestals.
From the Roman Forum, we climbed to the top of Palatine Hill, which is the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It rises to around 40 m (about 120 feet) above the Roman Forum and offers amazing views across the ruins.
2. THE COLOSSEUM
From the Roman Forum, it is a short skip, hop and jump to the Colosseum. By the time we arrived the crowds had swelled and it was crazy around the entrance to the site. It was at this point we realised the real value of having booked a “skip-the-lines” tour. We still had to wait for the allotted time to go in.
The Roman Colosseum or Coliseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian. It was completed by his son, Titus, in 80, with later improvements by Domitian. This amphitheatre is made up of 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank. Built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Elliptical in shape, the Colosseum is 188m long and 156 wide. Originally 240 masts were attached to stone corbels on the 4th level from which a covering was stretched across to form a roof to protect the spectators from the heat of the sun.
3. MONUMENTONAZIONALE A VITTORIO EMANUELE
A short walk from the Roman Forum is the unmissable edifice of the Vittorio, or the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele.
The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele was inaugurated in 1911 as a tribute to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy after the country’s unification. Inside the building is the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento and the Central Museum of the Risorgimento. Since 1921, the Victor Emmanuel Monument holds the tomb of the unknown soldier, a place in which the eternal flame shines and which is always guarded by two soldiers.
The colossal monument, which is 135 meters wide and 70 meters high, is comprised of scores of majestic Corinthian columns and endless stairs, all carved in white marble. The top is crowned with an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel cast in bronze and two chariots driven by the goddess Victoria. The monument was strongly criticised for its construction since it was necessary to knock down numerous valuable buildings to make sufficient space, and Italian citizens did not agree with the idea of having such an eye-catching and elaborate building next to the other classical buildings that surround it.
One of the greatest attractions of the Monument to Victor Emmanuel is the panoramic view that can be seen from the terrace located at the same height as the chariots. The panoramic elevators are the only way to reach the upper part of the monument. By the time we reached the Vittorio we were very hungry and it was very hot, so we declined to climb the stairs to the top of the monument (next time!). Apparently, the amazing views make it worth the effort to climb.
4. TREVI FOUNTAIN
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain. Located in the Quirinale district of Rome, the Trevi Fountain is known as one of the most stunning fountains in the world.
Like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain is mostly built from travertine stone, a name that means “from the Tiber” in Latin, the likely source was the city of Tivoli, about 22 miles from Rome. The Trevi Fountain stands a massive 85 feet tall and is almost 65 feet wide. With water pumping out of multiple sources and the large pool in front, the fountain spills about 2,824,800 cubic feet of water every day! Luckily, the water is recycled – so you’ll not be able to drink from this fountain.
The fountain features Neptune, the god of the sea on a shell-shaped chariot pulled by two horses, each being guided by a Triton. One horse is calm while the other is unruly, representing the different moods of the sea.
The fountain dates back to ancient Roman times, and the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct in 19 B.C. that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. It’s said that the Aqua Virgo, or Virgin Waters, is named in honour of a young Roman girl who led thirsty soldiers to the source of the spring to drink. The fountain was built at the endpoint of the aqueduct, at the junction of three roads. These three streets (tre vie) give the Trevi Fountain its name, the Three Street Fountain.
Today, the Trevi Fountain is a magnet for tourists and is packed out day and night. If you got there really early in the morning you might manage to get some photos taken without being jostled by a mass of visitors.
5. THE PANTHEON
From the Trevi Fountains we took a five-minute walk through some side streets to reach our next stop; the Pantheon.
Even today, almost 2000 years after its construction, the Pantheon is a remarkable building to see and is a striking reminder of the architecture of the great Roman Empire. The word Pantheon is a Greek adjective meaning “honour all Gods”. The first Pantheon was believed to have been built in 27 BC during the reign of Emperor Augustus. After suffering calamities the Pantheon had several revisions before the building we see today was constructed by Hadrian in 120 AD.
The Pantheon was first built as a temple to all gods, before being the first pagan temple to be converted into a church in the year 609, which saved it from being destroyed during the Middle Ages. What is more amazing is how the Pantheon survived the onslaught of barbarian raids when the rest of the monuments of ancient Rome did not.
The exact composition of the material is still unknown and appears to be structurally similar to modern-day concrete! Whatever the reasons are, the Pantheon is the only structure of its age and size that has successfully survived the damage of time and gravity, still intact with all its splendour and beauty.
