Things to Do in Rome - page 4
As a 17th century Baroque church facing Piazza Navona, the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone stands in one of the busiest areas of the in Rome’s historic city center — yet it remains a peaceful sanctuary and renowned Roman church. History tells us that the Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred on site here in the ancient stadium built by Emperor Domitian. The structure itself was built in 1652 and meant to act as a personal chapel for the family of Pope Innocent X, who lived in the palazzo just beside it. Today it remains a beautiful chapel, known for its frescoed ceilings, many fine sculptures and altars, and impressive marble work. It is also a shrine to Saint Agnes, with her skull still on display to visitors and her body buried in the catacombs. The church’s architecture is characterized by its massive dome, Corinthian columns, and Greek cross plan.
Sitting in the heart of atmospheric Trastevere, Piazza Santa Maria is the focal point of the district and has several different faces. By day it is the haunt of young families and tourists, by night clubbers and students come out of the woodwork to party in the surrounding bars.
The piazza’s western flank is dominated by the ornate Romanesque church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is one of the oldest in Rome, founded around 350 AD as Christianity was becoming prevalent. Several extensions and improvements ensued down the centuries, and now the church has a 16th-century portico and glittering medieval frescoes and mosaics in the apse as well as on its exterior, which glint when floodlit at night. The octagonal raised fountain in the center of the piazza has its origins in Ancient Roman times and was restored and added to by Baroque master architect Carlo Fontana in 1692.
Many visitors to Rome see the enormous Vittorio Emanuele II monument from the outside only, snapping a photo of the landmark locals often derisively call “the typewriter” before moving on. But if you climb the steps, you'll find there are sights to see inside, too.
The monument was completed in 1910 as a memorial to the first king of a united Italy. Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the monument, added in 1921, and the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento – Museum of Italian Unification – is inside the monument itself. The museum entry can be difficult to find, with unmarked doors on the main steps, but you can also enter from via San Pietro in Carcere. Also inside the monument is the Complesso del Vittoriano, an art gallery with rotating exhibits, and the Sagrario delle Bandiere, a gallery of Italian naval flags and some other historical naval displays.
Contrary to popular belief, St Peter’s Basilica isn’t the cathedral of Rome. This honor goes to “the Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist at the Lateran.” Quite the mouthful, but the church is more commonly known as the St John Lateran’s Basilica or Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The basilica is the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome, and on top of that, it’s the seat of the Bishop of Rome—the Pope himself—and considered one of the most important Catholic church in the world.
Although one might think so, St John Lateran isn’t a person. The church is named after its location at the Lateran Palace, ancient seat of the noble Roman Laterni family and later the main papal residence. When the palace came into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, he soon donated the property to the church.
Ancient Rome was famously composed of seven hills, but there are even more hills in modern Rome that weren't even included back then. One of them is the Janiculum Hill, or Gianicolo in Italian.
Gianicolo Hill sits on the western side of the Tiber River, near the Trastevere neighborhood, and takes its name from the god Janus – there was once an ancient cult to him located on the hill. Today, attractions on the hill include the San Pietro in Montorio church, a Bramante-designed shrine on the supposed location of St. Peter's crucifixion, and a botanical garden associated with the University of Rome. But the main draw is the view overlooking Rome – it's one of the best in the city.
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of four major basilicas in Rome and was once the largest basilica in the world. It held that title until St. Peter's Basilica was completed in 1626. The original church was built in the 4th century but burned down in 1823. It was replaced with the one that stands today. It is where St. Paul is presumed to be buried, which is why it is named after him. His burial site was located outside of the Aurelian Walls that surrounded Rome at the time.The basilica's art gallery has paintings from the original church, some dating back as far as the 13th century. There are also some rare documents and engravings that were saved from the fire. The outside of the church has 150 columns and a huge statue of St. Paul. The facade is decorated with mosaics designed from 1854 to 1874.
