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Rome Guide by Enjoy Rome

Historical center and Neighbourhoods in Rome

Once you have visited the area of the Forum and the Colosseum, and the Vatican, the other really "big stuff" can be covered with a stroll through the cobbled side-streets of the historic centre. Enjoy Rome's 3-hour "Ancient and Old Rome" walking tour covers the Piazza Navona, Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, as well as the Piazza Venezia, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Roman Forum, and the Colosseum.


There's something to see at every turn, here are some of the highlights:


Piazza Navona. One of the great triumphs of Baroque urban planning, the piazza's name derives from its original function as the Stadium of Domitian. Built in the late 1st century to stage athletics competitions, the agones, its name was gradually corrupted by the Roman dialect during the Middle Ages. The "Piazza in Agone" became the "Piazza N'Agone", and finally the "Piazza Navona". The Palazzo Pamphilj at the south-western corner (now the Brazilian Embassy) was made much grander when Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was elected Pope Innocent X, and he set about creating a suitable setting for his family palace, which clearly echoes the form of the Roman stadium which lies beneath. Francesco Borromini was brought in to build the family church, dedicated to St Agnes, a Roman girl martyred for refusing to marry a pagan nobleman either in or near the stadium. The church's name Sant'Agnese in Agone refers to the athletics competitions, rather than to any agony she may have felt. The tiny skull of the young St Agnes is visible, housed in a reliquary in the chapel to the right of the high altar.


In the centre of the piazza, the fabulous Fountain of the Four Rivers by Borromini's arch-rival Bernini is an extraordinary feat of engineering. Travertine limestone is carved into personifications of the longest known rivers, their poses echoing the ancient Roman river gods, on each of the four known continents. The rocks on which they recline are decorated with relevant flora and fauna. The whole supports a fake Egyptian Roman obelisk, complete with gobbledegook hieroglyphs upon an empty space.


Pantheon (Santa Maria ad Martyres), piazza della Rotonda (8.30am-7.30pm, Mon-Sat; 9am -6pm Sun; 9am-1pm public holidays, free). The best preserved building of any ancient civilisation, the Pantheon was built in 125AD by Hadrian as a temple dedicated to all of the gods. Its vast concrete, and perfectly hemispherical, dome is a miracle of Roman engineering. Arguably the most influential building ever constructed (whenever you see a structure with a dome it is directly or indirectly modelled on the Pantheon), it was saved from ruin by its consecration as a church in 608AD. As well as the tombs of the first kings of Italy, Raphael is also buried here.


Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Trevi (Metro: Barberini). The Trevi is fed by the Aqua Vergine, which has been bringing water from the eighth mile of the via Collatina (to the east of Rome) since 19 BC. It was the only aqueduct to continue functioning right throughout the Middle Ages because it's entirely underground and so didn't get smashed up by marauding invaders. Plans had been underway to build a fountain here from the 15th century, but eventually it was Nicolò Salvi's design which was built in the 18th century. A spectacular Roccoco extravaganza centred around Neptune, and his sons the Tritons who guide the horses representing the rough and calm seas, the fountain takes up the entire façade of the Palazzo Poli. DO throw a coin in the fountain to ensure a return to Rome (the money goes to the Red Cross), DON'T make like Anita Ekberg and climb in, the police don't like it.


Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna (Metro: Spagna). The Piazza takes its name from the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican (the one with the big Spanish flag outside), although the church at the top of the steps (the Trinità dei Monti) belonged to the French, and it was a French diplomat who paid for a splendid staircase to be built to replace the undignified (and often muddy) hill which led up to it. Romans know the staircase as the "Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti", but (inaccurate) British visitors in the 18th century called it the Spanish Steps and the name stuck. In spring pots of azaleas line the steps, further enhancing its theatrical quality.


At the other end of the via del Babuino, is the Piazza del Popolo (Metro: Flaminio). Given its current form by Napoleon's favourite architect in Rome, Giuseppe Valadier, the piazza has at its centre an obelisk brought back from Egypt by Augustus. Three roads radiate out from the piazza, via del Babuino, via del Corso, and via di Ripetta, their three prongs giving the enclosed area the name Tridente. Between the roads the 17th century twin churches of Santa Maria di Monte Santo, and Santa Maria dei Miracoli are in fact not identical, one has a round dome and one an oval dome to create an illusion of symmetry in the street plan. On the other side of the piazza the church of Santa Maria del Popolo contains, amongst much else, a funerary chapel designed by Raphael, and two paintings by Caravaggio.


