Rome is almost the most perfect sightseeing city. It has had plenty of practice it has been on the tourist trail for a thousand years. While Florence had it's banks, Venice it's trade and Milan it's industry - Rome has always had to papacy to keep the economy going. So when you watch tourists move from sight to sight they are only doing what tourists did back in the days of Bernini and Michelangelo. When the pope's decorated Rome in baroque and attracted more and more tourists. It hasn't been as knocked around as Berlin, Madrid or Athens and so looks as perfect as it did at the time of the Borgia's. The best example of this is west of the Corso in the Centro Storico. Here the streets become narrow and lead you to the Pantheon and one of the most beautiful piazza's in Italy - the Piazza Navona. Wandering around this square at night with its lit-up Bernini statues, gushing fountains and musicians may well be the highlight of your trip to Rome.
The Pantheon and the Piazza Navona are a long way from public transport. Buses stop along Via Plebiscito but the nearest metro is probably Barberini or Colosseo. And they are a long walk from either. If you are approaching from the Trevi Fountain the crowds generally hit the trail after Via Ignazio and head west along the russet-red streets. My tip to you is to leave the Corso at Piazza Colonna. While you are aimlessly meandering along you will be bounced out of your thoughts by an extraordinary structure - the Column of Marcus Aurelius. This was the Emperor who fought massive battles against the German hordes and reliefs of the battles spiral up this 150ft marble column. And even more interesting is that it shares the Piazza with the Prime Ministers residence.
West of here is the judicial part of Rome and then after following twisting turning streets you will stumble out onto The Pantheon. This is an extraordinary building and you are looking at probably, after the Colosseum, the most perfect Roman building in the world. The one standing dates from Hadrians time, but this was based on a temple previously built by Marcus Agrippa - Augustus' right-hand man when the piazza was Mars Field. It survived the destruction of most pagan buildings in this city of pope's by being converted in a church. And it's exterior is very impressive with looming dome, Roman inscriptions and towering Doric column's. The Piazza itself is a nice place to relax with cafes, restaurants, shops and obligatory obelisque and fountain.
Everyone visits the interior sooner or later and once you get used to the darkness a perfect dome soars above you with octagonal niches and a circular hole providing the light. The altar was gold and around the edges were the tombs of Raphael and King Victor Emanuelle. The ancient marble floor echoes as you move around and the crowds whisper in hushed voices. I chatted to an American couple and we all wondered why a hole in the roof? Surely impractical when it rains. They must have good drainage and according to their guidebook the rain hits the interior floor in a perfect circle.
You can hardly miss the way to the Piazza Navona due to signs and crowds. This was very high on my list to see and it did not disappoint. As you emerge from the brownstone streets a great cicular Piazza greets your eyes. The Piazza Navona is colossal. Terracotta buildings overlook a marble floor; the domed church of St Agnese dominates and three fountains throw their wates up into the air. The fountain in front of St Agnese was the best - the Fontana di Quatro Fiume. A great obelisque soars into the air surrounded by a sea-god and nymphs. Each figure represents the four rivers of the world - the Nile, Danube, Plate and Ganges. Similar fountains dot the northern and southern ends.
But Piazza Navona is a fabulous place to wander with its pigeons, artists, restaurants, Senegalese Gucci bag-salesmen and hundreds of tourists. I adored the fountain at the northern end - the Fontana di Netune. Neptune in his white marble glory is struggling with sea monsters (see photo). Set against the orange buildings and a sapphire sky - the white marble god spearing an entangling octopus was just the best - I adored it.
Two tips - one is a toyshop at the northern end of Piazza Navona which looks like something out of 'Pinnochio' and the other is a gelateria also on its northern edge. The proprietress here is very flirtaceous and you may find yourself tongue-tied while ordering. On view were pestaccio, raspberry, chocolato or supafrutto? What was it I was going to have?