Rome the Eternal

We visited Rome for about a week in 2000, and I still want to go back - this set is a record of the past & a plan for the future sightseeing.

Roman Layer Cake: a Brief History

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on November 30, 2009

Rome wasn't the first Italian city on my list of must-see places: not THAT far down the list, but certainly not at the very top.

And yet, when we arrived there, I felt strangely at home - not in the antique part (I had always had more attachment to the ancient Greek roots of European culture), but, rather surprisingly for me, although perhaps not unexpectedly, in the city that for last fifteen hundred years has been the capital of the Catholic universe, and thus fundamentally important on the mental world map for any Pole, a Catholic (as 95% of my countrymen profess to be, and as was the Pope at the time of my visit) or a non-believer (as your reporter happens to be).

Rome, known grandiosely but somehow not unjustifiably, as the Eternal City, has been a supremely important place in Europe for over two millennia.

Its beginnings go back to the legendary Romulus and Remus, two demi-god Latin heroes raised by a she-wolf. Traditionally, Rome is believed to have been established on the 21 April 753 BC (Romans measure time from the founding of Rome). Initially, it was an Etruscan city, but the Roman republic was established in 507 BC.

During the Republic, Rome's influence extended as far as Sicily and northern Africa (as a result of a victory over Carthage during the Punic wars). With the demise of Carthage, and with Greece already in decline well after the fall of Alexander's empire, Rome became a dominant power within the Mediterranean.

The Republic was torn but internal strife among the ruling classes and, after the civil war accompanying the later years of Julius Caesar's dictatorship and post his assassination, Octavian Augustus became Rome's first Emperor.

Imperial Rome saw unparalleled growth of Rome as a city (in AD100 it had 1.5 millions inhabitants) as well as territorial acquisitions that led to a creation of huge Empire, whose historical and cultural influence on Europe, and ultimately the world in the following two millennia is unparalleled. Diocletian divided the empire into Western and Eastern parts in AD285, and although Rome retained its status as the capital of the Western part, the balance of power shifted gradually and Rome's status and power decreased massively after Constantine, the first Christian emperors moved his base to Constantinople in 330.

Rome was sacked by Alaric's Goths in 410 and then repeatedly invaded by barbarian tribes in the and despite some revival under the popes ruling between the 6th and 8th century, the city suffered what seemed like a terminal decline in the medieval period, when the Papal court was based in Navigation. The popes returned to Rome in 1397, but the long-running conflict between the Papacy and the Empire shook the city for a long time afterwards (it was sacked again in 1527 by the troops of Emperor Charles V).

Still, and despite these struggles, Rome revived considerably during the Renaissance period, when the best artists from Florence and all over Italy were brought to Rome to work on its buildings and other projects, including St Peter's.

Rome always felt to me, somehow essentially, and despite multitude of monuments from the antique and Renaissance periods, very much a Baroque city: a city of triumphant counter-reformation, a city whose most ornate buildings and most unique monuments were created by the Popes determined to show off the supremacy of Catholic Church on both spiritual and temporal planes, when over the following centuries Rome became a capital of what was known as the Papal States.

Napoleon crowned himself a king of Italy in 1805 and annexed Rome. As we all know, his conquests were brief and after his fall Rome reverted to type, although nationalistic and revolutionary movements were growing in strength and Rome was even briefly declared a republic during the Spring of Nations in 1848. However, Garibaldi's and Mazzini's efforts to create a united Italy led to success and in 1861 Italy was unified under King Vittorio Emanuele II, and in 1870 the Italian troops stormed the Papal city and Rome became the capital of the new Italy.

During the WW2, Rome was declared an open city and thus spared most of the destruction. Italy proved true to its republican roots in 1946, when the monarchy was abolished in a national referendum.

Rome now is a busy, lively, prosperous city of almost 4 million people and chock-a-full of monuments from all periods of its rich and turbulent history.

It's also a city of good living, good eating, drinking, fashion and art. Life is not enough to get to know it fully - we only had 5 days, and baraely managed to scratch a surface!

Book Reviews: St Peter's, by Keith Miller

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on November 30, 2009

I wish I had Keith Miller's book when I entered St Peter's basilica for the first time! I will certainly take it with me on my next trip to Rome.