Trastevere - taking its name from its position trans Tiberim (across the Tiber), Trastevere has largely maintained a charming village atmosphere in its pretty cobbled streets. The area is divided in two by the 19th century, and uninteresting, Viale Trastevere. The quiet smaller southern part is home to the beautiful church of Santa Cecilia, and there are a few ceramicists and artisan shops nearby. To the north of Viale Trastevere, things get a little busier. The focus is the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, home to the church of the same name. Behind Santa Maria, is the pretty Piazza Sant'Egidio, home to the Museo di Roma in Trastevere (Tues-Sun, 10am-8pm, €3/€1.50), which occasionally has temporary exhibitions on the ground floor, and has a permanent collection of watercolours showing Rome in the late 19th century upstairs. On summer and weekend evenings, Trastevere is packed with Romans and tourists alike, but visit during the day mid-week and the chaos of the city will seem a million miles away.


The Ghetto - This small area close to the Tiber Island, between Largo Argentina and the river, has been the heart of Rome's Jewish community since the 15th century. It was enclosed with gates and walls by Pope Paul IV in 1555, who ordered the creation of a "Ghetto" during the height of the Roman Inquisition. The walls and gates remained intact until the 19th century, when over half of the area was demolished and reconstructed. Nevertheless many of the areas narrow and characteristic streets remain, home to kosher butchers and fast food joints. The rebuilding saw the construction, of the grand Tempio Maggiore, Rome's main synagogue. The Synagogue houses a museum which recounts the history of Roman Jewry, a constant presence in the city since 169 BC, and as such the oldest continuously present Jewish community in Europe. Largo 16 Ottobre, 1943, in front of the imposing ruin of the late 1st century BC Portico of Octavia, commemorates the deportation of over 2,000 Roman Jews to the concentration camps of Northern Europe during the Nazi occupation.


Campo de' Fiori - The site of the execution of heretics during the Inquisition, the Piazza del Campo de' Fiori is now home to an open air fruit and vegetable market (Mon – Sat, crack of dawn-c.2pm). Each afternoon the stalls are dismantled, the leaves swept away, and it becomes the aperitif hot spot. It's pretty rough and ready, but that's why we like it, especially the oldest (and cheapest) of the bars, the Vineria Reggio. A stone's through from the grubby charms of the Campo de'Fiori is one of Rome's most elegant piazzas, the Piazza Farnese. Dominated by the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy)which was partly designed by Michelangelo for Pope Paul III of the Farnese, the piazza contains a couple of fountains which recycle the communal baths which once contained icy water in the frigidarium, at the Baths of Caracalla. The fountains are topped with the lily flower, symbol of the Farnese family, which recurs right across the palace's façade, a happy coincidence for the French, also represented by the fleur de lys.


Monti - tucked between the traffic of Via Cavour and Via Nazionale is the Rione (a small borough) Monti. Medieval and Renaissance apartment buildings occupy what was once the Suburra, the ancient slum area of the city. Lots of hip shops have opened up tucked down unlikely little alleys around Piazza dei Zingari, Via dei Serpenti, and Via del Boschetto. Take a breather in the Piazza Madonna dei Monti which has a couple of bars from which to watch this bit of the world go by, listen to the fountain, and marvel that you are a stone's through from the belching buses on via Cavour. Scientists can pause on Via Panisperna,once the site of the University of Rome's Institute of Physics, and which gave its name to a pre-war group of physicists, including Enrico Fermi, later technical director of the Manhattan Project.


Aventine - quiet, charming, and littered with churches and monasteries, and the occasional embassy, the Aventine is a leafy enclave of smart houses rising loftily above gritty Testaccio. One of the most beautiful of the churches is the 5th century Santa Sabina. After you've wandered round, have a seat in the shade of orange trees in the pretty adjacent garden of the Parco Savello, and peer through the keyhole at the nearby Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta to see the surprise which lies beyond...


