More info: The eternal city - Rome highlights
This is indeed the impressive Anfiteatro Flavio, commonly known as the Colosseum, maybe for the memory of the colossal statue of Nero standing by the monument. Its construction began in AD 72 under the emperor Vespasian and was funded with the spoil from the conquest of Jerusalem of AD 70. The Emperor Titus inaugurated the Colosseum in AD 80, whereas his brother Domitian completed the construction in AD 82…. Only 10 years after the work began (Nowadays it takes a lot more to build something… is there perhaps a manpower issue?). The amphitheatre stands in the centre of a small valley where an artificial lake belonging to Nero’s Domus Aurea was once located. All around this valley stood some auxiliary constructions such as gymnasiums, storehouses and a hospital as well. The monument was built for the gladiators’ fights shows especially. Most gladiators were slaves or prisoners of war, but after several fights they could gain their freedom. Also free men chose to be gladiators, though, and some of them became heroes for the crowd. The Colosseum hosted not only gladiators’ fights, though, but also several shows, which featured wild animals coming from the whole empire, hunts led by armed men and animal domestication shows. However, the arena was also used for executions, usually at lunchtime. Among the cruelest ones, there was the so called Damnatio ad bestias: the convicted was devoured by wild animals. The bleachers could seat between 40.000 and 70.000 people and were divided by corridors into 5 horizontal sectors. The seating arrangement obviously reflected the division of society by class: The first tier, called the Podium (meaning place of honour), was reserved for the most important Romans, while the upper tiers were for the plebeians. There also were large cellars, with 15 corridors where all the equipment needed for the games was stored as well as the cages of the animals.
The Roman Forum valley lies among Rome’s seven hills, and before being reclaimed and drained, at the end of VII century BC, this land was an inhospitable swamp. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and it was the very heart of ancient Rome. Several monuments were built here over the centuries: at first, government and political buildings, then religious and commercial facilities, and at last the civil Basilicas, house of the judicial activities. The Emperors later added prestigious monuments such as: the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, and the great Arch of Septimius Severus. The last monument was the Column erected in 608 A.D. in honor of the byzantine Emperor Phocas. There are actually five Forums: Caesar’s, Vespasian’s, Trajan’s, Nerva’s and Augustus’s Forum. They all were huge and intended to represent the highest expression of the Roman society and ideology. In the early XIX century began the works to bring back to the light the Roman Forum. They ended in 1932 with the opening of the Imperial Way, nowadays called Via dei Fori Imperiali.
VICTORIAN MONUMENT – ALTAR OF THE FATHERLAND
The Victorian Monument was build following an Italian Parliament’s decision that aimed to honor the King Victor Emanuel II, who was officially proclaimed King of Italy in 1861. The architect Giuseppe Sacconi conceived his project as a sort of stage, which had to stand over the existing buildings and celebrate the Italian Risorgimento in the very center of Imperial Rome. After Sacconi’s dead, architects Gaetano Koch, Manfredo Manfredi and Pio Piacentini took over him and led the works until the end. The construction began in 1885 and in 1911, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, Victor Emanuel III inaugurated the gilded bronze statue in the middle of all the white marble. In 1921, in the crypt designed by Armando Brasini, was buried the body of the Unknown Soldier, therefore the monument was named Altare della Patria. The works were completed in 1935.
Situated on one side of Palazzo Poli, Fontana di Trevi is very likely to be the most popular fountain of the world. Made almost entirely of travertine, it was begun in 1732 by Nicola Salvi and completed in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini. At the very first sight, it really takes the breath away: you reach the fountain after wandering through a maze of narrow alleys, while the small size of the square makes it look more impressive. The Trevi Fountain was probably named after the Latin word Trivium which refers to an intersection of three roads: Via De’ Crocicchi, Via Poli and Via delle Muratte. In the middle of the monument, under a majestic triumphal arch, stands the statue of Oceanus, son of Heaven and Vesta, which, in his right hand, fiercely holds the scepter of command, depicted on a chariot in the shape of a shell pulled by winged sea horses led from two newts. The fountain is fed by one of the oldest Roman aqueducts, the Aqua Virgo, named in honor of a legendary young girls who showed thirsty Roman soldiers a water source, allegedly the same source that still supplies the aqueduct. The Trevi Fountain is famous worldwide also for a memorable scene from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita: at night, the blond and beautiful Anita Ekberg steps and wades into the fountain, beckoning to a very tempted Marcello Mastroianni and then placing her outstretched arms under the cascading water. And if you want to come back to Rome, take a dime, turn your back to the fountain and, while putting your right hand on your left shoulder, throw with your left hand a coin into the water. That’s it! Your return to the Eternal City will be sure! Please note: Rome’s Trevi Fountain is currently under restoration until late 2015. A walkway above the central portion of the fountain will allow you to catch a glimpse of the ongoing work. Water will be drained during the process, but you’ll still be able to cast your coins into the fountain for luck.