Miller leads the reader in via Bernini's Piazza San Pietro, a space which is "a zone of transition between a secular, democratic republic on one side, a scant 137 years old, and the rump of an ancient and granitically conservative theocracy on the other."

From there, the book proceeds to describe the origins and the history St Peter's: arguably the most important and the most famous church in the world. It was founded at the supposed site of St Peter's tomb and developed throughout centuries to become a place of unrivalled religious, artistic and social significance, a " church forever crowded with visitors pursuing different agendas: the tourists inconvenience the faithful, while the faithful baffle the tourists ".

It is huge: not only in space but in time and structure; and in the non-material sphere of the complex interplay of meanings, symbols and significances. Miller's book, intentionally combining cultural and political history, art criticism and travel writing, manages to reflect that hugeness without weighting the reader down with too much austere detail.

In addition to describing the history of the current re-built basilica and its precedesors, Miller devotes a fascinating chapter to excavations of the Roman and Early Christian tombs underneath St Peter's and finishes brilliantly with "perspectives". We are led to climb the dome (with a passing discussion of Michelangelo's role in its creation and an account of similar climb's role in " Dolce Vita") to gaze at the Rome itself and revisit the architectural counterpoints to St Peter's in the city, including Mussolini's Via Conziliazion and EUR. The analysis of perspectives moves up a gear in a brief account of buildings inspired or influenced by the basilica, from a multitude of Catholic churches of 17th and 18th centuries to the London (and Protestant) St Paul's to the Capital to the notorious design for the Great Hall of Germania by the Hitler's court architect, Albert Speer and culminates in the report of critical and literary responses to the building.

The earlier chapters dealing with the actual history of the current building are perhaps the most specialist and likely to overwhelm a lay reader. But even in those Miller effortlessly connects disparate strands of history, art and architecture into a rich palimpsest of a book, irreverent but not mocking, amused but avoiding the theatrical outrage that often characterises British attitudes to Catholicism in general and papacy in particular.

The sections (including a separate chapter) concerning art in the basilica are the crowning glory of "St Peter's" . Miller concentrates on a few works only (the mosaic copies of painting, several tombs, Michelangelo's Pieta), using them as starting pints for fascinating and informative discussion of diverse subjects, from the potted history of Opus Dei to the fates of post-Culloden Stuarts to mediations on the dynamic between religious and artistic, always aware of the historically changing meanings of art and often successfully attempting to recover the " period eye ". The florid Baroque of Bernini is and excellent candidate for such a treatment, initially revered, then condemned by many critics as corrupt, ridiculously affected and pretty rather than beautiful, to become recently fashionable again among the post-moderns.

At the end of "St Peter's" Miller provides excellent suggestions for further reading (even Dan Brown gets a mention) and concludes with a practical guidebook-like chapter that alone is worth the purchase price for anybody planning a visit.

" St Peter's " cries out for more quality illustrations. There is a plan in the introduction, but the images of the building itself, especially external ones, are a few and far between, scattered throughout the text which makes it harder to refer to them while reading. A (glossy) insert with illustrations would be a much better solution, and the plan should be on the fold-out sheet to allow for easy consultations.

Fervently erudite, stylish, occasionally flippant but always sensitive to the continuing aesthetic and political dialogue between the basilica and the surrounding city, both current and ancient, Miller's book is an ideal piece of background reading for those who treat preparations for sightseeing seriously. It is also a brilliant exploration of the art and architecture of a church that is as much an expression of the temporal power of the papacy as of the spiritual dimensions of Christianity and which still stands, abiding, the Mother Church of Catholicism, as it has been for the last one and half millennia.

Mother of All Churches

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 2, 2009

St Peter's is, arguably, the mother of all Christian churches. The Protestants or Orthodox might disagree, but St Peter's, albeit in a different physical guise, was standing at its site over a thousand years before Luther nailed his theses to the door in Wittenberg, and seven hundred years before the great East-West schism.

It was originally founded at what was believed to be the site of St Peter's burial and in the centuries of its existence developed almost organically, though with many periods of careful (and less careful) planning to become a locus of stupendous symbolic, spiritual, social and historical meaning.


