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1.    introduction - WHAT THIS VIDEO TOUR IS ABOUT


The map of Rome we use (pages 30, 31) is very simplified.  It will help you to navigate the city and to understand how the monuments relate to one another.

On the map, you will notice several green squares.  These indicate state-run information kiosks around Rome where you can pick up a free, more detailed map to carry with you.  English-speaking professionals who staff the kiosks can answer all questions related to your stay in Rome.


There will be some historical information in the WALKING TOUR video.  It is meant to provide enough information for you to understand Rome as a beginner.  It also has Food & Lodging suggestions.

The ROME: caput mundi video, on the other hand, has far more historical and contextual information.  But it is not a tour.  The two videos complement one another, however, and should be used as such.

Please view ROME: CAPUT MUNDI first.  The WALKING TOUR video will then give you a great boots-on-the-ground feeling. 

If you have an iPod (or other pocket video gadget), drop the WALKING TOUR VIDEO onto it and carry it with you on the tour.


This POCKET GUIDE is packed.  It has 22 CHAPTERS that exactly match those of the WALKING TOUR video.  It has 60 pages of much more historical and contextual information than either of the two videos can possibly provide.  It has a center-fold map, plus grey text-box-inserts that repeat exactly the Food & Lodging information in the WALKING TOUR VIDEO.


Note, however, that we will not follow the thematic sequence with which the monuments are introduced in ROME: caput mundi.  We will instead follow a geographic progression meant to be walked.  And you can walk this tour – if need be – in the better part of one long day.  But as you will want time to linger here and there along the way, it is suggested you plan for more than one day. 


As such, the walking tour is divided into three days.  Metro Stops at the Circus Maximus and at Piazza di Spagna are good places to end a day and then return to the following day.


As we venture into and through Rome’s various neighborhoods, I will point out possibilities as to food & lodging.  These recommendations will remain on screen long enough for you to press pause if you want to write the information down.  You can also press next on your remote to more quickly advance to the next topic.

And with your remote control handy, you can press either next or previous to move smoothly back and forth throughout the video.

You can also navigate the video by using the chapter headings in the DVD sub-menus.  There are 22 chapters in all, and they are marked on the dvd with very large numbers at the top left corner.  Beginning with CHAPTER THREE, the headings indicate departure points for that particular leg of the tour.  The chapter headings are exactly those of the POCKET GUIDE.


Most phone numbers cited will be Italian numbers.  When calling from outside Italy, use the international number for Italy, 39.  So when you see +39, then 06, then a long number; 39 is the international code for Italy, 06 is Rome’s city code. 

While in Rome, you dial only the numbers after 06.  But do use 06 if you are calling Rome from anywhere else in Italy.  Be aware, however, that mobile phone numbers in Italy do not us the Rome prefix 06.


Termini station, or Stazione Termini, is the hub of Rome’s transportation system.  Directly out front is a huge bus plaza, from which you can connect to all parts of the city. 

There are stairways (inside and outside the station) that lead down to Rome’s Metro or subway system.  There are only two main subway lines.  They intersect at Termini and are designated line “A” and the line “B” (in Italian: “Linea A” and “Linea B”).  They are marked on the map with either a blue or red “M.”

Rome is not a large city.  Walking is the best way to see it, but at any point along the way, you can easily hop a bus to the next attraction.  Before doing so, while at Termini Station – or at any news-stand – pick up a day pass to the entire transportation system.  Ask for the “beeg” ticket – B.I.G.  (Cost: 4 or 5 Euro)


























The actual WALKING TOUR BEGINS NEXT in chapter three at termini station, both in this booklet & on the DVD



START TOUR HERE:     With your back to the façade of Termini Station, directly in front of you is a huge bus plaza from which you can connect to all parts of the city.  There are also stairways – inside and outside the station – that lead down to Rome’s Metro or subway system. 

History:     Termini Station is the main rail terminus of Rome, hence its name.  It is not named after the ancient termi, the Baths of Diocletian, not far away.  Begun in 1937, when it was decided a new station was needed as part of the planned 1942 World's Fair (never held because of World War II), the old station was demolished and part of the new one built when everything stopped in 1943 with the collapse of Mussolini’s government. [1]

Today:     The current building was inaugurated in 1950.   It was recently refurbished for the Vatican’s 2000 Jubilee.  It has an extensive, quite new shopping mall downstairs.  The ground floor has department stores and shops along the right flank of the building as you face the tracks.  On both the left and right flanks, you will find all major rental car agencies.

Eating:     Inside you will find fast-food chains and many cafes.  There are two cafeteria-style restaurants; one in the mezzanine overlooking the ticket lobby, the other on the ground floor off the next big lobby on the way to the tracks.

Outside, there are dozens of eateries, especially on the streets to your left as you stand outside with your back to the station façade.  In general, the deeper you venture into these streets away from the station, the better the food.


The Rome Archeological Card:     If you do not intend to enter this ruin or that museum, don’t buy any tickets.  Or just but singles on the spot.  But if you plan this tour for two or more days, at any one of the museums or monuments, you can buy the Rome archeological card.  It will get you into the two National Museums at the Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian.  It also gets you into the Coliseum, the Palatine Hill, the Baths of Caracalla, two other museums plus two ruins out on the old Appian Way.

NEXT:     Walking away from the station, pass through the bus plaza.  You will see, across the street, a huge mass of red brick.  This is what remains of the ancient Baths of Diocletian.  These were the grandest of the public baths (thermae) built by successive emperors.  Dedicated in AD 306, the baths remained in use until 537, when the Goths cut the aqueducts that fed them. [1] 

NEXT:     Veering to your right toward the ruin will bring you to the entrance of the Baths of Diocletian Branch of the national roman museum.


National Roman Museum at the Baths of Diocletian.  This was the main museum of the National Roman Museum until Palazzo Massimo was opened in 1995.  There are fewer materials and antiquities on view here.

NEXT:     The main branch of this important museum system is in fact just a few feet away in the Palazzo Massimo.  You reach it, if you instead veer left as you walk through the bus plaza

Palazzo Massimo:     Constructed between 1883 and 1887 as a Jesuit seminary and used as a hospital during WW II, after the war it returned to scholastic functions then was abandoned in 1960.  The State acquired in 1981. [2]

The Collection.     The collection accommodates sculpture (Republican; early and late Empire) and also coin collections that show the evolution of currency in Roman Italy.  Most of the coins on display in the collections are very rare. [2]

Ground floor and first floor:     Sculptures of the period between the late Roman Republic and the early Imperial period. Themes include Hellenistic influences on Roman art and the development of the portraiture of the emperors. [2]

Second floor:     Frescoes, stucci and mosaics, including those from the villa of Livia (wife of Augustus) at Prima Porta and the villa’s summer triclinium. [2]


NEXT:     With your BACK to Palazzo Massimo, you will see a large fountain in the center of the Piazza della Repubblica.

Piazza della Repubblica was known, until the 1950s, as Piazza Esedra.  The earlier name indicates that the piazza was built upon the remains of the curved colonnade (called in Latin EXEDRA) that fronted the Baths of Diocletian.

Saint Mary of the Angels & the Martyrs:     As you walk into the piazza, on your right is the church built by Michelangelo inside the tepidarium (or warm room) of the ancient bath complex.  As such, when you enter, notice that the décor is essentially just as you would have found it in a Roman Imperial bath.

The huge vaulted transept displays the huge scale of Roman construction.  It is 298 feet long and 91 feet high.

The Meridian Line:     At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Pope Clement XI had the astronomer and philosopher Francesco Bianchini build a meridian line in the basilica.  Its purpose was to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation of the Julian Calendar and to predict the dates for Easter. [1]

NEXT:     Outside again, make your way to the exact opposite end of the piazza where Via Nazionale begins between the colonnades.  


Once quite seedy, the colonnades are today all thoroughly cleaned up.  You will find many good restaurants here on either side, but in the left hand colonnade, there is one of Rome’s newest 5-star hotels:

HOTEL EXEDRA: Piazza della Repubblica, 47. Telephone: 1-888-626-7265  Rooms: 300 to 400 hundred Euro. 

For a quiet bed & breakfast near the Termini Station, try Armonia B&B:

Armonia b&b: Metro Line “B” Exit Piazza Bologna. Cell: +39 3493-77-9134   Rooms: 90 to 150 Euro  Telephone +39 (06) 47-82-5204.  Rooms: 150 to 400 Euro.

Via Nazionale empties into Piazza Venezia and is one of the city’s major arteries.  On it, there are three, four and five star hotels (plus clothing shops).

NEXT:     Just one block down Via Nazionale, stop at Via Torino.  Take a right here.  One block up on the left is the very fine:

Residenza Cellini: Via Modena, 5.  Telephone +39 (06) 47-82-5204.  Rooms: 150 to 400 Euro.  

NEXT:     But before returning to Via Nazionale, walk up one more block on Via Torino.  On your right, just before the Piazza San Bernardo you find the sculpture shop featured in the opening and closing of “caput mundi.”

Il Giardino di Domenico Persiani:  Via Torino, 92. 

NEXT:     A few steps further is the church of San Bernardo alle Terme.  It too was built into the ruins of the ancient bath complex that once covered this entire zone.  It was built (in 1598) into one of two round ball courts of the ancient Baths of Diocletian.[2]  The elegant dome will give you a taste of the grander dome of the Pantheon coming up.

NEXT:     Backtrack on Via Torino.  Stop at Via Nazionale, and there at number 7 on Via Nazionale is:

Hotel Quirinale:  Via Nazionale, 7.   Telephone: +39 06 4707. 


NEXT:     Pass Via Nazionale, and within four or five blocks, you arrive at the Piazza dell’Esquilino.  The huge building facing you is the back of Santa Maria Maggiore.  The entrance is on the opposite side.


Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore:     One of the five major basilicas of Rome (the others being St. John Lateran, St. Lawrence outside the Walls, St. Peter’s, and St. Paul outside the Walls), Santa Maria Maggiore is the          only Roman basilica that retains the core of its original structure. [1]

The name of the church reflects two ideas of greatness, that of a major basilica and that of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the true Mother of God.  It is also the most important place of prayer dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. [2]

After the Avignon papacy ended and the Pope returned to Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore – due to the deteriorated state of the Lateran Palace – became a temporary residence of the Popes, until he later moved to Vatican City. [3]

Architecture:     The present building dates from the time of Pope Sixtus III (432 - 440) and contains many ancient mosaics from this period.  The Athenian marble columns supporting the nave are even older, and either come from the first basilica, or from another antique Roman building.  The 16th century coffered ceiling, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, may have been gilded with Inca gold given to the Spanish pope Alexander VI by Ferdinand and Isabella. [4]

Pope Benedict XIV added the façade with its loggia in 1743.  The thick column in the square out front was erected in 1614. [5]  It is the sole remaining column from Basilica of Constantine in the upper level of the Roman Forum.

NEXT:     Return to the Piazza dell’Esquilino behind the basilica.  Take a left down Via Cavour to the Metro Stop Cavour.  Here you have a choice.  Taking the Metro one stop will get you to the Coliseum

I suggest that, half a block down Via Cavour, on your left, there is a long stairway going up.  Take it.  It leads to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) where you will find Michelangelo’s famous “Moses.”

San Pietro in Vincoli.  The basilica was first built in the mid-5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound St Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem.  The chains are in a reliquary under the main altar in the basilica.

Architecture:     The basilica underwent several restorations, among them a restoration by Pope Adrian I and a rebuilding by Pope Sixtus IV and Pope Julius II.  The front portico was added in 1475.  The interior has a nave and two aisles, with three apses divided by antique Doric-style columns.  The nave has an 18th century ceiling, the center fresco portraying the Miracle of the Chains. [6]

Michelangelo's “Moses.”     Completed 1515, The “Moses was intended as part of a massive 47-statue, free-standing funeral monument for Pope Julius II pro-jected for the Vatican.  When that plan finally collapsed, it became the center-piece of the Pope's funeral monument and tomb here in his family's church. [7]


NEXT:     Exit the church and continue through the small piazza out front.  The first or second street will be Via Annibaldi.  Look to your left and there, looming ahead, is the Roman Coliseum.

If you are hungry, take a right instead and return to Via Cavour.  Go past Cavour; the first left is Via Leonina, where you will find the strangely named:

Wanted il Post Ricercato.  Via Leonina, 90. 

Otherwise, at Via Cavour, take your left.  There are several restaurants on either side as you walk down to Via dei Fori Imperiali.  You can try:

Baires on Via Cavour, 315. An Argentinean restaurant with good soups and ample portions Argentinean meats.  Telephone: +39 (06) 692-02-164.

The Ancient Romans called this neighborhood the subura.  Caesar was born here.  Today, there are two classic Roman hotels, especially nice if your visit to Rome will be heavy on Roman history.  They overlook the Imperial Forums…

HOTEL FORUM: Via Tor de Conti, 25.   Telephone: +39 (06) 679-2446.  Rooms: 150 to 350 Euro.

HOTEL NERVA:  Via Tor de Conti, 3.   Telephone: +39 (06) 678-1835.  Rooms: 100 to 250 Euro.


NEXT:     If you did not eat, after leaving St Peter in Chains, you will have taken Via Annibaldi to the ColiseumIf you did eat somewhere on Cavour, continue down Cavour to Via dei Fori Imperiali.  Walk left to the Coliseum. 

The Coliseum:     Now, with your Rome Archeological Card, cruise right into the most famous arena in the worldThe seating is almost totally gone, but in its heyday, this building accommodated 45,000 spectators

Construction:     Originally called the Flavian Amphitheater, it is the largest amphitheater ever built in the Roman Empire.  It is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering.  Unlike earlier semi-circular theaters that were built into hillsides, the Coliseum is entirely freestanding.  Its elliptical plan derives putting two semi-circular theaters together (amphi- means two).  It is 615 feet long and 510 feet wide, with a base area of 6 acres.  The height of the outer wall is 157 feet.  The perimeter originally measured 1,788 feet.  The central


arena is an oval of 287 feet by 180 feet wide, surrounded by a 15 foot wall, above which rose tiers of seating.  The word arena is Latin for sand. [1]

Construction began under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian around AD 7072. The site chosen was the flat area of a low valley between the Caelian, Esquiline and Palatine Hills.  Even by the 2nd century BC, the area was densely inhabited.  After the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, Nero seized the zone to build his grandiose Golden House.  It included a colossal statue of himself at the entrance (where the Temple of Venus and Rome is now).  He created a lake surrounded by fabulous pavilions, gardens and long porticoes where the Coliseum is now.

After Nero was deposed, the area was transformed by Vespasian.  Although the Colossus of Nero was preserved, much of the Domus Aurea was torn away, the lake filled in and the land reused as the location for the Flavian Amphitheater. 

According to an inscription found on the site, "the Emperor Vespasian ordered this new amphitheater to be erected from his general's share of the booty."  This is taken to mean the treasure seized by the Romans following their victory in the Great Jewish Revolt in AD 70. [2]

The Coliseum was to its third story when Vespasian's died in 79.  The top level was finished and the building was inaugurated by his son, Titus, in 80.  Over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games. The building was remodeled further under Vespasian's younger son, Emperor Domitian, adding the underground tunnels we see today under the missing floor. [3]

Its huge crowd capacity made it essential that the Coliseum be filled and vacated quickly.  Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums.  The amphitheater was ringed by 80 entrances, each one numbered. The northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor and his aides.  Many of the entrances have disappeared with the collapse of the perimeter wall, but entrances XXIII to LIV survive. [4]

Spectators had tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the correct section and row.  They accessed their seats via vomitoria, passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind.  These quickly got people into their seats and, upon conclusion of the event, permitted their exit within minutes.  Vomitoria in Latin means “a rapid discharge.” [5]

Usage:     The Coliseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles.  The last recorded games were held as late as the 6th century, well after the fall of Rome in 476.  As well as the traditional gladiatorial games, many other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.