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA
Piazza di Spagna, one of the most famous squares of Rome, was named after the Palace of Spain, or the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The Spanish Steps, inaugurated on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1725, are a monumental stairway of 135 steps as well as many rest areas, since the project made by the architect Francesco De Sanctis aimed not only to link the Spanish Embassy to the Church of Trinità dei Monti, which stands at the top of the Staircase, but also to provide the city with a meeting place. The steps are usually crowded with people, mainly tourists, who consider and use them just as a meeting place. During May, part of the steps is covered by pots of azaleas and other floral arrangements. The Church of Trinità dei Monti is one of five French-speaking Catholic Churches of Rome. The king Louis XII of France himself wanted its construction, while Pope Sixtus V consecrated the church in 1585. The Renaissance façade, by Giacomo della Porta, features two symmetrical bell towers in Gothic style. In front of the church, as if to separate it from the Spanish Steps, there is the obelisk Sallustiano placed by order of Pope Pius VI in 1789. At the bottom of the Spanish Steps we find the Barcaccia Fountain made by Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, for the Pope Urban VIII in 1627, and just restored. It is so named because it is in the shape of a half-sunken ship with water overflowing its bows. It is thought that the monument was inspired by the actual presence, in that place, of a boat transported by the Tiber during one of its frequent flooding, a very bad one, in 1598. Looking at the Fountain towards the Spanish Steps, on the right, there is the Column of the Immaculate Conception, a Roman column discovered in 1778 during excavations in the Campus Martius. It is about 12 meters tall and holds the bronze Madonna statue designed by Giuseppe Obici, while Luigi Paoletti led the placement of the whole monument. The inauguration took place on December 8 of 1857 and was carried out by 220 Firefighters. On the base there are four statues depicting Moses, David, Isaiah and Ezekiel. Every year on December 8, for the celebrations of the Immaculate Conception, a Firefighters squad adorns the statue with a garland of flowers using a crane.
PIAZZA DEL POPOLO, CHURCHES AND THE “TRIDENTE”
This very large square is Piazza del Popolo, which means People’s square. It used to host games and shows, such as the race of the Barb Horses during the carnival. Nevertheless, as well as in the Colosseum, in Piazza del Popolo also executions took often place. Three churches stand on the square: the “twin” churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto (left, built 1662-75) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (right, built 1675-79) and – on the northern side – Santa Maria del Popolo. These buildings led the Valadier’s reconstruction project of early XIX century, which intended to enhance the scenic location of the three churches giving the visitor who entered the square the immediate feeling of immensity and also of respect for Rome as the Holy See of the Pope. Although the domes of Santa Maria di Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli are slightly different in sizes and shapes (the former is circular, the latter is oval), they look perfectly identical while looking at them from the gate Porta del Popolo. Santa Maria di Montesanto is also called the Church of the Artists because of funerals Tv and cinema stars that are often celebrated here. As for the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, we can admire there the Chigi Chapel by Raffaello Sanzio, the Chorus of Bramante, some works by Bernini, Annibale Carracci and Pinturicchio, and two of Caravaggio`s masterpieces: the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul in the Cerasi Chapel. The Tridente, which is separated from these two churches, comprises Via del Babuino, Via di Ripetta and the most famous Via del Corso in the middle, worldwide known as the street of shopping. In the very centre of the Piazza stands an Egyptian obelisk of Rameses II from Heliopolis. The obelisk, known as the obelisco Flaminio, is the second oldest and one of the tallest ones in Rome (some 24 m high, or 36 m including its plinth). Firstly brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus, it was re-erected here by the architect Domenico Fontana in 1589 as part of the urban plan of Sixtus V. In 1816 Giuseppe Valadier was given the job of rebuilding the square. The architect added two fountains, in the form of Egyptian-style lions, around the base of the obelisk, and outlined his newly defined oval forecourt with identical sweeps of wall, forming curving exedra-like spaces. The one towards the Tiber depicts Neptune between two Tritons and the other under the Pincio depicts the goddess Roma with rivers Tiber and Aniene. Porta del Popolo, formerly called Porta Flaminia and then Porta San Valentino, was originally built by Emperor Aurelian. The inner façade was designed by Bernini on behalf of Pope Alexander VII and it was released on the occasion of the arrival in Rome of the abdicant queen Christina of Sweden, in 1655: the occurrence is commemorated by the inscription that says “Felici Faustoque Ingressui MDCLV,” which means “Happy and auspicious entry.”
