We all know about St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom and headquarters of the Roman Catholic church. This massive church in Vatican City is clearly related to the pope – this is, after all, where he gives mass on a regular basis, and where the very first pope (St. Peter) is buried. But did you know there are three Papal Basilicas in Rome that are not in Vatican City?
In many Italian cities, the open spaces are just as worthy of your itinerary as the buildings and what’s inside them. Rome’s public squares are historic, beautiful, and often great for people-watching. In the case of the Piazza del Popolo, you’ll also be able to visit three churches without leaving the square.
Rome is a city built on seven hills, and while most of them are natural there’s one hill in the southern part of the historic city that’s man-made. This hill, the Monte Testaccio, gives its name to the historically gritty Testaccio neighborhood that’s more recently coming into its own as a tourist destination.
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The Villa Borghese and its expansive gardens were once the private home and property of Scipione Borghese – a cardinal, a pope’s nephew, and an avid art collector. The villa was built first, and Borghese later decided to expand what had been his private vineyard into a much larger formal garden. This became the Villa Borghese Gardens.
Our small group tour of Ostia Antica from Rome met at the Ostiense train station for the easy 30-minute train ride to the site. The tragic story of Pompeii is more compelling with the violent eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, but the city of Ostia Antica actually does a better job of presenting a typical Roman town. Unlike Pompeii, Ostia Antica suffered no natural disaster. The inhabitants left Ostia Antica voluntarily to avoid malaria and a dwindling economy. Eventually, the ghost town was buried (intact) beneath tons of silt from the nearby Tiber River, creating a dream dig for archaeologists. Ostia Antica is also more tranquil than Pompeii and much greener with lots of shade from numerous umbrella pines (aka ‘broccoli trees’).
When we think of art museums in Rome, most of the art we think of is hundreds – if not thousands – of years old. Rome isn’t just a city of history, however, and in 2010 a new contemporary art museum opened in the Flaminio neighborhood. It’s been dubbed MAXXI, the “XXI” representing the 21st century in Roman numerals, and it’s a must-visit for art lovers.
Some travelers try to avoid tourist hotspots like Rome in the summer – it’s hot, it’s crowded, and it’s expensive. But summer in Rome can be one of the best times of the year, thanks to all of the summer festivals and events that go on in the Italian capital.
I first saw the Colosseum almost 20 years ago, but at that time, no one was allowed inside. So when I returned to Rome this year, one of my top priorities was to enter this magnificent structure and see it all: from the underground chambers to the top tier.
Our Ancient Rome and Colosseum Tour began across the street from the Colosseum where we gazed at the stunning ruin and listened (on handy headsets) as our guide, Alessia, explained that this land was originally part of the gardens of Nero’s Palace. The Colosseum derives its name from a colossal statue of Nero that once stood here. After Nero’s death, the Romans tried to wipe out his memory by altering the statue turning it into a generic Sun God. The Romans also drained the lake in Nero’s garden, creating the perfect location for this arena.
Most visitors to Rome know that the city contains a staggering amount of famous artwork, but putting Rome’s artistic history into context may be a challenge. There’s just so much art history to take in. Many of the famous artists associated with Rome weren’t born in the Italian capital, but their names have become associated with the Eternal City – often due to masterpieces they left behind. Here’s a look at some of the legendary artists in Rome.