Restorations:     In 217, the Coliseum was badly damaged by a major fire caused by lightning.  It was not fully repaired until about 240.  An inscription records the various restorations under Theodosius II and Valentinian III (425450), possibly to repair damage caused by a major earthquake in 443.  More work followed in 484 and 508.  The arena was used for contests well into the 6th century.  Gladiatorial fights were last mentioned around 435. [6]

The building eventually ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era.  It was then used for such varied purposes as housing, workshops, living quarters for a religious order, a fortress, and a quarry.

Medieval:     The Coliseum underwent radical changes during the this period.  By the late 6th century, a small church was in the seating galleries, while the arena itself was a cemetery.  The numerous vaulted spaces in the exterior arcades under the seating were converted into housing and workshops, and are recorded as still being rented out as late as the 12th century.  Around 1200 the Frangipani family took over the Coliseum and fortified it as their castle. [7]

The Coliseum suffered damage by the great earthquake of 1349, causing the outer south wall to collapse.  Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces and other buildings elsewhere in Rome.  A religious order moved into the northern third of the Coliseum in the mid-14th century and stayed until as late as the early 19th century.  The interior of the building was radically stripped of stone, which was reused elsewhere or burned to make quicklime.   The metal clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving the pockmarks which still scar the building. [8]

Modern:     During the 16th and 17th century, the Church assumed a productive role over the site.  Pope Sixtus V (15851590) once planned – unsuccessfully – to turn the building into a wool factory to give Rome's prostitutes honest work. [9]

Legacy:     The Coliseum is interpreted as a great triumphal monument built in the Roman tradition of celebrating great victories.  Vespasian's decision to build the Coliseum on the site of Nero's lake is also seen as a populist gesture of returning to the people of Rome an area of the city, which Nero had purloined for his own use after the fire AD 64.  In contrast to other arenas, which were located on the outskirts of a city, the Coliseum was constructed in the city center; in effect, placing it symbolically at the heart of Rome. [10]

Today:     The Coliseum is today one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions, receiving millions of visitors annually. The effects of pollution and general deterioration prompted major restorations program in the 1990s.  In recent years, it has become a symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment (abolished in Italy in 1948). [11]


Anti–death penalty demonstrations took place in front of the Coliseum in 2000.  Since that time, local authorities change the color of the night time illumination from white to gold whenever a person condemned to death anywhere in the world gets their sentence commuted or is released.

NEXT:     Once outside the Coliseum, go to the curve of the arena that is closest to the Metro Stop COLOSSEO .  There you will see a mound of earth and trees, usually with people resting on it.

The Colossus of Nero:     This mound is where the colossal statue of Nero once stood.  It was 95 feet tall and had seven sunbeams sprouting from its head to lengths up to 23 feet.  The statue was gold plated bronze, taller than the Colo-ssus of Rhodes, and taller than the Statue of Liberty (minus her uplifted arm).[12]

This statue was later remodeled by Nero's successors into the likeness of Helios, the Sun God, by adding the solar crown.  Nero's head was also substituted with the heads of various succeeding emperors.  Despite its pagan links, the statue remained standing well into the medieval era and was credited with magical powers.  It came to be seen as an iconic symbol of the permanence of Rome. [13]

In the 8th century, one Venerable Bede (c. 672–735) wrote a famous epigram celebrating the symbolic significance of the statue: Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus ("as long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world").  This is often thought to refer to the Coliseum rather than the Colossus (as in, for instance, Byron's poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage).  However, in Bede’s time, the masculine noun coliseus was applied to the statue rather than to what was still known as the Flavian amphitheater.  So it seems he was referencing the colossal statue. [14]

The Colossus did eventually fall to bronze thieves, but the name “Coliseum” did survive as reference to the amphitheater itself, the statue long forgotten.

NEXT:     Turning your back to the Coliseumand with the Metro Stop COLOSSEO to your right – look up onto a platform where now stands the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome.

Temple of Venus and Rome:     This building (its ruins now closed) was dedicated to the city of Rome and the ancestral mother of the Julian family.  Built in the 2nd century by Hadrian on the Velian Hill, the Temple of Venus and Rome may have been the most magnificent pagan temple in all of Rome. [15]

The platform of the temple is some 475 by 330 feet.  It sits exactly at the summit of the Velia Hill where Nero had placed his Colossus.  To get a sense of that statue’s size, note the present tower of S. Francesca Romana; that’s where the


Colossus stood until Hadrian removed it to the valley below, along side the Coliseum.  The architect in charge of this project used 24 elephants.

In placing his temple on the platform, Hadrian removed most of what was left of Nero’s giant Domus Aura.  The Golden House, almost a city in itselfin some directions miles long right here in the middle of Rome – was a travesty recognized by all except Nero himself.  He was reported to exclaim, upon moving into his new home, “Finally I can live like a human being!” [16]

NEXT:     To your extreme left is the huge marble Arch of Constantine.  Before you go there, however, if you are in the mood to eat, go around to the exact opposite side of the Coliseum. 

Before walking up to the street, notice the five marble blocks that the Romans used to control the huge awning that covered the top of the Coliseum.  These blocks are all that remain of the dozens that once surrounded the building.

NEXT:     Climb the stairs and cross the street.  To your left, find Via San Giovanni in Laterano; there are several restaurants here.  I suggest:

Antica hostaria da Franco.  Via San Giovanni in Laterano, 48.    

It is also across from the ruins of the great gladiator school of old Rome, called the Ludus Magnus.  Fragments of these ruins are inside the restaurant. 

Ludus Magnus:     The Coliseum and its activities supported a substantial industry in the area.   In addition to the amphitheater itself, many other buildings nearby were linked to the games.  Here in Via San Giovanni in Laterano are the remains of the Ludus Magnus, a training school for gladiators.  It was connected to the Coliseum by an underground tunnel that allowed easy access for the gladiators. The training arena of Ludus Magnus was known as a popular attraction for Roman spectators and ancient tourists. [17]

Just around the corner, there is one of the closest hotels to the Coliseum:

Hotel Celio.  Via dei Santissimi Quattro Coronati, 35c.  39 (06) 704-95-333.  Rooms: 100 to 300 Euro.

8. Arch of Constantine, the circus MAXIMUS & the baths of Caracalla

NEXT:     Back at the Coliseum, go to the Arch of Constantine.  A high fence surrounds it, so you cannot walk under it.  At least look through it from the Coliseum side.  You will be looking down Via di San Gregorio.


Arch of Constantine:     In ancient times, this was the Via Triumphalis, for this was a triumphal arch erected to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvio Bridge in 312 AD.  Dedicated in 315, it is the latest of the existing triumphal arches in Rome.

Architecture:     The arch has three archways, the central one being 38 feet high and 21 feet wide.  The lower part of the monument is of marble, the top (called the attic) is brickwork sheathed in marble.  The design, with its detached columns and an attic with the main inscription above, is modeled after the example of the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Forum.  The lower part of the arch is re-used from an older monument, perhaps from the times of Hadrian. [1]

The layout of the main facade is identical on both sides.  It is divided by four columns of Corinthian order made of Numidian yellow marble, one of which has been replaced by one of white marble.  The columns stand on bases with victory figures in front, and captured barbarians and Roman soldiers on sides. [2]

Decoration:      The arch re-cycles parts from older monuments.  As it celebrates the victory of Constantine, the new historic friezes illustrating his campaign in Italy convey praise of the emperor, both in battle and in his civilian duties.  Other imagery and decoration are taken from the "golden times" of the Empire under Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius and connect Constantine to these "good emperors.”  The spandrels of the main archway are decorated with reliefs depicting victory figures; those of the smaller archways show river gods. [3]

The main element from the time of Constantine is the historical relief frieze running around the monument under the round panels, one strip above each lateral archway and at the small sides of the arch.  These reliefs depict scenes from the Constantine’s Italian campaign against Maxentius (which was the reason for the monument).  The frieze starts at the western side with the "Departure from Milan."  It continues on the southern ("outward" looking face) with the siege of another city of importance to the war in Northern Italy. [4] 

On that face is the Battle of Milvio Bridge with Constantine's army victorious and the enemy drowning in the Tiber.  On the eastern side: Constantine and his army enter Rome.  On the northern face, looking towards the city, two strips with the emperor's actions after taking possession of Rome: Constantine speaking to the citizens on the Forum Romanum, and distributing money. [5]

Inscription:     Above the central archway, the main inscription takes the most prominent place of the attic.  It is identical on both sides of the arch.

The main inscription would originally have been of bronze letters.  Though only the recesses for the letters remain, you can still easily read them: [6]



Translation:     “To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.” [7]

Via Triumphalis:     The arch spanned the Via Triumphalis, the road taken by the emperors when they entered the city in triumph.  This route led through the Circus Maximus, around the Palatine Hill, up Via Truimphalis and under the Arch of Constantine.  The procession would turn left around the Meta Sudans and march up Via Sacra to and under the Arch of Titus, down to the Forum Romanum to Arch of Septimius Severus, then on up to the Capitoline Hill.

NEXT:     At the end of Via San Gregorio is the giant Circus Maximus, a superb view of which awaits you on the Palatine Hill.  Or you could walk to the circus right now.  Why not?  It’s less than half a mile on the right.  And there’s a Metro Stop (CIRCO MASSIMO), from which you can get back to the Coliseum. 

The Circus Maximus:   The name in means greatest circus.  It was a hippodrome and mass entertainment venue situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills.  The location was first utilized for public games and entertain-ment by the early Etruscan kings.  Somewhat later, the Circus was the site of public games and festivals in the Greek mode.  Meeting the demands of the Roman citizenry for public entertainment on a lavish scale, Julius Caesar expanded the Circus around 50 BC.  Later expansions brought the track to measure over 1,900 feet in length, 380 in width.  It held 250,000 spectators. [8]

Chariot Racing:     Chariot Racing was the most important event at the Circus. The track could hold twelve chariots; the two sides of the track were separated by a raised median called the spina.  This spine had statues of gods set upon it.  Augustus erected an Egyptian obelisk on it as well.  At either end of the spina was a turning post, the meta, around which the chariots turned.  Above the spina, were metal dolphins that rotated down to mark laps around the course.  If you have seen the movie Ben Hur, you may remember these.  [9]

A very dangerous sport, chariot racing frequently resulted in spectacular crashes (Ben Hur again) and possibly the death of one or more contestants.  At the start point, the circus had a flat side to allow the chariots to line up properly.  Here there were starting gates, or carceres, which were staggered so that each


chariots traveled the same distance to the first turn.  The race went for a total distance of about 4 miles. [10]

Except for the now grass-covered racing area, very little remains of the Circus (note the long hump where the spine was).  The structure no doubt disappeared into the building of other structures in medieval and Renaissance Rome.  Pope Sixtus V ordered the obelisk removed in the 16th century to Piazza del Popolo.

The Circus Maximus was the first and largest in Rome, but not the only one.  Others included the Circus Flaminius near the Theater of Marcellus, the Circus of Maxentius on the Appian Way, and that of Nero on Vatican Hill.[11]

The Circus Maximus still occasionally entertains Romans.  The Rome concert of Live 8 was celebrated here in 2005, as also the Italian World Cup 2006 victory when over 700,000 people packed in to celebrate. [12]

NEXT:     From here, just another short half mile awayfollowing Via dei Terme di Caracallastands the remains of the largest bath complex ever built, the Baths of Caracalla.  Use your Rome archeological card to enter.

Baths of Caracalla:     Built between 212 and 216 AD, during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla, the bath complex once covered approximately 33 acres.  The bath building itself was 750 feet long, 380 feet wide and 125 feet height.  It could hold an estimated 1,600 bathers. [13]

The complex was more a leisure center than just a series of water baths.  The complex was the second to include a public library.  Moreover, like other public libraries in Rome, there were two separate buildings, one for Greek language texts and one for Latin.  The libraries were located in curved exedrae on the east and west sides of the bath complex.  The entire north wall was devoted to shops that gave the complex the feeling of a modern day mall.  [14]

A hypocaust system of burning coal and wood beneath the floors heated the complex.  The water came in from a dedicated water supply (the Marcian Aqueduct) which fed huge reservoirs on the south wall. [15]

The baths themselves consisted of a central frigidarium (cold room), a double pool tepidarium (medium temperature), and a circular caldarium (hot room), as well as two palaestras where wrestling and boxing was practiced.  The north end of the bath building contained a large swimming pool.  This natatio was roofless with bronze mirrors overhead to direct sunlight into the pool. [15]

Legacy:     In the early 20th century, the design of the baths inspired several modern structures, including the old Pennsylvania Station in New York.  In addition, 22 well-preserved columns from the ruins are found in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, taken there in the 12th century. [16]  The great basins     


in the front of Palazzo Farnese are also from here.  Today, Rome’s Teatro dell'Opera often uses the ruins as a backdrop for its summer season.

If you are doing this tour in three days, now is good time to take the Metro home.  Tomorrow, take the same Metro back and get off at the Coliseum (Metro Stop COLOSSEO).

9.  The Meta Sudans, the Via sacra & the arch of Titus

NEXT:     If you are doing this tour in three days, you went home and returned to Metro Stop COLOSSEO.  Go now to the Arch of Constantine.

Once there, place yourself between the arch and the Coliseum.  In front of you, there is a circular pattern of ruins in the ground.  This is the Meta Sudans

Meta Sudans:     This Meta dates to some time around AD 90 under the Flavian emperors, a few years after the completion of the Coliseum nearby.  

A meta is “turning point” and was usually a tall conical object in a Roman circus that stood at either end of the central spina, around which racing chariots would turn.  The Meta Sudans had the same shape, and also functioned as a similar kind of turning point, in that it marked the spot where a Roman triumphal procession would turn left from the Via Triumphalis along the east side of the Palatine onto the Via Sacra on its way up to the Arch of Titus. [1]

The Meta Sudans was built of a brick and concrete and faced with marble.  It "sweated" water (sudans means "sweating") rather than spurting it out.  This means that the water either oozed out the top, or dripped from holes in its side.  The cone itself was sheathed in polished bronze and glistened in the sun.  It stood as high as 56 feet; until the 20th century, its ruins were still over 30 feet. [2]

The fountain appears as a ruin in medieval views of the Coliseum.  Photos from the end of the 19th century show a cone of bricks next to the Arch of Constan-tine.  The ruin survived until 1936 when Mussolini demolished it and paved it over to make room for a traffic circle around the Coliseum.  The aboveground structure is gone but later excavations reveal an extensive substructure. [3]

NEXT:     Now walk yourself up Via Sacrawith ancient slabs of stone under footas you approach the Arch of Titus.

