Things to Do in Rome - page 3
Rome may be home to the Vatican, but not everyone who lives - or dies - there is Catholic. In fact, with the many English travelers coming through Rome on the Grand Tour, followed by the many writers and artists who moved to Rome over the years, a cemetery for non-Catholics was required.
The first burial in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome was in 1738. It’s also commonly called the Cemetery of the English (Cimitero degli Inglesi), although the official name is now “Non-Catholic Cemetery,” with graves for anyone who isn’t Catholic - not just Protestants or the English.
Of course, the moniker “Cemetery of the English” is understandable, given some of the graves located here. The most famous are John Keats (1821) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822). Other notable graves include American poet Gregory Corso, Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, and sons of both Goethe and of Percy and Mary Shelley.
The Tiber River runs through Rome, and Tiber Island is its only plot of land, located toward the southern end of the river. At 885 feet long and 220 feet across at its widest point, the island has two bridges that have connected it to each side of the river since antiquity. Ponte Fabricio connects the island to the left bank of the river near the Theater of Marcellus, and Ponte Cestio connects to the Trastevere neighborhood on the right bank. The original bridges have been rebuilt several times.
The island has always had a strong connection with medicine. It once had an ancient temple dedicated to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Throughout history, people with contagious diseases were sent to the island for treatment and healing, or sometimes simply to wait for death. To this day, there is still a hospital on the island. Tiber Island also hosts a film festival in the summer.
Thermae Antoninianae, as per their Roman name, are, simply put, one of the largest and best preserved ancient thermal complexes in the world, and second largest in Rome itself. Built in 212 AD during the reign of the notoriously spiteful Emperor Caracalla, the complex was built as part of a political propaganda but had the particularity of being open to Romans from all social classes, as it was completely free of charge; the public opinion’s regarding the emperor was drastically improved in the following years, as they attributed their pleasant experience and extravagant surroundings to him.The Aqua Marcia aqueduct (the longest one in Rome) was specifically built to serve the great imperial and 25-hectares large complex, which was really more of a leisure center than a series of baths. Visitors could relax in the complex’s three different baths, exercise in one of the two gyms or the pool and catch up on their reading at the library.
By Rome's standards, the Church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola seems like it isn't very old at all – only consecrated in 1722 – but that's because prior to 1650, it was a private church.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus – better known as Jesuits – and the original church on this site was built entirely by Jesuit labor in the 1560s on the foundation of an earlier building. That church, built as the private chapel for the Collegio Romano (the first Jesuit university), was expanded slightly in 1580, but by the early 1600s it was already too small for the number of students at the college. Construction on the current church was started in 1626, a mere four years after Saint Ignatius of Loyola was canonized, and it opened to the public in 1650. The interior reflects the church's Baroque style with heavy ornamentation. There is gold decoration everywhere, enormous frescoes, and Jesuit iconography and stories depicted throughout.
Anyone who watched “Roman Holiday” was no doubt charmed by Audrey Hepburn’s reaction when Gregory Peck feigned having his hand cut off in the Mouth of Truth. You might not believe that you’re in any danger of losing a limb if you tell a lie, but your heart rate might increase when you pop your hand in that mouth anyway.
The Mouth of Truth - or Bocca della Verita in Italian - is located in one wall of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin at the base of the Aventine Hill. The circular face with an open mouth resembles many of the Roman fountains around the city, but this one doesn’t spout water. For centuries, the legend has been that if you insert your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, your hand will be chopped off. Other attractions around the Piazza della Bocca della Verita are two small Ancient Roman temples. The piazza is almost directly across from the Ponte Palatino bridge over the Tiber River, which leads to the Trastevere neighborhood.
No matter what you call it, it’s impossible to miss the imposing Vittorio Emmanuele Monument on the massive Piazza Venezia in central Rome. Built in the early 1900s to honor a unified Italy’s first king, the structure serves double-duty as the home of the tomb of Italy’s unknown soldier as well as the Museum of Italian Reunification.
Another reason to visit the Vittoriano is to ride the “Roma del Cielo” elevator to the top of the monument for some of the best views overlooking the city of Rome.
The Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome’s oldest churches, originally built in the 4th century. While the structure has been renovated and expanded upon since then - most notably in the 12th century, when it was essentially torn to the foundation and rebuilt - the floor plan still reflects its 4th century roots.
