- AVENTINO (AVENTINE HILL)
- CAMPIDOGLIO (CAPITOLINE HILL)
- CAPPELLA SISTINA (SISTINE CHAPEL)
- CASTEL SANT'ANGELO
- CATACOMBE (THE CATACOMBS)
- CIRCO MASSIMO (CIRCUS MAXIMUS)
- FONTANA DI TREVI (TREVI FOUNTAIN)
- FORI IMPERIALI (IMPERIAL FORA)
- GALLERIA BORGHESE (BORGHESE GALLERY)
- ISOLA TIBERINA (TIBERINE ISLAND)
- MUSEI VATICANI (VATICAN MUSEUM)
- PALATINO E FORO (PALATINE HILL)
- PIAZZA DI SPAGNA (SPANISH STEPS)
- PIAZZA NAVONA (NAVONA SQUARE)
- S. CLEMENTE
- S. GIOVANNI (ST. JOHN IN LATERAN)
- S. MARIA DEL POPOLO
- S. MARIA DELLA VITTORIA
- S. MARIA MAGGIORE (ST. MARY MAJOR)
- S. PAOLO FUORI LE MURA (ST. PAUL OUTSIDE THE WALLS)
- S. PIETRO (ST. PETER'S IN THE VATICAN)
- SINAGOGA (THE SYNAGOGUE)
- TERME DI CARACALLA (BATHS OF CARACALLA)
- VIA VENETO
AVENTINO (AVENTINE HILL)
The Aventine Hill is the most southern of the seven hills of Rome. It consists actually of two peaks shared by a smooth valley, the first peak is close to the Tiber and the second, the “Minor Aventine”, is more south. Originally the hill was called Mons Murcius, from the myrtles bushes covering it and only later was named with the current name still in use. However a number of different sources (including Ennius and Servius) relate to its etymology as a more direct connection to the founding of Rome for it was here where Romulus saw the birds (aves) which would have reveal the place of Rome’s foundation. Differently, others think of the name as to come from the king of the city of Alba-Longa, Aventino, who was struck by a lightning and buried here.
During the Republic, it has always been a popular district, mostly foreign traders lived here since the commercial harbor on the Tiber was near. Under the Empire became a more residential area and the lower classes moved down to the plains of the river banks.
Many temples were built on the Aventine hill: King Servius Tullius let build a temple of Diana which became the federal sanctuary of the Latins.The temple dedicated to Juno Regina consacreted by Camillo after the destruction of Veii in 396 b.C. was also located here.
CAMPIDOGLIO (CAPITOLINE HILL)
The Capitoline Hill is the smallest of Rome’s seven hills, but it was the religious and political center of the city since its foundation more than 2500 years ago. Once the political and religious centre of Ancient Rome, it is now the site of the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, and of the city’s administrative offices. The Capitoline Hill is where the city’s first and holiest temples stood, including its most sacred, the Temple to Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno, and their daughter Minerva). Started by Rome’s fifth king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and continued by his son Lucius Tarquinius Superbus It was considered one of the largest and the most beautiful temples in the city (its foundations are still to be seen inside the Capitoline Museums) and was probably founded on an earlier Etruscan temple of Veiovis, the remains and cult statue of which survive. The great temple was dedicated in 509 b.c. Destroyed three times by fire, it was last rebuilt by the emperor Domitian.
On the northern summit of the Capitol opposite the Capitolium where the temple stood was the citadel (arx). On the side overlooking the Forum stood the Tabularium, where the state archives were kept. The space between was called Asylum.
It was on the Capitoline hill that the Sabines, creeping to the Citadel, were let in by the Roman maiden Tarpeia. For this she was the first to suffer the punishment for treachery of being thrown off the steep crest of the hill to fall on the dagger-sharp Tarpeian Rocks below where still until the 1st cent. a.d. state criminals were hurled to their death from. In the Middle Ages the Capitol remained the political center of Rome. In the 16th cent. Michelangelo designed the present plan. A flight of steps leads to the square on top of the hill; on one side of the square is the Palazzo dei Conservatori, on the other, Palazzo Nuovo. Both buildings house collections of antiquities which form a great section of the Capitoline Museum. In the center of the square is the copy of the ancient equestrian bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius which original is also preserved inside.
