Rome is a unique city that seamlessly blends the old with the new. It has no clear town center and no business district. Instead, it’s a collection of urban neighborhoods. It maintains its charm by avoiding skyscrapers and maintaining its charming little streets. Because of the small streets and the buildings in close proximity, special driving permits are given mainly to residents and public transportation to keep the pollution in the city down. Rome does a great job in maintaining the old charm of the city while catering to all modern needs of its residents and its tourists.
Rome Pantheon Colosseum and the Roman Forums
Fontana delle Naiadi, in the middle of Piazza della Republica, caused great controversy due to the voluptuous nymphs. The four nymphs symbolize the different sources of water: river, lake, oceans, underground waters. In the center is the sea god Glaucus.
Street view of part of the Imperial Forums. This exact location is to the right of the Museum of the Imperial Fora entrance.
Altare della Patria, i.e. Altar of the Fatherland, is a massive white marble monument between the Piazza Venezia and the Forums. It was built in honor of the first king of a unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. It was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885 and took forty years to complete. It is not particularly well-liked by locals due to its very large size and bright white color.
Campo de’ Fiori is a square that was named after the fact that it used to be a field of flowers. A market developed in this location as people headed toward the Vatican City. Today, the square is used as a fruit and vegetable market in the mornings. In the evenings, the stands and the produce are cleared out and it becomes a clean square lined with restaurants and bars.
The statue in the middle of the square is of Giordano Bruno, a priest from the 16th century. Bruno wrote satirical plays questioning Church morals. He also proposed that the earth revolved around the sun decades before Galileo. To avoid being arrested, he fled to other European cities. He tried joining other religious groups such as the Calvinists in Geneva but was excommunicated from all of them. Bruno decided to come back to Rome and, in 1593, he was charged by the Inquisition for heresy. Seven years later, he was burned at the stake in this very location. To this day, he is a symbol of the Italian counter-culture and a martyr for freedom of thought. Various anti-authoritarian demonstrations are held in this square.
Not too far off is the Theater of Pompey.
to view the remains of the theater and the location where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Click here
The palace on the
Piazza Farnese is very important architecturally. It was built during the Renaissance by the nouveau riche Farnese Family. Pope Paul III, of the Farnese family, commissioned Michelangelo to design the top story. The building features a cornice, i.e. the jutting roofline, which can be seen on various other roman buildings. Moreover, the windows are framed with half-columns and topped with triangular pediments or semi-arches. The Pope made many of his speeches off of the building’s balcony. Today, it is the home of the French Embassy. Pasquino dates from the third century B.C. It once depicted King Menelaus holding his dying son’s body. It functioned as a sort of community bulletin board for half a century. The plastic pane next to it continues to serve as a place to post political posters and strike announcements.
Piazza Navona was built around 80 A.D. by Emperor Domitian. As you can see form the oval shape, it initially served as a race track. It was transformed in the 17th century into what it is today by the popes as a form of piece offering to the citizens for all of the scandals that they had created.
This is the first of three Baroque fountains on this square. It depicts an African wrestling a dolphin. During the time that it was built, Africans represented all that was exotic. Behind the fountain to the right is the
Palazzo Pamphilj. Pope Innocent X came from the Pamphilj family and is the man responsible for the creation of this square.
Four Rivers Fountain is centered on an obelisk. Ancient Romans used obelisks to show their triumph over the Egyptian empire. The obelisks were toppled when the city fell. Yet, the popes liked them and re-erected them with a cross on top. This fountain was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and depicts the four corners of the world. The man on the left is Daube representing the European continent. Danube is reaching for the Pamphilj coat of arms. To the right is Ganges, representing Asia.
On the other side of the fountain, on the left, you will see a palm tree and a man with his head covered by a cloth. This is Nile, representing Africa. The man is covered by the cloth to show the mystery of the river that they had not yet explored. Finally, the Rio de la Plata, representing the Americas, is looking up at the Church of Saint Agnes. Legend says that this final man is toppling back at the horror of the large church built by Borromini, as Bernini and Borromini were great Baroque artists and competitors at the time. Yet, this story cannot be true as the church was completed after the fountain. Moreover, while the church may look enormous, it is actually only the width of the four pillars framing the entry.
The final fountain on the
Piazza Navona is of Neptune slaying an octopus.
Palazzo Madama is named after Madame Margherita, who married into the Medici Family. Two Medici boys grew up in this house to later become popes during Michelangelo’s time. It now houses the Italian Senate.
The Church of San Luigi dei Fancesi is the French national church in Rome. This is made evident by the statue of Charlemagne on the left and the fire-breathing reptile underneath, a symbol of François I. Additionally, you will notice a coat of arms with three fleur-de-lys at the top of the building.
