Things to Do in Rome - page 4
Ponte Sisto is a stone pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River in Rome. It connects the historic center of Rome on one side of the river with the Trastevere neighborhood on the other side. The bridge dates back to the late 1400s and uses the foundations of an older Roman bridge that was destroyed in
the early Middle Ages. Today the bridge is one of the few bridges crossing the Tiber River that does not allow vehicles. This makes it a pleasant crossing point for visitors exploring the city by foot.
The bridge also provides nice views of the city. From here, you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Ponte Garibaldi, Ponte Mazzini, Tiber Island, and Gianicolo Hill. The bridge connects Via dei Pettinari and Piazza Trilussa. Several boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes can be found in this area on both sides of the bridge, some offering views of the river and the bridge itself.
Beloved by both pilgrims and art aficionados, the Church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) houses the chains that bound Saint Peter when the Romans imprisoned him in Jerusalem. Built in the fifth century, the church today is also home to Michelangelo’s Moses, part of the unfinished monumental tomb of Pope Julius II.
Soaring more than 100 feet (30 meters) above Piazza Colonna, the Column of Marcus Aurelius (Colonna di Marco Aurelio) is a striking ancient landmark in Rome. Erected in the second century to commemorate the emperor’s Danubian War, the column features intricate bas relief carvings that spiral upwards, depicting scenes of war and conquest.
St. Peter's Dome (Cupola di San Pietro), one of Italy’s most famous monuments, doesn't technically stand on Italian soil—it sits atop St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Michelangelo’s architectural masterpiece is a symbol for Catholics around the globe and, as the highest dome in the world, offers spectacular views across St. Peter’s Square and Rome.
Trajan’s Market (Mercati di Traiano) is one of the most interesting areas of Rome’s five Imperial Forums, built by Julius Caesar and his successors at the very apex of the Imperial Age. This vast, triple-decker semicircle was ancient Rome’s version of the modern-day shopping mall, and it remains a remarkably intact example of Roman urban planning.
The 17th-century San Carlo ai Catinari Church (Chiesa di San Carlo ai Catinari) is dedicated to Saint Carlo Borromeo and known for its sumptuous baroque interiors. The church features stucco decorations, three-dimensional depictions of the cardinal virtues, and Antonio Gherardi's Chapel of St. Cecilia, which features a dome illuminated by hidden windows.
Marking the center of Piazza di Spagna, the unique 17th-century Barcaccia Fountain (Fontana della Barcaccia) is one of the most famous in Rome. Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini and designed by Pietro Bernini, the fountain sits at the base of Rome’s Spanish Steps and is a popular gathering spot in the square.
The pretty village of Castel Gandolfo overlooks Lake Albano and is a popular day trip destination from Rome. The site offers a peaceful respite from the bustle of Italy’s capital city and is home to the the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo and Barberini Gardens, which make up the papal summer residence and are now open to the public.
Farnese Palace (Palazzo Farnese) is one of the most majestic Renaissance palaces in Rome, built with the collaboration of architects including Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Michelangelo and frescoed by Carracci and other 16th-century artists. Originally residence of the noble Farnese family, the palace is now seat of the French embassy.
Standing proud at the top of Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, the historic Trinità dei Monti is one of the city’s most photographed churches and dates back to 1585. Built under order of King Louis XII of France, the landmark church remains the property of the French government, a legacy hinted at by the pair of clocks that adorn its façade – one showing Rome time, the other Paris time.
For most visitors the most striking image of the church is from piazza below, looking up over the Fontana della Barcaccia and the Spanish steps. Climbing the 135 steps to the church entrance (there’s also a lift running from the Spagna metro station) is also rewarding, offering a closer view of the Renaissance façade, the work of architect Giacomo della Porta. Inside the church, highlights include a series of magnificent frescoes by Daniele da Volterra, Federico Zuccari and Giambattista Naldini.
More Things to Do in Rome
Among the most sacred Catholic sites in Rome, the Scala Santa (or Holy Stairs) is a solemn destination for believers—from pilgrims to popes—who would climb the 28 marble steps on their knees in devotion. The original stairs, which lead to the Chapel of San Lorenzo, are now closed, although a faithful and equally beautiful replica remains open to the public.
The Vatican Gardens (Giardini Vaticani) cover an impressive 57 acres (23 hectares)—more than half the entire area of the Vatican City-state—and include a Renaissance layout dotted with fountains, statues, and buildings dating as far back as the sixth century. The gardens were a humble expanse of orchards and vineyards until Pope Nicholas III moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace and enclosed the land with a wall in 1279.
Rome’s oldest forum, the Forum Boarium was once a busy cattle market and site of several temples, the remains of which can still be seen today. Much less famous than many of the city’s other ancient sights, the Foro Boario is one of Rome’s most interesting “secret” attractions.
Not far from the busy and popular Piazza Navona in Rome is the Church of Santa Maria della Pace (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace), which has a Baroque facade on a 15th-century church.
The front of the existing church was redesigned in the mid-17th century at the behest of Pope Alexander VII, including the lovely semicircular entrance lined with columns. The architect, Pietro da Cortona, also had some neighboring buildings destroyed to open up the little piazza around the church more.
Inside, the main attractions are artistic and predate the 17th-century work on the facade. A large Raphael fresco of the “Four Sibyls” is over the altar in the Chigi Chapel, painted in 1514. The Ponzetti Chapel contains a Peruzzi fresco of the “Madonna and Child,” and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger designed the Cesi Chapel.
Behind the church is the rest of the complex, including a large cloister built by Bramante between 1500-1504. Today, part of the cloister serves as an exhibition space for which tickets are required. Exhibitions rotate regularly.