Although there is some dispute as to which was the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, there is an inscription in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere that indicates this is the first such church. The original church on this spot was built in 340 under Pope Julius I, and in the 1140s Pope Innocent II tore it down in order to rebuild it completely.
Ponte Sisto is a stone pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River in Rome. It connects the historic center of Rome on one side of the river with the Trastevere neighborhood on the other side. The bridge dates back to the late 1400s and uses the foundations of an older Roman bridge that was destroyed in the early Middle Ages. Today the bridge is one of the few bridges crossing the Tiber River that does not allow vehicles. This makes it a pleasant crossing point for visitors exploring the city by foot.
The bridge also provides nice views of the city. From here, you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Ponte Garibaldi, Ponte Mazzini, Tiber Island, and Gianicolo Hill. The bridge connects Via dei Pettinari and Piazza Trilussa. Several boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes can be found in this area on both sides of the bridge, some offering views of the river and the bridge itself.
More Things to Do in Rome
Aventine Hill is one of Rome’s famous seven hills. It’s the southernmost hill, located on the eastern bank of the Tiber River. This hill is important in the myths involved with the founding of Rome. The brothers, Romulus and Remus, each chose one of the area’s hills on which to found a city. Remus chose the Aventine Hill, but it was his brother Romulus (set up on the nearby Palatine Hill) who saw more signs (supposedly from the gods) and who goes on to found the city of Rome.
Spots worth visiting on the Aventine Hill include the 5th century church of Santa Sabina, the rose garden, the orange garden, and the famous “keyhole” view of St. Peter’s Basilica at the building housing the Knights of Malta. The Circus Maximus is to one side of the Aventine Hill.
Ponte Sant'Angelo is the bridge across the Tiber River leading from the centre of Rome to the Castel Sant'Angelo, once Hadrian's tomb, then home to the popes, now a museum. The bridge dates from 134 AD when Hadrian built it to lead to his mausoleum, calling it Pons Aelius or Bridge of Hadrian. But when word got out that the Archangel Michael landed on top of the mausoleum to end the plague in Rome in 590, the bridge and castle both changed their name to Sant'Angelo.
The most striking feature of the now pedestrian-only bridge are the ten statues of angels which line it. These were commissioned by Pope Clement IX in 1669 from the famous artist Bernini. Unfortunately Bernini only finished two himself and these were taken into the pope's own collection. Those on the bridge were actually made by other sculptors to Bernini's scheme.
The Parco degli Acquedotti is one of Rome’s green spaces, and also one with major Ancient Roman structures in it. As the name tells you, a visit to the Parco degli Acquedotti means you get to see a Roman aqueduct - but in this park, you can actually see two.
Located just under five miles from Rome’s city center, the 593-acre Parco degli Acquedotti is criss-crossed by two different aqueducts, both of which were once critical parts of the Ancient Roman infrastructure. The two aqueducts in the park are Aqua Felix and Aqua Claudia. There’s also the ruins of a 2nd century palace in the park.
The Parco degli Acquedotti is largely undeveloped - so much so that livestock can sometimes be found grazing in its fields - but it’s close enough to the city that in nice weather it can be a welcome respite for both Romans and tourists to get away from the hectic city. You can reach the park via the Metro Line A, or by bus to the nearby Piazza Cinecitta.
Portico of Octavia was a large courtyard with many columns originally built in the 2nd century BC. It was rebuilt about 100 years later by Emperor Augustus and dedicated to his sister, Octavia. It once covered an area of almost 445 feet long and almost 380 feet wide, larger than a football field, and it had more than 300 Corinthian columns. The Temple of Juno Regina and the Temple of Jupiter Stator stood in the middle. Today not much remains of the structure compared to what it once was. Visitors can still see five columns and the ruins of the entrance gate.
In the Middle Ages, the ruins of the Portico of Octavia became the site of a fish market. A stone to the right of the portico's great arch still marks the location. Nearby you can find the Teatro Marcello, the Tiber River and Tiber Island, the Temple of Apollo Sosiano, and it's not far from the Roman Forum.
