The Colosseum is the most recognizable and iconic monument of Rome, if you see no other site in Rome you should see this structure. This grand stadium was constructed by the Flavian emperors. In 508-544BC the valley where the colosseum now stands had been drained. Houses and public buildings were constructed at this point where four regions of ancient Rome converged. The Great Fire of Rome in 64AD cleared the area and Nero had a new palace complex, Domus Aurea, constructed on the grounds. Under Vespasian much of Nero’s private property was returned to the people and the construction of a grand amphitheatre began (71-72AD) on part of the property. The amphitheatre was completed during the reign of Titus in 80AD and by 81AD a third level had been added. At this time hypogeum, a series of spaces beneath the arena used as a “backstage” area were excavated. In the 2nd century repairs were carried out and in 222 after extensive fire damage the colosseum was completely rebuilt over the course of 30 years.
The colosseum was used for bull fights, gladiator fights, chariot races, official events and various public forms of entertainment. At its peek the most popular event was the Ludi Circenses, the chariot races, there were also naval battles reproduced with complex stage effects. The colosseum also hosted staged hunts, using live animals and often involved feeding convicts to the beasts. Mythological dramas were staged in the arena among scenic woods complete with forest animals. Rome had a strict class system and there were 5 levels of seating within the audience according to your social status. At capacity the arena could hold 50,000 to 80,000 spectators on the marble benches.
Piazza Navona is an elongated oval-shaped public square in Rome, it was built on the former Stadium of Domitian (the remains of which can still be seen on guided tours from Piazza Tor Sanguigna13). The original name was Circus Agonalis or Circus Agonalis. The Piazza was paved in the 15th century and used as a market place and a venue for special events including mock naval battles. Today is a lively and popular social meeting point in the numerous cafes, restaurants and places of entertainment which line the square. The square is the venue for many annual fairs and festivals. The Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone (1670)is also on the square and is perhaps the sources of the square’s present name.
The main attractions of the square are the three fountains, the most famous being Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. The Fountain of the Four Rivers was completed in 1651 and although originally the artist Borromini was commissioned, ultimately Bernini took over the design. The fountain features an obelisk brought from the Massenzio Circus and surrounding the fountain base are figures representing four great rivers: The Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s Basilica is perhaps the holiest and most important church in Christendom, located within Vatican City on Vatican Hill; it is the heart of the Catholic Church. The location has long been considered holy as the apostle Saint Peter is believed to have been buried here in 64AD. Peter is considered to have been the first Pope and so its place in Vatican City is fitting. A place of worship was first established on this site in c.320AD, in the 15th century, the structure was enlarged and improved with the help of Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino. A new structure was created here under Bramante in 1506, and was continued by Rafael who took over the task. Rafael was followed by Baldassarre Peruzzi and later Michelangelo. Maderno was responsible for the stunning façade and finally the Basilica was consecrated in 1626. Bernini worked on the church for 20 years and was responsible for much of the beautiful interior furnishing in the 1600s.
The basilica Latin Cross floor plan has a 186 meter long Nave with 4 aisles and the ceiling is 46 meters high. There is a 136 meter high dome (thanks to Michelangelo) which is 42 meters in diameter. Visitors can climb the 491 steps to get breathtaking views from the top. The basilica’s façade is 114 meters wide and 47 meters high with a triple arched portico leading into the atrium which has a central fountain. In total the Basilica covers 22,000m² and can accommodate 20,000 worshipers. Visitors to the holy Basilica approach the building through the enormous St. Peters Square created by Bernini. St. Peter’s is a major Catholic pilgrimage site and Christians arriving here begin their visit by kissing the big toe of Arnolfo da Cambio’s brass statue of St. Peter on the right side of the main altar.
Within the church there are the angelic faces of 40 types of cherubs created in stone, mosaic and metal. The statues of 39 saints, the founders of religious congregations, appear along the sides of the Nave and across the Transept. In all there are 45 altars, 11 chapels and 10,000m² of mosaics as well as beautiful marble floors. Among the valuable pieces of Renaissance and Baroque art in the Basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta in the first chapel on the right. Other stunning works of art in St. Peters are the bronze baldachin above the papal altar and the confession (burial crypt) of St. Peter. St. Peter’s tomb is one of 100 tombs within the church; they include 91 popes, kings and queens.
Vatican City is a walled sovereign city-state within Rome it covers 110 acres it is the headquarters of the Catholic Church and the home of the Pope. The Vatican Gardens, as the name suggests, are gardens within this walled enclave. The gardens are located in the south and northeastern areas of the city and cover about 50 acres, almost half of the Vatican grounds. Although the gardens are closed to the general public it is possible to take a guided tour. Those who want to see areas of the Vatican which most visitors don’t get to see or people who are interested in the foliage itself will find this a fascinating tour.
Nicholas II planted the beginnings of the Vatican Gardens when he introduced an orchard, a garden and a lawn. This event was recorded in several places including a plaque which can be seen in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill. The gardens were originally planted around 1279 and since then have offered a place for contemplation and meditation for the popes.
The gardens contain vegetation from around the world including Australia, Japan and China. Together with the exotic plants are those native to Rome and Italy. In the gardens are neatly mowed lawns, paths, seating areas, pieces of art work, grottoes and water features. Among the trees in Vatican Gardens are pine, cypress, chestnut and palms. From the gardens there are amazing views of St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City.
