Things to Do in Rome
At first glance, this ancient open-air theater appears quite a bit like a mini-Colosseum. Built during the later years of the Roman Republic, it was built nearly 100 years before the famous Colosseum. Named by the Emperor Augustus in 11 BC after his recently deceased nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the theater may be the oldest surviving of its kind in the world.
The structure’s archways and tiers comprise a semicircular design (unlike the Colosseum, which is completely circular.) The third tier was lost in reconstruction during the Middle Ages, but ornamental Doric and Ionic columns still frame the theater. In its prime the structure could hold more than 15,000 spectators and was one of the most popular entertainment venues in Ancient Rome. Live music and drama performances filled its seats until it was adopted by noble families and luxury apartments (which can still be seen today) were built atop the ruins.
Caelian Hill is the most south-eastern hill of the of the famous “Seven Hills of Rome,” which are located east of the river Tiber and form the geographical heart of Rome, within the walls of the ancient city. The other hills are Aventine Hill, Capitoline Hill, Esquiline Hill, Quirinal Hill, Viminal Hill and Palatine Hill, where Romulus founded the city and where the main archaeological remains can still be seen today.
The hills were initially not grouped in any way, and only started to interact with each other when denizens began playing religious games and turned the valleys separating them into lively markets named fora in Latin. It wasn’t until the 4th century, however, that the Servian Walls were built to protect newly-formed Rome.
A small and relatively unknown archaeological site of ancient Rome, the Largo di Torre Argentina is a square set around the sunken Area Sacra. The remains of four temples built between the 2nd and 4th centuries BC are some of the oldest ruins in the city. What’s left of the Republican-era structures was only just discovered in the 1920s due to construction in the area. The remains of the Theater of Pompey were also found here, said to be the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination. The four temples are distinguished by letters A, B, C, and D, with temple D being the oldest (it is estimated the columns date back to the 2nd century BC.) They’re off limits to humans — however, the piazza has become somewhat of a cat sanctuary. There are nearly 300 stray cats that stay there, lounging on ancient platforms and strolling among history. The area is maintained by volunteers. Sidewalks surrounding the ruins lead to viewing platforms where visitors are welcome to interact with the cats.
The Castel Sant'Angelo is actually a tomb, Hadrian's Mausoleum. The Roman Emperor built it for himself and his family; their ashes were placed there in 138 AD. Other emperors are also buried there, but the tomb became a fortress in 401 AD; in 410 it was raided and the ashes were scattered. It is likely that Hadrian himself ended up in St. Peter's where a lot of the finest ornamentation of the mausoleum and other Roman buildings were taken.
It was named Castel Sant'Angelo after 590 AD when the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared on top of the building, signifying the end of the plague. From the 14th century, the popes turned the place into a residential castle, connecting it with St. Peter's by a fortified corridor. Since 1925, it has been a museum. The complex maze of rooms and corridors now house beautiful furnishings, paintings, sculptures, archaeological finds and historic weapons.
Located at the southeastern end of the Roman Forum, the triumphal Arch of Titus stands as a memorial to an emperor's brother.
Emperor Domitian commissioned the arch in the 1st century to honor his brother Titus, with the scenes showing Titus' many victories in war. Among the scenes is the Siege of Jerusalem – you can see a Jewish Menorah being carted back to Rome among the spoils.
Triumphal arches are familiar sights in Europe today – the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is one of the most famous examples – but most were based on the design of the Arch of Titus.
There are many churches in Rome - and throughout the world - dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The largest one is the Basilica Papale (or Papal Basilica) of Santa Maria Maggiore near the Termini Train Station in central Rome.
As you might guess from the name, Santa Maria Maggiore is technically part of the Vatican - just as a foreign embassy might be. As part of Vatican City, the Basilica is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes all extraterritorial properties of the Holy See in Rome.
Although the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore has been expanded upon and redecorated over the centuries, it was originally built in the mid-5th century and much of the original structure is still in place. In the years after the papacy was moved back to Rome from Avignon, part of the church was used as the papal residence until renovations to the Vatican Palace was completed.
There is a neighborhood in Rome still known by the population that called it home in the 16th century. The Roman Jewish Ghetto, formally established in 1555, was where Jews in Rome were forced to live after that year, although Jews had lived in the city for centuries. The city erected walls around the ghetto, and they were torn down only after the ghetto was officially abolished in 1882.
Despite this unhappy history, this part of Rome is now a relatively popular tourist destination. The former Jewish Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in Rome - the city’s synagogue is here, and this is where you’ll find restaurants, markets, and butchers serving and selling Kosher food products. In fact, in the spring when artichokes are in season, this is the part of the city where you’ll find Rome’s famous “carciofi alla giudia,” or Jewish-style artichokes.
More Things to Do in Rome
The Appian Way (Via Appia), an important Imperial Roman road dating from the 4th century BC, was built to quickly move supplies and Roman soldiers to strategic points of the Roman Empire. The Appian Way was the first and most important Roman road, stretching from Rome to Brindisi on the southeast coast of Italy.
It was the work of architect Appius Claudius Caecus (hence the road's name). You can still walk the long straight cobblestone road, and along the way are catacombs and churches.
As the Roman Empire began its terminal decline, Rome was the focus of attacks and invasions by barbarians. In the third century AD the Aurelian Wall was built around the city's seven hills for protection. The Aurelian Wall had many gates, one of them being the Porta San Sebastiano (which still stands today). It was once called the Porta Appia because it marks the point where the Appian Way begins.