The most fascinating part of the Pantheon is its giant dome, with its famous hole in the top (The eye of the Pantheon, or oculus). The dome was the largest in the world for 1300 years and until today it remains the largest unsupported dome in the world! The diameter of the dome is 43.30 meters or 142ft (for comparison, the United States Capitol dome is 96 feet in diameter) and is in perfect proportion with the Pantheon by the fact that the distance from the floor to the top of the dome is exactly equal to its diameter.
Entry to Pantheon is free but ladies need to cover their shoulders and not be wearing anything too revealing and men need to remove their hats. As this is a place of worship visitors are expected to observe silence, which you are reminded of from time to time by a message coming over the speakers – sort of ironic bearing in mind the call for silence, but unfortunately people are not great at following the instructions on the signs. The interior design of the Pantheon is less ornate than most churches or basilicas, which actually added to grandeur rather than distracted. It is the oculus in the dome which is the most eye-catching feature, especially at the time we visited when the sunlight formed a powerful beam that illuminated the inside of the basilica.
6. PIAZZA NAVONA
We strolled from the Pantheon to the Piazza Navona, one of the largest and most beautiful piazza squares in Rome with three impressive fountains, including la Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi with its large obelisk at the centre. This Bernini designed fountain was constructed in 1651 for the Pope. The centrepiece of the fountain is a tall Roman obelisk and surrounding it four figures can be seen, each representing the great rivers: Ganges, Nile, Danube and Rio de la Plata.
The Fontana del Moro at the southern end of the piazza depicts a Moor fighting a dolphin – Bernini’s addition in the 17th century.
At the northern end is the Fontana di Nettuno, (Neptune) built-in 1576 by Giacomo della Porta. The statues of Neptune surrounded by sea nymphs were added in the 19th century. Both of these fountains were started prior to the Fontana dei Fiumi but have been altered several times as time has slipped by.
Another architectural feature of the piazza is the baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone provides an impressive backdrop. The original church here was thought to have dated back to around AD 300 when the young St Agnes was martyred here. Inside the church is beautifully ornate and as is a wonderfully cool escape from the heat of the day.
Best time to visit Rome
The best time to visit Rome is from October to April when most of the tourist crowds have dissipated and room rates are lower. Although you’ll need a warm coat, the weather this time of year hardly ever dips below freezing. For warmer weather – without throngs of tourists and the sweltering humidity – come in May or September. High average temperatures flit between the mid-70s and the lower 80s
Where to stay?
1. ROCCO FORTE HOTEL DE LA VILLE
Boasting a stunning location just above the Spanish Steps, Rocco Forte Hotel De La Ville offers 3 restaurants, a spa, and elegant 17th-century style rooms with free WiFi and traditional wooden floors. The Trevi Fountain is 10 minutes’ walk away.
Overlooking the courtyard or with city views, rooms here include air conditioning, a minibar, and satellite flat-screen TV. The marble bathroom has handmade terracotta tiles.
After a day sightseeing or shopping along chic Via Condotti, guests can unwind at the 550 m² wellness centre on 2 floors, which includes a hydromassage pool, a Kneipp path, a steam room, salt room, and a sauna. A 100 m² gym is also available, and massages/treatments can be reserved.
2. HOTEL SCALINATA DI SPAGNA
Mid-Range – 3-Star
Set at the top of the Spanish Steps leading to Trinità dei Monti, Hotel Scalinata Di Spagna offers a covered rooftop terrace, free WiFi, and rooms with a free minibar. The lift to Spagna Metro Station is 150 feet away.
Classically furnished rooms here are equipped with an LCD satellite TV, and a free minibar containing water. Turndown service is provided daily.
Served on the partially covered terrace, breakfast is an extensive sweet and savoury buffet including scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, cold cuts and cheese
3. YELLOWSQUARE ROME
Just a 10-minute walk from Termini Train and Metro Station, YellowSquare Rome features a gourmet restaurant, a shared patio, and DJ entertainment every night. It offers free Wi-Fi and colourful air-conditioned accommodation.
The dormitories have a shared bathroom, en suite or external. Guest rooms are all en suite.
You can sit in the hall, outdoor lounge, and patio.
The restaurant of this youth hostel is open for both lunch and dinner, and it serves Mediterranean cuisine.