Historical sites in Rome

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Pantheon, Piazza Della Rotonda, Rome. Tel: 06 68 30 02 30. Open: Monday - Saturday 9.00am - 6.30pm and Sunday 9.00am -1.00pm.

This one-time pagan temple, a marvel of architectural harmony and proportion, is the best preserved monument of Imperial Rome. The Pantheon was originally built in 27BC by Augustus' general Agrippa and then totally rebuilt by Hadrian towards the end of the 2nd century AD. In the 7th century Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon as a church. In earlier times the dome was gilded and it is believed that this gold was pilfered to gild the baldachin, which lies above the altar at St. Peter's. The remarkable construction is almost 50m wide and 50m high; a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder. Its flattened dome is the widest in the world, around 0.5m wider than that of St. Peter's. The circular walls are an amazing 7.50m thick and the ornate bronze doors weigh 20 tonnes each!

Sistine Chapel, Vatican Palace; entry only through the Vatican Museums, Rome.

This is undoubtedly Michelangelo's masterpiece and his most famous piece of work. Ironically, he considered himself a sculptor more than a painter and was commanded by Julius II to stop his current work and devote his time to creating the wonderful frescoes to cover 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 before the coming of Christ (taken from the book of Genesis), which is depicted in nine main panels. The ceiling was meticulously rejuvenated and restored in the early 1990s and is now vibrantly coloured - a startling contrast to the dark and veiled tones known for so many years.

Colosseum, Piazza Del Colosseo, Rome. Tel: 06 70 04 261.

A construction which has become synonymous with both present day and Ancient Rome: a massive and majestic play area for the Ancient Romans with its bloody history. The ruin was originally instated in 80AD with a program of games and shows that lasted 100 days. Gladiators would salute the emperor in his Imperial box and cry, Ave, imperator, morituri te salutant (Hail, emperor, men soon to die salute thee). The Colosseum was able to hold more than 50,000 spectators; it was originally decorated with marble and had an ingenious system of awnings to provide shade from the strong Mediterranean sun. Built in just eight years, it took its name from a colossal, 118-foot statue of Emperor Nero which once stood nearby. Unfortunately, due to its positioning, it has become like a large roundabout for Rome's heavy traffic flow, and the cost is visibly seen by the grime and erosion created by exhaust fumes - however, it is being constantly cleaned and repaired to overcome the problem.

Santa Maria Maggiore, Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, close to Via Cavour, Rome. Tel: 06 48 31 95.

Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the oldest and most spacious churches in Rome. Built in the 3rd century, it has undergone many alterations throughout the years. The bell tower is in fact the highest in Rome (circa 75m) and inside the church holds many artistic masterpieces: The glossy mosaics on the arch in front of the main altar date back to the 5th century and the gilded gold found on the beautiful ceiling is thought to have been the first gold brought from the New World. The modest tomb of Bernini is located here. The story goes that Pope Liberio dreamt of Mary, who told him to build a church in the place where he would find snow. Next day, August 5th during mid Summer, it snowed on this spot.

Piazza Campo De' Fiori, Historical Center, Rome. Tel: N/A.

Piazza Campo De' Fiori is where, during the Renaissance period, many foreign merchants and traders used to lodge. These days the square looks slightly shabby but still holds a lot of character. A large, popular food market (every morning, except Sundays) now takes place here and is well frequented by Romans. During the evening and night it is also a popular place to visit for its bars and pubs. Nearby is Piazza Farnese, where one of Rome's largest private palaces is situated.

Piazza Navona, Historical Center, Rome. Tel: N/A.

This beautiful baroque square is a must visit when in the center and is made more appealing due to the fact that it has been pedestranised. The square was originally laid out in 86AD under the rule of Emperor Domitian, who had a stadium constructed there (Circus Domitianus). However, since these foundations, the area has been stripped of is marble in the 4th century, but rejuvenated during the Renaissance period. Today, the Piazza is a marvel of light and sculpture; at the center is the "Fountain of the Rivers", designed by Bernini to personify the 4 great rivers of the world (Ganges, Della Plata, Danube and the Nile); situated at the southern end is another fountain by Bernini, Fountain of the Moor and there is a third fountain which was added in the 19th century, Fountain of Neptune. The admirable 17th century Church of Sant'Agnese is also worth visiting, with its splendid twin-towered façade.

