Rome's Must-See Historical Sites
We've compiled a list of the top 13 historical attractions in Rome. If you're short on time and looking for the best Instagram locations, go from top to bottom in the list below!
This former pagan temple, a marvel of architectural harmony and proportion, is Imperial Rome's best preserved monument. The Pantheon was built by Augustus' general Agrippa in 27BC and completely rebuilt by Hadrian near the end of the 2nd century AD. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon as a church in the seventh century. The dome was previously gilded, and it is believed that this gold was stolen to gild the baldachin, which stands above the altar at St. Peter's. The incredible structure is nearly 50m wide and 50m high, with a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder. Its flattened dome is the world's widest, about 0.5m wider than St. Peter's. The circular walls are 7.50m thick, and the ornate bronze doors each weigh 20 tonnes!
The Sistine Chapel
This is without a doubt Michelangelo's masterpiece and his most famous work. He considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter, and Julius II ordered him to stop his current work and devote his time to creating the wonderful frescoes that covered more than 10,000 square feet of the chapel's ceiling, a task that took four years. Michelangelo's subject was the story of humanity prior to the arrival of Christ (from Genesis), which is depicted in nine main panels. In the early 1990s, the ceiling was meticulously rejuvenated and restored, and it is now vibrantly coloured, a stark contrast to the dark and veiled tones that had been present for so long.
A structure that has come to represent both modern and Ancient Rome: a massive and majestic play area for the Ancient Romans with a bloody history. The ruin was first established in 80AD with a 100-day programme of games and shows. Gladiators would salute the emperor in his Imperial box with the words, Ave, imperator, morituri te salutant (Hail, emperor, men soon to die salute thee). The Colosseum could seat more than 50,000 people and was originally covered in marble, with an ingenious system of awnings to provide shade from the hot Mediterranean sun. It was built in just eight years and was named after a colossal 118-foot statue of Emperor Nero that once stood nearby. Unfortunately, because of its location, it has become a large roundabout for Rome's heavy traffic flow, with the cost visible in the grime and erosion caused by exhaust fumes - but it is constantly cleaned and repaired to overcome the problem.
Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore is one of Rome's oldest and largest churches. It was built in the third century and has undergone numerous renovations over the years. The bell tower is the tallest in Rome (circa 75m), and the church contains many artistic masterpieces: The gilded gold found on the beautiful ceiling is thought to be the first gold brought from the New World. The glossy mosaics on the arch in front of the main altar date back to the 5th century. Bernini's modest tomb can be found here. According to legend, Pope Liberio had a dream in which Mary told him to build a church where he would find snow. The following day, August 5th, in the middle of summer, it snowed on this location.
Campo de' Fiori Piazza
During the Renaissance period, many foreign merchants and traders stayed in Piazza Campo De' Fiori. The square is slightly shabby these days, but it still has a lot of character. A large, popular food market now takes place here (every morning except Sundays) and is well attended by Romans. It is also a popular place to visit in the evenings and at night because of its bars and pubs. Piazza Farnese is nearby, and it is home to one of Rome's largest private palaces.
This lovely baroque square is a must-see when in the city centre, and it's even more appealing now that it's pedestrianised. The square was originally planned in 86AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian, who had a stadium built there (Circus Domitianus). Since these foundations, the area has been stripped of its marble in the 4th century, but revitalised during the Renaissance period. Today, the Piazza is a marvel of light and sculpture; at the centre is the "Fountain of the Rivers," designed by Bernini to personify the world's four great rivers (Ganges, Della Plata, Danube, and Nile); at the southern end is another fountain by Bernini, Fountain of the Moor, and there is a third fountain, Fountain of Neptune, which was added in the nineteenth century. The magnificent twin-towered façade of the 17th century Church of Sant'Agnese is also worth seeing.
Villa Borghese is located in the heart of Rome. Cardinal Scipione Borghese designed the elegant park, which is 3.5 miles in circumference, in the 17th century. Umberto I, King of Italy at the turn of the century, purchased it and presented it to the Roman people in 1902. The highly impressive Galleria Borghese, inspired by 16th century style, was covered on the outside with old sculptures, whereas the recently restored interior now hosts several great works of art, including Raphael's Disposition, Bernini's Apollo, and others. Although crisscrossed by roads, the serene landscape and greenery is an excellent place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. There are several cafes and food vendors here, and it serves as a gathering place for the city's roller bladders.
Spanish Steps/Piazza Di Spagna
The Spanish Steps were originally built to connect Via Del Babuino with Via Felice, Sixtus V's first great street. Their intersection is intersected at a right angle by Via Condotti, which depicts the route to St. Peter's and the Vatican. They were built between 1723 and 1725 by Italian architect Francesco de Sanctis, commissioned and paid for by the French, and named after the former Spanish Embassy. Nowadays, especially in the summer, the steps and piazza are bustling with tourists and Romans alike, who come to admire their beauty, floral decorations, and to rest on the steps while reading or basking in the sun.
The Imperial Forum is located on Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which Mussolini built to connect the ruins to the 19th century monuments of Piazza Venezia. Julius Cesar established the Imperial Forum to alleviate the overcrowding of the Roman Forum. The forum was once a vast and impressive area of buildings, alleyways, markets, and shops. However, most of what is left today are ruins and archaeological sites, though some of the larger buildings are still standing. The Foro Di Cesare, Foro Della Pace, Foro Di Augusto, and Foro Traiano are among the forums. They formed a complex hub of commercial, political, religious, and social activities.
The Palatine Hill is one of Rome's seven hills. It is believed that Rome was founded here in 753BC; at first, it was only a few huts, but as the city grew in power and wealth, so did its size and area. The various walls that surrounded the settlement attest to this. It later became a residential area and, eventually, the site of many famous (and infamous) emperors' splendid imperial palaces, including Caligula, Nero, Tiberius, and Domitian.
Circo Massimo was once thought to be the most impressive structure in Ancient Rome. It could seat up to 250,000 people, who had gathered to watch the flamboyant imperial chariot races. The structure was looted for its stone and marble during the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, and today it is little more than a vast, empty field.
This Victor Emmanuel I (the first King of Italy) monument dominates Piazza Venezia, near the Colosseum and Forum. Built in the late 1800s, it overshadows all surrounding structures and stands out even more due to its wedding cake-like form and colour - the building is both hated and loved by the people of Rome. On the outside of the monument, an eternal flame burns at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while inside is the Museo Del Risorgimento.
S. Pietro Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is located in one of the world's smallest sovereign states, the Vatican (founded in 1929), and is widely regarded as the home of Roman Catholicism as well as one of the most beautiful churches in the world. The site is believed to be almost on top of where Saint Peter was crucified and is home to the Pope and his audiences. The structure as we know it today was built over a 150-year period, between the 1500s and 1600s. While many architects and artists contributed to its final design and appearance, Michelangelo is widely regarded as the most important contributor, having taken over the project in 1547. Inside, the structure is massive, so much so that it is difficult to take in every detail and all of its beauty at once. On your first visit, the grandeur of its furnishings, detailed paintings, size, and frescoes can be overwhelming. Please also keep in mind that Saint Peter's has a very strict dress code: shoulders must be covered, shorts are not permitted, and no skirts above the knee are permitted. If you do not follow these rules, you will not be permitted to enter.