Via Sacra:     Via was normally only applied to the great roads that started at the gates of a city.  Only two streets in ancient Rome bore the name Via –Via Sacra and Via Nova.  The Via Sacra is the more important and older road.  [4]

In Republican times, many noble families had the homes here, including the Valerii, the Scipios, the Domitii and Octavii.  Under the Empire, homes gave way to the Via Sacra becoming one of the most bustling and influential business


street in Rome with jewelers, goldsmiths, pearl dealers, precious stone cutters, bronze chasers, florists, wreath makers, and grocers.[5]

After Hadrian built the Temple to Venus and Rome, the Sacred Way was organized according to how we see it now, with its northern side having its shops supplanted by monumental buildings, now ruins. [6]

Arch of Titus:     This is a triumphal arch in Pentelic marble and with a single opening.  Emperor Domitian constructed it shortly after the death of his brother, the Emperor Titus.  It commemorates the capture and sacking of Jerusalem in AD 70, which effectively terminated the Jewish War begun in 66. [7]

Note the sculptural panels lining the passageway.  Both commemorate the joint triumph celebrated by Titus and his father Vespasian in the summer of AD 71. One of the panels depicts the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple, while the other depicts Titus as triumphator.  A quadriga – possibly of elephants and not the usual horses – originally crowned the arch. [8]

Main Inscription:     The inscription in Roman square capitals reads:


Translation:     The Senate and People of Rome (dedicate this) to the divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian. [9]

Legacy:     Due to the depiction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple, many Jews refuse to walk underneath the arch to this very day (though the passageway is now closed to the public).  A notable exception occurred in 1948 at the founding of Israel, when a large contingent from the Roman Jewish community walked through the arch in the opposite direction from the original Ancient Roman triumphal march. [10]


NEXT:     Walk around the Arch of Titus to look down into the Forum.  Even though it’s free, don’t go there yet.  Just a few paces away from the arch, to your left as you look down into the Forum, is the entrance to the Palatine Hill.  

Palatine Hill:     This is one of the most important of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city.   It is now essentially a large open-air museum and is open during daylight hours on the same ticket as Coliseum or with the ROME ARCHEOLOGICAL CARD.  There are two entrances, one here near the Arch of Titus and the other on Via di San Gregorio, the road that connects the Arch of Constantine to the Circus Maximus.


According to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill was where Romulus and Remus were found and kept alive by the she-wolf.  According to this legend,  the shepherd Faustulus found them, and with his wife, raised them. [1]

Recent archeology confirms that Rome had its origins on the Palatine. Excavations show that people have lived there since around 1000 BC.  Many affluent Romans of the Republican and Imperial periods had residences there.  

NEXT:     As you walk across the hill – with your back to the Forum – the ruins of the palaces of emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian can still be seen.  When you arrive at the far end overlooking the Circus Maximus, you are in the Palace of Domitian.  On the other side of the Circus is the Aventine Hill.   It is today a quiet and choice neighborhood; it was also where Marc Antony lived.

NEXT:     Leaving the overlook, after about twenty paces, take your RIGHT through Domitian’s Palace until you arrive at his small private stadium or Hippodrome.  (Domitian also built a larger stadium that was actually used for foot-racing competitions; it exists today as Piazza Navona.)  This structure here appears to be a Roman circus, but it was too small to accommodate chariots.  It too was probably a venue for foot races, but this is disputed. [2]

NEXT:     With your BACK to the stadium’s long side, walk straight to you see Palatine Museum.  Most of the statuary inside comes from the Hippo-drome.  There is no charge once you have paid the Palatine Hill entrance fee.

Continue past the Museum, and before the end of the hill, you will arrive at the Palace of Livia, the wife of Augustus.  It is currently being excavated.  It was near here, during Augustus' reign, that an area of the Palatine was sectioned off as a sort of archaeological zone.  Fragments of Bronze Age pots and tools were found, leading Augustus to declare the site as the "original town of Rome."  Modern archaeology has more or less confirmed his hunch. [3]

NEXT:     Take your RIGHT at the Palace of Livia and continue in the direction of the Forum until you arrive there at the Roman Forum.

You now stand on the site of the Flavian Palace which was built largely during the reign of the Flavian dynasty (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian).  It was later  extended and modified; in fact, its ruins continue all the way across the Palatine to connect with Domitian’s Palace and the Circus Maximus overlook. [4]


General History.  The word “Forum” means market place and may derive from the Latin ferre meaning to carry, a place where people carried things to trade. [1]  This is suspect now and no one is sure of the derivation, but the accepted meaning is a place bound or fenced in by some means.  In the case of the Roman


Forum, it is bordered by the surrounding hills, which are the western Capitoline, the southern Palatine, the northern Viminal and Quirinal, and the much smaller Velia to the east, where stands the Arch of Titus. [2]

Perhaps tribes of surrounding hills saw the hills as defensible areas, while the valleys were seen as ground common where battles were fought, truces negotiated, and where, after hostilities ended, stuff was bought and sold. [3] Later, as the Forum became more a place for the courts and higher level trade, the markets were moved to the periphery and even outside of the Forum.

The First Basilicas:     Around 200 BC, the idea of the Basilica – or covered hall seems to have been adapted (from the Greek cities to the south) as a covered space for law proceedings, banking and some trading.  The first basilica was built by Cato the Censor in 185 BC; it which was restored and rebuilt many times.  Later came the Basilica Julia was built by Julius Caesar. [4]

Caesar also commissioned – behind the Senate – a new Forum and prototype for all forthcoming so-called Imperial Forums.  In his Forum he built the temple of Venus Venetrix in honor of his familial identification with this Goddess.  After Caesar’s death, Augustus personally undertook to complete all these plans.  In fact, it is true that, while many buildings in the Forum (and in Rome itself) were financed by the public treasury, many were built at private expense. [5]

Augustus also built the Temple of Julius Caesar in the main Forum.  He later built his own Forum of Augustus to the north of the Forum proper.  This forum in fact in fact took over all operations of the Roman Forum and forever altered the unique character of the original. [6]

The Fall:     In 410 AD the city was sacked by Alaric and the Goths.  Many monuments in the city and the Forum were torched, including the Curia and the Basilica Aemelia.  The Vandals arrived in the year 455.  A few years later, with the deposition of the very young Romulus Augustulus in AD 467, the Empire in the west was gone.  The last monument to be erected in the Roman Forum was Phocas’s Column (608 AD), seen there still in the open space of the Forum. [7]

The Destruction:    After Charlemagne, the destruction of the Forum accelerated.  Limekilns (found near the corner of the temple of Venus and Rome and in the Basilica Aemelia) were used to extract from the marble, lime for the making of concrete.  Hundreds of marble masterpiecessome of the finest of Graeco/Roman sculpturemet their end in such limekilns; a terrible disgrace. [8]

The Medieval Period:     In the twelfth century, the Forumwith the collapse of the basilicas and the randomly built fortifications of the various extant baronswas essentially not passable in the way that we experience it today.  The general debilitation of the area continued to such a degree that at one point the church


built into the shell of the Curia (St. Adriano) had to be raised a full half-          story so it would equal the adjacent topography. The church is gone now              and the Curia restored to its last Imperial restoration under Diocletian. [9]

Abuses accelerated further during the Pope’s exile to Avignon in southern France.  After Urban V returned the papacy to Rome in 1367, he brought with him a renewed vigor to revitalize the city, and with it, unfortunately, a renewed interest in limekilns.  In fact, he built his Lateran Palace from the remains of the Basilica Aemelia and the Temple of Faustina. [10]

The Renaissance:     By the time of the Renaissance, whatever was remaining of the Roman Forum was ready for a new round of quarrying by such luminaries of the time as Bramante and Michelangelo (under orders of Popes Julius II and Leo X).  Rafaello did write an urgent appeal to Leo, decrying the destruction of the monuments of the ancient Rome, even urging that they be restored, or at minimum be documented in drawings before being dismantled.  This was of course ignored.  Ironically, what remained of both the Basilicas Aemelia and Julia (and both the Temple and House of the Vestals) were totally consumed to create buildings whose designs owed everything to them! [11]

In the early 1500s, Paul III leveled and filled in great swaths of the Forum to accommodate a procession in honor of King Charles V of France.  The area between the two arches was passable, but by 50 years latter, scholars of ancient Rome could not even agree as to where in fact the Forum was. [12]

NEXT:     From the overlook, look to your far right and locate the Arch of Titus.  This is where we will begin our walk into the Forum.  

Make your way back to the Palatine entrance and continue to the Arch of Titus.  Descend the steps leading from the arch (the continuation of the Via Sacra).  A few paces down on your RIGHT is the Basilica of Constantine-Maxentius.

Basilica of Constantine:     Sometimes called the Basilica Nova (because of its “new” design), it was begun in AD 306 by Emperor Maxentius.  At his death (at the hands of Constantine at the Milvio Bridge) it was finished by Constantine and renamed after him.  At the far end, there is preserved an apse where sat the Emperor or a presiding magistrate.  But this basilica is very different in form and use than its more conservative and stately predecessors (like the Basilica Julia) with the calming effect of their alliterating, harmonious columns. 13]

The giant openness of Constantine’s building replicates the great central rooms of the late imperial baths; especially those of Diocletian (recall the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Termini). We see here that these ceilings were not of wood but instead massive concrete vaults and cross vaults supported by only four thick piers on either side.  The columns here were for aesthetic effect only. 


The last one, which here supported nothing, finds itself now in the piazza in front of Santa Maria Maggiore, where today it supports a Madonna. [14]

Destruction:     The space covered here was more than 7000 square yards.  The destruction began in the late middle ages when, because of its giant size and the shrinking population of this once Capitol of the World (Caput Mundi), the building was, ironically, to big for use as a church.  Why ironically?  Because it was Bramante and Michelangelo, the most famous architects of the newly projected Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican, used this basilica as its model. [15]

In addition, the new St Peter’s was to replace the old St. Peter’s (on the same spot that Constantine commissioned it in the 4th century) which would, again ironically, be roofed over by the very bronze plates stolen from this basilica.  The absence of these protective plates here would ultimately contribute to the collapse of the vaulting and the demise of the building as a whole. [16]

NEXT:     Next down Via Sacra on the RIGHT is Temple of Divus Romulus erected by Maxentius in honor of his son Romulus.  The bronze door is originalminus decorationsand the lock is still functional and performing its designed task now for almost 1700 years.

In the 6th century, the temple became the vestibule of the church of S.S. Cosma and Damiano, whereby the level of the building’s interior was raised to accom-modate the rising level of the then called Campo Vaccino -- what we now call the Roman Forum – as vaccino means cattle (in other words “cow field”). [17]

NEXT:     As the Via Sacra levels off, we arrived at the Archaic Necropolis.  Apparently forgotten in ancient times, early 20th century excavations have revealed this necropolis (to the right of the high Temple of Antonius and Faustina) at a depth of about 20 feet below the level of the Forum of Imperial times.  The numerous graves are marked in letter fashion (you can see artifacts from these in the Forum Museum).  Burials were mostly cremation, but some also of inhumation, which was rare in early Roman times. [18]

NEXT:     To the left of the graves is the Temple of Antonius and Faustina.  In the third year of this reign, Emperor Antonius Pius lost his wife Faustina.  The Senate elevated her to divinity and erected her temple.  The vestibule has six smooth columns 55 feet high.  Sometime before the 12th century, the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda was built into the remains and, again, you can seedue to the build-up of trashhow the entrance to that medieval church is higher than both the ancient and modern levels of the Forum. [19]

NEXT:     Turning your back on the temple, you face the mound where once stood the Regia.  Practically nothing remains of it.  According to legend, King Numa Pompilius gave the site to Rome.  It would later come to be the residence


of the Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest.  Julius Caesar once held this office.  It was most likely, however, not his residence, but his office. [20]

NEXT:     On the other side of the Regia (on a small branch road) is the House of the Vestal Virgins.  The college of the vestals consisted of six priestesses, among whom were always one or two that were just children, but never less than six years.  Appointed by the Pontifex Maximus at the consent of their parents, they had to remain in service for thirty years.  They were to guard the scared fire, tend to it and fetch water from a sacred spring on the Appian Way. 

Penalties for neglect were sever, and included death by burial alive to the neck if one were to sin against chastity.  They received large dowries upon initiation and could control their own finances.  They were highly respected; they had places of honor at public games and other events; and if a criminal were to see one as he was on his way to his punishment, she could pardon him.

The building was very spacious and well appointed for a home for only six people.  In the Christian era, it was converted to Imperial then Papal usage. [21]

NEXT:     The round Temple of Vesta adjacent was of concrete  surrounded at its base by several layers of tufa blocks, almost 50 feet in diameter.  It suffered fire damage many times and was finally rebuilt in marble (originally always of wood), but even at that, due to its use as the “home for fire,” it was always subject to fires.  The spaces between the columns had bronze screening; the roof had a cupola with an opening to allow light in and let the smoke out. [22]

Vesta, goddess of the hearth, was one of the most important figures in the oldest circle of the Roman gods and continued to be a popular figure of worship into the latest days of the empire, even after the victory of Christianity. [23]

Inside, there was no statue of the goddess.  The Virgins tended to the sacred fire, which they renewed every year at March 1 (the new year’s day of the Romans).  Also inside was a holy of holies wherein certain mysterious symbols and relics were kept as a guarantee Roman power.  Among them was the palladium which Aeneas was thought to have rescued from the city of Troy. [24]

NEXT:     Walk down the incline from the Temple of Vesta and take a right to rejoin the Via Sacra.  Precisely on this juncture is the Temple of Divus Julius.

What remains is a large concrete core with a semi-circular niche.  In 1898, a large roundish mound was discovered in this niche.  In late antiquity the niche was closed off, maybe by the post-Constantine Christians who may have been compelled to preserve the temple of the first Emperor, yet discourage the pagan worship of him.  This may of may not have worked, for now look inside the niche and note the roses placed on the mound, apparently in honor of Caesar. [25]


NEXT:     Facing the Temple is the open space of the Forum.  The travertine pavement dates from relatively late imperial times.  It shows a number of holes probably intended as torch stanchions or posts for awnings.  The first recorded use of awnings was when Caesar used them during the gladiator displays of 46 BC when he covered the Forum and the Via Sacra. [26]

Beneath the Forum are tunnels that run the length of the Forum and with four cross tunnels.  At the ends of the tunnels are large concrete slabs and holes in the vaulted roofs that suggest that there was machinery once here, which operated through the openings to the space above.  These may date from early times when games were held in the Forum, but were discontinued here after the construction of the various amphitheaters and circuses. [27]

Column of Phocas:     Near the middle of the open space of the Forum, this is the last monument erected in the Forum.  Dedicated in AD 608, the top of the column held, the inscription tells us, “a dazzling golden statue of His Majesty our lord Phocas, the eternal emperor, the triumphator crowned of God, in return for the countless good deeds, for the establishing of peace n Italy, and for the preservation of freedom.” [28]  It seems, however, that Phocas was a mere centurion in the east when he managed to kill off Emperor Mauricius and all five of his sons.  But the unique benefit of his reign is that before he was dis-posed of, he gave the Pantheon to the church.  It was promptly dedicated to the martyrs of Christ, thus saving the structure from near certain destruction . [29]

NEXT:     On the RIGHT, across the Via Sacra, is the Basilica Aemilia, built in 179 BC by the Aemilia family.  Damaged by Aleric in AD 410, it was brought back to life in 416 when it and the Basilica Julia (on the other side of the open space) were restored.  But by the 8th century the building was basically in ruins that eventually attracted assorted builders in search of building materials. [30]

The basilica was of a two story portico similar to that of the opposite Basilica Julia, and like it, had three parts, Vestibule, the tabernae, and the main hall, the main entrance to which seems to have faced the Curia or Senate building.  The form and name of these buildings eventually migrated to the papal basilicas of the Medieval and Renaissance eras. [31]

The marble floor is marked with the stains and imprints of coins melted during the conflagration of Aleric’s sacking of Rome in 410.  The restorers, however, did not replace the damaged marble, but simply cover it over with a new layer, which no doubt ended up in some renaissance dining room. [32]

NEXT:     The Basilica Julia is on the other side of the open space of the Forum.  Begun in 54 BC, it was dedicated by Caesar in 46 BC.  It was restored several times.  It also suffered at the hands of the Goths in AD 410.  As we can see, not


much is left.  In the 15th and 16th centuries, the site was owned by the Hospital of the Consolazione, which consoled itself with income from renting the basilica to builders looking for marble and travertine. [33]

The facades were two stories of pillars with simple Doric capitals.  The vesti-bule ran along side the Via Sacra.  The pillars stubs now visible are modern estimations.  Near these are two bases with inscriptions: opus Polycliti and opus Timarchi.  These date to Constantine’s time when art lovers would ascribe the various masterworks around Rome to the most famous of Greek sculptors in the hope of saving them from the Christians.  Obviously it did not work. [34]

NEXT:     The Curia or Senate Building is the large red brick building that looks like a school house.  It consisted of a large assemble room at the front and the secretarium senatus where the Senate would meet in secret session.