The name “San Luigi dei Francesi” means Saint Louis of the French, and this church is France's national church in Rome. It was built in the 1500s at the instruction of a Cardinal in the Medici family who would later become Pope Clement VII. Catherine de Medici had married the French king, contributed to the church's construction, and donated the land on which the church was built – further cementing the French connection. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi occupies the site of a former church, Santa Maria, which was owned by the Medici family. It was begun in 1518 and consecrated in 1589. The interior is all Baroque ornamentation, so there's no shortage of stuff to see, but the biggest attraction inside is the series of three St. Matthew paintings by Caravaggio. These paintings were commissioned for the church, so it's a great chance to see artwork in its original home rather than an art museum.
More Things to Do in Rome
Located at the western end of Rome’s prettiest bridge, the Ponte Sisto, the Piazza Trilussa is in bohemian Trastevere, the city’s hard-drinking, clubbing district that comes alive at night when the backstreet bars are packed out. Named after a Roman poet from the 19th century, the cobbled square is home to a monument in his honor as well as the stately Acqua Paola water fountain, carved with the heads of dragons and lions. This travertine fountain was commissioned by Pope Paolo V, a member of the all-powerful Borghese family, and constructed in 1613 by Dutch architect and garden designer Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan van Santen in Dutch); it bears the Borghese family crest. Originally it was located on Via Giulia on the east side of the River Tiber but was reconstructed in its present home in 1898.
One of three churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary that face the large Piazza del Popolo in northern Rome is the church that bears the same name as the piazza - Santa Maria del Popolo. Of the three, this is by far the most popular tourist draw, primarily for the incredible artwork it contains.
The present-day Church of Santa Maria del Popolo was rebuilt in the 1470s from an earlier church built on the site in 1099. Gian Lorenzo Bernini updated the facade to its Baroque style in the 1650s, and also worked on the Chigi Chapel in the church.
Santa Maria del Popolo contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, mosaics by Raphael, chapels designed by Bramante and Raphael, and two fabulous paintings by Caravaggio. Because of this stunning collection of in situ art, the church is as much (if not more) a tourist attraction for art and culture lovers as it is still a house of worship.
The Church of St Peter in Chains, also known as San Pietro in Vicoli, is a basilica for both art lovers and pilgrims. The church was originally built in the fifth century to house the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned by the Romans in Jerusalem, which eventually made their way to Rome, where they arrived in two parts. One part of the chain was sent to Eudoxia, the wife of emperor Valentinian III, and when compared to shackles held by Pope Leo I, legend says they miraculously fused together to form a single chain, which is now kept in a big bronze and crystal urn under the main altar.
The church is maybe best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, a part of a never completed funeral monument for Pope Julius II. Forty statues were planned, but Julius’ constant efforts to immortalize himself with giant projects soon had Michelangelo’s attentions diverted to the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
The enormous Trajan's Column near the Quirinal Hill was built in the 2nd century AD to commemorate Emperor Trajan’s victories in war. The column itself is 98 feet tall, but standing on its pedestal the entire structure is 125 feet tall.
The column is decorated with the story of Trajan’s war triumphs told in pictures, spiralling around the outside of the column, with the story starting at the bottom. Trajan’s ashes were originally interred in the base of the column. Amazingly, the column itself is actually hollow and contains a spiral staircase that leads to a viewing platform on the very top.
Trajan's Column was originally topped with a statue of Trajan himself, but in the late 16th century the then-Pope Sixtus V ordered that a statue of Saint Peter be put atop the column. It’s the statue of Saint Peter that you still see today. In order to see all of the bas relief carvings, you’ll need to visit Rome’s Museum of Roman Civilization.
At the base of Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, the Barcaccia Fountain is one of the city’s most unique fountains. Designed in a Baroque style, it displays a half-sunken ship with fresh water overflowing its bow. Translated Barcaccia means ‘old boat.’ It dates back to the 17th century when it was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini. The fountain is said to be modeled after the boats left behind after the Tiber River would routinely flood. Sun and bee ornamentation is a symbol taken from the Pope’s family’s coat of arms.
