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The Eternal City
Roma! Mythically founded by Romulus in 753 B.C., Rome was the capital city of a phenomenon. Romans slowly extended their power—first to neighboring areas; next, to all of Italy; and finally over the greatest empire the world had ever known. Home of the Vatican, it was also an inspirational focal point for artists worldwide from the Renaissance on. The city was a mecca for architectural experimentation, still visible in its squares, buildings, and churches.

It was here, in the “Eternal City,” that Nero infamously fiddled away, that Mark Antony lauded Caesar, Charlemagne was crowned, and Mussolini ruled with a fascist fist. You can “feel” them here, because Rome is often described as an open-air museum, packed not just with historical venues but also with artistic achievements that span the centuries. Important members of the Republic once carried on their business in the buildings of the Roman Forum; Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; and Frederico Fellini filmed the 1960 classic “La Dolce Vita” on the Via Veneto, the street of nightclubs, sidewalk cafes, and—as film critic Roger Ebert once put it—“the parade of the night.”

As you stroll around the city, and the old world bumps into the modern age, you’ll dodge high-spirited Roman teens and twenty-somethings as you gaze at Egyptian obelisks and Baroque palaces. It would be impossible to list Rome’s many sights-to-see here, but the following, in alphabetical order, are certainly highlights.

Baths of Caracella. Dating from the 3rd Century B.C., this peaceful venue also was home to shops, a gym, a garden, and a library.

Castel Sant’Angelo. The history of this imposing castle has been closely connected to that of the Vatican, to which it is linked via an underground passage. Emperor Hadrian started construction on the fortress in 135 A.D. and it has been modified over the centuries.

Catacombs. There are almost 190 miles of catacombs under the city of Rome, and you’ll want to check some of them out…especially if you like the idea of a spooky tour, led by a nun, of underground passageways stacked with thousands of human bones. Some of the catacombs date back hundreds of years before Christ, and some hold the bones of early popes and saints. Popular catacombs include the old Appian Way’s San Callisto and San Sebastiano.

Circus Maximus. It’s now in ruins, but this venue could once hold 300,000 people cheering on the chariot racers. It dates from the 4th Century B.C.

Imperial Forum. The center of society in the 1st and 2nd Centuries A.D. The ruins you’ll get a peek at were once temples and public squares.

Palatine. This is the hill that overlooks the Roman Forum. The numerous castles here date back to the 1st Century A.D.

Pantheon. Originally built as a temple in 27 B.C., this is the best preserved of the buildings of ancient Rome. The most impressive feature is the huge light-beaming hole in the dome.

Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. This square, a favorite with tourists, is best known for the Spanish Steps, a striking staircase that leads to a church. Both the square and the steps take their names from the Spanish Embassy in the Vatican.

 

Pyramid of Gaius Cestius. A 1st Century A.D. lawyer was so taken by the Egyptian pyramids that he had this miniature built.

Roman Forum. Mostly in ruins, this complex was once the center of the Roman Empire with its law courts, temples, and public squares.

St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope’s local church, this is the most important building in the Catholic world. Originally built in the 4th Century A.D., it was completely demolished a thousand years later under the orders of Pope Julius II, who wanted a larger and more imposing church. Michelangelo is credited with much of the redesign. The dome he created was the largest ever built.

Theatre of Marcellus. How would you like to live in an upscale apartment that was built in 11 B.C.? Some lucky modern Romans do. It was originally built as a theater and is widely admired for its combination of ancient Russian and Renaissance architectural styles.

Trajan’s Markets. This was Rome’s earliest “mercati,” or market, and once held 150 vendors.

Trevi Fountain. This elaborate 18th-Century Baroque fountain is a huge tourist draw. Toss a coin in the fountain—legend has it you’ll someday return to Rome. The fountain was immortalized in the films “Three Coins in a Fountain” and “La Dolce Vita.”

Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If you’re interested in Renaissance art, you cannot afford to miss this. The venue contains one of the greatest collections of Renaissance art in the world—most famously, Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There are also Egyptian and Etruscan museums, among others. The complex is part of the Vatican Palace, home to the popes since 1377.

Villa Borghese. This is Rome’s answer to Central Park. It is sports a zoo and numerous museums.

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Story by Jacqueline Shannon
Photography by Michael Blassis


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