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CAPPELLA SISTINA (SISTINE CHAPEL)
The Sistine Chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere (pontiff from 1471 to 1484) who had the old Cappella Magna restored by Baccio Pontelli between 1477 and 1480. It is famous for its architecture and its decoration which has been frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists . The work on the frescoes began in 1481 and was concluded in 1482.The 15th century decoration of the walls includes: the false drapes, the Stories of Moses and of Christ and the portraits of the Popes . It was executed by a team of painters made up initially of Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, assisted by their respective shops and by some closer assistants.
Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512, placing nine central stories illustrating episodes of the Genesis within a powerful painted architecture, and then after 25 years The Last Judgement. These are widely believed to be Michelangelo’s crowning achievements in painting. As well as praise, the Last Judgement also caused violent reactions among the contemporaries. For example the Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said that “it was most dishonest in such an honoured place to have painted so many nude figures who so dishonestly show their shame and that it was not a work for a Chapel of the Pope but for stoves and taverns” (G. Vasari, Le Vite). This led in 1564 to the decision by the Congregation of the Council of Trent to cover some of the figures of the Judgement.
The Conclave for the election of the Supreme Pontiff is held in the Chapel. It is again the words of the Homily pronounced by His Holiness John Paul II that underline the primary importance of the Sistine Chapel in the life of the Church: “The Sistine Chapel is the place that, for each Pope, holds the memory of a special day in his life. … Precisely here, in this sacred space, the Cardinals gather, awaiting the manifestation of the will of Christ with regard to the person of the Successor of St Peter
Originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family the building was later used as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.
A new bridge (called Pons Aelius from the name of the emperor) which still exists as Ponte S. Angelo was built across the Tiber in order to reach the Campus Martius. Most of the structural parts of the Mausoleum, which was incorporated into Castel S. Angelo in the Middle Ages, have been preserved. The building consisted of an enormous quadrangular basement, 89 m. each side and 15 m. high. On top was a cylindrical drum flanked by radial walls. A bulk of earth planted with trees rose up over the drum. Along the edges were decorative marble statues and at the centre, raised even higher up, was a podium on top of which was a bronze quadriga crowned with the statue of Hadrian. The Funeral chamber, right at the center of the massive drum, is still visible:the cinerary urns of the emperors were placed in this room.
As early as A.D. 403 the emperor Honorius may have incorporated the building in an outpost bastion of the Aurelian walls. In 537, when it was already a fortress, it was attacked by Vitiges and the Goths. In the 10th century it was transformed into a castle. Its appearance today is that of a massive fortress on a square base and with circular towers at the four corners onto which a circular body has been grafted. This was built following the lines of the Imperial mausoleum under Benedict IX. Further work was ordered by Alexander VI and by Julius II who had the south loggia above the papal apartments added.
At the summit is the panoramic terrace, watched over by the Angel about to fly off, which seems to be why the building is called as it is, for the winged messenger is said to have saved Rome from a terrible plague at the time of Gregory the Great.
CATACOMBE (THE CATACOMBS)
The catacombs are the ancient underground cemeteries, used by the Christian and the Jewish communities, above all in Rome. The Christian catacombs, which are the most numerous, began in the second century and continued until the first half of the fifth century.In the beginning they were only burial places. Here the Christians gathered to celebrate their funeral rites, the anniversaries of the martyrs and of the dead. During the persecutions, in exceptional cases, the catacombs were used as places of momentary refuge for the celebration of the Eucharist. They were not used as secret hiding places of the early Christians.
This is only a fiction taken from novels or movies. Christian excavators built vast systems of galleries and passages on top of each other. They lie 7-19 metres (23-62 ft) below the surface in area of more than 2.4 square kilometres (590 acres). Narrow steps that descend as many as four stories join the levels. Passages are about 2.5 by 1 metres (8.2 ft x 3.3 ft). Burial niches (loculi) were carved into walls. They are 40-60 centimetres (16-24 in) high and 120-150 centimetres (47-59 in) long. Bodies were placed in chambers in stone sarcophagi in their clothes and bound in linen. Then the chamber was sealed with a slab bearing the name, age and the day of death. After the persecutions, With the edict of Milan, promulgated by the emperors Constantine and Licinius in February 313, the Christians were no longer persecuted. They were free to profess their faith, to have places of worship and to build churches both inside and outside the city, and to buy plots of land, without fear of confiscation. Nevertheless, the catacombs continued to function as regular cemeteries until the beginning of the fifth century, when the Church resumed to bury exclusively above ground or in the basilicas dedicated to important martyrs.