Designed by Pietro Bernini, it features two heads on either end spouting water. Bernini’s son Gian Lorenzo went on to become a prominent Baroque artist with works all over the city. The travertine fountain has recently been restored after having been vandalized by football fans. It is one of the most well-known fountains in Rome.
The Palazzo Farnese is a 16th century palace originally built for the noble Farnese family. Today, it serves as the French embassy in Italy, given by the Italian state in 1936 to the French for a period of 99 years.
The member of the Farnese family who commissioned the Palazzo Farnese went on to become Pope Paul III not long after, so the building got even more palatial soon after it was done. The Farnese family were well-known sculpture collectors - parts of their collection make up Naples’ archaeological museum and Capodimonte Museum today. Although the Palazzo Farnese is the French embassy in Italy, there are tours available - which is good, given the art that remains in the palace, including frescoes on walls and ceilings. Even if you don’t go inside, you can see some of Michelangelo’s handiwork on the facade. The Renaissance master is responsible for, among other things, the central window that served as a focal point and something of a stage for Pope Paul III.
Containing 28 steps in total, the Scala Santa (which translates to Holy Steps) are believed to have been carried from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena in the year 326. Many make religious pilgrimages to this site, as the white marble steps are said to be those walked upon by Jesus Christ during the Passion.
It is believed that the steps of Scala Santa once led to the Praetorium of the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, where Jesus was condemned. St. Helena brought them to Rome to her son, the emperor Constantine, who was building a basilica. The stairs were installed and still lead to the Sancta Sanctorum or Chapel of San Lorenzo, the private chapel of early popes. The interior of the chapel is richly decorated with frescoes depicting both the Old and New Testament.
Today the steps are protected by a wooden boards in the old Lateran palace and by tradition must be ascended on the knees. Over the centuries, several popes have participated in this devotion.
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine mountains and ending at the sea at Ostia, once the port of Ancient Rome. It is 252 miles (406 km) long. The story goes that the infants Romulus and Remus were abandoned on the waters of the Tiber, were rescued by a she-wolf, and founded Rome 15 mi (25 km) from the sea in 753 BC.
The Tiber River has also been heavy with sediment and although Romans throughout history have dredged it, the river is now navigable only to Rome and not beyond. The port of Ostia was abandoned to mud as far back as 1 AD.
The Palazzo di Montecitorio is the seat of the Chamber of Deputies, the house of Italy’s parliament. It was completed under Pope Innocent X in 1650, designed by Bernini and afterwards expanded by Carlo Fontana. It was the pope's vision to house the Pontifical Curia here, but the building ended up serving a variety of functions over the years until it became the seat of the Chamber of Deputies later on. Although the look of the building has changed over the years and it got a makeover in the Art Nouveau style in the early 20th century, the clock tower, column, window sills and the baroque Bernini façade remain the same.
A newer addition is the long salon, where informal political discussions and agreements take place, leading to it being referred to as the informal center of Italian politics. The salon’s name, Transatlantico, refers to a construction company from Palermo.
This stunning basilica is dedicated the Christian martyrs and has been a staple in this Italian community since the late 1500s. Visitors who journey to the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli will find a remarkable interior designed by Michelangelo and a near perfect example of Roman architecture. The church is also home to a historic sun dial that predicted the exact date of Easter each year and compete with the meridian built by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in Bologna.
This popular religious journey into Assisi is the perfect way for travelers to escape the city of Rome and explore outside the urban center. The two-hour drive is scenic and takes travelers through the rolling hills of Umbria.
Things to do near Rome
- Things to do in Lake Bracciano
- Things to do in Lake Bolsena
- Things to do in Orvieto
- Things to do in Assisi
- Things to do in Perugia
- Things to do in Ascoli Piceno
- Things to do in Siena
- Things to do in Naples
- Things to do in Sorrento
- Things to do in Florence
- Things to do in Pisa
- Things to do in Bologna
- Things to do in Lazio
- Things to do in Umbria
- Things to do in Abruzzo