Epicentre of the dolce vita, Rome is a peaceful and modern capital that can be discovered in several days, even in several trips. An open-air museum that can be explored by strolling through its narrow streets on the lookout for a fountain, a Madonna or a church, which are always exceptional. This tourist guide will serve as a treasure map to discover these mythical places: Colosseum, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Roman Forum, Palatine, Trevi Fountain, or the Vatican and its famous Sistine Chapel. There are of course all these essential sites in Rome but there are also all those that we let you discover randomly during your walks and that this time will only belong to you. Finally, how can we talk about Rome without talking about food? The alla romana cuisine is representative of this Italian cuisine that you can’t get enough of. Among the city’s specialities, there are antipasti such as fiori di zucca, fried zucchini blossoms filled with mozzarella, suppli, seasoned rice balls and roasted peppers, a delight. In primi piatti we start with homemade pasta in sauce or minestra soup, before continuing with secondi. Time for meat: chicken, lamb, beef often served with the famous Roman carciofi, the artichoke. Finally, Rome is home to amazing gellaterie serving ice creams with countless flavours at any time of the day and in any weather. Essential dessert to take the time to observe the elegance of the inhabitants from the terrace of a café.
Here are the best things to do in Rome:
1. GALLERIA BORGHESE
Located in a beautiful 17th century residence, expressly designed to house its collections, the Borghese Gallery is one of the richest and most important in Rome. Wanted by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1579-1633), nephew of Pope Paul V, these collections suffered a disastrous amputation in 1807 when 154 statues, 160 busts, 170 bas-reliefs and 30 columns (now in the Louvre) were sold to Napoleon by Camille Borghèse, Pauline Bonaparte’s husband. However, there are still some major pieces.
2. FONTANA DI TREVI
Who doesn’t know the mythical scene of the film La Dolce Vita, where a sublime Anita Ekberg swims in the pool of the Trevi fountain while kissing Marcello Mastroianni? A Roman monument that has forever entered the mythology of cinema, the Trevi Fountain was created in the mid-18th century by the sculptor Niccolo’ Salvi. Pope Clement XII (1652-1740) had decided to replace a previous fountain that was much simpler and narrower, while integrating it into the 16th century palace overlooking the current square. Trevi’s name would also come from the fact that the square was at the intersection of three streets, called trivium in Latin. Since 19 BC, the fountain has been drawing its water from the aqueduct of the Virgin Water (Acqua Vergine) built by Agrippa, Augustus’ son-in-law, more than 12 miles away from Rome.
The Colosseum is to Rome what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, a symbol of the city, but it is also the largest amphitheatre of antiquity. It was the site of the greatest gladiatorial battles of the Roman era, then served as a residence, before being stripped of its materials, transformed into a place of Christian worship, abandoned, until finally undergoing very slow rehabilitation.
4. PINACOTECA VATICANA
This museum was created by the Treaty of Vienna (1816), which provided that the works returned by France would be exhibited to the public. This was done under Pius XI in 1932. It is a delight, because the rooms are not visited very often. At last, a little bit of peace in these crowded galleries! Presented in chronological order, the works allow us to follow the evolution of religious painting from the 2nd to the 17th century. It is one of the richest collections of paintings in Italy. Not to be missed.
5. BASILICA DI SAN PIETRO
It was in 64 A.D. that the apostle Peter died in Rome, during the persecutions against Christians ordained by the Emperor Nero, on whom Saint Peter blamed for the fire in Rome. It was in the circus built on the Vaticanum square, whose construction had begun under Caligula, that Peter’s torment took place. It is said that he asked to be crucified upside down, out of respect for Christ. Following the increase in Christian persecution over three years, a necropolis flourished there. It was therefore in situ, not far from the place of his martyrdom, that Peter was buried. Very quickly, a popular tradition was created around the site, which became a place of pilgrimage. When Emperor Constantine won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, he attributed it to the sign of the cross and, by the Edict of Milan in 313, he authorized Christian worship and the construction of religious monuments.
6. STANZE DI RAFFAELLO
Raphael’s four rooms (stanze) in the Borgia Tower were the private apartments of Julius II. He called on the most famous artists of the time to paint his apartments. Perugino, Bramante, Piero della Francesca and Luca da Cortona were among them. Bramante spoke to the Pope about a young man doing wonders in Siena. Julius II agreed to bring this prodigy in 1508. Raphael was then 25 years old. He carried out the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. Julius II liked it so much that he had the frescoes of the other great masters destroyed and ordered the whole thing from Raphael.