The Great Synagogue of Rome has a storied past, with the city housing one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. The first set arrived in the city in the second century BC, and by the mid-16th century, the area of Trastevere on the west banks of the River Tiber became a Jewish ghetto, which lasted for three centuries until it was disbanded by King Victor Emmanuel II. The Great Synagogue was built across the river from Trastevere shortly afterwards in memory of the dark days of the ghetto; the Art Nouveau structure is stopped with a distinctive square dome and ornamented with floral reliefs.
On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the synagogue, making him the first pope since early Christianity to do so. The synagogue celebrated its centenary in 2004 and serves as a hub for the Jewish community of Rome, as well as housing for the offices of the Chief Rabbi.
Since opening its doors in 2006, the Ara Pacis Museum has caused more than its fair share of controversy, with its modernist glass and travertine façade splitting public opinion. The futuristic building, the work of architect Richard Meir, was one of Rome’s first major post-war architectural works and was built to house one of the city’s most significant ancient artworks.
Whatever your opinion of the museum itself, there’s no disputing the magnificence of its star exhibit – the Ara Pacis, or ‘Altar of Peace’, which dates back to 9 B.C. The elaborate Roman sculpture is a gigantic marble altar towering over 11-meters high and built by the Emperor Augustus to symbolize peace in the Roman Empire. Today, the protected monument is preserved and displayed in its full glory, with the original structure augmented by reproductions of the panels already on display in the Villa Medici, the Vatican and the Louvre.
A lush garden overlooking Roman rooftops and domes, the Giarino degli Aranci was once an ancient fortress and now offers some of the best panoramic views of Rome. Full of orange trees, there are many benches and grassy areas to relax on and escape the bustle of the city. Views stretch across the skyline from Trastevere all the way toward St. Peter’s Basilica.
Legend says that Saint Dominic planted a single bitter orange tree in the courtyard of the nearby Basilica di Santa Sabina in 1200 AD. It is said to be the first orange tree in the whole of Italy, and today the gardens have a pleasant orange aroma from the groups of many trees.
Upon entering the gardens, visitors can see the face of Giacomo Della Porta's fountain, believed to have been made in reference to the river god Oceanus. Overlooking the Tiber River, it has been called one of the most romantic spots in Rome.
One of the liveliest squares in the Rome’s ancient heart, pedestrianized Piazza della Rotonda is lined with endlessly crowded bars, cafés and restaurants and is the perfect spot for all-day people watching. The rectangular space is also home to the Pantheon, dating from 27 BC but entirely reconstructed by Emperor Hadrian in the early second century AD. It is remarkably intact and its simple but exquisite interior is softly illuminated from the shafts of light peeping through the hole in its round dome. The church is also the resting place of Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the artist Raphael.
Piazza della Rotonda was formed in the mid 15th century to the orders of Pope Eugenius IV, who wanted to clear the stalls, hovels and stores that were spoiling the view of the Pantheon. A fanciful marble fountain was built in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta, to which a Baroque Egyptian-style obelisk was added in 1711.
Overlooking Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, the gardens on Pincio Hill have been present since the time of the ancient Romans. It is named for the Pincis, a noble Roman family whose estate was built on these grounds in the 4th century. The gardens were separated from the neighboring Villa Borghese by an ancient wall.
Filled with greenery, flowers, and bust statues of famous Italians, the present gardens were laid out in the 19th century. Tree-lined avenues were once (and still are) a grand place to go for a stroll. There’s also an obelisk and historic water clock located in the gardens. They are accessed via a steep, winding path up from the city. Once at the top, you’ll have one of the best views of Rome, looking out to rooftops, piazzas, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The panoramic outlook is arguably best at sunset.
Rome is full of fountains, but some are more famous than others. The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona is one of the fountains that, thanks to popular culture and a colorful legend about rival artists, is on many tourist must-see lists.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the artist behind the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which depicts four major rivers - the Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata, and the Ganges - each representing a different continent. Sitting atop Bernini’s sculptures is an Egyptian obelisk.
The fountain was built in 1651 and sits at the center of the Piazza Navona, right in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The statue representing the Rio de la Plata faces the church, and appears to be cowering away in horror at the design - the church was built by one of Bernini’s rivals. This is a common story, and a fun one, but it can’t be true - the church was built many years after Bernini’s fountain.
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