The Tiber River runs through Rome, and Tiber Island is its only plot of land, located toward the southern end of the river. At 885 feet long and 220 feet across at its widest point, the island has two bridges that have connected it to each side of the river since antiquity. Ponte Fabricio connects the island to the left bank of the river near the Theater of Marcellus, and Ponte Cestio connects to the Trastevere neighborhood on the right bank. The original bridges have been rebuilt several times.
The island has always had a strong connection with medicine. It once had an ancient temple dedicated to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Throughout history, people with contagious diseases were sent to the island for treatment and healing, or sometimes simply to wait for death. To this day, there is still a hospital on the island. Tiber Island also hosts a film festival in the summer.
No matter what you call it, it’s impossible to miss the imposing Vittorio Emmanuele Monument on the massive Piazza Venezia in central Rome. Built in the early 1900s to honor a unified Italy’s first king, the structure serves double-duty as the home of the tomb of Italy’s unknown soldier as well as the Museum of Italian Reunification.
Another reason to visit the Vittoriano is to ride the “Roma del Cielo” elevator to the top of the monument for some of the best views overlooking the city of Rome.
Piazza della Repubblica is a square in Rome not far from Termini train station. The square was the original site of the Baths of Diocletian. It was known as Piazza Esedra until the 1950s, and many older locals still refer to it by its old name. In the center of the square is the large Fountain of the Naiads, or water nymphs. Figures of the four water nymphs adorn the sides of the fountain representing oceans, rivers, lakes, and underground water. When the fountain was unveiled in 1901, it was considered too provocative due to the nudity of the statues.
One of Rome's most well known streets, Via Nazionale, starts at Piazza della Repubblica. On this street and in the surrounding area you'll find upscale hotels, shops, restaurants, and cafes. Near the piazza is the Teatro Dell'Opera Di Roma, a lavish 19th century opera house. There are also several churches and ornate buildings in the area.
Thermae Antoninianae, as per their Roman name, are, simply put, one of the largest and best preserved ancient thermal complexes in the world, and second largest in Rome itself. Built in 212 AD during the reign of the notoriously spiteful Emperor Caracalla, the complex was built as part of a political propaganda but had the particularity of being open to Romans from all social classes, as it was completely free of charge; the public opinion’s regarding the emperor was drastically improved in the following years, as they attributed their pleasant experience and extravagant surroundings to him.The Aqua Marcia aqueduct (the longest one in Rome) was specifically built to serve the great imperial and 25-hectares large complex, which was really more of a leisure center than a series of baths. Visitors could relax in the complex’s three different baths, exercise in one of the two gyms or the pool and catch up on their reading at the library.
Inside the Galleria Agostiniana, part of the must-see Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, is the small Leonardo da Vinci Museum, dedicated entirely to the great inventor and artist. What started out as a temporary exhibition is now permanently housed in a church on the busy Piazza del Popolo. Larger museums dedicated to the life and work of Leonardo are in Milan, Florence, or even the artist’s hometown of Vinci, but the Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Rome is a great comprehensive look at his Renaissance works.
The museum’s collection features more than 60 inventions modeled after Leonardo’s machines. There are more than 120 pieces on display throughout the museum, including artistic studies of famous pieces like “The Last Supper” and “Vitruvian Man.” Some of the models are interactive, making this a good option for families traveling with children.
The enormous Trajan's Column near the Quirinal Hill was built in the 2nd century AD to commemorate Emperor Trajan’s victories in war. The column itself is 98 feet tall, but standing on its pedestal the entire structure is 125 feet tall.
The column is decorated with the story of Trajan’s war triumphs told in pictures, spiralling around the outside of the column, with the story starting at the bottom. Trajan’s ashes were originally interred in the base of the column. Amazingly, the column itself is actually hollow and contains a spiral staircase that leads to a viewing platform on the very top.
Trajan's Column was originally topped with a statue of Trajan himself, but in the late 16th century the then-Pope Sixtus V ordered that a statue of Saint Peter be put atop the column. It’s the statue of Saint Peter that you still see today. In order to see all of the bas relief carvings, you’ll need to visit Rome’s Museum of Roman Civilization.
Quirinale Palace is the official residence of the president of Italy. It sits on Quirinale Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Rome. The palace was built in the late 1500s by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer home and was home to many popes for over three centuries. After the unification of Italy, it became the royal residence, until 1947 when the country's presidents began living there. The palace houses a wide variety of art including paintings, statues, tapestries, clocks, furniture, porcelain, glass chandeliers, and much more. In the Scalone d'Onore, the monumental staircase hall, visitors can see a frescoe by Melozzo da Forli that was once in the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli. Another impressive part of the palace is its garden, which offers views of Rome from its high vantage point. The style of the garden has changed many times over the centuries, but today it combines influences from the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors can also see the changing of the guard on Sundays.
Overlooking Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, the gardens on Pincio Hill have been present since the time of the ancient Romans. It is named for the Pincis, a noble Roman family whose estate was built on these grounds in the 4th century. The gardens were separated from the neighboring Villa Borghese by an ancient wall.
Filled with greenery, flowers, and bust statues of famous Italians, the present gardens were laid out in the 19th century. Tree-lined avenues were once (and still are) a grand place to go for a stroll. There’s also an obelisk and historic water clock located in the gardens. They are accessed via a steep, winding path up from the city. Once at the top, you’ll have one of the best views of Rome, looking out to rooftops, piazzas, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The panoramic outlook is arguably best at sunset.
Things to do near Rome
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