Inside the church is the Contarelli Chapel, which houses three of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s paintings. They are centered on the theme of Saint Mathew.
Obelisks were used by the Egyptian rulers as monuments to the sun god Ra. They are said to symbolize a sun ray and the heavenly energy that comes with it. Roman emperors liked the idea and brought them over from Egypt once they triumphed over the empire. Doing so was a rather challenging task as the obelisks are carved out of a single piece of stone by the Egyptians which is then toppled by the Romans and brought over in ships. This obelisk dates back to the sixth century and is the only one that isn’t topped with a cross as the pope’s had a practice of doing. Also, this obelisk still serves as a sundial.
The building behind the obelisk is Parliament and was designed by Bernini.
This column dates from the second century and tells a story of Emperor Marcus Aurelis, who battled the barbarians in 170 A.D. It is made of 28 cylinder and stands 97 feet tall. It's hollow inside and has stairs leading all the way to the top. At the top used to stand a statue of the Emperor but it was replaced in after Rome's fall by the Christian Paul.
Fontana di Trevi - While a very famous fountain in Rome, it was built less than 250 years ago. The fountain took thirty years to build after Pope Clement XII approved the designs by Nicola Salvi. Neptune is flanked by two horses, who represent the two states of the sea. The horse on the left is wild, like the sea during a storm while the horse on the right is calm. The two female sculptures in the cutouts symbolize abundance (left) and health (right).
Immaculate Conception Column is topped by a statue of Mary, which may be a bit hard to discern against the deep blue sky. Regardless, every year on December 8th, the Pope climbs a firetruck’s ladder and places fresh flowers high on the statue. That kicks off the roman Christmas Season.
To the right of the column, you can just barely see the corner of the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican City. Because the Vatican is so small, Rome has twice the number on embassies. Each country has one for Rome and one for the Vatican.
The Sinking Boat Fountain was built by either Gian Lorenzo Bernini or his father, Pietro Bernini. Because the water pressure from the Aqua Vergine aqueduct is so low, it cannot shoot up and was instead designed to fill the boat with water. The fountain rest at the base of the Spanish Steps.
The Spanish Steps were built about 300 years ago. They are named so due to the proximity of the Spanish Embassy, mentioned before. Most notably, two British poets lived nearby: John Keats (in the house numbered 26) and Lord Byron (in the house numbered 66).
This circular building was first built in 139 AD as a mausoleum of Hadrian. It was later turned into a fortification by Emperor Aurelian. It had various uses after that as a prison and then a papal residence. In 1527, Pope Clement VII used it as a refuge. Finally, Pope Gregory I led a procession during the plague to ask mercy. The participants of the procession saw an angel appear over the building and signified an end to the city’s misfortune. Since then, it has been known as Castel Sant'Angelo. Originally the building was crowned by a large statue of the emperor, which was later replaced by several different statues of the Archangel that appeared.
Painting inside the Castel Sant'Angelo
A statue of the angel was placed on top of the building. It was originally a wooden sculpture, which has not survived; a second angel, in marble, was destroyed in 1397 during a siege and replaced in 1453 with a marble angel with bronze wings. This angel was destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1497, which caused a powder store in the castle to explode, and was then replaced by a gilt bronze sculpture that was melted down in 1527 to make cannons. In the 16th century a marble statue with bronze wing was made by Montelupo, and the bronze angel we see today was made in 1753 by Peter Anton Van Verschaffelt.
View of St. Peter's Basilica from the roof of Castel Sant'Angelo
The Pantheon is dedicated to all (pan-) gods (-theos). It used to stand tall on this square and was approached by steps. With the movement of sediment, the Pantheon is sinking. This can be seen in the disappearing steps of the fountain. The fountain was built in the 18th century, more than 1700 years after the Pantheon, which is why it has not yet sunk to that level.
In order to support the dome, the walls had to be 20 feet thick and could not have windows. For this reason, the only source of light is the opening in the middle of the dome measuring 30 feet wide. The dome include a pattern of square cut-outs to reduce the weight while keeping the strength of the architecture. The floor is slanted outwards and has holes in the ground to help with the draining when it rains in the Pantheon.
A statue of Madonna and child, with the tomb of Raphael underneath. To the left of the sculpture is a bust of Raphael. Raphael had requested in his will to be buried in the Pantheon and had the Madonna and child commissioned.
Across the temple rests Victor Emmanuel's son, Umberto I. As an unbending conservative, Umberto was assassinated in 1900. Umberto's son and grandson also ruled but were no buried here
Victor Emmanuel II became the first king of a unified Italy in 1870. The inscription reads "Padre della Patria" (i.e. Father of the Fatherland).