Commissioned by Caesar, he did not see its completion, as of course he was assassinated in the temporary Senate at the back of the Theater of Pompey in the Campus Martius.  This building was restored by Domitium and rebuilt to its current size by Diocletian who dedicated it in the jubilee of his reign, AD 303.

The building was again restored after the siege of Aleric in 410 when the whole north side of the Forum burned.  After the fall of the Western Empire, the interior was converted to the church of S. Adriano, and to it, we owe the building’s survival.  It was restored many times after antiquity, and each time the level of the door was adjusted to accommodate the rising level of rubbish that continuously raised the level of the Forum floor. [35]

The original doors of the Curia were in place into the Renaissance when they were removed to the central portal of the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, where they can be seen today.  The building looks quite austere now.  Probably another reason it was spared by the Christians; it simply did not look like a pagan templewhich of course it was not.  It looks rather like a warehouse. 

NEXT:     Now descend the stairs of the Curia.  You will be then standing in the Comitium.  This was essentially an open circle where the Roman populace gathered outside the Senate to vote and hear senatorial proclamations. 

Look beyond the Comitum and past the Arch of Septimius Severus.  There is a large platform that faces the open space of the Forum.  This is the Rostra.

Rostra:     In ancient times the Rostra 78 feet long and decorated on the front with the bronze beaks of captured enemy ships (rostra means beaks).  The holes for mounting these can still be seen.  It was of course covered in marble, tufa on the inside.  In the rear was a row of five columns topped with statues.  A broad staircase led up to the back of the platform but only a narrow interruption of the front balustrade allowed access from the floor of the Forum. [36]


The stage itself was large, so it was not only a speaker’s platform but also a dais for the emperor and other dignitaries.  This is not precisely the scene of Marc Antony’s funeral oration for the dead Caesar because the Rostra was moved since (under Augustus) to where it is now.

NEXT:     The Arch of Septimius Severus was erected by the Senate upon the emperor’s decennalia, or tenth anniversary of his ascension.  The excellent state of preservation of the arch may owe to its having shared ownership in the middle ages when the southern half was the property of neighboring church of S.S. Sergio e Bacco, while the northern became fortifications for a local baron. [37]

In antiquity, the arch was not exposed to ordinary street traffic – it was approachable by steps – but it was apparently accessible during the Triumphal marches that would have then continued left on up the Capitoline Hill.

NEXT:     Behind the Rostra, is the Temple of Saturn.   (These eight smooth granite columns upon a travertine foundation form the image in the artwork for this DVD case).  Originally dedicated in 498 BC, the operating festival, the Saturnalia in late December, was the greatest and most popular festivals of Ancient Rome.  With its demise in Christian times, the great festival would give its heritage to the greatest festival of modern Rome … Christmas. [38]

Restored in 42 BC, it was also – from Republican times – the State Treasury.  It was used as such even after the fall of the pagan gods.  The cella was standing unmolested until the 1400’s when it fell to architectural vandalism. [39]

Inscription:     The inscription on the architrave reads: SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANUS INCENDIO CONSUMPTIUM RESTITUIT (“The Senate and the People of Rome (SPQR) Restored after being destroyed by fire”).

NEXT:     The Clivus Capitolinus (Capitoline Incline) climbs in front of the substructure of the Tabularium.  This was the official archives of the ancient city.  It is now the foundation for the City Hall of modern Rome. 

Just in front of the Tabularium was the Temple of Concord.  It in fact backed right up to the Tabularium.  Ancient writers, such as Pliny, speak of the fact that the Temple of Concord was a veritable museum of art by some of the greatest sculptors and painters of Greece and Rome.  It is all gone now. [40]

NEXT:     Continue up the Clivus Capitolinus till you arrive at a gated exit.  Walking through it and turning RIGHT will bring you in a few steps to the overlook of Capitoline Hill, the citadel of ancient Rome.  Photos from here will probably give you the Roman Forum’s most typical view.

NEXT:     Directly behind you is a slight incline.  As you walk it, the building on the left is where once stood the Temple of Jupiter.   Started by Rome's fifth


king, Tarquinius Priscusthere is nothing left of it todayit was one of the largest and the most beautiful temples in the city.


NEXT:     Pass under the archway to enter the famous Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo The Capitoline Hill (Latin: Mons Capitolinus), is one of the most famous and highest of the Seven Hills of Rome.

The role of the hill in city legend is linked with the recovery during the regal period of a human skull when foundation trenches were being dug for the Temple of Jupiter.  The word for head in Latin is caput, thus Capitoline.  Our English word capitol derives from Capitoline.

When the Gauls raided Rome in 390 BC, the Capitoline was the one section of the city where the Roman defenders successfully evaded capture.

When Caesar suffered an accident climbing the hill during his Triumph – some thinking it indicated the wrath of Jupiter for his actions in the Civil Wars – he continued up the hill to Jupiter's temple on his knees as a way of atonement. [1]

NEXT:     At center of Piazza del Campidoglio (as Romans started to call the Capitoline by the 16th century), is a copy of the only surviving bronze eques-trian statue in Rome.  It is of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  The restored original is now safely in one the two museums on either side. 

Capitoline Museums:     These are not on the Rome archeological card, but it is highly recommended that you buy a ticketIt gets you into both buildings, plus access to the underground ruins of the third building behind the equestrian statue.  This is in fact Rome’s current City Hall; it sits on top of the ancient Tabularium, or Ancient Rome’s Archives Building.

In the middle ages, the hill’s sacred function was obscured by its other role as the center of the civic government of Rome, revived as a commune in the 11th century.  The city's government was then firmly under papal control, but it would in 1870 become the main civic center of a free and united Italy. [2]

Piazza del Campidoglio:     The existing design was created by Renaissance artist/architect Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536 - 1546.  It was commissioned by Pope Paul III, who wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (who was expected in 1538).  The Cordonata (the main approach stairway) was built wide enough for Charles to ride his horse up the hill without dismounting. [3]  With the Cordonata, Michelangelo effectively reversed the classical orientation of the Capitoline, turning Rome’s civic center to face away from the Roman Forum and instead toward Papal Rome. [4] 

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Executing the design was slow work.  In fact, little was actually completed in Michelangelo's lifetime (the Cordonata was not even in place when Emperor Charles arrived, and the imperial party had to climb the slope from the Forum side).  But work continued and his design was finished in the 17th century.  The distinctive paving was finished three centuries later. [5]

Marcus Aurelius:     In the middle stands the only equestrian bronze to have survived since Antiquity, that of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor.  The only reason that this sculpture survived the authorities of the Christian Church in the Middle Ages is that it was thought to be a statue of Emperor Constantine, the Emperor of Rome who legalized Christianity.  This is a copy of the bronze original which is now in the adjacent Capitoline Museums.

Michelangelo provided new facades to the two official buildings of Rome's civic government, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Senatorio (now City Hall).  He then added one more to give the piazza three sides.  The two palazzi on the either side of the statue are now the important Capitoline Museums.

NEXT:     Just to its left is a column topped with a reproduction of the famous bronze She-Wolf that figures into the legendary founding of the city in 753 BC.

Continue along this side of City Hall, then down a stairway accessing various viewing levels overlooking this end of the Forum.  At the lowest level, you will have excellent close-up views of the Arch of Septimius Severus.

NEXT:     Turn completely around.  You will be looking up at the façade of the Church of St JosephIt’s on the left side of the access roadNotice the church is elevated atop another building, the ancient Roman Mamertine Prison.

Mamertine Prison.     A Roman carcer (incarcerate), was where evil doers were placed after arrest, but only until sentencing.  Punishment by imprisonment was unknown to the ancient Romans – you were either executed or exiled – which is why this is the only prison of the ancient city. [6]

But they did have a tullianum, or subterranean dungeon where executions took place.  While the tullianum was obviously a frightful place, the carcer itself was agreeable to the degree the prisoners seem to have had access to reading materials and visits by friends and relatives.  One well-known poet is said to have written two plays in the carcer. [7]

NEXT:     Go downstairs, then down another level to visit the chamber where it is purported that Vercingetorix the Gaul met his death after being captured and brought to triumph by Caesar. [8]


Christian legend has it also that St Peter met his end here after miraculously calling forth water from the rock floor to baptize his jailers, one of whom was called Martinianus – hence the name Carcer Mamertinus. [9]

NEXT:     Outside again, backtrack up the stairs to the Capitoline Hill, back to the column of the statue of the She-WolfTo the right there is a broad stairway going up.  You may also see a little sign indicating “aracoeli.”   Follow this enticing stairway to the back entrance of Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Santa Maria in Aracoeli:     Dating from the 7th century, it was built where once stood the Temple of Juno Moneta, also the mint of ancient Rome.  In fact, moneta gives us the English word “monetary.”  Use the back entrance to get in.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Our Lady of the Altar of Heaven) is the church here in Rome that is designated as Church of the Italian Senate and the Roman people (Senatus Populusque Romanus).  Relics of Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great are housed here. [10]

Originally the church was Santa Maria in Capitolo, since it was on the Capitoline Hill; by the 14th century it had been renamed.  According to a medieval legend sited in a mid-12th-century guide to Rome, Mirabilia Urbis Romae, it was claimed that the church was built over an Augustan Ara primogeniti Dei, or the place where the Tiburtine Sibyl prophesied to Augustus the coming of the Christ. [11]

The Stolen Santo:     The church was also famous in Rome for the wooden statue of the infant Jesus (Santo Bambino), carved in the 15th century of olive wood coming from the Gethsemane garden.  Many people of Rome believed in the power of this statue.  The statue was stolen in February 1994 and never recovered.  Nowadays, a copy is present in the church.  It is housed in its own chapel by the sacristy.  At midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the image is brought out to a throne before the high altar and unveiled at the Gloria.  Until Epiphany the jewel-encrusted image resides in a Nativity crib in the left nave. [12]

The Façade:     The unfinished façade has lost the mosaics and subsequent frescoes that partially decorated it (save a mosaic in the tympanum of the main door.)  The Gothic window is the main detail that tourist can see from the bottom of the stairs, and it is really the only Gothic detail of the church. [13]

NEXT:     Leave the church through the front.  There you will find a stairway that almost literally falls down into the Piazza Venezia.   In the Middle Ages, condemned criminals were executed at the foot of these steps.

13. Piazza Venezia & Trajan’s forum

The Piazza Venezia is at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and is dominated by the imposing Victor Emmanuel II monument.  The piazza is also the traffic hub of


Rome; it has a constant stream of traffic, yet no traffic lights.  Instead, a white gloved traffic police officer stands on a block and directs traffic.

National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II:    Also known as "Il Vittoriano," it celebrates Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.  It was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1895 and completed in 1925.   It features pure white marble, a huge equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas.  Also here is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (with an eternal flame) built under the Statue of Italy after World War I. [1]

The building it was controversial since its builders had to destroy a large area of the Capitoline Hill.  The monument is clearly visible to most of the city of Rome despite being boxy in general shape and lacking a dome or a tower.  But it is mostly regarded as pompous and too large.   It is also glaringly white, making it highly conspicuous amidst the generally brownish buildings surrounding it. [2]

Romans refer to it by a variety of irreverent slang expressions, such as "Zuppa Inglese" (the wedding cake), and "the false teeth." Americans liberating Rome in 1944 labeled it "the typewriter," a nickname also adopted by the locals. [3]

NEXT:     With your back to the monument, on the left side of Piazza Venezia is the Palazzo Venezia, the central window of which, on the second floor, is where fascist dictator Benito Mussolini used to address his supporters.

NEXT:     With your back to the monument, walking a few steps right will give you a view of Trajan’s column.  The column was part of the Trajan forum, the largest of the imperial forums.  If you cross the street you will be able to look down into the remains of the forum. 

Trajan Forum:     This forum is chronologically the last of the Imperial Forums of Rome.  It was constructed by Apollodorus of Damascus, an engineer who had also accompanied Emperor Trajan in his Dacian campaign.

The forum was built on the order of Emperor Trajan with the spoils of war from that conquest of Dacia, which ended in AD 106.  To build this monumental complex, extensive excavations were required: workers eliminated the sides of both the Quirinal and Capitoline Hills.  Several other projects took place simultaneously, including the Markets of Trajan.  The brickwork that curves with the hill above the forum is what is left of the Trajan’s Market, a complex of buildings that was probably the world’s first shopping mall. [4]

The forum was built around a vast stoa-lined piazza measuring 660 by 390 feet with curved exadrae on two sides.  The main entrance to the forum was on the southern side, a triumphal arch surmounted by a statue of Trajan in a six-horse chariot.  The Basilica Ulpia lies at the north end of the piazza (near where the




Ristorante Ulpia is today), and was cobbled with rectangular blocks of white marble and decorated by a large equestrian statue of Trajan. [5]

North of the Basilica was a smaller piazza, with a temple dedicated to the deified Trajan on the far north side.  Directly north of the Basilica Ulpia on either side of the forum were two libraries, one housing Latin documents and the other Greek.  Between the libraries was the 125-foot column we see today.

Trajan's Column:     Created as freestanding commemoration of Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars, the column is 98 feet in height (125 feet when including its large pedestal).  The shaft is made from a series of 20 colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing about 40 tons, with a diameter of about 13 feet.  The 625 foot frieze winds around the shaft 23 times.  Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 stairs provides access to a viewing platform at the top (no longer open). [6]

According to coins depicting the column, it was topped by a heroic nude statue of Trajan himself.  It disappeared in the Middle Ages.  In 1588, it was replaced by a statue of St. Peter (which still remains). [7]

After Trajan's death in 117, the Roman Senate voted to have his ashes buried in the column's square base (which is decorated with captured Dacian arms and armor).  His ashes and those of his wife, Plotina, were placed inside it in golden urns.   The urns and ashes remain missing. [8]

Inscription at the base of the column:



“The Senate and people of Rome dedicate this to the Emperor Caesar, son of the divine Nerva, Nerva Traianus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in his 17th year in the office of tribune, having been acclaimed 6 times as imperator, 6 times consul, pater patriae, to demonstrate of what great height the hill was removed for such great works.” [9]

Legacy:     It was traditionally thought that the column was a propagandistic monument, glorifying the emperor's military exploits.  However, the structure would have been generally invisible and surrounded by other buildings in Trajan's Forum.  Because of the difficulty involved in following the frieze from end to end, it is now considered to have had much less propaganda value. [10]


In the mid-4th century, however, Constantius II, while visiting Rome, was amazed by the sheer beauty of the complex.  For centuries, in fact,             Trajan’s Forum and Market was the equivalent of a modern tourist attraction. 