Testaccio - The gritty urban foil to the Aventine's refinement, Testaccio was once the site of Rome's main river port. It takes its name from the 35 metre high Monte Testaccio, made up entirely of closely packed terracotta pots, discarded after their wares had been sold. In the nineteenth century it once again became a bustling trade centre with the construction here of the city's main slaughterhouse Il Mattatoio (Piazza Giustiniani) although fear not, there are no more squealing animals here. It has recently been converted into MACRO Future, part of the Rome Contemporary Art Museum, and a university architecture department. Testaccio's slaughterhouse makes it home to the traditional backbone (excuse the pun) of Roman cooking, offal. Known as the quinto quarto, the fifth quarter of the animal, the slaughter man could keep all the bits that were not sold. If you want to try Roman staples such as rigatoni alla pajata (pasta and tomato sauce with the intestine of the un-weaned calf), trippa alla romana (tripe), or coda alla vaccinara (slow-stewed oxtail) make for Checchino dal 1887, the neighbourhood's top eatery.


Celio - The Celian Hill, just opposite the Palatine close to the Colosseum, was once the residence of choice for Roman nobility. From the early Middle Ages on a number of religious orders grew up in the area, Santo Stefano Rotondo, Ss Giovanni e Paolo, Santa Maria in Domnica are especially recommended. More recently Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset television company built its studios here- uncharacteristically unobtrusive, the complex hides behind medieval walls opposite the church of Saints Giovanni and Paolo. Climb up the Clivio Scauro from Via di San Gregorio to the church, visit the remains of Roman houses beneath (Open every day except Wednesday, €6), continue to the Arch of Dolabella. A stroll over the Celian hill gives the best idea of what Rome might have looked like to a medieval pilgrim; beyond the arch cross the small park and head down into the lower, inhabited area of the Celio, for a return to the 21st century.


San Lorenzo - Right next to Rome's main University "La Sapienza" which moved here in the thirties during Fascist rule, and the vast mass of the city's smartest cemetery, Il Verano (entrance piazzale del Verano), San Lorenzo is now the haunt of students and professors alike, whilst still retaining some of its traditional working-class roots. Taking its name from the Basilica of St Lawrence, it became the site of ad hoc housing for the workers who were building the apartment buildings for the new capital's influx of civil servants in the 19th century and its deprivation led Maria Montessori to choose to open her first school here in 1907. When Allied bombing hit the Termini and Tiburtina railway stations on 19 July 1943, San Lorenzo (between the two) was also hit, with the loss of 3,000 civilians. The deaths are commemorated in the war memorial in the park at the Termini end of Via Tiburtina. Scars are still apparent on many buildings, as is an inordinate amount of graffiti. But don't let that put you off, if you are staying in the Termini area, the trattorie and pizzeria of San Lorenzo offer a refreshing alternative to the plethora of bleak tourist traps around the station.


EUR - South of the city centre the EUR district is largely now home to offices, and residential areas which like to think of themselves as a sort of Roman Beverly Hills. The curious name, pronounced AY-OOR, derives from the Esposizione Universale di Roma, a massive event planned by Mussolini for 1942 in celebration of what would have marked twenty years of Fascist rule. The Second World War rather put paid to the plans, but a number of the planned structures were nevertheless completed including the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, more popularly known as the "square Colosseum". For maximum unsettling surreal impact visit on a Sunday, when it's deserted. EUR is also home to a number of museums including the Museo della Civiltà Romana Piazza Giovanni Agnelli (Metro: EUR Fermi, €6.50, €3.50 concessions, 9am-2pm Tues-Sun). Part of Mussolini's bombastic celebrations for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus (Mussolini was a big fan of Augustus), the vast Fascist-Classical hulk of the museum is interesting not only as an exercise in Fascist propaganda, but is full of fascinating models of the city's Imperial monuments. There are cut-away models showing the maze of tunnels and lifts at the Colosseum, and casts of the carvings of Trajan's column, enabling a close-up view. There is also a fabulous scale model which reconstructs how the city looked during the reign of Constantine.