When Michelangelo first saw the Pantheon in the early 1500s, he proclaimed it of “angelic and not human design.” This monument actually holds many records: it has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the entire history of architecture, it is the oldest of all places of worship, it is one of the best preserved monument in the world and it has one of the most ever copied and imitated design. Legend holds that the stones used to build the Pantheon were brought to Rome in a very ancient time and from distant places, and that each one weighed as much as a whale. As a matter of fact, the slabs of marble weighed 90 tons and came from Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. The monument is also said to stand in a legendary place, where Romulus himself, the founder of Rome, after his death was grabbed by an eagle and taken to heaven with the gods. The etymology of the word Pantheon gives a good hint: Pan “All” and Theon “Divine” suggest that the monument was dedicated to all the gods. However, in Rome you could also hear people call it “Rotonna”, or “Ritonna” (Roundabout), as the Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli used to mention it in his sonnets. The Pantheon is alike a perfect sphere with the height equal to the radius (43mt and 43mt). A drainage system made of 22 holes on the floor handles the rain falling through the Oculus, the central opening of the dome and the only source of light along with the entry door. On the summer solstice day, at noon, the sunbeams can reach the entry door. Being the Pantheon a pagan temple (later converted to Christianity) it was thought that the sunlight entering the Oculus put in a direct connection gods and men. The bronze door is the largest and the oldest of those still in use in Rome, it is 4,45mt wide and 7.53mt tall. The colonnade (portico) comprises 16 columns taller than 14 meters, of pink and gray granite from Aswan quarries. The inscription on the lintel says: “M. Agrippa LF Cos. Tertium fecit” which means: “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, built it in his third year of consulate.” In 1870 became the memorial of the kings of Italy and it houses the graves of Victor Emanuel II, Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy as well as those of famous artists such as Raffaello, Annibale Carracci , Arcangelo Corelli and Baldassarre Peruzzi.
We are in the square of street artists, of the fountain of the Four Rivers and that of Neptune and the Moor, the square of the church of St. Agnes in Agony, Palazzo Pamphili, with plenty of outdoor cafes and crowded with tourists and locals. This is Piazza Navona, probably the most lively and colourful square in Rome. It has an oval shape because it is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, whose remains are still visible in the basement of the church of St. Agnes in Agony. The church was originally designed by Carlo Rainaldi, then Borromini was commissioned to continue the works, and eventually Rainaldi completed the construction. Borromini designed the famous, innovative but also harshly criticized façade. We can notice its undulating surface, which is a key element of Baroque architecture. This theme is echoed in the columns, which pop out of the plane of the wall, texturing the façade. While Borromini designed the aforementioned church, Bernini made the Fountain of the Four Rivers right before the entrance. There was a strong rivalry between the architect and the sculptor, as all the statues of the fountain may show: none of them can see the church, and Rio de la Plata is raising his arm. It is popularly believed that it wants to defend itself from the façade that would fall sooner or later. The construction of the fountain, wanted by Pope Innocent X, began in 1650. It symbolizes the grace given by the gods to the earth through the principal rivers on the four known continents. Africa is represented by the Nile, Europe the Danube, Asia the Ganges and America the Rio de la Plata. In the lower part, under the statues, there are representations of flora and fauna of the four continents. The Fountain of the Moor is fed by water flowing through the Aqua Virgo pipes (like Trevi Fountain). It was once called Fountain of the Snail, after a dolphin holding a snail shell, but the Pamphili family didn’t really like that name so the snail was replaced with a statue of a Moor (made by Bernini), or African (perhaps originally meant to be Neptune), standing in a conch shell, wrestling with a dolphin, surrounded by four Tritons. It is placed in a basin of rose-colored marble. This is the Fountain of Neptune, formerly Fountain of Calderari, because it was located close to a small alley with blacksmith’s workshops. The basin part was designed in 1574 by Giacomo Della Porta, and for the next 300 years the fountain survived without statues. Eventually, the municipality of Rome held in 1873 a 5,000 lire contest, which was won by Antonio Della Bitta, who added in 1878 the sculpture of “Neptune fighting with an octopus”. Gregorio Zappalà created the other sculptures around the Neptune.