Villa Borghese, Historical Center, Rome. Tel: N/A.

Villa Borghese is located right in the center of Rome. The elegant park, which is 3.5 miles in circumference, was created by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century. Umberto I, King of Italy during the beginning of the last century, acquired it and bestowed it to the Roman people in 1902. Here you can also find the highly impressive Galleria Borghese, inspired by 16th century style, the main building 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, etc. The serene landscape and greenery, although crisscrossed by roads, is an excellent place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. There are several cafes and food vendors and is a meeting point for the city's roller bladders.

Piazza Di Spagna/Spanish Steps, Historical Center, Rome. Tel: N/A.

The Spanish Steps were originally built to unite Via Del Babuino with Via Felice, the first great street created by Sixtus V. Their junction is crossed at a right angle by Via Condotti, which illustrates the direction towards St. Peter's and the Vatican. They were originally built between 1723 and 1725 by Italian architect Francesco de Sanctis, commissioned and paid for by the French and named after the Spanish Embassy, which use to be situated here. Nowadays, and especially during the Summer, the steps and the piazza are milling with tourists and Romans alike, who come to admire their beauty, the floral decorations and to rest on the steps, while reading or basking in the sun.

Fori Imperiali / The Imperial Forum lie along Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which was created by Mussolini to connect the ruins with the 19th century monuments of Piazza Venezia. The Imperial Forum was initiated by Julius Cesar to overcome the overcrowding of the Roman Forum. In its heyday, the forum was a vast and impressive area of buildings, alleyways, markets and shops. However today, most of what is left is ruins and archaeological sites, though some of the larger buildings still lie intact. The forum include the Foro Di Cesare, Foro Della Pace, Foro Di Augusto and Foro Traiano. Together they constituted a complex center of commercial, political, religious and social activities.

Palatino / The Palatine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome. It is believed that here in 753BC, Rome was born; originally it just consisted of a few huts, but as the city grew in power and wealth, so did its size and area. This can be seen by the different walls which encircled the settlement. It later became a residential area and eventually the site of the splendid imperial palaces of many famous (and infamous emperors), such as Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Domitian.

Circo Massimo / The Circus Maximus is thought to have once been the most impressive structure in Ancient Rome. Amazingly, it was able to seat up to 250,000 people, who gathered here to watch the flamboyant imperial chariot races. In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance period, builders looted the structure for its stone and marble, and today little more than a vast, empty field remains.

Vittoriano, Piazza Venezia, Historical Center, Rome. Tel: N/A.

This monument dedicated to Victor Emmanuel I (the first king of Italy), dominates Piazza Venezia, near to the Colosseum and Forum. Built in the late 1800s, it out-shadows all the surrounding buildings and is even more conspicuous due to its wedding cake-like from and colour - the building is both hated and loved by the people of Rome. An eternal flame burns at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the exterior of the monument, while inside you will find the Museo Del Risorgimento.

Basilica Di S. Pietro, Piazza San Pietro, The Vatican. Tel: N/A.

Situated in one of the world's smallest sovereign states, the Vatican (established in 1929), is St. Peter's Basilica - considered by most people as the home of Roman Catholicism, as well as one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Home to the Pope and where his audiences take place, the site is believed to be almost on top of where Saint Peter was crucified. The structure as we know it today was constructed over a period of 150 years, between the 1500s and 1600s. While many architects and artists contributed to its final design and look, its most important contributor is held to be Michelangelo, who took over the project in 1547. Inside, the building is enormous, so much so, that it is difficult to immediately absorb every detail and all of its beauty. The grandeur of its furnishings, the detailed paintings, its size, the frescos, are often overpowering on your first visit. Please also note that Saint Peter's has a very strict dress code - shoulders must be covered up, shorts are not allowed and no skirts above the knee - if you fail to adhere to these rules, you will, not under any circumstances, be allowed to enter.

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