Some fabulous museums


Castel Sant'Angelo, Lungotevere Castello (Tues-Sun 9am-7pm, €5/€2.50, slightly more when an exhibition is showing). Built by the Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century as his own mausoleum, the vast circular mass was once clad with travertine and marble, and planted with trees on top following Etruscan tradition. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the building was stripped of its decorations, but saved from further ruin when it was converted in the 6th century into a castle. It takes its name from the vision seen by Pope Gregory the Great of the Archangel Michael, putting away his sword, interpreted as the end of the plague sweeping the city. A walkway still links the castle with the Vatican and in 1527 when Rome was sacked by the troops of Charles of Spain, Pope Clement VII fled the invasion to hide in the Castle, visit his tiny bathroom (frescoed by Raphael's chum Giulio Romano). The castle offers a fabulous mix of Imperial, Medieval and Renaissance Rome, not to mention an excellent view, and a café on the ramparts.


Galleria Borghese, Piazzale del Museo Borghese (Tues-Sun 9am-7pm, €8.50/€5.25. Entrance every two hours only with pre-booked tickets. For reservations www.galleriaborghese.it / 06 32810). The election of Camillo Borghese as Pope Paul V in 1605 saw a dramatic rise in the family's already significant fortunes. Paul V's nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese – a bon viveur with a good eye for a bargain - set about building a pleasure house in the family's then suburban gardens (now the public park of the Villa Borghese). His was to be a "museum of the Universe", filled with antiquities, contemporary sculpture and painting by such masters as Caravaggio and Bernini, as well as fossils and other natural curiosities. Around the building gardens with rare herbs, orangery and even an aviary completed the picture. The ground floor houses the sculpture collection, including six major works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, within beautifully decorated rooms, remodelled in the 18th century, and a room with the six paintings by Caravaggio in the collection. Upstairs is the picture gallery, more works by Bernini are accompanied by works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, and Correggio amongst many others.


Ara Pacis, between the Lungotevere in Augusta and Piazza Augusto Imperatore. (Tues-Sun 9am-7pm, €6.50/€4.50). Inaugurated in 9 BC, the altar of Augustan peace celebrated the end to civil war and struggle which the first Emperor brought to Rome. Originally located just off the via del Corso (then the via Flaminia), the Ara Pacis was moved to its current location by the Mausoleum of Augustus as part of Mussolini's bombastic celebrations of the 2000th anniversary of Augustus' birth. The leaky pavilion hurriedly thrown up by Mussolini was replaced in 2006 by the gleaming glass and travertine case designed by Richard Meier much to the chagrin of many, although we like it.


Villa Giulia, Piazzale di Villa Giulia. (€4/€2. Open Tues-Sun 8.30am-7.30pm). The National Etruscan Museum is housed in the splendid mid 16th century villa of Pope Julius III. Designed in part by Michelangelo, it is well worth a visit in its own right. The mysterious Etruscans were a people who dominated the territories north of the Tiber for several centuries, most successfully in the 6th century BC when the last three kings of Rome were Etruscans. They spoke a language written with letters similar to Greek, but seemingly unconnected to any Indo-European language. The "Rosetta Stone" of Etruscan, the Lamine of Pyrgi, are three gold sheets upon which inscriptions in both Etruscan and Phoenecian are inscribed. Another star piece of the collection is the fabulous Apollo of Veio, a slightly larger than life-size painted terracotta statue of the god dating to c.500BC.


Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, Via del Corso, 305. (€9.50, €7 conc. Closed Thursdays). At the Piazza Venezia end of the Corso, the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj is one of the most important art collections in Rome still to be in private ownership. It gives a marvellous glimpse into the collecting whims of a major papal family in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and your entrance fee includes a charming audio guide in English narrated by Jonathon Doria Pamphilj, the current head of the family. When Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was elected Pope Innocent X in 1644, the family fortunes took a definite turn for the better. A few strategic marriages and a bit of shrewd collecting later, and the Pamphilj had built an art collection which includes works by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Velazquez and Bernini amongst others. A trust formed in the 17th century legally bound heirs to keep the collection intact, and masterpieces and lesser works are all the more fabulous for their setting in this beautiful (and under-visited) time machine.