The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , commonly known as St. Peter's Basilica, is located in the Vatican City and is the most significant landmark of Rome as a whole.

It is situated at the head of Bernini's monumental Piazza San Pietro and is internally the largest Christian interior in the world, capable of holding 60,000 people.

The scale of the building is difficult to imagine: it overwhelms, but also, rather strangely, provides space for all those differing agendas of the visitors: people pray, look, meditate, sit on the floor by the pillars, even eat (albeit discreetly) in this vast interior.

The current Basilica was built on the site of the old church which had been erected in the times of Constantine (the same one who declared Christianity the state religion) in the begging of the 4th century.

The core of the building was initially designed by Bramante and developed by Michelangelo on the plan of a Greek (symmetrical) cross, Michelangelo is generally held to have the most input into the current building (and he designed the dome crowning the Basilica). The original Greek cross was extended into the plan of Latin cross by the addition of a long nave designed by Carlo Maderno, who is also responsible for the facade and portico.

The dome of St. Peter's rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross, which makes it the tallest dome in the world. It's possible to climb the dome, and although the 490 steps make for an arduous and often claustrophobically terrifying climb, it's eminently worth it, firstly because it gives another impression of the scale of the work, allows for unusual perspective on the building itself but also, and foremostly, because of the excellent views it affords of the key-hole shaped piazza and Bernini's colonnade below and the whole Rome.

St Peter's is filled with a bewildering collection of furnishings and art.

Michelangelo’s Pieta is arguably the best artwork at St. Peter’s and one of unquestionable masterpieces of renaissance sculpture. Unutterably sad but strangely serene Mary is holding the body of Jesus in her arms, her half-closed eyes cast down. The composition of the sculpture is perfect, with Mary's head forming the top and the drapery of clothes sides of the pyramid shape. Mary's face is that of a very young woman, as if she was a young mother holding a baby and only the viewer could see the reality of the death. The sculpture has been housed in a case of bulletproof glass since it was severely damaged (it has been painstakingly restored since) in an attack by a madman in 1972.

The Basilica contains over 100 tombs, including those of over 90 popes as well as of the Scottish Stuarts (including James III, the Old Pretender, his wife Clementina Sobieska and Bonnie Prince Charlie). The monument to Pope Alexander VII by Bernini features four Virtues, of which Truth has her foot placed on a globe, strategically trampling Britain, where Alexander tried (in vain, as we all know) to quell the growth of Protestantism.

The focal point of the Basilica is Bernini's Baldacchio, over the Papal Altar. Allegedly, St Peter's tomb lies directly below the altar (on which only the Pope himself can celebrate the Mass) and the Baldacchio is as good example of the triumphal Baroque, seamlessly mixing sculpture and architecture, as they get. Four 20m high, twisted pillars, adorned linear, botanical decorations, topped by Corinthian capitals, support the fringed four-ribbed canopy with multiple angels and cherubs, a dove in a burst of golden rays. The whole ensemble, dripping with gold, is topped by a cross on a golden globe.


As it stands today, St Peter's Basilica is undoubtedly as much a testament and witness to the worldly power of the Papacy as to the spiritual power of the of the Church. To unbelievers, the crowds of faithful are nothing short of astonishing, to the faithful the tourists and gapers are a sacrilegious nuisance, to some of the non-Catholic Christians it's a shameless seat of the Whore of Babylon.

Whatever it is, it leaves very few unmoved.
St. Peter's Basilica
Piazza San Pietro
Vatican City, Rome, 00193
+39 0669883462

Cardinal's Earthly Treasures

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 2, 2009

Villa Borghese is Rome's most popular park as well as the home to the building that gave the whole park its name. It's an impressive formal garden-like park, with lakes, temples and other kinds of follies and decorations which is a very pleasant place to walk about (though full of Roman families, especially on weekends - Rome's small zoo, the Bioparco, is located here).

But the highlight of the park is, undoubtedly, the wonderful collection of art in the Galleria Borghese. The collection was started by Cardinal Scipione Borghese as his private collection and was acquired by the state in the beginning of the 20th century.