From the time of pope Saint Damasus (366 – 384) they became real shrines of the martyrs, centers of devotion and of pilgrimage for Christians from every part of the empire. The Roman catacombs, of which there are forty in the suburbs, were built along the consular roads out of Rome, such as the Appian way, the via Ostiense, the via Labicana, the via Tiburtina, and the via Nomentana. The Christian catacombs are extremely important for the art history of early Christian art, as they contain the great majority of examples from before about 400 AD, in fresco and sculpture. Amongst the largest and richest in early christian iconography are: catacombs of Domitilla, Sebastian and Callixtus the latter two located on the Appian way.
CIRCO MASSIMO (CIRCUS MAXIMUS)
The Circus Maximus was first built by Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth Etruscan ruler of Rome, in 530 BC. Various improvements were made to the design of the massive arena which was magnificently adorned. The Circus Maximus was located in a valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills referred to by the ancients as Murcia. The design was oblong in shape, with a long barrier (spina) that ran down the middle of the trackcontaining statues and monuments. It measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width. Its circumference was a mile. The stadium was surrounded with rows of seats all around, three stories high which rose one above another. The lowest seats were made of stone and the highest of wood. Separate places were allotted to the Senators and to the Equites. There were starting gates, permanent viewing stands and private boxes for the politicians, senators and important military personnel. Under Augustus the Imperial box was added and later one more rose high up in the palace area on the Palatine hill for the Emperor and the royal family. An Egyptian obelisque dedicated to Ramses II and taken by Augustus from Heliopolis in 10 bc. ( from the XVI Cent. stands in Piazza del Popolo) stood in the middle.
Trajan had the circus completely rebuilt and at that time it reached the capacity of 250,000, although according to Pliny the Circus Maximus could already accommodate 250,000 spectators in the time of Vespasian. The last modifications were ordered by Constantine and Costanzo II when the capacity is estimated to be 300,000. During this time another obelisque was added which can now be found in Lateran square. The chariot races attracted huge crowds. The last known race was organized by Totila in 549. Its abandonment led to systematic looting, which eventually left it in its present state.
Probably the most impressive work of roman engineering, The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre is an elliptical amphitheatre in the center of the city of Rome. With a capacity of fifty thousand spectators the Colosseum was erected by the Flavian dinasty between 72 and 80 A.D. in a valley were previously there was a lake. The Colosseum was the largest amphiteatre in the Roman Empire and for hundreds of years it held games such as the venationes (hunts) and the etruscan origin munera (gladiatorial games). Recreations of natural scenes or sea battles were also possible in the arena.
Painters, technicians and architects would construct a simulation of a forest with real trees and bushes planted in the arena’s floor apt to recreate mithological tales. Animals would be introduced to populate the scene for the delight of the crowd. Occasionally used for capital punishments the condemned person was likely to be killed even in one of various gruesome but mythologically authentic ways, such as being mauled by beasts or burned to death. In the middle age the building underwent major changes of use but mostly it was used as a quarry of materials for the construction of other buildings.
In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV made the Colosseum a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. He forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry and consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ and installed Stations of the Cross. Since there is no historical evidence of christians being sentenced to death for their belief both modern historians and the Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that there are no historical grounds for this supposition.
FONTANA DI TREVI (TREVI FOUNTAIN)
The Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain is the most famous and likely the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. This impressive monument dominates the small Trevi square located in the Quirinale district. The fountain at the junction of three roads marks the terminal point of the “modern” Acqua Vergine , one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome built in 19 BC.
A previous undertaking to build the fountain after a design by Bernini was finally carried out a century after the death of Pope Urban VIII. Only in 1732 did Pope Clement XII commission Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square. Salvi based his theatrical masterpiece on this design. Construction of the monumental baroque fountain was finally completed in 1762. Palazzo Poli was the backdrop for the fountain. It was then given a new facade with a giant order of Corinthian pilasters that link the two main stories. Tritons guide Oceanus’ shell chariot in taming seahorses. Taming of the waters is indeed the theme of the gigantic scheme, mixing water and rockwork, and filling the small square with its glamorous late baroque grandness.
A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. Also current interpretation has it that two coins will lead to a new romance and three will ensure either a marriage or divorce.
FORI IMPERIALI (IMPERIAL FORA)
As opposed to the Roman forum the Imperial fora don’t seem nowadays to be a part of it. The road which nowadays divide the two ancient areas was built in the time of the fascist regime led by B. Mussolini. These once monumental and richly decorated squares sign the end of the ancient Rome’s Republican age and were built for one and a half century from the time of Julius Caesar onwards. In the ever growing city of Rome they provided more room for government, business, religious worship, and were still considered very important public and ceremonial areas which also enhanced the emperors fame and immortality.