Palazzo Barberini, Via Barberini (Metro: Barberini, 8.30am-7.30pm Tues-Sun, €5, €2.50 concessions). Built by Pope Urban VIII of the Barberini family, this palace saw the work of some of the greatest names of the 17th century, architects included Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Boromini, whilst the main hall has a breath-taking ceiling fresco by Pietro da Cortona. The collection includes the Fornarina by Raphael, said to be a portrait of his betrothed, a Holbein portrait of Henry VIII, and Caravaggio's gory Judith and Holfernes, amongst much else in its recently restored rooms.


Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna, Viale delle Belle Arti 131 (Villa Borghese, 8.30am-7.30pm Tues-Sun, €10/€8). On the other side of the Villa Borghese from the Galleria Borghese, this vast white neo-Classical building was built for an international exposition of 1911. It contains pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, including a vast and spectacular sculpture of Hercules by Canova, and works by Modigliani, Cezanne, Duchamp, Braque, De Chirico, and Klimt.


MACRO (Museo di Arte Contemporaneo di Roma), (9am-7pm Tues-Sun €4.50/€3.Ticket allows access to both MACRO and MACRO Future) via Reggio Emilia, 54 (close to Porta Pia). Opened in the late-90s in a converted brewery just outside the ancient city walls, MACRO was recently extended and offers a space for temporary shows of contemporary artists, both big names and young local talent. MACRO Future in the ex-Mattatoio at Testaccio (Piazza Giustiniani, 4pm-midnight Tues-Sun).


MAXXI (Museum of Art of the 21st century), via Guido Reni, 10. At the time of writing the building of MAXXI (by Anglo-Iraqi superstar architect Zaha Hadid) was finished, with the gallery's opening scheduled for May 2010.


Rus in Urbe


When the traffic, human and otherwise, gets too much here are our favourite green spots in town.


Villa Borghese - Occupying the Pincio hill, from outside the Porta del Popolo along to the top of the Spanish steps, the Borghese family's 17th century sub-urban retreat was always intended as a space open to the public. It became the property of the city in the early 20th century. A stone's throw from the bustling heart of the city, it is a perennially popular spot for a stroll, a picnic, a bike ride, or a jaunt on the boating lake.


Villa Doria Pamphilj - climb up the Janiculum from Trastevere, past the 17th century Fontanone ('big fountain', you can't miss it), and past the Porta San Pancrazio to the entrance to the vast Villa Doria Pamphilj. Once the property of the aristocratic Doria Pamphilj family, it is now one of the city's best loved open spaces.


Villa Celimontana - up on the Celian Hill, this was formerly property of the Mattei family, with its ancient palm trees it is a delightful spot for a stroll when the throngs around the nearby Colosseum get too much. On summer evenings the park is the atmospheric home to a Jazz Festival.


Orto Botanico - The charming Botanical Gardens in Trastevere occupy part of what was once the garden of the Palazzo Corsini, for a period home to Queen Christina of Sweden. Officially opened in 1833, this had been the site of the cultivation of medicinal herbs since the 13th century.


Parco della Caffarella - Take the metro to Colli Albani, and pass the famed Napoleone "pasticceria" (pastry shop) down Via Menghini to enter this rural oasis, closely connected to some of the most archaic legends associated with the city.



Cinema


Most non-Italian films shown in Rome are dubbed into Italian; for those which haven’t been dubbed look for versione originale (usually abbreviated to v.o. in listings).

Cinemas which regularly show films in the original language (usually English) include:

Metropolitan, via del Corso 7 (near piazza del Popolo). +39 063 200 933
Nuovo Olimpia, via in Lucina 16g (just off via del Corso). +39 06 686 1068
Warner Village Moderno, piazza della Repubblica. +39 06 4777 9111


Opera


For an authentic Italian opera experience try the Teatro dell’Opera, piazza Beniamino Gigli 7 (Metro: Repubblica) www.operaroma.it. Since 1937 the summer season of the Rome Opera has been in the splendid setting of the Baths of Caracalla. See the website to check performances and buy tickets.

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