The gallery is divided into two sections, the ground floor contains sculpture and mosaics, the upper floor the paintings.

It's not a huge museum, although its high concentration of masterpieces demands attention and at least an hour at a brisk trot (and significantly more if paying proper respects). But Galleria's somehow more human scale makes it easier to take in and approach than for example the huge Vatican Museums.

The highlights of the sculpture collection include Canova's Venus Victrix (Venus Victorious), for which Paolina Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, posed and which, even now, is a perfect evocation of an idealised female form, as befits a neo-classical school to which Canova adhered. She's holding an apple, ostensibly in reference to Aphrodite's victory in the Judgement of Paris, but one is also led to think of tempting apple in Eve's hand in the Judeo-Christain myth.

Bernini is well represented, with his dramatically dynamic shapes, wonderfully realised and perhaps more acceptable to the modern eye in the mythological themes of Apollo and Daphne and the Rape of Proserpine than in his usual images of saints in seemingly hysterical ecstasy. Apollo and Daphne is the real gem, with the sculpture catching the moment in time when the nymph turns into the tree, her hands already leaves, her toes the roots. It might be seeing things - or rather imagining and overinterpreting them, but one can't help thinking that Italian Futurists, despite their ostensibly modern and machine-loving tendencies, owe quite a lot to Bernini's sensibilities and preoccupations with capturing furious and fleeting movement in a solid shape.

The paintings that draw most crowds are Villa's Caravaggios, especially the famous Madonna of the Palafrenieri. This painting was removed from St. Peter's after only a month, because of its deviance from figurative tradition, but its spiritual power is all the better exhibited in the seemingly naturalist setting: St. Anne watches as Mary holds on to the young Jesus crushing the serpent (symbol of sin) under his foot. The figures are set in the typical Caravaggio moody darkness, but the face of Mary and the naked figure of Jesus is glowing with a deep, golden light. There is also a wonderful, luminous St. John the Baptist in the desert and David and Goliath, with the cut-off head of Goliath being Caravaggio's self-portrait.

In addition to Caravaggios, Galleria Borghese has quite a few other masterpieces, with a lovely Venus by Cranach, Titian's famous Sacred and Profane Love (though I have to say I am not that fond of Titian) and Piero della Francesca's Flagellation and the Senigallia Madonna. The Madonna is particularly good, in the unmistakably hieratic, sculptural almost style of Pierro della Francesca's but infused with joy, especially in the figures of the angels.


The tickets to the gallery are for a specific time, and at busy periods you might need to wait - it's best to come to the gallery first and use your waiting period for a stroll in the park that surrounds it.
Villa Borghese Gardens
Piazzale Flaminio
Rome, Italy, 00196

Rome Was not Built in a Day...

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 4, 2009

Basilica San Clemente, famous for its stunning 12th century mosaics is worth visiting to see how the layers upon layers of history are built up onto one another in Rome.

The main church functioning today was built in the 12th century and represents typical Romanesque style, although overlaid with later alterations and additions - notably an 18th century Baroque facade (which is using the 12th century colums in its construction).

Underneath the 12th century building, however, lurk remains of one eight centuries older: discovered by the Irish Dominicans who have been running San Clemente since 1667 after their expulsion from Ireland by the English rulers. It's likely that this 4th century church (burned during Norman invasions) housed the relics of St Clement, the fourth pope to whom the Basilica is dedicated.

But this is not the end of the layering: under the 12th century building, and below the remains of the 4th century one, hides a Roman structure around two thousand years old, containing a temple of Mithras: the altar depicting Mithras slaying the bull is sitting directly under the apse of the Christian church! The religion of Mithras was a Persian mystery cult related to fertility and popular among the Roman military at the same time as the Christianity was growing. Little is know of the details of the cult, which involved complex process of seven degrees of initiation.

It's also believed that underneath it all are even older foundations dating to the time of the Roman republic, and who knows - maybe those were erected on a site where an Etruscan house once stood.