CAMPO DE’ FIORI
Poppies, daisies, sweet violets, lilies… This was what you could once see in Campo de ‘Fiori, literally translated “field of flowers”. In fact, the name was first given during the Middle Ages when the area was actually a meadow. The square remained undeveloped until the late XV century, when in 1478 the market was moved from Campidoglio (one of the seven hills) to Piazza Navona, afterwards the surroundings, among which Campo de ‘Fiori, began to develop with the construction of accommodation facilities, inns and taverns. In 1869 the daily vegetable and fish market was moved from Piazza Navona to Campo de ‘Fiori and since then every day we can attend the show of the very Roman folklore, full of colours, scents, voices… a peculiar, charming atmosphere. However, in Campo de’ Fiori also executions used to be held. Here, on 17 February 1600, the philosopher and friar Giordano Bruno was burnt alive for heresy. On the exact spot of his death, as a memory and symbol for the freedom of thought, in 1889 was inaugurated a bronze monument designed by Ettore Ferrari, after more than ten years of struggle. It represents Giordano Bruno and the inscription on the base says: A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE (“To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned”). After all, Campo de’ Fiori is the only historical square without a church.
Where can you feel the magic of the Eternal City? Indeed in Trastevere, trans Tiberim (meaning literally beyond the Tiber). This borough really catches one’s breath, as you will be almost overwhelmed by the peculiar atmosphere in every corner of this maze of narrow streets, thus having a glimpse of the truly Roman life. In ancient times, Trastevere was connected to the rest of the city only by a small wooden bridge, Ponte Sublicio. Thanks to its partial isolation (it was “beyond the Tiber”) and to the fact that its population had been multicultural since the ancient Roman period, the inhabitants of Trastevere, called Trasteverini, developed a culture of their own. Nowadays, the neighbourhood maintains its character: narrow cobbled streets lined by medieval houses, crowded at night with tourists and locals, who love to hang out here, good restaurant where you can taste typical Roman dishes. The heart of lively Trastevere is Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, the square where the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere stands, one of the oldest churches in Rome, originally from the early third century. According to legend, a stream of pure oil flowed from the earth here in 38 BC, an event that was later described as an announcement of the coming of Christ. In the inner garden you can still the very point where the oil gushed out.
Tiber Island is a small boat-shaped isle, located in the southern bend of the Tiber. It is connected to the main land by two bridges that have existed since the antiquity: the Ponte Fabricio, also called Ponte dei Giudei (Jews bridge) for it links to the Ghetto, and the Ponte Cestio, which connects the island to Trastevere and was built in 46 BC by Lucio Cestio. There are a many legends about how the island was formed. One says that, when Roman citizens expelled the last of the Tarquin Kings (Tarquinius Superbus or Tarquin the Proud), in anger they threw wheat sheaves they had stolen from the king into the river. Dirt and silt accumulated around the wheat and eventually became the foundation of the island. According to another legend, the island was formed on a Roman wreck ship. Tiber Island has been associated with healing since the era of the Roman Republic, and there is one more legend that tells this story: in 293 BC, there was a great plague in Rome. Upon consulting the Sibyl, the Roman Senate was instructed to build a temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing. In order to obtain a statue of the deity, a delegation was sent to Epidauros, where it obtained also a snake from the temple. Upon their return up the Tiber river, the snake slithered off the ship and swam onto the island. They believed that this was a sign from Aesculapius, a sign that meant he wanted his temple to be built on that island. This location may have been chosen for the Aesculapius Temple because it was separate from the rest of the city, then somehow protected plague and illnesses. The island continued being a place of healing after ancient Rome too: a hospital built in 1584 is still operating. It is called “Fatebenefratelli”, probably after the words that, like a lullaby, the friars of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God used to whisper around the city. There is one hospital more on the island, next to the church of San Bartholomew, and it is Israelite Hospital, which has based here since 1884. During summer, the island hosts the Isola del Cinema film festival, an open-air cinema where the past season’s best movies play.