7. CAPPELLA SISTINA
How to talk about the Sistine Chapel? By looking at it and trying to decipher it. The chapel is presented as a very large rectangle (131 ft by 42 ft), with a very high vault (68 ft) and without architectural ornaments, choir, side chapels or transept. Nothing distracts the eye from the pictorial decoration.
8. NECROPOLI DI SAN PIETRO
Died in the Circus of Caligula, Peter was buried not far from there, in a necropolis that developed on the east bank of the Tiber, less inhabited than the west bank. It is therefore among the ancient streets built before and under Constantine that the trophy known as the “Trophy of Gaius.” was found, which contained the remains of the apostle, wrapped in a purple tunic, imperial color. During the visit, the guide will remind you of the historical and architectural elements of the circus, the necropolis and the two successive basilicas.
9. MUSEI VATICANI
The Vatican museums exhibit in many rooms, huge collections of works of art accumulated over the centuries by the Popes. The desire to create museums in the Vatican dates back to the 16th century, when Pope Julius II had ancient statues – such as the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoön Group – moved to the Cortile del Belvedere. From then on, the Vatican City became a cultural centre of admiration for Roman antiquities.
10. VATICAN CITY
The Vatican, home to the Holy See and the Vatican City State, is located in Rome, in the western part of the city. The Vatican Hill is not part of the 7 hills of Rome. With less than 5300 sqft, the Vatican is the smallest state in the world. It is an independent state whose official creation dates back to February 11, 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Treaty. The Pope has all the powers (executive, legislative and judicial). In the Vatican enclave, there are the Apostolic Palace, St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museums extended by the Sistine Chapel, the necropolis of St. Peter, several churches and palaces. The Gardens of Vatican City cover 30 hectares and occupy two thirds of the total area of the State. On the other hand, the Holy See has jurisdiction over several extraterritorial areas (70 ha), including three of Rome’s four major basilicas (Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls). The fourth is St. Peter’s Basilica.
11. BASILICA DI SANTA MARIA MAGGIORE
It is one of the four large basilicas known as “papal” with Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s Basilica and Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Since the Lateran Treaty of 1929, these four buildings have been part of the Vatican State. It is an imposing basilica, capable of accommodating large crowds. The building is clear on all sides; a large square extends in front of the façade (Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore) and another, even larger, on the side of the apse (Piazza dell’Esquilino). The 18th century façade is the work of Ferdinando Fuga, a late Baroque architect close to Fransceco Borromini. Fuga built it on a previous facade without erasing the 13th century mosaics by Filippo Rustici, which tell the story of Pope Liber’s dream: an exceptional event would have marked this place. Indeed, on August 5, 358, the snow fell on the Esquiline and, on this snow, Pope Liber traced the perimeter of the new church. Even today, every August 5, the miracle of the snow is celebrated in Rome and artificial snow falls on the square in front of the basilica. The current basilica dates back to the 5th century and its construction is linked to the Council of Ephesus in 431, which proclaimed Mary the mother of God. The church was thus wanted by Pope Sixtus III. As you enter, the effect is grandiose, you can still admire the columns and the ancient capitals of the central nave. The ceiling is gilded with gold leaf: it is the first gold brought back from the Americas that Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon offered to Pope Alexander VI, better known as Borgia Pope. On the ground, the superb marble pavement is the work of the Cosma, a famous 12th and 13th century family of marble workers.
12. IL VITTORIANO
Rome has long been the capital of architectural audacity. The Vittoriano is undoubtedly, with the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum, one of the most imposing monuments in the Italian capital. Built in homage to Italian unity (Italy was not unified until 1861) and in memory of King Victor Emmanuel II, the works begun in 1885 were not completed until 1911. The architect Giuseppe Sacconi won the contract with his project. Inspired by the Pergamon altar kept at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Botticino’s white marble monument required the destruction of an entire medieval quarter to be erected. Rich in symbolism, the lateral friezes representing the cities of Italy were created by the sculptor Eugenio Maccagnani; Enrico Chiarada created the equestrian statue of the monarch. The unknown soldier is guarded in the centre of the building, surrounded on the right and left by two fountains representing the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. The Romans gave this immense building several nicknames, the most famous of which remain the “typewriter” or “wedding cake”.
13. MUSEI CAPITOLINI
The museum is housed in the two palaces facing each other in the Capitoline Hill (Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo). Its visit requires a good half day. It is mainly dedicated to ancient, Etruscan, Greek and Roman sculpture, but in its art gallery section it also presents interesting Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque works. The Capitoline Museums were created in 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV gave the Roman people a group of valuable bronze statues. This makes it, in its oldest part, the oldest public museum in the world.