The highlight of the church is undoubtedly the wonderful mosaic in the apse, possibly the best in Rome, dating to the 12th century and filling the whole curved space with gloriously golden, Byzantine vision of the Cross as the Tree of Life, adorned with beautifully detailed animal figures and plant ornamentation. The Holy Cross raises at the centre of the mosaic, and from it spring multiple branches, blossoming with flowers. The branches are symbolic of the living Church and its connection, through centuries, to the Cross and to the original garden of paradise. A frieze of lambs guards the mosaic at the bottom.

The Basilica contains also some good frescos from 11th and 15th centuries.

Rome certainly was not built in a day, but rather grew organically through centuries, reusing, re-forming and sometimes auto-cannibalising its own urban and cultural substance.
San Clemente
Via Labicana, 95
Rome, Italy, 00184
+39 0670451018

Palimpsest of the Living History

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 5, 2009

Roman Forum was the political, social and religious centre of the ancient Rome. Later on, the area was used as a ready-made marble quarry, supplying the construction stone for much of the later buildings. Since the 18th century's renewal of interest in antiquity, the area of the Forum has been more systematically excavated, but to the casual visitor, it still remains a most fascinating, rambling patchwork of ruined temples and basilicas (Roman basilicas were secular buildings, where legal cases were heard). The Forum is a captivating site and a delight to just walk about and explore (though you can hire a guide, and there are some information panels).

At the western end of the Forum stands the Arch of Septimius Severus, arguably the most attractive of Rome's triumphal arches, despite, or maybe because of its decorative artwork being severely eroded. Next to the arch are remains of the Rostra - a raised platform for public speakers. It's from this dais that Mark Antony made his "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech. Via Sacra extends from here east towards the Capitol.

Of many buildings just a few columns and ground-level walls remain, others have been rebuilt in modern times, adapted for new uses or incorporated into new Christian buildings. Perhaps the most striking example of the latter is the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, which incorporates - nay, which looks like it has been built inside the portico of the temple of Antoninus and Faustina. It's a building that invites a double take, a building that looks like a folly or a joke, or a result of a time-wrap clash of structures. And yet, there it stands, a baroque facade behind a 2nd century columns.

Further along the Via Sacra . The remains of the house of the Vestal Virgins draws attention with its central pond full of water lilies and goldfish, flanked by a row of mostly headless statues: a restful and somehow melancholic site, with the remains of vast building that surrounded the inner courtyard clearly distinguishable around.

Further on, the sheer scale of the public buildings of Ancient Rome can be contemplated in the huge arches and vaulted ceilings of Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius.

At the western end of the Forum, a Baroque church with a Romanesque bell tower rises from inside the colonnade of Hardrian's giant temple to Rome and Venus. Past the western edge, the famous Arch of Constantine stands between the Forum and the Colosseum.

As the whole of Rome, the Forum is a palimpsest of the living history of the city, demonstrating clearly its continuous development and renewal. The site isn't clearly fenced off and the entrance is free, as it should be to what has always been a public space.

Roman Forum
Largo Romolo e Remo
Rome, Italy, 00186
+39 066990110

Jewel of High Renaissance

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 5, 2009

The Capitol was the most politically important of Rome's seven hills. The site of the temple of the Capitoline Jupiter, it was a symbolic centre of the Roman World, a seat of the highest spiritual and political authority. It still remains roughly in the geographical centre of Rome, and the modern city council meets in one of the Capitol's Renaissance palazzos.

The current layout of the central Piazza di Campodiglio is of Michelangelo's design, a supreme example of urban-planning perfection. Unfortunately, the layout of the area is somehow blotted out by the gigantic monument to Vittorio Emanuelle, but the Campidoglio itself remains a wonder of balance, grace and good taste.

The Piazza is best reached by Michelangelo's grand, ramp-like staircase, the Cordonata, guarded by lions and restored classical statues of Castor and Pollux.

The piazza itself is trapeze-shaped, covered with geometric paving that both links the buildings together and guides the eye of the visitor. In the middle stands a replica of an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the wisest of the Emperors. The square is flanked by three palazzos: Nuovo, Conservatorio and Senatorio, whose facades were also designed by Michelangelo. The horizontal lines of their balustrades and windows crate a graceful rhythms to the buildings: the whole creation is a monument to the beauty of reason, restrained luxury and the best of the classical civilisation.