Right there overlooking the Trajan Forum is the:

Ristorante Ulpia.  Here since 1880.  Address: Foro Triano, 2. 

NEXT:     Now trace your way back across the front of the white monument.  Just before the steep stairway to the Aracoeli on your left, take a moment to view the red-brick ruins of an ancient multi-storied tenement building.

NEXT:     Walk past the steep stairway and stop for a moment to admire the elegant processional stairway, the Cordonata by Michelangelo that ascends to his Piazza del Campidoglio.


NEXT:     Turn around and cross the street at the base of the Campidoglio and go down the hill to the left till you reach the Theater of Marcellus.

Theater of Marcellus:     Begun by Julius Caesar, but halted after he was murdered, the theater was finished in 13 BC by Caesar Augustus and named after his deceased nephew, Marcus Marcellus.  

Construction:     The Theater of Marcellus could hold about 11,000 spectators.   It was built mainly of tufa, cement and opus reticulatum brickwork and completely sheathed in travertine.  It was an impressive example of what was to become one of the most pervasive urban architectural forms of the Roman world.  It was also the inspiration for the Coliseum.  In fact, you can see how putting two of these together gives us the Coliseum. [1]

Like other Roman theaters in suitable locations, it had openings through which the natural setting could be seen, in this case the Tiber Island to the southwest.  

In the Early Middle Ages the theater was used as a fortress of the Fabii family and then at the end of the 11th century, by Pier Leoni and later his heirs.  Later, in the 16th century, the residence of the Orsini clan was built atop the ruins. [2]

The upper portion is still divided into apartments.  Romans still live in it; you cannot enter, but you can enter its archeological zone, which becomes a venue for intimate concerts in the summer. 

NEXT:     Walk into the theater’s archeological zone.  With its arches looming overhead, continue until you see another ruin, the Portico of Octavia, built some time after 27 BC by Caesar Augustus in honor of his sister.


In the medieval era, the Portico was reused as a fish market; it lasted to the end of 19th century.  This role is remembered by the name of the nearby church of Sant'Angelo in Pescheria (St. Angelo in the Fish Market). [3]

NEXT:     Keep walking; you will see a rampFollow it up to the Rome’s famous Ghetto where the city’s medieval Jews used to be sequestered and where Jews still live to this day. 

The Jewish Ghetto:     An early Papal order segregated the city’s Jews (who had lived freely in Rome since Antiquity) in a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night.  It also subjected them to various restrictions and abuses on their personal freedoms – although all of such was to a much lesser degree than in other European countries of the period – but also to compulsory Catholic sermons [4]

The Ghetto had three objectives: Firstly to protect Christians from too close an association with persons of a different religion; but also to protect the Jews from mobs or hooligans.  And finally, the ghetto was welcomed by some Jews as it protected the community from the drain which surely follows assimilation. [5]

In 1798, the Ghetto was legally abolished, and a “tree of Freedom” was planted in Piazza delle Scole.  But it was reinstated as soon as the Papacy regained control.  Again, in 1848, during the brief revolution, the Ghetto was abolished once more.  But again, only temporarily. [6]

The requirement that Jews live within the Ghetto was finally abolished when the last remnant of the Papal States was overthrown on September 20, 1870.  The city was able to tear down the Ghetto's walls in 1888 and demolish it almost completely until the area was reconstructed around the new Synagogue. [7]

Legacy:     Today the Ghetto is one of the Rome's most charming and eclectic neighborhoods where restaurants serve up Jewish specialties like fried artichokes ("Carciofi alla giudìa").  In fact, why not have lunch right here.  There are several kosher restaurants lining the north side of Via del Portico:

Taverna del Ghetto.  Via del Portico di Ottavia, 8.  +39 (06) 688-09-771

Or at the:

Trattoria da Gigetto.  Via del Portico di Ottavia, 21a.

Or perhaps just a snack and coffee at:

Boccione.  Better known as the Ghetto Bakery. 


And, if you would care for an extended tour of the Ghetto or Jewish Rome in general, you can contact:

Roy Doliner.  At  Telephone: +39 (06) 339.705.9603 or 339-884-0529.

NEXT:     Now backtrack along Via del Portico.  It will bend to the right where, on the river, is the Great Synagogue of Rome.  Entrance to the synagogue and its adjacent museum is on the side facing the river.

The Great Synagogue:     The largest in Rome, it was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome from the Napoleonic regime (which had backed the Papal States) and Victor Emmanuel II dismantled the Ghetto and granted Jews full citizenship. [8]

Construction:     Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni, the synagogue was built (1901 to 1904) right on the Tiber and overlooking the former ghetto.  The eclectic style of the building – standing out even in a city known for notable buildings and structures – was a deliberate choice by the community leaders who at the time wanted the building to be a visible celebration of their freedom and to be seen from many vantage points in the city.  The aluminum dome does that; it is the only squared dome in the city and makes the building easily identifiable even from a distance. [9]

A Papal Visit:     On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II made an unexpected visit to the Great Synagogue.  This event marked the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue since the early history of the Roman Catholic Church.  He prayed with Rabbi Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome.

Legacy:     The synagogue celebrated its centenary in 20104.  In addition to serving as a house of worship, it is also a cultural and social center for the Jewish community of Rome.  Plus it houses the offices of the Chief Rabbi of Rome as well as the Jewish Museum of Rome.


NEXT:     From the domed synagogue cross the street to the river where you will see the bridge that accesses the only island of the Tiber. 

This is a good place to stop for Italian gelato before crossing the next bridge.  When you do cross, you will be in Trastevere, which means “across the tiber.” 

Trastevere:     Under ancient Rome's monarchy (753-509 BC), the area across the Tiber belonged to the Etruscans; it was called Ripa Etrusca (Etruscan bank).  Rome conquered it to gain control of, and access to, the river from both banks, but was not interested in building on that side of the river.  In fact, for a long


time the only connection between Trastevere and the rest of the city was a small wooden bridge, the Pons Sublicius ("bridge built on piles").[1]

By the time of the Republic, the number of sailors and fishermen making a living from the river had increased, and many had taken up residence in Trastevere.  Immigrants from the East also settled there, mainly Jews, Syrians and Egyptians.  Cleopatra was living here when Caesar was assassinated. [2]

The Imperial Period:     The area began to be considered part of the city under Augustus, who divided Rome into 14 regions; modern Trastevere was the XIV and was called Trans Tiberim.  The area really became part of the city when Aurelian (270–275) included Trastevere and the Vatican hill within his new protective walls.  With the wealth of the Imperial Age, several important social and political figures started to build their villae here. [3]

Middle Ages:     In the Middle Ages Trastevere had narrow, winding streets which had no pavement until the time of Sixtus IV at the end of the 1400s. [4]

Today:     Nowadays, Trastevere maintains its character thanks precisely to those narrow and cobbled streets lined with medieval houses.  At night both Italians and foreigners flock to its pubs and restaurants, and it continues to attract artists, expats, and many famous people.  John Cabot University (a private American University) is here, as also the American Academy in Rome and the Rome campus of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. [5]

NEXT:     After crossing the bridge from the Tiber Island, cross the very busy street.  Then, veering slightly to your right, continue a path perpendicular to the river until you hit Via della Lungaretta.

Take your right and walk to Viale Trastevere.  You are now in Piazza Soninno; running through it are trolley tracks.  Remember these because you will be returning here.

NEXT:     Cross these tracks and walk about 5 or 6 blocks to a large piazza, at the end of which is the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. 

Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere:     Dating to the 4th century, this is one of the very oldest churches in Rome.  Its design is of the old Roman basilica form, meaning that it has a tall central hall and shorter ones on either side.  But an authentic Roman basilica was a law court, not a religious building.  Where today you see a Christian altar, in Roman times, this is where the judge sat.

History:     A Christian house-church was founded here about 220 by Pope Callixtus I (217-222) on the site of an asylum for retired soldiers.  Though nothing remains to establish with certainty where any public Christian edifices of Rome were before the time of Constantine the Great, a basilica on this site


was known as Titulus Callisti, and legend has it that the earliest church here was founded by Pope Callixtus I.  His remains are under the altar. [6]

The present Romanesque church, rebuilt by Pope Innocent II (1138 –1148) and rededicated to the Virgin, preserves its original basilica plan.  The 22 granite columns that separate the nave from the aisles are from the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. [7]  The church boasts late 13th-century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini on the subject of the Life of the Virgin (1291).  Domenichino's octagonal ceiling painting, Assumption of the Virgin (1617) is in the coffered ceiling. [7]

The Exterior:     The façade of the church was restored in 1702, when an ancient porch and sloping tiled roof were replaced with the present arrangement.  The octagonal fountain in the piazza in front of the church was restored in 1702. [8]

NEXT:     Stepping out the front take your left, walk to the end of the building and take another left, and then a quick right.  This will put you on Vicolo del Piede, where at number two, there is:

Hotel Santa Maria.  Vicolo del Piede, 2.  Telephone: +39 (06) 589-4626.  Rooms: 50 to 500 Euro.

For eating, try:

Da Augusto.  Piazza de Renzi, 15.  With your back to the church, take the little street leading off the piazza.  Continue to Via della Pelliccia and take a right.  Two steps ahead is Piazza de Renzi.

Also, on Via della Lungaretta again – on your way back toward Viale Trastevere – on your right, you will find:

Ristorante Bruno alla Lungaretta.  Via della Lungaretta, 68.

NEXT:     Backtrack now all the way back to the trolley tracks on Viale Trastevere.  Cross the street and wait for the green tram.  It will take you over the bridge and terminate at Largo di Torre Argentina.


Largo di Torre Argentina:     Located in the ancient Campus Martius, the Largo hosts four Republican Roman temples (the remains of Pompey's Theater are also nearby).  Note the level of temples, indicating the level of the city in Republican times.   The name of the square comes from the Torre Argentina (at the corner).

Sometime after Italian unification, it was decided to reconstruct this part of Rome.  During demolishing, however, in 1927, the colossal head and arms of a


marble statue were discovered.  Subsequent archeological investigation brought to light the four Republican-era temples. [1]

The temples – designated as A, B, C, and D – front onto an ancient paved street.  The street was reconstructed in the Imperial era after the fire of AD 80.  The area was delineated to the North by the Baths of Agrippa, and to the South by the buildings related to the Circus Flaminius.  To the East there was a great porched square; to the West, the Theater of Pompey where Caesar was assassinated. [2]

Temple A:     Built in the 3rd century BC, it is probably the Temple of Juturna.   It was later rebuilt into a church, whose apse is still present. [3]

Temple B:     A circular with six columns remaining, it was built by Quintus Lutatius Catulus in 101 BC to celebrate his victory over Cimbri and was devoted to the goddess of "Luck of the Current Day."  The colossal statue found during excavations (now in the Capitoline Museums) was of the goddess herself. [4]

Temple C:     This is the most ancient of the three.  Dating to 4th or 3rd century BC, it was probably devoted to an ancient Italic goddess of fertility. [5]

Temple D:     The largest but only partly excavated, it dates to the 2nd century BC with Late Republican restorations.  It was devoted to Lares Permarini.[6]

Teatro Argentina:     The Teatro Argentina, an 18th century opera house and theater is located in the square on the side where the tram ends.  The premieres of many operas took place there, including Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Giuseppe Verdi's I due Foscari and his La battaglia di Legnano. [7]

The Cat Sanctuary:     At the corner where the tram enters the square, there is a stairway that descends – if you haven’t noticed the cats alreadyto the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter for homeless cats.  The presence of the shelter is a point of interest for both tourists and locals, as the area abounds with various breeds of cat, cavorting and lounging about on the ancient ruins.

Tours:     Volunteers at the shelter give daily tours of the ruins at 5:00 PM.  Although the tours are free, a small donation to the shelter is encouraged, as they do not get any government funding and run strictly on donations.

NEXT:     There is also an important museum nearby:

Roman National Museum: Crypta Balbi.  Via d. Botteghe Oscure, 31.  A didactic museum, use your ROME ARCHEOLOGICAL CARD.

The Crypta Balbi:     The museum traces the evolution of ancient Rome to present day.  In particular, it explains why the Republican temples in Largo Argentina, are now 12 feet below our feet.


To get there: as you as face the sign of the Cat Sanctuary, you would also be looking down Via delle Botteghe Oscure.  The museum is about a block and a half on the right.

History:     In 1981, digging on a derelict site in the old Campus Martius between the churches of Santa Caterina dei Funari and San Stanislao dei Polacchi, an archeological team discovered the colonnaded Theater of Lucius Cornelius Balbus and other nearby structures. [8]  

The Basement:     Here view the archaeological remains in situ, which are usually open to self-guided tours or guided tours by a member of museum staff.

The Ground Floor:     The “Archaeology and History of an Urban Landscape” section presents the results of the 1981 excavations, and puts them in the context of the area’s history.  With the remains from the site itself, this section also tells of the Monastero di Santa Maria Domine Rose (begun nearby in the 8th century), of medieval merchants' and craftsmen's homes, and of the Conservatorio di Santa Caterina dei Funari (built in the mid-16th century by Ignatius of Loyola to house the daughters of Roman prostitutes). [9]

The First Floor:     Here a section called "Rome from Antiquity to the Middle Ages" illustrates in remarkable clarity the life and transformations of Rome as a whole between the 5th and 10th centuries AD. [10]

NEXT:     Now go back to the Cat Sanctuary.  Cross the tracks and take a left.  Go one block to the very pleasant Piazza Cairoli

I ask you.  Have you ever heard of “dolce far niente?”  In Italian, it means “the sweetness of doing nothing.”  Try it out right here in this little park dedicated to Benedetto Cairoli, one of the heroes of Italian unification. 


NEXT:     Getting up finally, proceed up Via de Giubbonari.  In less than five minutes, after passing a great variety of shops and cafes you will find yourself in the Campo de Fiori, which translated from Italian, means "field of flowers." 

Campo de Fiori:     The name dates from the middle ages when the area was a meadow of flowers, but in fact, today, a whole lot of flowers are sold here every day in the very pleasant daily market.