The Forum Iulium (Forum of Julius Caesar) was the first of the Imperial Fora to be built. Probably to rival Pompey’s large theater complex, the Forum of Caesar was planned most likely by himself in 54 B.C and constructed as an extension to the Roman Forum. Using the spoils of his campaigns and victory in Gaul, he designed a forum that would serve not as a marketplace, but as an area to accommodate Rome’s other business and governmental interests. Caesar’s forum was officially dedicated in 46 B.C., though still unfinished. The Forum Iulium was completed by Augustus some time after Caesar’s assassination.
The second Imperial forum built in Rome was the Forum of Augustus. Built both to rival the Forum Iulium and to accommodate even more space for Rome’s population, this forum was begun around 20 B.C., using the spoils of battles fought against Spain, Germany, and Egypt. The Forum of Augustus was built adjacent to Caesar’s Forum and it allowed more space for the law courts and other government functions. Though not all of the land required to complete the original plan could be purchased, construction of the forum and its centerpiece, the Temple of Mars Ultor (the Avenger), went ahead. The unfinished forum was dedicated in 2 B.C., with elements added by Tiberius (two arches) in A.D. 19, and restorations carried out later by Hadrian.
The Forum of Vespasian was dominated by the Temple of Peace, and the area is sometimes referred to by that name. After emperor Vespasian captured Jerusalem in A.D. 71, he began plans for this area. The forum also contained two long halls that likely were Greek and Latin libraries. The Forum of Vespasian was meant to commemorate the conquest of Jerusalem and symbolized the beginning of a period of long-sought peace in Rome. The Temple of Peace, revered for its size and grandeur, and the forum was dedicated in A.D. 75.
The Forum of Nerva was begun by Domitian and completed by Nerva in A.D. 97. It is also known as the Forum Transitorium, because of the way it enclosed the Argiletum (a street in the city that led to residential areas), which was a main throughway between the Suburra (a densely populated and therefore chaotic district in the city) and the Forum Romanum. This forum included a temple dedicated to Minerva and a temple to Janus.
The largest and most impressive of the Imperial Fora was also the last one in Rome, the Forum of Trajan. This forum was dedicated in A.D. 112. It had originally been started by Domitian, but work ceased with his assassination in A.D. 96. When Trajan saw victory in Dacia in A.D. 107, he used the spoils to complete the forum. The forum held several different structures, with varying functions. These included a true forum area, a public square (a piazza). There was also the Basilica Ulpia, libraries, the Column of Trajan, and markets. It was in this forum that the consuls held office and slaves were freed. After Trajan’s death, Hadrian had the Temple of Divine Trajan built there.
GALLERIA BORGHESE (BORGHESE GALLERY)
The Borghese Gallery (Italian: Galleria Borghese) is an art gallery in Rome, housed in the former Villa Borghese Pinciana, a building that was from the first a whole with its gardens, nowadays considered quite separately by tourists as the Villa Borghese gardens. The Galleria Borghese houses a substantial part of the Borghese collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities, begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V (reign 1605 – 1621).
The Villa was built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio, developing sketches by Scipione Borghese himself.
Cardinal Scipione was drawn to any works of ancient, Renaissance and contemporary art which might re-evoke a new golden age. He was not particularly interested in medieval art, but passionately sought to acquire antique sculpture. He was so ambitious that he also promoted the creation of new sculptures and especially marble groups to rival antique works: such as the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculptures . The Galleria Borghese includes twenty rooms across two floors.
ISOLA TIBERINA (TIBERINE ISLAND)
Our legend says the island was created by the heaps of wheat belonging to the last Etruscan king’s family – the Tarquini – reaped and thrown in the river by the Romans who were rebelling against them and setting the Republic up. In antiquity it was dedicated to Asclepius the god of medicine, whose temple was turned into the small church of St. Bartolomew on the Island in the Middle Ages.
The tradition of medicine on the island was taken up by the Fatebenefratelli congregation in the XVI century: their hospital is still working and one of the best reputed in Rome. Among the oldest relics of ancient Rome to see: the shaping into a marble boat which was given to the island and – most important – the Fabricius Bridge, the oldest still standing since 62 b.C.!