This is one of the famed seven hills upon which Rome was built and it was considered the most sacred. The English word “capital” is derived from Capitoline. It is located between the Forum and the Campus Martius and was the site of Rome’s first temples, the Temple of Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad and of the Tabularium, the city hall of records. Capitoline Hill was the site of many major events in Roman history, for example after the murder of Caesar, Brutus and his cohorts hid in the Temple of Jupiter situated on Capitoline Hill. The hill provided a high refuge from the city below and was even used to throw political criminals to their death on the Tarpeian Rocks below. The hill and the structures built on it fell into ruin and only in the 16th century was it restored to its former glory. The new renaissance structures were built on top of the ancient ones leaving little of the former Empire structures. Michelangelo was commissioned to create long ramp-like steps (Cordonata stairs) which lead up to Piazza del Campidoglio as well as a pedestal for an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Today visitors can see Roman artifacts on display in the Capitoline Museum. The square is surrounded by the Senatorium, Palace of the Conservatori and the Capitoline Museum housed in two buildings (Palazza Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori. Michelangelo designed the facades of the three palaces on the square.
The Imperial Forums or Fori Imperial constituted the center of Ancient Rome’s political and religious activities, they were a series of public squares surrounded by buildings and each one created by a different emperor to show off his wealth, power and superiority. The buildings which fill this area were constructed between 46BC and 113AD and included temples, libraries, courts and places of education. Julius Caesar was responsible for initiating the construction of the new Imperial Forums in an effort to relieve over crowding in the older Roman Forum (which is a different site).
Much of the ancient architecture was lost when Mussolini decided to connect the Colosseum and the Piazza Venezia by constructing Via dei Imperiali through the forums. What remains of the site can be seen on either side of this boulevard. The Forum of Julius Caesar was once the site of the Temple of Venus. All that remains of the Forum of Nerva is a wall from the Temple of Minerva and two Corinthian columns. The Forum of Augustus commemorated the emperor’s victories in battle and was once home to a court of law. The Trajan’s Market was a large semi-circle or stores. The Forum of Peace celebrated the conquest of Jerusalem and valuable artifacts from the Temple in Jerusalem were stored here.
Forum of Trajan is considered the most beautiful of the forums and you can see the remains of grand statues, pedestals and the Basilica Ulpia with its tall grey columns. Trajan’s Column is one of the best preserved parts of the Imperial Forums and has delicate bas-relief details and soars 42 meters above ground.
Citta del Vaticano is an independent city within the city of Rome, it is the Papal residence (Apostolic Palace) and the seat of the Holy See, the headquarters of the Catholic Church. “Vatican City” is the place with the Pope as its head of state and the “Holy See” is the central governing organization of the Catholic Church which is located within Vatican City. The 110 acre sovereign state is surrounded by walls and approximately 1,000 people live here. The city-state is financed by the sale of tourist mementos and entrance fees to the Vatican Museums. The city is named after Mount Vatican where the city is located. The city is guarded by the Swiss Guard which was created in 1505, the guards wear bright colored unique uniforms. You don’t need a passport to visit Vatican City and some areas like St. Peter’s Square can be accessed by just crossing a white line which separates it from Rome.
As early as the Roman Republic (509BC-27BC) the area where the Vatican now stands was inhabited and on into the Roman Empire the land was developed. Nero had his Circus of Chariots, Circus Gaii et Neronis, built here. This became the site of Christian martyrdom when Christians were put to death in the grand arena. According to tradition it was in this vicinity that Saint Peter was crucified c.64-67. The Constantinian Basilica was built in 326 to commemorate St. Peter. The site gained significance for the new Christian faith and a palace was constructed in the 5th century. In 592 Pope Gregory declared himself Bishop of Rome. The popes played more and more of a spiritual and secular role in governing the surrounding neighborhoods. Under the Kingdom of Italy the Papal property was seized and their status was in question from 1861 to 1929. There were ongoing disputes over the ownership of the substantial Papal property until the issue was resolved in 1929. The Lateran Treaty was signed between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy (led by Mussolini). The treaty gave special status to Catholics in Italy and independence to the Stat of Vatican City.
Within the city are 11 Vatican Museums which hold some of the best art in the world. The Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco is also located within Vatican City. There are lush and extensive Vatican Gardens which take up a large portion of the city’s grounds. The Papal Apostolic Palace, the pope’s “home” is within Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica, a huge and beautiful church holding priceless works of art is also here. St. Peter’s Square is a huge circular piazza where people gather to attend see and hear the Pope.
Pyramid of Caius Cestius
The ancient pyramid of Cestius stands near the Porta San Paolo on the Via Ostiensis it was the final resting place of Caius Cestius Epulonius, a rich magistrate and priest who died in 12BC. The pyramid was constructed at a time when all-things-Egyptian were in fashion and it was also inspired by the pyramids of Nubia which had recently (23BC) been attacked by Romans and the pyramids of Egypt which Rome conquered in 30BC. The pyramid is more pointed than Egyptian pyramids and stands 36 meters high and 29.5 meters wide. It was constructed using concrete and brick and covered with white Carrara marble. Thanks to the concrete the Romans managed to make their pyramids taller and more pointed than the Egyptians. The pyramid is decorated with intricate frescoes and panels and originally two bronze figures stood at the entrance. The figures are now on display else ware.
The pyramid originally stood outside the city walls, like all burial sites but with the expansion of the city it is now within city limits. When the Aurelian Walls were being constructed (271-275) the pyramid was incorporated into the walls as a bastion. Much later in the 17th century Pope Alexander VII ordered the site to be excavated and restored. An inscription found on the pyramid confirmed that it belonged to Cestius and stating that it took 330 days to build. A second inscription was added by Alexander VII commemorating the restoration. The excavation also opened up the tomb to reveal Third Style Roman paintings.