One Day in Rome

Express Rome city tour

If your visit to the Italian capital is hasty, mark what you should under no circumstances fail to see:

The Roman Forum to see the ancient Rome, the Capitolium, the Piazza Navona in the historic centre of the city, the Campo dei Fiori for its Renaissance palaces, the Piazza di Spagna for the smart stores and the Vatican for St. Peter’s Basilica.

They asked once Cary Grant, the great Hollywood star, why he requested to stay in Rome and he answered that it is the only city, which “has beautiful women the night as well as the day”.

Rome  city  step  by  step

Start your stroll from the Capitol Hill (Campidoglio in Italian) and the homonym museums with the marvellous collections. See without fail in the Palazzo Nuovo the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius, the philosophers’ hall with portraits of many Greeks, the Greek statue of the Discus Thrower (Discobolus) and, in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, the bronze she-wolf (Lupa Capitolina), the portrait of St. John the Baptist and the statue of Venus, linked to the worship of Isis. Do not leave without going up to the flat roof for an espresso, with Rome at your feet.

Right in front of you, 1 km long, lies the Roman Forum, the commercial, religious and political centre of ancient Rome. Ionic capitals still survive from Saturn’s temple, while three fine Corinthian columns remain at the temple of Castor and Pollux. The excavations brought to light ruins that belong to many different periods and the ones standing out among them are the Frieze of Aeneas in the Antiquarium Forense and the House of the Knights of Rhodes (if you go inside, visit the chapel of St. John – Capella di San Giovanni).

The reupon you will see the largest extant ancient Roman building in the world, the Coliseum. Its name (from the 8th century) derives from the gilded Colossus of Nero, a giant statue of the emperor that showed him as the Sun god and was erected beside the amphitheatre. Its dimensions crush you. It is 57 m. high with a perimeter of 527 m., has 80 arched entrances and a seating capacity of 55.000 spectators. It was established by the emperor Vespasian and completed by his son, Titus. It was built in eight years (72-80 A.D.) and became a symbol of might and ferocity. There the gladiators bade their famous farewell: “Hail, Caesar, those who are about to die salute you”.

Known to the Romans also as Flavius Amphitheatre, it is the trademark of the city. This most famous symbol was in ancient times a tank of naval duels, but also the place where thousands of followers of a then new religion, Christianity, martyred. The crowd decided the fate of the gladiators that sustained a serious injury. If the emperor raised his thumb it meant that the wounded man could live, otherwise he would have to fight with the wild beasts to the death. Aside from the humans, animals were also killed. Most of them were killed in the games that took place in 248 to commemorate the 1.000 years from Rome’s foundation. There the Roman crowd obtained the scornful comment: “They need no more than bread and circuses”.

Similar amphitheatres exist today in Tunisia, in the cities Nimes and Arles in France and in Verona, Italy, but the Coliseum remains uppermost in grandeur.

If, during your visit to the Coliseum, the Cesar’s Forum, the Largo Argentina, the place where Julius Cesar was murdered and other ruins, you observe many cats, do not wonder. The Romans don’t forget that cats saved their city from the plague that was spreading by mice, this is why the authorities proclaimed them officially “living cultural heritage”. The locals care for them daily, they know them by name, even made a webpage for them:

Opposite the Coliseum, on the northern side, you will see the Arch of Constantine, a hommage to the victory of Constantine over Maxentius. The Palatine Hill lies close beside. This was the site of the city’s foundation and the place where Romulus and Remus were brought up. Moreover, it was the area where the orator Cicero, the lyric poet Catullus and the emperor August (in Livia’s House) resided. Here you can see the Palace of the Flavi (with an oval drinking fountain), the House of Livia (murals survive) and the Temple of Cybele (a centre for the worship of fertility).

In the same area you can admire what is left of the Farnese gardens, where in the middle of the 16th century existed the most important botanical garden in Europe, with spaces of amusement where courtesans (hetaerae) and other similar contemporary “fruits” played a leading role.

A little further off, the strangest cupola of the city, the Pantheon. It is an ancient Roman temple that stands grandiose in the heart of Rome for about 2.000 years. All agree that, together with the Coliseum, it is the most impressive building of the city. It was dedicated to all the Gods. However, some consider it as the temple of the Agrippa (27 B.C.). In the Pantheon are buried Italian kings and the artist Raphael. Beside its Thermae there was a rectangular temple dedicated to the divinity of the Julian generation. The historical area Piazza della Rotonda accommodates today the Italian Parliament, while in 1697 the Pope Innocent XII resided there.

The night life is vibrant in this district with all the bars and restaurants. Remember that the cafe La Tazza d’Oro is famous for its coffee. If it is morning, there are many places of interest for you to see: the Temple of Hadrian, the church of San Ignacio de Loyola, the church of Jesus and the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, where there is an art room with authentic vintage furniture and over 400 paintings by Velasquez, Titian, Caravaggio, Lorenzo Lotto, Guercino and Claude Lorraine. If the stroll tired you, you can stop at the Cafe Giolitti (year of foundation: 1900). Among the tourists and workmen, maybe you’ll see some member of the neighbouring Parliament of Italy sitting beside you.

Later on you can make a tour in the hippodrome Circus Maximus, where the cries of 250.000 Romans were being heard, and then visit the Thermae of Caracalla, ancient baths for 10.000 bathers with gymnasiums and a Greek library. In the vicinity of Albania square, in Piazzale Ostinense there is an incongruous place of interest: a marble pyramid 27 m. high.