MUSEI VATICANI (VATICAN MUSEUM)
The Vatican Museums are to be entered from Viale Vaticano in Rome, inside the Vatican City. The history of the Vatican and the history of the Catholic Church cannot be separated. The religious center of Europe since its beginning, presiding over the Middle ages, through the enlightenment and still to this day, the Vatican collection displays works gathered by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries. Deep in the holy center of Vatican City, this museum is a powerful shrine of treasures encompassing the entire history of the Vatican and housed in a series of palaces, apartments and galleries which make it the second largest museum in the world after the parisian Louvre. As seen today, the Vatican Museums are therefore a complex of different pontifical museums and galleries that began under the patronage of the popes Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799). In fact, the Pio-Clementine Museum was named after these two popes, who set up this first major curatorial section. Later, Pius VII (1800-1823) considerably expanded the collections of Classical Antiquities, to which he added the Chiaromonti Museum and the “Braccio Nuovo” gallery. He also enriched the Epigraphic Collection, which was conserved in the Lapidary Gallery.
Inside the museum you will find from Egyptian pieces to Etruscan, Greek and Roman artifacts to Renaissance paintings and, of course, the legendary Sistine Chapel. But before you get there, there are a multitude of other things to see. Long galleries of tapestries are another highlight inside the Vatican museum leading to the Raphael rooms: these were private quarters built for Julius II with the artist’s frescoes spread across the walls and ceiling. His masterwork: the School of Athens.
Ancient late renaissance cartography is on display in the gallery of the maps, giving always a certain thrill thinking of those aerial views conceived when flying was impossible. Some other private rooms include the once Borgia apartments, designed for pope Alexander VI and displaying frescoes by Pinturicchio depicting biblical and astrological themes. A surprising collection of of almost 800 works of 250 international artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Giacomo Balla, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso can also be admired in this area. The majority of these works of art were donated by artists and collectors to the Holy See. Of all of the museums, not just in Italy but all over the world this one is not to be missed.
PALATINO E FORO (PALATINE HILL)
The Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It is some 40 meters high with views of the Roman Forum on one side, and the Circus Maximus on the other. The site is now a large open-air museum which tourists can visit during the daytime. The entrance can be found near the the Roman Forum. Evidence from archaeological digs demonstrates that the hill was inhabited as long ago as the 10th century BC. The hill has a strong link to Roman mythology. It is believed that on Palatine Hill, the twins Romulus and Remus were found in the Lupercal Cave by a she-wolf who rescued them. Ultimately, this is where Romulus decided to build the city. Many important Romans of the Republican period (510 BC – c. 44 BC) (i.e Cicero) had their residences there. During the Empire (27 BC – 476 AD) several emperors resided there; in fact parts of the house of Augustus (63 BC – 14AD) can still be seen. On the Palatine Augustus also built a temple to Apollo as a vow for the defeat of Marc Anthony, therefore, it was on this hill that the Roman Empire began. Tiberius (42 BC – 37) is indeed the first one to build an actual palazzo (the Palatine has given Western languages the word Palace) later expanded and remodelled by Nero (37 – 68) and even further by Domitian (51 – 96) whose structure is still almost entirely covering the hill.
The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the political , religious and economical centre of Rome during the Republic. It emerged as such in the 7th century BC and maintained this position well into the Imperial period, when it was reduced to a monumental area. It was mostly abandoned at the end of the 4th century. The Forum Romanum is located in a valley between the Capitoline Hill on the west, the Palatine Hill on the south, the Velia on the east and Quirinal Hill and the Esquiline Hill to the north. The Velia was later levelled by Mussolini’s whimsical aim to build Via dell’Impero. The oldest and most important structures of the ancient city are located in the forum flanking the Via Sacra, the street where the most important civil and religious ceremonies were held. This can be indicated by the presence of many of the central political, religious and judicial buildings in Rome. The Regia was the residence of the kings, and later of the rex sacrorum and pontifex maximus; the Curia, was the meeting place of the Senate; and the Comitium and the Rostra, where public meetings were held. Major temples and sanctuaries’ remains include the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Vesta . In the Forum we also find Triumphal arches and the famous temple dedicated to Julius Caesar. (This was begun in 42 BC after the senate deified Julius Caesar posthumously and it was dedicated by Augustus in 29bc after the famous battle of Actium. The temple rose on the original funeral pyre where his adoptive father had been cremated.) Commercial, judicial and later imperial connected cerimonies took place in the remaining basilicas: the Basilica Aemilia , Basilica Julia and the Basilica of Maxentius. Due to the political importance of the area there were also numerous honorary monuments but today, all of this requires a certain amount of imagination or better a guided tour to picture the Forum in its former glory, as the ravages of history have not been kind.