14. CHIESA DI SAN LUIGI DEI FRANCESI
Begun by Giuliano de’ Medici, the future Pope Clement VII, in 1512, the church was completed in 1589 with the funds of the Kings of France Henry II, Henry III and Catherine de’ Medici. It became the church of the French in Rome. The façade, still close to the Renaissance, is decorated with the salamander, emblem of Francis I, as well as statues of Charlemagne and Saint Louis. The interior was very enriched in the 17th and 18th centuries, but above all it provides an opportunity to take an interest in two contemporary but so dissimilar artists: Domenichino and Caravaggio. In the side chapel of the right nave, we owe the first one Scenes of the Life of Saint Cecilia in a perfectly mannerist style.
The Pantheon was certainly the most admired and studied monument of all time in Rome since Antiquity. It symbolizes “the eternal city” on its own, by its age (nearly two millennia that its walls are standing). But also by the superposition of styles and religions in its massive and spectacular architecture, which had a decisive influence during the Renaissance.
16. PALAZZO FARNESE
Considered the most complete example of Renaissance architecture in Rome, the Farnese Palace has been the headquarters of the French Embassy since 1936. The “dice”, as it has always been called, was begun in 1514 by Sangallo the Younger on the orders of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, future Pope Paul III, continued by Michelangelo in 1546 and completed more than 40 years later by Giacomo Della Porta. Its imposing facade, sumptuous interior decoration and the works of art it houses (many of them have nevertheless moved to Naples) remind us of the importance of the Farnese family during the Renaissance. The palace dominates completely the Piazza Farnese (where you can see the fountain basins that come from the Baths of Caracalla). It is made of travertine, a yellow and porous stone that is typically Roman. Michelangelo’s genius created the splendid marble balcony above the entrance gate and the powerful cornice.
17. CHIESA DI SANTA MARIA DEL POPOLO
This church, almost hidden at the bottom of the square and leaning on the Pincian Hill, was started at the end of the 11th century with the financial contribution of the Roman people. Completed in 1477, under the reign of Sixtus IV Della Rovere, many artists, including Raphael, Bramante, Bernini and Carlo Fontana, worked there. The Renaissance façade, built between 1472 and 1477, was designed by Baccio Pontelli and Andrea Bregno. Its structure is simple: 3 naves and side chapels, wonderfully decorated by the most important artists of the time. In the right nave, the first chapel displays a fresco by Pinturicchio (1490) and two tombs by Sangallo and Andrea Bregno. The vault is painted with frescoes by Pinturicchio. We can recognize the The Coronation of the Virgin, the Evangelists, the Sibyls, and the Doctors. The Cerasi Chapel, in the left transept, is a treasure in itself, with an Assumption of the Virgin by Annibal Carracci and, above all, two paintings of the Caravaggio: the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter. Through the use of light, the trivial realism of sacred characters, they constituted a revolution that influenced the following centuries. The extent of these paintings can be measured by comparing them with the Adoration of the Shepherds frescoed by the Pinturicchio a hundred years earlier (first chapel on the right in the nave). Continuing, we meet the Chigi chapel which also deserves a short stop. Built by Raphael, it was started in 1513 and completed by Bernini in 1656. The mosaics on the dome were drawn by Raphael. The lateral tombs, pyramidal in shape, are also a project of Raphael, but they were modified by Bernini.
18. BASILICA DI SANTA MARIA IN TRASTEVERE
In Piazza Santa Maria, its foundation would date back to the 3rd century AD when, after an arbitration by Septimius Severus, a small Christian community obtained the cession of a piece of land on which it hastened to build a church. In its present form, the church was built on the initiative of Pope Innocent II from 1140 onwards, and has been redesigned many times over, with an 18th century porch topped by statues of the purest Baroque style.
19. VILLA BORGHESE
The most famous historical Roman villa. However, it does not only offer a pleasant walk for Romans and tourists, but also proposes many museums. It is rightly called the “park of museums”. Indeed, it houses the Borghese Gallery, the Canonica Museum, the National Etruscan Museum, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art… It is the biggest park in Rome. It includes the gardens of Villa Giulia in the north of the Pincian Hill. The park is decorated with numerous statues, most of them copies of antiques, and countless small buildings, such as those dedicated to Adonis, Faustina and Diana, as well as the Fountain of the Seahorses.
20. BASILICA DI SAN LORENZO FUORI LE MURA
Saint Lawrence was burned alive during the time of Emperor Valerian in 258 and buried in the cemetery of the villa of a certain Lucius Verus. This is why we sometimes find the indication: “San Lorenzo al Verano”. Constantine had a first sanctuary built around 330, rebuilt by Pelagius at the end of the 6th century. In the 13th century, Honorius III took over the building. In the 19th century, Pius IX had most of the Baroque additions removed and restored the church to its former appearance.