The Forum of Trajan, built in 111-114 by the imperial architect Apollodorus of Damascus, is the biggest and most sumptuous imperial forum. Although mutilated, it still demonstrates, together with the neighbouring Roman Forum, the Roman art and might that reached their apogee at that time.

The Piazza Navona is one of the most characteristic settings of the Popes’ Rome. This oval baroque square always attracted the crowds. An artificial reservoir until the year 500, it was where brilliant events took place, from open-air games up to naval festivals (agones). At the centre of the square one fountain out of three stands out, the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), a bold work by Bernini (1651) that was made with the revenue from onerous taxes, which were imposed on bread and other essential items. Over a cave in a rock, where a lion and a sea horse appear, the artist placed an obelisk, a Roman work from the time of Domitian inspired from the Egyptian art. The big allegoric statues of Danube, Ganges, Nile and Rio de la Plata symbolize respectively Europe, Asia, Africa and America. The figure that symbolizes the Nile is covered and, according to tradition, refers to the disapproval and disgust of Bernini for the neighbouring St. Agnes, which has been designed by his rival Borromini. In order to re-establish the truth we should say that this is just a wicked rumour, since Bernini completed the fountain two years before his dearest foe began his work on the facade.

In the evenings, a small festival takes place in the square set forth by the itinerant jugglers and musicians. If you have any strength left, loose yourselves in the narrow alleys with the well-preserved buildings, otherwise relax while tasting an ice-cream or a pizza in one of the many hang-outs of the area.

This district also has many churches, but you should visit San Luigi dei Francesi, because famous Frenchmen are resting here and for the three works by Caravaggio, which adorn the chapel of St. Mark.

The church Sant’Agnese in Agone, in front of the Fountain of the Rivers, was built on the ruins of the hippodrome (Circo) Agonale, at the site where, according to tradition, Saint Agnes, exposed naked, was covered by her hair in a miraculous way. The building of the church began by Rinaldi (1625-1652) in a spot formerly occupied by a brothel.

The Catacombs of Priscilla are particularly interesting for their 2nd century murals. Our own eye stops at the “Greek chapel”, which is adorned by a remarkable pictorial ensemble with scenes from the Old and New Testament. Many Popes, like Saint Sylvester, were buried in Priscilla.

When you are finished with churches and museums take a midday nap, take a bath, put on your best clothes and chase around the squares. Start at the Quirinal Hill, where are located the Palazzo del Quirinale (residence of the President of Italy), the Quirinal fountain and obelisk, but also Saint Andrew’s church, known as “Pearl of the Baroque” (Sant’Andrea al Quirinale). The Baths of Diocletian (the emperor who killed thousands of Christians) were also in this area. They occupied an extent of ground of 10 acres and accommodated simultaneously 3.000 people. In the Saint Apostles square is located the Wax Museum, where effigies of politicians are displayed, as well as a model of an electric chair.

Of all fountains of the city the best known is Fontana di Trevi, with the most impressive marble scheme. Abutting against the wall of the Poli Palace, it is supplied with water (like the fountains of the squares di Spagna, Navona and Farnese) from the “Aqua Vergine”, the pure water led by Agrippa to his Baths (19 B.C.). Its construction was assigned to Nicola Salvi in 1732 by the Pope Clement XII, in order to replace a small tank from the time of Nicholas V, and it was completed in 1926. In the centre two tritons guide the winged chariot of the triumphant Poseidon. Sea horses support the shell on which stands proudly the statue of the Ocean. You will easily dispose of your loose change at the bottom of the fountain while making your best wish and in this way your return to Rome will be guaranteed. Every week the employees of the Municipality clean the fountain, but their efforts are not vain: they are “fishing” over 100.000 Euros per year.

Magically, such thing as a traffic problem does not exist in Rome. Maybe this is the only European capital open to drivers and pedestrians alike. This goal was attained through a decision made by the local self government in the year 2000: Parking has been prohibited in the historic center for the tourist buses. Also, an admission charge is levied on all buses that enter the city, thus forcing the tourists to walk more. But this is not so great a problem, since the visual enjoyment of the monuments and the beauty of the city makes one forget the foot-walk. It is really mystifying how well preserved all these monument are, although this city had to endure countless conquerors, from Charles V to Napoleon and the Germans.

If you have some courage left, climb towards the steps of Piazza di Spagna. It is one of the most elegant squares of the planet. It took its name from Palazzo di Spagna, which was built in the beginning of the 17th century as the residence of the Spanish ambassador. The great array of steps (Scalinata) is the symbol of the square, giving it a remarkable scenic result.

At its highest spot dominates the church of Trinita dei Monti, at the facade of which is placed the Sallustian obelisk with the Christian cross at its top. After taking your pictures, other places also await you here:

The church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate with the angels by Bernini, the house where the English poet John Keats resided with his painter friend Joseph Severn, the house of the German poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The huge cobbly Piazza del Popolo is located close by, with its twin churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, and also the Pincio gardens with the water clock, the church Santa Maria del Popolo, the Cherasi chapel with two painting masterpieces by Caravaggio and the Delphic Sibyl

The Campo dei Fiori, between Piazza Navona and the Tiber, is the most exciting part of Renaissance Rome. In older times it was a meadow; today it is a colourful market with traditional ambience. Here is located the Ponte Fabricio, the oldest bridge of the river (from 65 B.C.). On Tiber you will see a small isle with a hospital and church that was built on the ruins of a temple of Asclepius.