Whether the name refers to the number of deities honoured in the temple or means “very holy” is uncertain but this is one of the best preserved of all ancient roman buildings and the best preserved in Rome. The Pantheon was a temple which enhanced even further the remarkable group of buildings erected by Agrippa in the Field of Mars, campus Martius, name still in use today.
According to the inscription on the frieze of the pronaos the temple was built in 27 B.C. It seems probable, especially after the battle of Actium where Cleopatra and Marc Anthony were defeated by Octavian, that the temple was built for the glorification of the gens Iulia, and that it was dedicated in particular to Mars and Venus, the most prominent among the ancestral deities. The Pantheon of Agrippa burned in 80 A.D. and was later restored by Domitian and in the reign of Trajan. The restoration by Hadrian carried out after 126 was in fact an entirely new construction, for even the foundations of the existing building date from that time. The building is circular, with a portico of granite columns, opening into the coffered dome – the largest ever built in concrete – with a central bull’s eye open to the sky.
Regarded as a source of inspiration for all the domes built ever after the Pantheon since the 7th century has been used as a Roman Catholic church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs”. Although statues of deities had been therefore replaced by christian art the overall remodelling did not manage to alter the original appearance. Inside amongst beautiful works of art are also the tombs of the first two italian kings and the tomb of the great artist Raphael.
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA (SPANISH STEPS)
The monumental stairway was built with French diplomat Etienne Gueffier’s funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723 – 1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, today still located in Palazzo Monaldeschi in the piazza below, with the church of Trinità dei Monti above. This is a beautiful French church located on a hill overlooking the small piazza della Trinità dei Monti. From this square, you have a spectacular view over Rome. The idea of connecting the church with the square below originates from the 17th century, when the French also planned a statue of King Louis XIV of France at the top of the staircase. Pope Innocent XIII appointed the Italian architect Francisco de Sanctis. He presented a design that satisfied both the French and the papacy. The elegant staircase consists of 137 steps over twelve different flights. It has an irregular albeit symmetric structure. It is especially beautiful in May, when it is decorated with azaleas. The steps are usually very crowded; it attracts tourists as well as locals who use it as a gathering place.
PIAZZA NAVONA (NAVONA SQUARE)
Piazza Navona is one of the most famous city square in Rome. It follows the plan of an ancient Roman circus, the 1st century Stadium of Domitian where the Romans came to watch the agones (“games”): It was known as ‘Circus Agonalis’ (competition arena). It is believed that over time the name changed to ‘in agone’ to ‘navone’ and eventually to ‘navona’.
Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century ( city market) the stadium was therefore paved over but remnants of Domitian’s stadium are still visible around the area.
Piazza Navona has been ever since the pride of Baroque Roman art history. It features sculptural and architectural creations by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers, 1651) stands in the center. The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone was designed by Francesco Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi, whereas Pietro da Cortona painted the galleria in the Pamphilj palace. The piazza is featured in Dan Brown’s 2000 thriller Angels and Demons.
S.Clemente is one of the eighteen titular churches in Rome known to have existed as early as the 3rd century A.D. It all started with a roman house owned by Roman consul and martyr: Titus Flavius Clemens, who was one of the first among the Roman senatorial class to convert to Christianity. Titus Flavius allowed his house to be used as a secret gathering place for fellow Christians, the religion being outlawed at the time. This man was sentenced to death during one of the very first christian persecution under emperor Domitian. Much later under Pope Siricius (384-399) a basilica was erected over the house of the senator and other roman dwelling and was dedicated to St Clement, the third roman bishop after St. Peter. In the early Christian romance or novel known as the Clementine literature, Titus Flavius Clemens is identified with Pope Clement I – fourth Bishop of Rome, saint and martyr – an identitification which has no extant basis in actual historical fact. However, the Pope may have been a freedman of the consul. The small church underwent expansion, acquiring the adjoining insula and other nearby pagan buildings; Architects began work on the complex of rooms and courtyards, building a central nave over the early church site, and an apse over the former Mithraeum.