History:     In Ancient Rome the area was an unused space between Pompey's Theater and the flood-prone Tiber.  Though the Orsini family established itself on the south flank of the area in the 13th century, the area remained undeveloped well into the 15th century.  The first church in the immediate vicinity rose during the pontificate of Boniface IX .  This is now Santa Brigida a Campo de Fiori, in what is today the nearby Piazza Farnese. [1]


The demolition of housing in 1858 enlarged Campo de Fiori, and since 1869 there has been a vegetable and fish market here every morning.  The ancient fountain "la Terrina" (the "soup bowl") that once watered cattle, repositioned in 1889, now keeps the flowers fresh.  Its inscription: FA DEL BEN E LASSA DIRE ("Do well and let them talk") suits the gossipy nature of the marketplace by day and perhaps by night also, when the Campo is transformed into a popular meeting place for young people, both Italian and foreign. [2]

Middle Ages and Renaissance:     In this period the Campo was the scene of public executions.  Here, on 17 February 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt alive by the Roman Inquisition because his ideas were deemed dangerous.  In 1887, Ettore Ferrari dedicated a monument to him on the exact spot of his death: he stands defiantly facing the Vatican.  On every anniversary of that crime, the statue is decked with thousands of flowers. [3]

Giordano Bruno:     (1548, Nola, near Naples) Bruno was a priest, cosmologist, and occultist known for his system of mnemonics based upon organized knowledge.  He was an early believer in an infinite and homogeneous universe.

In 1576, he left Naples to avoid the attention of the Inquisition.  He left Rome for the same reason and then abandoned the Dominican order and traveled to Geneva where he briefly joined the Calvinists.  Disappointed by Calvinist intolerance, he left for France, and then continued to travel for many years until returning to Rome where he was imprisoned for seven years during a lengthy trial.  Some important documents about the trial are lost, but others are preserved, among them a summary of the proceedings, discovered in 1940.  The numerous charges against Bruno, based on some of his books as well as on witness accounts, included blasphemy, immoral conduct, heresy in matters of dogmatic theology, and dangerous philosophical and cosmological notions. [4]

During his trail, Bruno held firm to his beliefs, and although strongly urged to abandon them, he refused.  He appealed to Pope Clement VIII.  The Pope favored of a guilty verdict and Bruno was declared a heretic.  He was delivered to secular authorities on February 8, 1600.  He was said to have listened to their verdict on his knees, but then stood up and said: "I think you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it." [5]

On February 17, 1600, he was brought to the Campo de' Fiori.  His tongue was gagged; he was tied to a pole naked and burned till dead. [6]

"I cleave the heavens, and soar to the infinite. What others see from afar, I leave far behind me." -- Giordano Bruno [7]

NEXT:     While face to face with Signor Bruno, look right and follow Via dei Baullari one block up to the great square in front of the Palazzo Farnese


Palazzo Farnese:     A High Renaissance palace and currently the French Embassy, according to some, this imposing structure by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (one of Bramante's assistants in the design of St. Peter's) is the finest of all 16th century Italian palaces.  Commissioned by Alessandro Farnese, construction was interrupted by the Sack of Rome in 1527.  When in 1534 Cardinal Alessandro was made Pope (Paul III) he had Michelangelo complete the third story with its deep cornice.  He also revised the courtyard. [8]

The Façade:     The massive facade dominates the small Piazza Farnese, its memorable features being the alternating pediments that cap the windows of the piano nobile, the central rusticated portal and Michelangelo's projecting cornice.  Michelangelo revised the central window when the cardinal became pope, adding an architrave to support the largest coat-of-arms with papal tiara that Rome had ever seen.  When Paul stepped to the balcony, it was said the entire facade became his own personal stage set. [9]

Interior:     Several main rooms are decorated with elaborate allegorical frescoes on Hercules and The Loves of the Gods, the most famous by Annibale Carracci.

Legacy:     In Puccini's opera Tosca (1900), set in Napoleonic Rome, the heroine's confrontation with the malevolent Chief of Police, Scarpia, takes place in Palazzo Farnese.  The French government purchased it in 1874.

The building is accessible but the hours vary; ask for information at the door. 

NEXT:     Backtrack on Via dei Baullari.  Stop to eat; you will find better food here in these restaurants than in the Campo itself, and the shaded street is a blessing.  At the Hostaria Farnese, try a pizza margherita or the spaghetti vongole, spaghetti with clams:

Hostaria farnese.  Via dei baullari, 109.  Tel: +39 (06) 68-80-1595

Cross in front of the statue in Campo de Fiori.  Continue until you arrive at the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele.


Cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele to the small Piazza di Pantaleo.  Veer slightly right onto a very narrow and shaded street.  With the brightness of open space looming ahead, you will wonder where you are headed.  When you get there, welcome to one of the most beautiful public spaces in Italy.

Piazza Navona:     Notice its elongated shape.  Piazza Navona follows the plan of an ancient Roman stadium, the 1st century Stadium of Domitian, where Romans came to watch the agones ("games").  Today's name appears to stem


from the corruption of the latter in in agone, then nagone and navona (which actually means "big ship" in Italian). [1]

Defined as a square in the last years of 15th century, when the city market moved here from the Campidoglio, Piazza Navona is now the pride of Baroque Rome.  It has sculptural and architectural creations by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers in the center), and by Francesco Borromini (the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, facing Bernini’s fountain).

Piazza Navona contains two additional fountains sculpted by Giacomo della Porta.  His Fontana di Nettuno is located at the northern area of Piazza Navona; his Fontana del Moro is located at the southern end.

The market moved again in 1869 to Campo de' Fiori, but the square has also a role in housing theatrical and costume shows, horse races, buffalo jousts. [2]

NEXT:     Walk north all the way to the other end of the piazza.  Then just outside the perimeter, you will find a section of building cut away so you can actually look down into the remains of the ancient Stadium of Domitian.  

NEXT:     Return to the central fountain of Piazza Navona and exit left

Keep going to Corso RinascimentoCross and go left then a quick right on Via del Salvatore.  Proceed to cross one street and continue on Via Giustiniani.  Take your next right

Walk one more block and will have your first look at the Pantheon, the oldest continuously occupied building of ancient Rome. 

The Pantheon:     The Pantheon (meaning "Temple of all the Gods") was originally built to celebrate the seven deities of the seven planets in the Roman state religion.  It is the best preserved of all Roman buildings, andin continuous use throughout its historyit might be the best preserved building of its age in the world.  Although the identity of the Pantheon's primary architect remains uncertain, it is widely assigned to Apollodorus of Damascus [3] (although some think that Hadrian himself designed it).

History:     An earlier temple was erected here in 31 BC by Marcus Agrippa in commemoration of Augustus’s victory over Marc Antony at the Battle of Actium.  Agrippa's building was destroyed along with other buildings in a huge fire in 80 AD.  The current building dates from 125 AD, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (as date-stamped bricks reveal). [4]

Inscription:     Upon completion, the original inscription of the Agrippan temple was re-used for the new building.  "M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT."

Translation:     "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, built during his third consulate."


Hadrian:      Emperor Hadrian was a cosmopolitan who traveled widely and was a great admirer of Greek culture.  He seems to have intended the Pantheon, his temple to all the gods, as an ecumenical gesture to the subjects of the Empire who did not worship the old gods of Rome, or who (as was increasingly the case) worshipped them under other names.  The building was also often used as a court of law, similar to how basilicas were used. [5]

The Christian Era:     In AD 609 Byzantine Emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV, who re-consecrated it as a church called the Church of Mary and all the Martyred Saints.  Thus consecrated, it was spared from the abandonment and spoliation which befell the majority of ancient Rome's buildings during the early medieval period.  But much fine external marble was removed in the course of the centuries; capitals from some of the pilasters are said to now be in the British Museum.  Some of the marble interior survives, as also the great bronze doors, which are restored. [6]

Renaissance:     Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb. Among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Caracci, the architect Baldassare Peruzzi.  In the 15th century, the Pantheon was adorned with paintings: the best-known is the Annunciation by Melozzo da Forlì.  Architects through the centuries came to the Pantheon for inspiration, as per Brunelleschi, when designing his dome for the Cathedral of Florence's. [7]

Pope Urban VIII (died 1644) ordered the bronze ceiling of the Pantheon's portico melted down.  Some of the bronze went to make cannon for the fortification of Castel Sant'Angelo.  It is also said that Bernini used some of the bronze for his famous baldachino above the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica.  According to some, however, the papal records show that about 90% of the bronze was used for the cannon, and that the bronze for the baldachin came from Venice.  Nevertheless, contemporary Roman wags duly coined the famous quip: Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini.  Translation: "What the barbarians did not do, the Barberinis did.”  Urban’s family name was Barberini. [8]

Also buried there are two kings of Italy: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto's Queen, Margherita.  

The Pantheon is still a church; masses are still celebrated here, particularly on important Catholic days of obligation, and for weddings.

NEXT:     As you enter, push an inch or so on one of the huge bronze doors.  First hung almost 2000 years ago, and yet, how easily they move!

The Dome:     The 5000 tons of the concrete dome radiate downward from the 30-foot diameter of the oculus.  The downward thrust of the dome is carried down by eight barrel vaults in the 21-foot thick drum wall.  The thickness of the


dome varies from 21 feet at the base of the dome to 4 feet around the oculus.  The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior are the same, 142 feet, so the whole interior would fit exactly within a cube.  The dome was the largest in the world until 1781 when the 46-meter dome of the St. Blaise Abbey in France was finished.  The Pantheon still holds the record as the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the history of architecture. [9]

The interior of the dome was probably meant to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. It has sunken coffers, which originally contained bronze star ornaments.  This coffering was not only decorative, however; it also reduced the weight of the roof, as did the elimination of the apex by means of the oculus. [10]

The Great Eye at the dome's apex is the sole source of light and is symbolic of the sun.  The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method.  As wind passes over the dome, it accelerates and creates a negative pressure zone called the Venturi effect.  This pulls air out the top of the dome, drawing more air in from the portico entrance.  When it rains, of course, the water falls straight through the oculus.  The floor has tiny holes in it to let the water escape. [11]  

NEXT:     Exit to the Piazza Rotonda.   Buy an espresso or something to eat at any of the outdoor cafés on the piazza there’s even a McDonalds – and sit back to savor the proportions of this, one of the most copied buildings in the world.

Legacy:     As the best-preserved example of monumental Roman architecture, the Pantheon was enormously influential on European and American architects from the Renaissance, starting with Brunelleschi's 42-meter dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, completed in 1436 (the first sizeable dome to be constructed in Europe after antiquity).  The Pantheon’s influence can also be detected in the 18th to 20th centuries: thousands of city halls, universities and public libraries around the world echo its portico-and-dome structure.

NEXT:     An alternate path here to the Pantheon would have been to exit right from the top of Piazza Navona.  From there at the Piazza delle Cinque Lune (the five moons), go under the arch.

Just to your left is the church of St. Augustine where inside you will find Caravaggio’s famous painting of the Madonna di Loreto.

Sant'Agostino:     A fine, plain work of early Renaissance style, this was one of the first Roman churches built during the Renaissance.  Funded by Guillaume d'Estouteville, Archbishop of Rouen and Papal Chancellor, the facade was raised in 1483 by Giacomo di Pietrasanta, using marble taken from Coliseum. [12]  

Interior:     The most famous work of art presently in the church is the Madonna di Loreto, a Baroque masterwork by Caravaggio.  The church also contains a


Guercino canvas of St Augustine, John the Evangelist and Hyeronimus; a fresco of Prophet Isaiah by Raphael; and the statues of Madonna, one by Andrea Sansovino and another by his pupil, Jacopo Sansovino.

Once noted for the number of courtesans and prostitutes in its congregation, the church today boasts the tomb of Saint Monica (mother of St. Augustine) and that of one Fiammetta, lover of Cesar Borgia.

NEXT:     Outside again, take your left walk along Via delle Coppelle for two blocks then take a right.  In a minute or so, you arrive at the Pantheon.

LEAVING THE PANTHEON:     With your back to the Pantheon: leave Piazza della Rotonda to your right on Via dei Pastini.   It will take you shortly to Piazza di Pietra

Here you cannot miss the city’s Stock Exchange (or Borsa).  It was built into the remains of the temple of the deified Emperor Hadrian, the giant columns of which are still here and seem to jump out at you.

The Temple to the Hadrian:     On the Campus Martius in Rome, in today’s, it was built by Hadrian’s adoptive son and successor Antoninus Pius in AD 145.

One wall of the cella survives, with 11 of the 50-foot Corinthian columns from the external colonnade.  The fixing holes for its original marble covering can still be seen.  This side, along with the architrave (reconstructed after antiquity), was incorporated into a 17th century papal palace by Carlo Fontana now occupied by the city’s Stock Exchange.  

NEXT:     Walk to the far end of Piazza di Pietra.  Continue in the same direction on Via di Pietra till you hit a major street Via del Corso

Via del Corso:     Commonly known as the Corso, this is a major street running through the historical center of Rome and is remarkable for being absolutely straight in an area characterized by narrow meandering alleys and small piazzas.  Wider than most streets in the center, it nonetheless has barely enough room for two lanes of traffic and two narrow sidewalks. [13]

The Corso runs in a roughly north-south direction.  In the north, it ends at Piazza del Popolo; on the southern end is the Piazza Venezia.  With no major tourist attractions along the street itself, the nearby area has them in abundance.


NEXT:     From here, you have a choice to go either to the historically significant Piazza Colonna or to the more popular Trevi Fountain.

Piazza Colonna:     If you choose to take in Piazza colonna, simply walk left a couple of blocks up Via del Corso.  Stop when you see the imposing Column of


Marcus Aurelius, the second of only two such columns in the city, the other being Trajan’s.  The piazza is named for the marble column, here since AD 193.  The statue of St Paul that crowns it was mounted in 1589 by order of Pope Sixtus V.  The original bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius is lost.

The Palazzo Chigi:     The north side of the piazza is taken up by Palazzo Chigi, begun in 1562 by Giacomo della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno for the Aldobrandini family.  In 1916, it was bought by the Italian state and it became the seat of the Minister for Colonial Affairs.  In 1961, it became the official meeting place of Council of Ministers whose President is the Prime Minister. [1]

The piazza’s east side is taken up, across the Corso, by the newly renovated mall, the Galleria Colonna.  On the south is Palazzo Ferraioli (formerly the Papal post office) and a little church.  The west end is taken up by Palazzo Wedekind (1838) with a colonnade of Roman columns taken from Veii.  This palazzo is today occupied by the Roman news daily “Il Tempo.” [2]

The fountain (1577) was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII from Giacomo Della Porta and has been copied in many sites in Rome and other Italian cities.

NEXT:     Backtrack two blocks on Via del Corso to Via di Petra, where you cross Via del Corso and continue on Via delle Muratte.  In just two blocks or so, you arrive at the Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain:     The Trevi is the largest (85 feet high and 65 feet wide) and most ambitious of the Baroque fountains of Rome.

History:     In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a Vestal Virgin, the Marcus Agrippa located a source of pure water some 8 miles from the city.  This scene  is depicted on the fountain's facade. 

This Aqua Vergine duct originally fed the Baths of Agrippa.  It served Rome for more than four hundred years.  The "coup de grace" for the Aqua Vergine and the urban life of late classical Rome came when the Goth besiegers in AD 538 broke the aqueducts.  Medieval Romans were then reduced to drawing water from polluted wells and the Tiber River, also used as a sewer. [3]

Renaissance:     The old Roman custom of building a handsome fountain at the endpoint of aqueducts that brought water to Rome was revived in the Renaissance of the 15th century.  In 1453, Pope Nicholas V finished mending the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and built a simple basin, designed by the humanist architect Leon Battista Alberti, to herald the water's arrival. [4]

Finding this simple basin insufficiently dramatic, in 1629 Pope Urban VIII asked Bernini to sketch alternatives.  When the Pope died the project was abandoned, but Bernini's lasting contribution was his re-siting the fountain from the other


side of the square to face the Quirinal Palace so the Pope could enjoy it better.   This is how the current Salvi fountain is oriented. [5]

Competit­ions:     Competitions had become the rage during the Renaissance and Baroque eras to design buildings, fountains, and even the Spanish Steps.  In 1730, Pope Clement XII organized such a contest in which Nicola Salvi initially lost.  Due to the outcry over the fact that a Florentine had won, Salvi, a Roman, was awarded the commission anyway. [6]  

Work began in 1732, and the fountain was completed in 1762, long after Clement's death, when Pietro Bracci's 'Neptune' was set in the central niche.