When we think of ancient civilizations, more often than not we think of Rome. Yet before the Romans, there were the Etruscans who lived in west Italy from the 9th century onward. Their necropolises, or burial grounds, represent much of what we know about not only Etruscan culture but also burial practices from that ancient time.
Depictions of daily life can be found on frescoed walls, and many of the necropolises resemble Etruscan homes. The necropolis of Cerveteri alone has thousands of tomb structures which are arranged as if a small city. It can be navigated in largely the same manner, with paths, city squares, and even distinct neighborhoods.
The nearby Tarquinia necropolis has more than 6,000 tombs carved into rock. Interestingly, these tombs built for death are one of the greatest keys we have to understand how the Etruscans lived. Many of them are the only existing structure of their kind.
Rome’s Villa Farnesina was originally built in the early 16th century for a wealthy Renaissance banker as his summer retreat. The villa and gardens are in the Trastevere district, which used to be outside the city center, and are now open to the public.
The wealthy banker for whom the villa was built had the good sense to hire some of the era’s best artists to decorate the interior, so it’s a stop well-suited to art lovers. Today, these pieces of art are one of the top reasons to visit. The best-known artist represented is Raphael, who painted lovely frescoes on the ground floor.
All of the Villa Farnesina’s main rooms are open to the public, including the ground floor loggia where you can see the famous Raphael fresco called “The Triumph of Galatea.” Other frescoes by artists such as Baldassarre Peruzzi (who designed the villa) and Sebastiano del Piombo are on upper floors of the villa.
There are guided tours in English at Villa Farnesina given each Saturday at 10am, and English audio guides are available at any time for €2. Some Trastevere tours include the Villa Farnesina, though many only reference it from the outside.
The heart of Rome’s bohemian Trastevere neighborhood, Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere fills by day with young families and tourists dining at sidewalk restaurants and sunbathing on the steps of the square’s central fountain. Come evening, students and revelers flock to the many trendy bars around the piazza, one of Rome’s favorite gathering spots.
This impressive 16th-century basilica is set in the ruins of the Roman Baths of Diocletian, and its remarkable interior—designed by Michelangelo—is testament to the massive size of ancient Roman buildings. The church, located in the heart of Rome, contains a meridian line built in the 1700s to predict the exact date of Easter each year.
At the very top of the Janiculum Hill in Rome is Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi, which has a bronze statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi at its center.
The Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo in Italian) is not one of Rome’s ancient seven hills, but today is one of the best places to get an exceptional view over the city. Piazzale Garibaldi is at the top of the hill, surrounded by a road and some parking spaces.
The equestrian statue in the middle of the piazza honors Garibaldi, the man who led the fight to unify Italy in the early 19th century. The main draw of the square, however, is the view over Rome. You can see everything from the Colosseum to St. Peter’s dome to the Vittoriano monument and much more.
Piazzale Garibaldi and the Janiculum Hill get particularly popular at sunset, so if you want to see the sun go down from the top of the hill make sure you give yourself enough time to walk or take the bus up there. During the day, some Trastevere tours include the Janiculum Hill on the itinerary, too.
The monumental bronze canopy of St. Peter's Baldachin (Baldacchino di San Pietro), set beneath Michelangelo’s dome, is a centerpiece of St. Peter's Basilica. Bernini’s stunning bronze masterpiece soars as high as a 9-story building above the basilica's high altar, protecting the spot where St. Peter is said to be buried.
Overlooking Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, the Pincio Gardens (Pincio) have been present since the time of the ancient Romans. It is named for the Pincis, a noble Roman family whose estate was built on these grounds in the 4th century. The gardens were separated from the neighboring Villa Borghese by an ancient wall.
Filled with greenery, flowers, and bust statues of famous Italians, the present gardens were laid out in the 19th century. Tree-lined avenues were once (and still are) a grand place to go for a stroll. There’s also an obelisk and historic water clock located in the gardens. They are accessed via a steep, winding path up from the city. Once at the top, you’ll have one of the best views of Rome, looking out to rooftops, piazzas, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The panoramic outlook is arguably best at sunset.
As a 17th century Baroque church facing Piazza Navona, the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone (Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone) stands in one of the busiest areas of the in Rome’s historic city center — yet it remains a peaceful sanctuary and renowned Roman church. History tells us that the Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred on site here in the ancient stadium built by Emperor Domitian. The structure itself was built in 1652 and meant to act as a personal chapel for the family of Pope Innocent X, who lived in the palazzo just beside it. Today it remains a beautiful chapel, known for its frescoed ceilings, many fine sculptures and altars, and impressive marble work. It is also a shrine to Saint Agnes, with her skull still on display to visitors and her body buried in the catacombs. The church’s architecture is characterized by its massive dome, Corinthian columns, and Greek cross plan.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Rome’s Trastevere district, the Turtle Fountain (Fontana delle Tartarughe) is one of many important monuments found in the historic Jewish Ghetto. The collaborative masterpiece of sculptor Taddeo Landini and architect Giacomo della Porta, the fountain was built between 1580 and 1588, and stands at the center of the Piazza Mattei.
A prime example of late Renaissance art, the fountain’s design features a central pedestal depicting four ephebes perched on marble shells, each lifting turtles to the upper water basin. Today, the original bronze turtles that gave the fountain its name have been replaced by replicas thanks to a spate of thieving, while the originals are preserved in the Capitoline Museums.
At the center of St. Peter's Square, the second tallest Egyptian obelisk in Rome soars 84 feet (26 meters) into the air to signify the Catholic church's power. Brought from Heliopolis to Rome by Caligula in AD 37, the red-granite obelisk was moved to its current location by Pope Sixtus V in 1586.
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