The church we see today where mass takes place daily was rebuilt after the original church was burned to the ground during the Norman sack of the city under Robert Guiscard in 1084. Abandoned and set underground ever since was uncovered by an irish father only in the XIX Century. The remains can now be seen below the current church. Apart from those in Santa Maria Antiqua, the largest collection of early medieval wall paintings are to be found in the lower basilica of San Clemente. Nonetheless today, the upper basilica of St. Clemente, is one of the most richly adorned churches in Rome. The inner space is divided in three naves with arcades made of ancient marble or granite columns. The 12th-century schola cantorum , space for chanting, incorporates marble elements from the original basilica . The episcopal seat stands in the apse, which is covered with mosaics on the theme of the Triumph of the Cross that are a high point of Roman 12th century mosaics. Worthwhile is also the stunning Cosmatesque inlaid floor. Irish Dominicans have been the caretakers of San Clemente since 1667, when England outlawed the Irish Catholic Church and expelled the entire clergy. Pope Urban VIII gave them refuge at San Clemente, where they have remained, running a residence for priests studying and teaching in Rome. The Dominicans themselves conducted the excavations in the 1950s in collaboration with Italian archaeology students.
S. GIOVANNI (ST. JOHN IN LATERAN)
This is the cathedral of Rome, not St. Peter’s! And beside this, there are many reasons for a visit. The splendid floor in Cosmati of the middle of the 1400. The richly decorated coffered ceiling of the middle of the following century. The elegant baroque architectonical interior restructured by Borromimi for the Jubilee of the 1650. The monumental 1300’s canopy crowing the papal altar made by Giovanni di Stefano. The late 1500 gorgeous transept made by Giacomo della Porta and decorated with a cycle of frescoes by Cavalier d’Arpino. The glamorous mosaic decoration of the apse that (although restored) dates back to the late 1200 (by Jacopo Torriti). And this is just for some of the artistic values of this church which is also foundamental in the history of the Christianity being the first papal residence and being the seat of the Pope’s Vicar for Rome today. The edifice across the street preserves the world-famous Holy Staircase.
S. MARIA DEL POPOLO
This church is a casket of jewels, probably the richest in masterpieces in Rome. It was built in the XI century “at the expense of the Roman People” – that’s the meaning of “del Popolo” – to exorcise the phantom of Nero from the area, according to the legend. Since the XIII century it has been officiated by the Agostinian monks who reconstructed it at the end of the XV century, encouraged by the family Della Rovere, i.e. Pope Sixtus IV and later his nephew Pope Julius II. Another important restauration took place at the time of Pope Alexander VII between 1656 and 1660. At that time the Pope asked Gianlorenzo Bernini to restore Porta del Popolo to welcome Queen Christine of Sweden who was moving to Rome and at the same time Bernini also took care of the church’s central nave and his sponsor’s family chapel: the Chigi Chapel. Designed by Raphael for Agostino Chigi, the famous banker of Pope Julius II, Bernini added to it two sculptured groups: Abacuc and the Angel and Daniel and the Lion. Is Abacuc’s Angel really pointing towards St.Peter’s Square? Let’s go and have a look.
Your guide will show you the other treasures of this church as well: the Cerasi Chapel decorated by Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St.Peter and Conversion of St.Paul; the first octagonal dome in Rome; the early XVI century stainglasses by the French Guillaume de Marcillat – something unique in Rome – are just some, the list is much longer!
S. MARIA DELLA VITTORIA
Built by Carlo Maderno for the Carmelite friars in the XVII century, its dedication commemorates a victory on the part of the Catholic troops at the White Mountain near Prague (Novembre 8th 1620 – an early episode during the Thirty Years War).
Its celebrity is due to a Bernini’s masterpiece: the Cornaro Chapel, granted to the Cardinal Federico Cornaro from Venice. Bernini worked on it between 1644 and 1652, creating even a double source of light to enhance the effect of the central scene. The centre piece is the Extasis of St.Theresa, a sculptured group where St.Theresa experiences God’s love impersonated by an Angel piercing her heart with a glowing arrow.
Bernini was inspired by the reading of St.Theresa’s Life, where the Saint herself gives the account of her mystic rapture, and achieved here the summit of Baroque art: to give palpable form to immaterial feelings and emotion. Does the Angel’s arrow point somewhere in the map of Rome? Who cares! Let yourself get overpowered by this irresistible vision and overawe at Bernini’s magic touch!
By the way, here Dan Brown makes a gross mistake: this church is NOT located in Barberini’s Square.
S. MARIA MAGGIORE (ST. MARY MAJOR)
The important church in the world dedicated to the Holy Virgin this is the only of the 4 papal basilicas dedicated to a woman.
Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself inspired the choice of the Esquiline Hill for the church’s construction. Appearing in a dream to both the Patrician John and Pope Liberius, she asked that a church be built in her honor in a place that she would miraculously indicate. The morning of August 5th, the Esquiline Hill was covered with a blanket of snow. The pope traced the perimeter and John financed the construction of the new church. Nothing remains of this church but a few lines in the Liber Pontificalis affirming that Pope Liberius “Fecit basilicam nomini suo iuxta Macellum Liviae.”
