Piazza di Spagna is the most famous square in Rome. Shaped like a crooked bow tie and surrounded by muted, shuttered facades, Piazza di Spagna draws crowds nonstop during the day year-round and well into the night in summer. The steps were built in the 1720s to link the square with the French church of Trinita’ dei Monti.
Nicola Salvi’s theatrical design for Rome’s largest and most famous fountain was completed in 1762. The central figures are Neptune, flanked by two Tritons, one trying to master an unruly seahorse, the other leading a quieter beast, symbolizing the two contrasting moods of the sea.
Vatican City, the world capital of Catholicism, is the world’s smallest state. It occupies 106 acres within high walls tended by the Vatican Guards. It was the site where St Peter was martyred and buried, and it became the residence of the popes who succeeded him. The Papal palaces, next to the great basilica of St. Peter’s, are home to the Sistine Chapel, the eclectic collections of Vatican museums, and, of course, the Pope.
Trastevere is a picturesque old quarter whose inhabitants consider themselves to be the only true Romans. The proletarian identity of this site slowly transforms each year due to the growth of nearby trendy restaurants, clubs, and shops.
Rome’s greatest amphitheatre was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE. Deadly gladiator combats and wild animal fights were staged by emperors and wealthy citizens, most likely to gain popularity. Slaughter proliferated: at the inaugural games in 80 CE, over 9,000 wild animals were killed. The Colosseum could hold up to 55,000 people, seated according to rank.
In the early Republic, the Forum was a chaotic place with food stalls, brothels, temples, and the Senate House. By the 2nd century CE, it was decided that Rome required a more salubrious center, and the food stores were replaced by business centers and law courts. The Forum remained the ceremonial center of the city under the Empire, with succeeding emperors renovating old buildings and erecting new temples and monuments.
No other Piazza in Roma can rival the theatricality of Piazza Navona. The luxurious cafes are the social center of the city. Day and night there is always something going on in the pedestrian area around the flamboyant Baroque fountains. The Baroque is also represented in many of the area’s churches. To discover an older Rome, walk along Via del Governo Vecchio to admire the facades of Renaissance buildings, browse in the fascinating antiques shops, and lunch in one of many trattorias. Rome’s most beautiful Baroque piazza follows the shape of a 1st century CE stadium built by Domitian, which was used for athletic contests. Until the 19th century, the piazza was flooded in August by stopping the fountain outlets. The rich would splash around in carriages, while street urchins paddled.
The maze of narrow streets around the Pantheon is a mixture of lively restaurants, cafes, and some of Rome’s finest sights. This is also the city’s financial and political district, home to Parliament and other governmental offices. The Pantheon itself, with its awe-inspiring domed interior, has long been a symbol of the city. The Pantheon, the Roman ‘Temple of all Gods,’ is the most extraordinary and best-preserved ancient building in Rome.
The massive fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo takes its name from the vision of the Archangel Michael by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century as he led a procession across the bridge, praying for the end of the plague.
The castle began life in 139 CE as the emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum. Since then it has been a bridgehead in the Emperor’s Aurelian city wall, a medieval citadel and prison, and a place of safety for Popes during times of political unrest. A corridor links it with the Vatican Palace, providing an escape route for the Pope.
The Palatine, once the residence of emperors and aristocrats, is the most pleasant of Rome’s ancient sites. The ruins range from the simple house in which Augustus is thought to have lived, to the Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana, the public and private wings of a luxurious palace built by Domitian.