Palazzo Conservatorio and Palazzo Nuovo form the Capitoline Museums. Palazzo Nuovo a collection of classical statuary and was the world's first public museum, as declared by Pope Clement XII in 1734.

The best works in Palazzo Nuovo are Roman copies of Greek sculptures, including the Discobolos and the famous "Dying Gaul", unusually full of human compassion for a mortally wounded enemy. There is also, in a room of her own, the Capitoline Venus, a lovely nude demurely (but not entirely effectively) covering her breasts and pubis.

Palazzo dei Conservatori has more sculpture, including the iconic Etruscan she-wolf (with later added Romulus and Remus underneath), the original of the Marcus Aurelius from the centre of the square (the only equestrian statue to survive from ancient Rome) Bernini's Medusa and the multi-breasted Diana of Ephesus. The gallery of paintings boasts Caravaggio's St John the Baptist, unorthodox to say the least, vision of the Christ's precedesor.

The inner courtyard contains the head, hand and foot of Constantine's gigantic statue: the head itself, at 2.5m, is taller than a full-sized human.
Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini)
Piazza Del Campidoglio, 1
Rome, Italy, 00186
+39 (06) 67102475

10 of the Other Hundreds Notable Roman Sights

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on November 30, 2009

Rome is huge, less so in space, and more so in meaning, richness, depth, the sheer number and the very attractiveness of its attractions.

I am devoting more detailed accounts to some of the must-see sites, buildings and museums, but decided to compile this little list in order to point out locations, objects and buildings that are not worthy of several hundred words each, but are still very much worth seeing and/or experiencing.

Thus this list of Lesser Sights but Still Icons, or Other Roman Things Very Much Worth Looking Out For.

1) Fontana di Trevi

Possibly the most famous of the Roman fountains, this exhuberant Baroque creation by Nicola Salvi was built in 1762 and remains one of Rome's iconic sights. Older visitors will fondly remember its appearance in La Dolce Vita, where it functioned as a fitting backdrop for the statuesque blonde Anita Ekberg. The fountain's sculpture depict Neptune's chariot led by Tritons with three horses and at night, the fountain is rather beautifully lit. People throw coins into the fountain to ensure their return to Rome (the second coin will mean you will fall in love with an Italian, the third that you will marry, so be careful). Over 100,000 Euro is retrieved annually from the fountain.

2) Bocca della Verita

A large stone disk in a shape of a bearded face mask, and of unknown origin (it is thought to be depicting some river god, possibly Oceanus), this is a Roman lie detector (its name means "the Mouth of Truth"), located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Starting from some time in the Middle Ages, it has been believed that if one told a lie with one's hand in the mouth of the mask, the mouth will snap shut. So far, everybody that submitted themselves to the Mouth's test has been proven truthful.

3) Piazza del Popolo

Overlooked in the shortest tours of Rome, this magnificent square to the north of the city centre is definitely worth a look and a stroll about. Designed in the 16th century, but re-modelled in the classicist style in the 19th, it's a monumental but beautiful space. The twin Baroque churches that flank the Piazza are almost - almost - identical.

4) Campo de' Fiori

Literally, the Field of Flowers, this is a lively piazza surrounded by a rather rambling architecture (it has never been formally designed) and traditionally a place of commercial activity and executions. It's perhaps most famous for the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno in 1600, who held such dangerous ideas as heliocentrism and infinity of the universe.

Nowadays it's a busy market, but Bruno's statue still towers over the stall holders and nigh time revellers.

"On this same square
They burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
Close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
The taverns were full again,
Baskets of olives and lemons
Again on the vendors' shoulders."

[from the poem by Czeslaw Milosz]

5) Spanish Steps

Leading to Piazza di Spagna from the church of Trinita dei Monti, these magnificent steps built in 1725 have been traditionally a place of gathering for foreign visitors to Rome, and the locality has particularly strong associations with English Romantic poets: Keats died in a house nearby, now a museum devoted to him, Shelley and their fellow Romantics.

6) Tempietto

This famous if tiny building is universally recognised as the first Renaissance structure in Rome and one of the most perfect realisations of the Renaissance style in existence. Designed and built by Bramante around 1502, it was used numerous times as a model for later buildings.