Queen Margherita was Umberto I's wife. It's after her that the Margherita pizza is named. Have you every noticed how the red tomatoes, the white mozzarella and the green basil make up the colors of the Italian flag?
The Colosseum’s original name is the Flavian Amphitheater. The nickname Colosseum is derived from the statue that used to tower next to the stadium, the Colossus of Nero.
The Colosseum took less than 10 years to build. The arena was originally covered with boards and 9 inches of sand. Animals, warriors and stage sets were hoisted up from the underground passage ways through trap doors to the stage on elevators. The arena is almost as big as a football field and the stadium is a third of a mile in diameter. Despite its mammoth size, the stadium could be covered with canvas to protect from sun or rain. The stadium has a capacity of 50,000 people.
The arena was built in 80 A.D. The building was commemorated by a 100-day festival. During the festival, 2000 men and 9000 animals killed in the battles. To mask the smell of blood, workers periodically sprayed perfume in the stands.
Typical schedule was animal fights in the morning, criminal executions after lunch and gladiators in the afternoon. Criminal executions were creative in the sense that criminals could be thrown to the lions or dressed up to act out a tragic character from an existing play. Female gladiators, dwarfs and clowns entertained between rounds.
Gladiators usually came from the lowest classes. Slaves, criminals and prisoners of war fought for freedom or for fame. Gladiators were the celebrities of ancient roman times. In a warrior society, these bloodthirsty games played straight into the society’s values. The gladiator conquests over lions reminded spectators of human’s conquest over nature. The presence of exotic animals from Africa reminded the people of the Empire’s foreign conquests.
When the Church was taken over by the church in 1749, Pope Benedict XIV declared that it was a sacred site where early Christians had given their lives. To honor those martyrs, a cross was installed on the north side of the Colosseum, where the emperor’s box is said to have been.
In 312 A.D., the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky the day before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. This Arch of Constantine is said to celebrate Constantine’s victory. Yet, the Emperor attributed his victory to the holy power he had seen the day before. Since then, Christianity was the sanctioned religion by the Empire. The introduction of the new religion marked the decline of the Colosseum games as they were deemed immoral. Yet, it wasn’t until 523 that the doors of the Colosseum were officially shut. Over time, the building was eroded by nature but also by its people. Romans took metal and stones from the Colosseum in order to build other palaces and churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Palatine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome. According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were found on the hill after being cared for by a she-wolf. Romulus is said to have come back and established the city of Rome on this hill. Later, the Emperor Augustus was born and raised here. While Emperor Augustus’ residence was rather modest for his status, future Emperor’s built large residences on this hill. The palaces left in the best shape are the remains of Domus Augustana (pictured here) and Domus Flavia. In fact, the word
palace comes from the large residences built on the Paletine Hill.
Back in the Roman Forums, you can spot the large Basilica of Maxintius and Constantine. The Basilica served as the hall of justice and was used for business. Its construction was ordered by Maxentius, who was murdered by Constantine before it was completed. The Basilica serves as the model for Christian churches, with two columns of seats and a walkway in the middle.
The Temple of Romulus, named after the creator of Rome, was built in 307 A.D. by Emperor Maxentius in honor of his son who died as a child. The green copper doors on this building are completely original.
The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina was built upon the death of Emperor Antoninus’ wife, Faustina. The Emperor declared his wife a goddess and ordered that this temple be built. Given that the ancient Romans had over 30,000 gods, adding one more to the mix did not upset anyone.
Compare the size of the people to the buildings. Notice their massive sizes.
The Temple of Vesta housed the fire that represented the closeness and the family values of the entire Roman people. Six priestesses known as the Vestal Virgins tended to the fire and made sure that it never went out. The Vestal Virgins were chosen at the age of ten and served a term of 30-years. They were widely respected by the Roman people and had certain powers and privileges. One of their powers was the possibility of pardoning a criminal while one of their privileges was having their own box at the Colosseum.
Casa della Vestali was a comfortable two-story building dedicated to the Vestal Virgins. It had an open court yard with two pools.
If the Vestal Virgins could honor their vow of chastity for thirty years, they were given a generous dowry and were allowed to marry. If they however were discovered to have failed in their promise, they were buried alive while the male was whipped to death.
The Temple of Castor and Pollux (i.e. the three pillars in the background) honors the twins who helped the Romans defeat the Latin in the Battle of Lake Regillus in 495 B.C.
As we approach Capitol Hill, we can see the Arch of Septimius Severus. The Arch was built in 203 A.D. for an anniversary of the Emperor. To the left, the eight columns are the remains of the Temple of Saturn. This temple is the oldest temple and dates back to 500 B.C. It was also the state treasury of Rome.