PORTICO DI OTTAVIA e il GHETTO DI ROMA
The Porticus Octaviae was built by Augustus in the name of his sister, Octavia, sometime after 27 BC. More than three hundred columns once stood here, and the whole structure, surrounded by a double colonnade, covered an area of about 135 meters long and 115 meters wide. A curia (meeting hall), two libraries, the Temple of Juno Regina and the Temple of Jupiter Stator were integrated into the colonnades too. It burned in 80 AD and was restored, probably by Domitian, and again after a second fire in 203 AD by Septimius Severus. Built to replace an older Porticus of Metellus, the Porticus Octaviae stood in the area of the Circus Flaminius, where the triumphal processions started from. During the Middle Ages the propylaeum housed a fish market, and the church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria was named after it. Right of the porch you can still see a plaque with a Latin inscription which reads: “Capita piscium hoc marmoreo schemate longitudine majorum usque ad primas pinnas inclusive conservatoribus danto,” or “the heads of all those fishes that exceed the length of this plaque, up to the first fins included, must be given to the Conservatori,” who were the public officers. In 1555, a Papal bull issued by Pope Paul IV established the Roman Ghetto, the second oldest ghetto of the world after Venice’s. In fact, the name Ghetto derives from the name of the Venice borough with a foundry (called gheto in Venetian) and where all the Jews of the city had to live. The bull revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and required the Jews of Rome, which had existed as a community since before Christian times and which numbered about 2,000 at the time, to live in the ghetto, a walled quarter of about 3 acres with three gates that were locked at night. Jews could go throughout the city during the day, but they had to return before the sunset. They were required to wear a distinctive sign (a pointed yellow hat for men, a yellow kerchief for women), could no longer run any business and were allowed to practice only unskilled jobs, as rag men, second-hand dealers, fish monger or pawnbrokers. The Roman Ghetto area is nowadays marked by Via Arenula, Via dei Falegnami, Via de’ Funari, Via della Tribuna di Campitelli, Via del Portico di Ottavia e Lungotevere de’ Cenci. Back then, it was one of the most undesirable quarters of the city, subject to constant flooding by the Tiber River. The Roman Ghetto has kept strong Jewish traditions, with plenty of Kosher restaurants where you can enjoy the delicious Jewish-Roman cuisine, which merges Roman recipes with Jewish dishes. Not to be missed are the Carciofi alla giudia, crispy fried whole artichokes … it would be a mortal sin!
First Julius Caesar ordered the construction of the Theatre of Marcellus, which was by Augustus finished it in 17 BC and then dedicated it in 13 BC to his nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus, son of his sister Octavia, who was supposed to succeed him but died prematurely. It is said that on the opening day, in 12 BC, while the celebration of the “ludi saeculares” was taking place within the theatre and the actors were about to get on the stage, the so-called “sella curulis” (the x-shaped seat of power used by the emperors) fell down, making Augustus tumble. The emperor though stood up, smiled to the crowd cheering for him and raised his hand to resume the performance. The show must go on! The theatre fell out of use in the early IV century and the structure served as quarry for several buildings. During the Middle Ages, the theatre turned into a fortress, and in the XIII century the Fabii famly built a palace on its remains, thus saving it from further destruction. This house, later property of the Savelli, is still visible from Via del Portico di Ottavia. The restoration works began in 1926 and aimed to upgrade the whole area. Old houses were demolished, the arches were rid of all the workshops that smiths and craftsmen had set up there, palaces and even churches all around the theatre were torn down, thus finding the ruins of the Temple of Apollo Sosiano and Bellona, still visible in front of the theatre itself. Nowadays the archaeological park of the Theatre of Marcellus houses live music performances called “The concerts of the temple”, as well as classical music concerts, show and readings.
Here, in the valley, there was the Circo Massimo that is remembered as the site of games since the beginning of the history of the city, because it was the perfect place for socializing and sharing: close to the market area on the Tiber, the Foro Boario, and in the plain just below the Palatine. The first wood installations, probably mobile structures, dating from the time of Tarquinio Prisco, in the first half of the sixth century BC. The first masonry structures, especially for the races, were built in the second century BC, and Gaius Julius Caesar built the first stone seats and gave the building the final shape, from 46 BC (I sec BC). The Circus Maximus was the largest of all the circuses, measuring 600 x 140 mt. and hosted up to 250.000 people. From here began the Appian Way, crossed just here by the first Roman aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, both made by the censor Appio Claudio Cieco in 312 BC. It is the period of Roman expansion towards the south of Italy, and large businesses with Magna Grecia and across the Mediterranean. The Appian Way, so called “Road’s Queen” is the first “highway of the history” made with innovative techniques. In the beginning was built up to Capua, land of the Sanniti, and then, over the years and conquests, arrived up to Taranto and Brindisi, in Puglia, where there were ports to leave for the Mediterranean Sea and reach Greece, Africa and Orient with whom they had rich cultural and commercial exchanges.