7) Piazza Navona

Huge and beautiful piazza, lined with Baroque palaces, and a popular place for Romans and visitors, Piazza Navona is likely to be on your route even if you don't plan for it. It's worth paying attention to some magnificent fountains that grace the Piazza, including Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi by Bernini, Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno (19th century, but in keeping with the water theme of Bernini's masterpiece).

8) Via Giulia

A perfect Renaissance street, parallel to the Tiber designed by Bramante for Pope Julius II, lined with palazzos, shops and art galleries, and a wonderful place to just slowly walk by.

9) Ancient Via Appia and the catacombs

Including Via Appia on this list is perhaps risking something of an understatement, as The Appian Way was one of the earliest and most important Roman roads and connected Rome to Brindisi. Still falling somehow beyond the main scope of the central-Rome attractions, but easily accessible from beyond the Porta San Sebastiano, this ancient road is still a place worth visiting if you can make time for that. Along the road are situated several buildings of interest, including the church of Domine Quo Vadis as well as three catacombs of Roman and early Christian origin and the grand tomb of Caecilia Metella.

10) Monument to Vittorio Emanuelle II

This is one object after St Peter that you will be unlikely to miss. Designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1895, it was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1935 to commemorate the first king of unified Italy, and in his person, the act of unification itself. This huge, blazing white monstrosity of 19th century bombast has been unkindly called "the typewriter" or "the wedding cake" and yes, it somehow spoils the view of several more tasteful sites, but it's a Roman landmark nevertheless and the views are worth a climb.

Rome Condensed: Suggested Itinerary for One Day

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 8, 2009

Rome was not built in a day, and it cannot be seen in a day. Italians say that the lifetime is not enough. In reality, a week is enough to decently scratch a surface of the Eternal City, and even in a day you can get a taster that will bring you back for more.

Rome has everything from great shopping to great art, food to architecture, antiquity to modernity.

How to make the best of what is such a little time in which to fit so much? The answer is, don't try to do it all - don't even try to fit the major sights in. Start early, get comfortable shoes, a good map and don't be afraid to use public transport. For a typical visitor, interested in historical sights and noticeable landmarks, this is a suggested day's itinerary

Start at the Vatican. Visit St Peter's Basilica, the Mother Church of Catholicism and arguably, the greatest Christian temple in the world. Don't miss the Michelangelo's Pieta, Bernini's Baladacchino (it's probably impossible to miss this Baroque orgy of twisted columns and gold ornamentation) and, unless you are scared of heights, do climb to the top of the dome for wonderful vistas of the whole of Rome in general and the Piazza San Pietro below in particular.

Unless you are very keen on paintings and came to Rome especially to see old masters' art, DON'T go to the Vatican Museums. Even a very perfunctory visit requires hours and will leave you exhausted.

Take the metro to Flamino to have a look and throw a coin into the famous Trevi Fountain and a walk round Piazza del Popolo. Have a coffee or a snack round here and then take a bus no 117 or 119 all the way down Via Corso to Piazza Venezia, dominated by the huge monument of Vittorio Emanuelle. Bear left to Via del Teatro di Marcello and climb the Concordata steps to Michelangelo's masterpiece of High Renaissance, Piazza del Campidoglio. Visit the Capitoline Museums for some excellent sculpture and some great paintings, including Caravaggio.

Walk down the steps to the left side of Palazzo Senatorio, they will take you down to the Roman Forum. Explore the ruins of temples and basilicas of the Forum, walking the length of Via Sacra from the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus to the arch of Constantine (itself outside the Forum area). Now you are at the Colosseum and it's probably some time in the mid-afternoon. Visit the Colosseum briefly if you feel up to it.

Take a bus no 87 or 186 from near the Colosseo metro station to Corso del Rinascimento (ask for the best stop for Piazza Navona). Explore the fountains and buildings on Piazza Navona, there are plenty of cafes for a pit-stop round here. Pantheon is only a stone's throw east of the Piazza, so it's worth a look if you can make it.

Have a dinner here, or head south towards Piazza Capo di' Fiori. If you are still capable of walking, conclude the day with an evening walk along the Tiber.

And then, start planning your next visit.

© LP 2000-2009