Salvi died in 1751, with his work half-finished, but was finished in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini.  Refurbished in 1998, all the stonework was scrubbed and the fountain provided with re-circulating pumps. [7]

Design:     The backdrop for the fountain is the Palazzo Poli, with a new facade of giant Corinthian pilasters that link the two main stories.  Taming of the waters is the theme of a gigantic scheme that tumbles out – mixing water and rockwork – as Tritons guide Neptune's shell chariot into the small square. [8]

Above, base reliefs illustrate the Roman origin of the aqueducts, with a Vestal Virgin pointing out the spring to Marcus Agrippa.

Coin throwing:     Legend holds that throwing a coin into the fountain ensures visitors a return to Rome.  While the “three coins” of the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain were thrown by three different individuals, a current version is that where two coins from one person ensure a marriage will soon occur, three coins leads to a divorce.  Another version holds that it is lucky to throw three coins with one's right hand over one's left shoulder.[9]  Another popular version is to instead by a gelato and enjoy a bit of “dolce far niente.”

At any rate, some 3,000 Euros are collected from fountain each day.  It subsidizes a supermarket for Rome's needy.  There are of course regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, using any number of methods, both ingenious and very simple.

NEXT:     Facing the fountain, leave it by walking along its left side.  This is Via Poli.  It crosses Via del Tritone and empties onto Via del Bufalo.  Go right.  It will curve to the left.  Continue for a minute or so to the one of the most famous loitering venues in the western world the Spanish Steps.

The Spanish Steps:    La Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti climbs a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti above.  The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built when French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds in 1723–1725. [10]


Traditions:     During Christmas a 19th-century crib is displayed on the first landing of the staircase.  In May, parts of the steps are covered by pots of azaleas.  In modern times, the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market.  The steps are not a place for eating lunch, however, as eating here is forbidden by Roman urban regulations.  The apartment that was the setting for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) is halfway up on the right.  Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged (1998) is also set in a house next to the steps. [11]

The Fountain:     La Fontana della Barcaccia ("Fountain of the Old Boat") was built in 1627-29 and often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (said to have collaborated on the decoration).  The elder Bernini had been the pope's architect for the Acqua Vergine, since 1623. [12]  

At the corner of the piazza, on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived (and died in 1821); it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

NEXT:     But before continuing on, climb the stairs for a view from the top, all the way, especially if it is crowded.  In fact, this is one of those rare tourist spots that is best if it is crowded.  At the top the street leads to the Pincio Hill where, eventually, the Villa Medici can be reached.

At the bottom again, on your immediate right – if you have deep pocketsis Babington’s English Tea Room.

To eat near the Spanish Steps is easy.  Walk a block or two down Via Condotti and, looking either left or right at any intersection, will give you a choice from dozens of restaurants.

NEXT:     Just around the corner from Babington’s is the Metro Stop SPAGNA, from which you can make your way back, if you like, to Termini Station.



NEXT:     But now, let’s continue our tour.  While facing Babington’s Tea Room, go left to the end of the elongated piazza.  Angling slightly left will get you to Via del Babuino (the street of the baboon).

A few blocks up, if you are in the mood for a snack, stop at a very unusual café:

Canova-Tadolini Museum & Café.   Via Babuino, 150a.   On the left. 


If you sit outside, make sure you at least tour the interior.  For a small entrance fee, you can also visit the private museum upstairs where you will find the actual workshop of the famed sculptor, Antonio Canova.

NEXT:     Continue up Via Babuino.  It empties into the huge Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo:     The name in modern Italian literally means "piazza of the people," but historically it derives from poplar trees after which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (in the northeast corner of the piazza) takes its name.

As you enter, on your RIGHT is the Café Canova.  Across from it, on you left, is Café Rosati.    At either café, you can enjoy one of the best spots in Rome to take your coffee at an outside table.  Federico Fellini used to do just this when he lived close by here on Via Margutta.

History:     The piazza lies inside the northern gate in the Aurelian Walls.  This was the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome; now called Porta del Popolo.  This gate was the starting point of the ancient Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum, or modern Rimini.  It was always the most important route out of the city heading the north.  In addition, before the age of railroads, it was a traveler’s first view of Rome upon arrival.  Today, just outside of the Porta Flaminia, you will find the Metro Stop called FLAMINIO. [1]  

Design:     The layout of the piazza as seen today was designed in neoclassical style between 1811 and 1822 by the architect Giuseppe Valadier.  He in fact demolished some insignificant buildings to form two semicircles that are reminiscent of Bernini's plan for St. Peter's Square. [2]

An Egyptian obelisk of Ramses II from Heliopolis stands in the center of the piazza.   The obelisk is the second oldest in Rome and one of the tallest.  Augustus ordered it brought to Rome in 10 BC and originally set it up on the spina of the Circus Maximus.   Domenico Fontana, in 1589, as part of the urban plan of Sixtus VIt, erected it here in the Piazza. [3]

Orientation:     Opposite the Porto del Popolo, three streets enter the piazza, forming the so-called "trident."  These are the Via del Corso in the center, the Via del Babuino on the left and Via di Ripetta on the right.

The central Via del Corso follows the course of the ancient Roman Via Flaminia, coming from Piazza Venezia.  The Via del Babuino arrives from Piazza di Spagna, and takes its name from a grotesque sculpture of Silenus seen on that street.  Via di Ripetta leads to the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Ara Pacis, both on this side of the Tiber.

Twin churches that mark the “trident” are Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), begun by Carlo Rainaldi and completed by


Bernini and Carlo Fontana.  Notice that the churches are not really twins, but also notice how their designs were derived from the Pantheon.

Standing opposite the churches is the Porta del Popolo, designed by Bernini.  The church of Santa Maria del Popolo is to its right.  Across from it stands a Carabinieri station with a dome reflecting that of the church.  Until quite recently, the Piazza del Popolo was choked with traffic in a sea of parked cars; today, this has all been swept away in favor of pedestrian traffic. [4]

NEXT:     After your espresso, walk around the piazza a bit, but while here, take the time to meander up the stairs of the Pincio Hill that rises above you.  The stairs begin at the LEFT as you face the hill.

Pincio Hill:    This hill was outside the original boundaries of the ancient city and not one of the Seven hills of Rome.  But it does lie within the wall built by Emperor Aurelian between 270 and 273. [5]  Important families in Ancient Rome had mansions and gardens in the late Roman Republic.  Its current name comes from one such family that occupied the hill in the 4th century AD, the Pincii.  Gardens still occupy the hill, along with several Renaissance villas. [6]

Piazza Napoleone:    At the top of the hill is Piazza Napoleone.  It affords views over the Piazza del Popolo, but also of the skyline of Rome to the south and west beyond; in fact, the very direction you will soon be heading, toward Vatican City and the imposing dome of St. Peter’s.

NEXT:     Descend to the piazza.  Sit for a moment under the giant obelisk; it is time to make a decision.  Do you want to head directly to St Peters by way of the Metro here at Piazza del Popolo?  Or, do you want to take your time? 

Going directlyat the far end of Piazza del Popolopass through the Porta del Popolo to Metro Stop FLAMINIO.  Take the train, direction St Peters and get off at Metro Stop OTTAVIANO/SAN PIETRO.

Outside the station, look for Via Ottaviano.  Make sure you are going in the right direction.  In Italian, ask for “San Pietro, per favore?”

NEXT:     But from Piazza del Popolo, you could also walk.  And why not, you might never get back here again.  Face the point where you entered the piazza, where three streets converge by the “twin” churches.  The incoming street on the far right is Via di Ripetta.  Continue up Via di Ripetta a few blocks to the next bridge, Ponte Cavour.  From here, you will take a riverboat down stream, meaning direction left as you face the river.

Before doing so, however – on your right just before the bridge – you can visit a newly opened building.   It is by the American architect, Richard Meier, and is one of the rare modern buildings to be commissioned for Rome’s historic center.


Ara Pacis:     The new building enshrines the remains of the famed Ara Pacis, or the “Altar of Peace” that the Senate originally erected – 2000 years ago and consecrated on 4 July 13 BC – to celebrate the peace established after Augustus' victories in Gaul and Hispania.  It represents Rome’s vision of itself – here portray as a Roman goddess – as bearer of the Peace and Prosperity (the famous Pax Romana) heretofore won by the Empire’s legions. [7]

Finely sculpted entirely in white marble, the altar is depicts scenes of traditional Roman piety: The Emperor and his family offer sacrifices to the gods and various other figures bring forth cattle as sacrifice, some with their togas drawn over their heads, as if acting in their official capacity as priests, others wearing laurel crowns, traditional symbols of victory. [8]

The Altar is a masterpiece of Roman imperial sculpture, and typical of Roman sculpture elsewhere, the figures in the procession are not idealized types, as in Greek sculpture, but rather recognizable portraits of individuals.

The Altar was originally in the Campus Martius, the flood plain of the Tiber, where it eventually became buried under 12 feet of silt over the centuries.  The sculptures were first discovered in the 16th century.  In 1938, Benito Mussolini built a protective building for the Altar adjacent to the Mausoleum of Augustus across the street (obviously moving the Altar in the process) as part of his attempt to identify his Fascist Italy with ancient Rome. [9]

This new cover building by Richard Meier (opened in 2006) replaces the Fascist-era building, but it has proved controversial.  Described by some as "a flop,” opponents have vowed to tear it down.  Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni has championed it and vows to keep it. [10]

NEXT:     Across Via di Ripetta from the Ara pacis is the Mausoleum of Augustus.  Built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC, it is located on what is now the Piazza Augusto Imperatore.  It is opened only periodically to tourists; the ravages of time and carelessness have stripped the ruins bare.  

Mausoleum of Augustus:     The Mausoleum was one of the first projects initiated by Augustus following his victory at the Actium in 31 BC.  It is circular in plan (with several concentric rings of earth and brick) and was planted with a dome of cypresses overhead.  It was possibly also capped with a central spindle bearing a statue of Augustus.  Twin pink granite obelisks flanked the arched entryway, one of which now stands in the Piazza dell'Esquilino (behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore), the other at the Quirinal Fountain. [11]

In AD 410, during the sack of Rome by Alaric, the pillaging Goths stole the urns and scattered the imperial ashes.  In the Middle Ages, it was fortified as a castle – as was the Mausoleum of Hadrian – and occupied by the Colonna family. [12]


Legacy:     In the 19th century, the ruins became a bullfight ring, and then a concert hall.  In the 1930s, Mussolini preserved the site as an archaeological landmark along with the newly moved and reconstructed Ara Pacis. [13]  


NEXT:     Once on the riverboat going downstream, it will take about ten minutes to arrive at the Castel Sant'AngeloYou cannot miss it on the right.  Originally built as the Emperor Hadrian’s tomb between AD 135 and 139, it later became a papal military fortress, and now a museum.  It is huge.

NEXT:     Off the boat, cross over the bridge to the fortress.  The entrance is on the right side, just off the bridge. 

Castel Sant'Angelo:     The original mausoleum was a decorated cylinder with a garden top and with an uppermost golden quadriga.  Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in 138 (together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, also dead in 138).  Following this, the remains of succeeding emperors were interred; the last recorded being those of Caracalla in 217.  The urns were probably placed in what is known now as the Treasury room deep within the building. [1]

Much of the tomb contents and decoration has been lost since the building's conversion into a military fortress in 401.  The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigothic looters in Alaric's sack of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary was thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537.  An unusual survival, however, is the capstone of a funerary urn (maybe that of Hadrian), which made its way to Saint Peter's Basilica and was recycled into a massive Renaissance baptistery. [2]

The popes converted the structure into a castle (from the 14th century) and Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to the Vatican with a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo (only occasionally open to the public).

The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V during the Sack of Rome (1527), in which Benvenuto Cellini describes strolling the ramparts and shooting enemy soldiers. [3]

Legacy:     Legend holds that the Archangel St. Michael appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name. [4]

Sant'Angelo was also used by the popes as a prison (Giordano Bruno was imprisoned there for six years) and the small interior square was the scene of executions.  As a prison, it was also the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca from whose ramparts the tragic heroine of the opera leaps


to her death.  Decommissioned as a fortress in 1901, it is now part of the national museum system (Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo). [5]

The Bridge:     Hadrian also built the Ponte Sant'Angelo (originally the Aelian Bridge) facing onto his mausoleum – it still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome to the right bank of the Tiber.  It is renowned for the Baroque additions of statuary angels holding aloft elements of the Passion of Christ. [6]

NEXT:     Leaving the fortress – and walking between it and the river – will put you onto the Via della Conciliazione or the Road of the Conciliation.   

To eat – before or after visiting the Vatican – on the left just before St. Peters on Via della Conciliazione, try Hotel Columbus, also a prime choice of lodging.

Hotel Columbus.  Via della Conciliazione, 33.  Tele: +39 (06) 68-65-435.  Rooms: 100 to 400 Euro.

For simpler fare – and much, less costly – directly across the street is Café San Pietro.  It is cafeteria style but, in its way, is elegant nonetheless.

Café San Pietro.  Almost directly across from Hotel Columbus on Via della Conciliazione.

Via della Conciliazione:     Constructed between 1936 and 1950 and roughly, 1700 feet in length, the thoroughfare connects the Castel Sant'Angelo with Saint Peter's Square.  In addition to the usual presence of shops, it is bordered by a good number of governmental and religious buildings.  But despite being today one of the few major thoroughfares in Rome able to cope with intense traffic without congestion, it is the subject of much debate both due to its resulting effect and to the circumstances under which it was constructed. [7]

Nonetheless, however you traverse this distance into the arms of Bernini’s Colonnade up ahead – whether you do it on foot, by car, or by horse and carriage – it should be enjoyed without interruption.

History:     Until the construction of the Via della Conciliazione, the area in front of Saint Peter's front court remained a maze of densely-packed dwellings and other structures on narrow streets and alleyways where there was always the intention of tearing it all of down to create a better access to the St Peter’s.