S. PAOLO FUORI LE MURA (ST. PAUL OUTSIDE THE WALLS)
After the first Cella Memoriae built by the emperor Constantine the Great, and the second “Basilica of the 3 Emperors” consecrated by Pope Siricius in 390, this is the third edifice built to honor the memory of the apostle Paul. The main altar of the church is placed exactly where the tomb of Paul was found at the beginning of the 4th century, and today the same altar is crowned by a late 1200 ciborium of a rare elegance (by Arnolfo di Cambio). Interesting is the structure of the interior: about 440 ft. long with its 5 nave divided by 80 columns it still reflects the size and proportions of the early Christians basilicas of the constantinian time. Very beautiful is also the four-sided portico preceding the edifice: you may admire there the 150 granite columns, the garden, the mosaic decoration of the faÇade made by Filippo Agricola.
S. PIETRO (ST. PETER’S IN THE VATICAN)
This is probably the most famous church in the world, not only in the Christian culture. No photo and no video may give justice to the sense of majesty that you feel when you enter in this building: your breath is literally taken away! The scale and the elegance of the architecture, the population of statues that climb up to the top of the very high walls, the 44 altars, the magic beams of light penetrating through the windows and lanterns 45 to 60 meters above your head, the variety of marbles covering the floor and facing the walls and pilaster with rich architectonical decorations, the eloquent memorials to many popes, the gigantic proportions of the altar-pieces your eyes can’t stop anywhere, while many questions rise to your mind! Your expert guide is there give you answers, to help you orientating in this complex building as well as through the intriguing history of the Church of Rome.
And the square keeps up with the basilica: 284 columns and 88 pilasters form the biggest marble colonnaded portico in Europe, then when its trabeation is crowned by a marble baroque balustrade and 140 statues, it really becomes the most spectacular and elegant in the world. Your guide may show where the Pope appears just after he has been elected in the Sistine Chapel, seats for the weekly papal audience, makes his short speech and gives his blessing every Sunday morning at the “Angelus”.
SINOGOGA (THE SYNAGOGUE)
Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni and built between 1901 and 1904 is one of the most imposining Jewish temples in Europe. Its dome compares with the domes of the Christian churches around, completing our unique skyline, and it’s symbolic of the reconquered freedom after the years of the Ghetto. It’s style- new Assirian-Babylonian – is a good example of the eclectic taste typical of the turn of the century. It can be visited together with the annexed Jewish Museum, witness to the bimillenary presence of the Jews in Rome.
TERME DI CARACALLA (BATHS OF CARACALLA)
Imagine: 1600 people in this bath house alone! In imperial Rome public thermal baths were not only places for hygiene but also popular hangout places. The increasing number of people living in the capital of the enormous roman empire let some emperors to open huge complexes as such.
Emperor Caracalla had this baths built in A.D. 217 covering a square site of 11 hectares. Providing what the famous roman saying quoted as: mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) the baths were an amazing gigantic leisure and cultural complex which could be used until sunsets for a very small fee. On walking through the well preserved ruins one still perceives the layout and the dimensions of the halls. Changing rooms, smaller room for massages , medical examinations and sports areas can easily be visualized with the help of your guide. The architecture and fittings of this place were enriched with famous fine sculptures amongst which we could mention the Farnese Bull and the statue of Hercules now both at the archeological museum of Naples. But where could so much water be stored? Huge water cistern containing 2,100,000 gallons were concealed behind the enclosing wall and water gushed out using the natural slope of the hill. Most recently these baths have staged the summer opera house concerts and performances and in the beautiful summer nights it’s indeed a wonderful experience to sit amongst such wonders of the past.
Via Veneto is one of the most famous streets in Rome. The official name is via Vittorio Veneto, a little city of the North-east of Italy, where in 1918 the italian army won a decisive battle against the austrians which put an end to the first world war. People believe it a person name, so, as usual in Italy, the street is called with the only family name.
The street was planned in 1886 to link Via del Tritone with Villa Borghese on a land previously occupied by the stunning villa Ludovisi. Via Veneto is home to the famous Café de Paris and Harry’s Bar, immortalised in Federico Fellini’s classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita which was mostly centered around the Via Veneto area, as well known haunts for celebrities in Rome.This made the street famous in the 1960s – 1970s and turned it into a center for upmarket cafes and shops. Following a period of stagnation in the 1980s the street has now found a new life. Today some of Rome’s best hotels are located here.