In addition, plans were continually drawn up over the years for opening a major link between the Vatican City and Rome’s city center.  But the conclusion to demolish all the buildings of the existing borgos (neighborhoods) for a greater and longer vista to the church, would always be seen as unworkable due to inordinately high expropriation costs and vested property interests. [8]


Gian Lorenzo Bernini:     Eventually, in 1656, Bernini was commissioned to redesign the terrace immediately in front of the Basilica.  He settled on a colossal open space in the shape of the current ellipse.  Facing the expense of clearing the borgos, Bernini decided to make use of the warren of decrepit medieval buildings to intentionally obscure views of the Vatican structures from any significant distance.  Thus, he thought, pilgrims would emerge from the relative darkness of the borgo and literally stumble in awe into the vast open grandeur of the Square and the Holy See. [9]  But he did originally plan to demolish a small piazza directly in front of the square, filling the space with a third colonnade to match the two standing today.  The death of his patron, Pope Alexander VII, put a halt to this and this third set of columns was never built.[10]

Resolution:     The 15th Century Borgo – the site which the Via della Conciliazione now covers – remained occupied by residential, religious, and historical buildings for the another 500 years.  Final impetus for the road's construction was political.  After the Papal properties outside of the Vatican itself were expropriated during Italy’s unification in the 19th Century, later Popes complained that they had become prisoners in the Vatican. [11]

For the next 60 years, in order to avoid any appearance of conceding authority over Rome to the Italian government, the Popes simply refused to leave the Vatican.  Finally, with the Lateran Treaty of 1929, Prime Minister Benito Mussolini signed a compromise acceptable to both the Vatican and Italy. [12] 

With this, he resurrected the idea of a grand thoroughfare symbolically connecting the Vatican to the heart of Rome.  Drawing inspiration from a number of earlier designs, Mussolini’s architects found a way to preserve the best aspects of both the "open" and "closed" designs.   In effect, they proposed a grand boulevard that would, as best as possible, obscure the majority of the Vatican (as per Bernini's intentions) yet also create a grand entrance. [13] 

The vast street required the clearance of whole neighborhoods between the Basilica and Castle Sant’Angelo.  Demolition began with Mussolini symbolically striking the first building with a pickaxe on October 29, 1936. [14]

Today:     Since its completion, the road has acted as the primary access to both St. Peter's Square and to Vatican City itself.  During papal funerals, with swelling numbers of visitors, it becomes an extension to the great square. [15] 

Nevertheless, the controversy remains.  Bernini wanted to keep the Basilica hidden until one in effect stumbles upon its vastness after the warren of darkness, akin to a “revelation.”  This is certainly not the case today.  However, in the place of surprise, what the Via della Conciliazione does provide is a better view of the spectacular Dome of St. Peter’s.  More on this later…


St Peter’s Square & Bernini’s Colonnade:     The square in front of the basilica was designed and built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII.  It was intended to accommodate the greatest number of people attending the Papal blessings. [16]  

An existing obelisk nicely marked the center, but a granite fountain by Carlo Maderno stood oddly off to one side.  Bernini used the obelisk as his grand focal point, but then re-located the fountain to appear as one of two foci of the projected ellipse he would embrace with his colonnades (he had a similar fountain constructed on the other side).  The trapezoidal shape thus resolved between the basilica and the ellipse now creates a heightened per-spective for visitors leaving the basilica; a masterstroke of Baroque theater. [17]

The Colonnades:     The colossal Doric colonnades, each four columns deep, frame both the trapezoid and massive elliptical area attached to it.  The colonnades define the piazza.  The elliptical shape of the piazza, complementing the trapezoidal entrance, beckons the visitor with the arms (the trapezoid) and the hands (the ellipse) of the “Mother Church.” [18]

The Vatican Obleisk:     At the center of the ellipse stands the Egyptian obelisk of red granite.  At 74 feet tall (in all 134 feet, including the base and bronze lions to the cross on its top) the 13th century BC obelisk was moved to Rome in AD 37 by the Emperor Caligula to stand in the central spina of the Nero’s Circus.  The circus was to the left of the old Constantine basilica; it was demolished to build the present St Peters.  Domenico Fontana moved the obelisk (under the direction of Pope Sixtus V) to its current site in 1586. [19]  

The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since Roman times.  During the Middle Ages, a gilt ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar.  Fontana removed the ancient metal ball – now in a Vatican museum – and opening it.  He found only dust. [20]  

NEXT:     St. Peter’s basilica was begun in the 15th century.  It is gigantic.  Its dome is the most prominent feature of the Roman skyline.

Basilica of Saint Peter.  The Basilica of Saint Peter, officially known as the Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano, is one of four major basilicas of Rome (St. John Lateran, St. Peter's, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul outside the Walls). [21]  It is the most prominent buildings inside Vatican City and built on the ruins of Constantine’s original 4th century Saint Peter's Basilica.  With an area of 5.7 acres and a capacity of 60,000, it is the second largest church in Christendom.[22]

One of the holiest sites of Christendom, the basilica is also the assumed burial site of its namesake Saint Peter.  Although the New Testament does not mention Peter's presence or martyrdom in Rome, Catholic tradition holds that his tomb


is below the baldachino and altar; for this reason, many Popes – starting with the first ones – have been buried there. [23]

To build St Peter's Pope Nicholas V bought over 2,500 cartloads of stone from the badly damaged Coliseum.  This and other ancient buildings were wholly or partly destroyed to build St Peter’s. The basilica was completed in 1626.[24]

Although the basilica is not the Pope's official seat (St. John Lateran is), it is most certainly his principal church.  Most Papal ceremonies take place here due to the enormous size, proximity to the Papal residence, and the basilica’s location within the Vatican state’s walls. [25]

NEXT:     And do not forget the grottos beneath the basilica, where remnants of the original 4th century Constantine basilica still exist. 

In fact, there are over 100 tombs located within St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican grotto beneath the Basilica.  These include 91 popes, St. Ignatius of Antioch, the medieval composer Palestrina and Queen Christina of Sweden, who abdicated her throne in order to convert to Catholicism. [26]

NEXT:    And, if you have time, take a crack at the dome of St. Peter’s.  It will cost you another hour or so.  An elevator gets you part way up, after which the curved stairway inside the dome itself is both fascinating and very do-able.  And of course, awaiting you at the top is nothing short of the best possible panorama you will ever have of the Eternal City. 

Note in particular Castel Sant 'Angelo to the left, and the grey dome of the Pantheon on the right.  And, just below, Bernini’s grand colonnade.

The Dome:     It is widely assumed that Michelangelo (who became chief architect in 1546) designed the dome, or cupola, as it presently stands.  In fact, Michelangelo's design called for a spherical dome.  At the time of his death in 1564, only his drum was in place.  (The drum is the base upon which a dome rests; the drum itself resting on only those four piers of the crossing as seen inside the building today.) [27]

Eventually, the architect Giacomo della Porta took on raising the dome.  But studying the problem with Domenico Fontana, he became convinced that the span of the crossing was too great to bridge with a spherical dome.  In its stead, he proposed an elliptical dome that would carry the dome’s massive weight more directly “down” as opposed to the “sides” (thus risking collapse). [28]

But the dome also relates to the controversy surrounding the construction of the broad Via della Conciliazione.  We know that the architect Maderno (upon the urging of his pope) not only extended the length of the basilica, he also raised the height of the front portico.  This done, the dome, as big as it is, is in fact not


very visible from the piazza out front.  In fact, up close to the basilica, the dome is mostly hidden from view. [29] 

This being the case, it seems then that the present Via della Conciliazione gives the approaching visitor his best view of the dome … certainly in a way he would not have, if he had simply “stumbled” into the Piazza St Pietro as per Bernini’s best thoughts on the matter.

Construction:     The dome is double-shelled and made off brick.  It is 138 feet in interior diameter (almost as large as the Pantheon) and rises to 394 feet above the floor.  In contrast to the Pantheon, Della Porta's dome is not a hemisphere, but parabolic.  Its egg-shape thrusts upward – heaven directed, perhaps – whereas spherical domes appear earthly.  The up thrusting is actually emphasized by the bold ribbing that springs from the paired Corinthian columns of the drum below.  Above the vaulted dome rises to a two-stage lantern (designed by Fontana) which is capped with a spire. [30]

In the mid-18th century, cracks appeared in the dome, so iron chains were installed around the dome’s circumference to bind it like the rings that keep a wooden barrel from bursting. [31]

Entrance to St Peter’s:     The façade as designed by Maderno is 376 feet wide and 149 feet high.  On top are statues of Christ, John the Baptist, and eleven of the apostles.  The statues of St Peter and St Paul are in front of the building itself near the base of each side of the approaching stairs. [32]

Between the façade, the interior portico is mainly designed by Maderno.  It boasts an 18th century statue of Charlemagne by Cornacchini to the south, and an equestrian sculpture of Constantine the Great by Bernini (1670) to the north.  The southernmost door (designed by 20th century sculptor Giacomo Manzù) is called the "Door of the Dead".  The door in the center is by Antonio Averulino (1455) and preserved from the previous basilica. [33]

The northernmost door is the "Holy Door" in bronze by Vico Consorti (1950), which is by tradition, only opened for great celebrations such as Jubilee years.

Interior:     Walking along the right aisle of the basilica, there are many monuments and memorials.  The first is Michelangelo's famous Pietà, located immediately to the right of the entrance.  It was placed behind protective glass screen in 1972 after a deranged man stuck it with an axe. [34]

Up the aisle is the monument of Queen Christina of Sweden, who abdicated in 1654 in order to convert to Catholicism.  Further up, you see the monuments of popes Pius XI and Pius XII, as well as the altar of St Sebastian.  Then, note the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is open during religious services only. Bernini sculpted the gilded bronze tabernacle inside in 1674. [35]


In the northwestern corner of the nave (before the dome itself) is the statue of a seated St Peter.  Attributed to 13th century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio, some scholars date it back to the 5th century. Nevertheless, note that the foot of the statue is eroded due to centuries of pilgrims kissing it. [36]  

Over the main altar – and directly under the dome – stands the 98 feet tall bronze baldachin designed and built by Bernini between 1624 and 1632.  The baldachin was built to fill the space beneath the cupola – it surely does that – and it is said that the bronze used to make it was taken from the Pantheon.  It is also thought to be the largest bronze sculpture in the world. [37]  Underneath the baldachin – accessed by an elegant staircase – is the traditional tomb of St. Peter.

Interior of the Dome:     Overhead, along the inside base of the dome, are letters 6.5 feet high: TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM. 

Translation:     “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." [38]

The Apse:     Behind the baldachin, in the apse, is the “Triumph of the Chair of Saint Peter” (1666) by Bernini.  It is the focus of the Feast of Cathedra Petri that is celebrated annually on February 22.  This is topped by a yellow alabaster window with the image of a dove – portraying the Holy Spirit – surrounded by twelve rays symbolizing the apostles.  The rays protruding from the window perhaps evoke the grace of God and seem to support the Chair of Peter, alluding to the source of its authority.  The Chair is made of a bronze encasing, and is thought to be a relic of the original chair of St Peter. [39]

The Left Transept:    Here are three altars: those of St. Joseph and St. Thomas, and of St Peter's Crucifixion.  West of the left transept is the incredible monument to Alexander VII by Bernini wherein a skeleton lifts a fold of red marble drapery and holds an hourglass symbolizing the inevitability of death.  Alexander is flanked on the right by a statue representing religion, which holds her foot atop a globe, and a thorn from the British Isles piercing her toe, symbolizing the pope's recurring problems with the Church of England. [40]

The Left Aisle:    Walking down the left aisle, towards the entrance, are the monuments to Leo XI and Innocent XI, then followed by the Chapel of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.  After that come the monuments to Pius X and Innocent VIII, the monuments to John XXIII and Benedict XV, and the Chapel of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, then a Monument to the Royal Stuarts.  Finally, right before the end of the church, is the Baptistery. [41]

Finally, take note along the floor of the central nave – from front to back – markers with the comparative lengths of other Christian churches worldwide.



NEXT:     Because of their vastness and the crowds, visiting the sprawling Vatican Museums and the Sistine chapel is an all-day affair. 

So, not today.  Doors open at 10am but arrive as early as possible, because there will be a queue even if you get there an hour early.  To get there – facing the basilica – go to the middle of the right-hand colonnade of the elliptical piazza.  Exit and proceed along Via di Porto Angelica.  The Vatican wall runs with you on your left

Follow the wall – always turning left when you can – until you find yourself on Viale Vaticano.  The entrance is on the left.

If you arrive by Metro in the morning: Go one stop past the Metro Stop called ottaviano san pietro to Metro Stop called cipro-musei vaticani

Just outside is Via Vittor Pisani.  A few steps to the right there is the broader street, Via Angelo Emo Cross here and keep going to Viale Vaticano

Then, take a left.  The museum entrance is a quarter mile on your right.

Vatican Museums.  Viale Vaticano.  Normal hours: 10:00 to 4:45.  Tel: +39 (06) 698-84-947.  Admission: 13 Euro.

The Vatican Museums:     These museums display works from the extensive collection of the Catholic Church.   Pope Julius II founded the museums in the 16th century.  Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Stanze della Segnatura, decorated by Raphael, are on the route through the Vatican Museums. [1]  

Origins:     The Vatican Museums trace their origin to a single marble sculpture purchased 500 years ago.  The now famous Laocoön (the priest who, according to Greek mythology, tried to convince the people of ancient Troy not to accept the Greeks' "gift" of a hollow horse) was discovered 14 January 1506, in a vineyard near the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. [2]

Pope Julius II sent Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who were working at the Vatican, to check out the discovery.  On their recommendation, the pope immediately purchased the sculpture from the vineyard owner.  He put the sculpture of Laocoön (actually a group – Laocoön and his sons in the grip of a sea serpent) on public display at the Vatican exactly one month after its discovery. [3]

If you visit the museums, you will see this piece.  Other than this – and to encourage you to see the museums and the Sistine Chapel – we will not include here anything of what you might see.  The museums are vast; a separate guidebook is mandatory as your next purchase, either before or upon entering.


Beyond the Sistine Chapel and the various Papal Apartments, the Vatican Museums include the following collections: Pinacoteca Vaticana, the Contemporary Art Museum, Sculpture Museums, Museo Pio-Clementino, Museo Chiaramonti, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, and the Museo Egiziano.

Finally, the Museums celebrated their 500th anniversary in October 2006 by permanently opening the excavations of a Vatican Hill necropolis to the public.

An excellent choice to stay near the Vatican Museums is the:

Best Western hotel – Albergo Spring House.  Via Mocenigo, 7. Telephone: +39 06 39-72-0948.  Rooms: 100 to 300 Euro.

The easiest return from the Vatican to anywhere else in the city is from the Metro Stop, cipro-musei vaticani.

Returning to Termini Station from the great piazza itself, take bus 64.  On the way, bus 64 offers many opportunities to get off and enjoy your evening meal. A good bet would be – on Via Corso Vittorio – to get off near Campo de Fiori and explore the many restaurants there.

Finally, if you are disabled, or would otherwise like a guided tour of Rome by car – inside or outside the city limits – try:

Executive Limousine of Rome.   Telephone: +39 (06) 61-52-2395

They can also get to and from Fiumicino Airport. 

In addition, for travel in Rome – or throughout Italy – try:

Driver in Italy.  Telephone: +39 (06) 66-18-2052.

Well, I guess it is time to say Arrivaderci Roma.  But thank you for taking this tour with me.  My name is Peter Melaragno and on behalf of “rome: caput mundi” and Charles Lyman at Atlantic Productions … goodbye.


This Pocket Guide to “THE ROME: CAPUT MUNDI WALKING TOUR VIDEO was written and compiled by Peter Melaragno.  It is provided free as part of the packaging of ROME: CAPUT MUNDI and the CAPUT MUNDI WALKING TOUR.  Neither Peter Melaragno nor Charles Lyman of Atlantic Productions is libel for errors in information provided either the Walking Tour video or this Pocket Guide.  Footnotes in this Pocket Guide cite information derived from the “Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.”  Such information is included in accordance with Wikipedia’s GNU Free Documentation License.  Please go to where this Pocket Guide is available with links to all appropriate Wikipedia URL pages used to compile it