Home to many of the world's greatest works of art, architecture and gastronomy, Italy elates, inspires and moves like no other.
Epicentre of the Roman Empire and birthplace of the Renaissance, this European virtuoso groans under the weight of its cultural cachet: it's here that you'll stand in the presence of Michelangelo's David and Sistine Chapel frescoes, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera and da Vinci's The Last Supper. In fact, Italy has more Unesco World Heritage cultural sites than any other country on Earth. Should you walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans in Pompeii, revel in Ravenna's glittering Byzantine treasures or get breathless over Giotto's revolutionary frescoes in Padua? It's a cultural conundrum as thrilling as it is overwhelming.
In few places do art and life intermingle so effortlessly. This may be the land of Dante, Titian and Verdi, but it's also the home of Prada, Massimo Bottura and Renzo Piano. Beauty, style and flair furnish every aspect of daily life, from those immaculately knotted ties and seamless espressos to the flirtatious smiles of striking strangers. The root of Italian psychology is a dedication to living life well, and effortless as it may seem, driving that dedication is a reverence for the finer things. So slow down, style up and indulge in a little vita all'italiana (life, Italian style).
It might look like a boot, but food-obsessed Italy feels more like a decadently stuffed Christmas stocking. From delicate tagliatelle al ragù (pasta ribbons in a meat-based sauce) to velvety cannoli (crisp pastry shells filled with sweet ricotta), every bite can feel like a revelation. The secret: superlative ingredients and finely tuned know-how. And while Italy's culinary soul might prefer simplicity, it's equally ingenious and sophisticated. Expect some of the world's top fine-dining destinations, from San Pellegrino 'World's Best 50' hot spots to Michelin-starred musts. So whether you're on a degustation odyssey in Modena, truffle hunting in Piedmont or swilling powerhouse reds in the Valpolicella wine region, prepare to loosen that belt.
Italy's fortes extend beyond its galleries, wardrobes and dining rooms. The country is one of nature's masterpieces, with extraordinary natural diversity matched by few. From the north's icy Alps and glacial lakes to the south's fiery craters and turquoise grottoes, this is a place for doing as well as seeing. One day you're tearing down Courmayeur's powdery slopes, the next you could be galloping across the marshes of the Maremma, or diving in coral-studded Campanian waters. Not bad for a country not much bigger than Arizona.
The art of the Italian meal
5 min read — Published August 5th, 2021
Travel writer Allison Tibaldi learned that a mishmash of whatever's in the fridge does not make a meal in Italy. She shares her story with Lonely Planet.
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Why you should go Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the Vatican Museums boast one of the world's greatest art collections. Exhibits, which are displayed along about 4 miles of halls and corridors, range from Egyptian mummies and Etruscan bronzes to ancient busts, old masters and modern paintings. Highlights include the spectacular collection of classical statuary in the Museo Pio-Clementino, a suite of rooms frescoed by Raphael, and the Michelangelo-painted Sistine Chapel. Housing the museums are the lavishly decorated halls and galleries of the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. This vast 13.6-acre complex consists of two palaces – the original Vatican palace (nearer to St Peter’s) and the 15th-century Palazzetto di Belvedere – joined by two long galleries. On the inside are three courtyards: the Cortile della Pigna, the Cortile della Biblioteca and, to the south, the Cortile del Belvedere. You’ll never cover it all in one day, so it pays to be selective. Museo Chiaramonti and Braccio Nuovo The Museo Chiaramonti is effectively the long corridor that runs down the east side of the Belvedere Palace. Its walls are lined with thousands of statues and busts representing everything from immortal gods to playful cherubs and ugly Roman patricians. Near the end of the hall, off to the right, is the Braccio Nuovo (New Wing), which contains a famous statue of the Nile as a reclining god covered by 16 babies. Museo Gregoriano Egizio (Egyptian Museum) Founded by Gregory XVI in 1839, this museum contains pieces taken from Egypt in Roman times. Fascinating exhibits include a fragmented statue of Ramses II on his throne, vividly painted sarcophagi dating from around 1000 BCE, and a macabre mummy. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco At the top of the 18th-century Simonetti staircase, the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco contains artifacts unearthed in the Etruscan tombs of northern Lazio, as well as a superb collection of vases and Roman antiquities. Of particular interest is the Marte di Todi (Mars of Todi), a black bronze of a warrior dating from the late 5th century BCE, located in Room III. Museo Pio-Clementino This stunning museum contains some of the Vatican Museums’ finest classical statuary, including the peerless Apollo Belvedere and the 1st-century Laocoön, both in the Cortile Ottagono (Octagonal Courtyard). Before you go into the courtyard, take a moment to admire the 1st-century Apoxyomenos, one of the earliest known sculptures to depict a figure with a raised arm. To the left as you enter the courtyard, the Apollo Belvedere is a 2nd-century Roman copy of a 4th-century-BCE Greek bronze. A beautifully proportioned representation of the sun god Apollo, it’s considered one of the great masterpieces of classical sculpture. Nearby, the Laocoön depicts a muscular Trojan priest and his two sons in mortal struggle with two sea serpents. Back inside, the Sala degli Animali is filled with sculpted creatures and some magnificent 4th-century mosaics. Continuing on, you come to the Sala delle Muse, centered on the Torso Belvedere, another of the museum’s must-sees. A fragment of a muscular 1st-century-BCE Greek sculpture, this was found in Campo de’ Fiori and used by Michelangelo as a model for his ignudi (male nudes) in the Sistine Chapel. The next room, the Sala Rotonda, contains a number of colossal statues, including a gilded-bronze Ercole (Hercules), and an exquisite floor mosaic. The enormous basin in the center of the room was found at Nero’s Domus Aurea and is made out of a single piece of red porphyry stone. Pinacoteca Often overlooked by visitors but full of major works, the papal picture gallery contains Raphael’s last work, La Trasfigurazione (Transfiguration; 1517–20), as well as paintings by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Perugino, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Guido Reni, Guercino, Pietro da Cortona, Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci, whose haunting San Girolamo penitente nel deserto (St Jerome Praying in the Wilderness; c 1480-82) was never finished. Sistine Chapel Home to two of the world’s most famous works of art – Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes (1508–12) and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment; 1536–41) – the Sistine Chapel is the one place everyone wants to see, and on a busy day you could find yourself sharing it with up to 2000 people. Michelangelo's ceiling design, which is best viewed from the chapel’s main entrance in the far east wall, covers the entire 8611-sq-ft surface. With painted architectural features and a cast of colorful biblical characters, it's centered on nine panels depicting stories from the book of Genesis. As you look up from the east wall, the first panel is the Drunkenness of Noah, followed by The Flood, and the Sacrifice of Noah. Next, Original Sin and Banishment from the Garden of Eden famously depicts Adam and Eve being sent packing after accepting the forbidden fruit from Satan, represented by a snake with the body of a woman coiled around a tree. The Creation of Eve is then followed by the Creation of Adam. This, one of the most famous images in Western art, shows a bearded God pointing his finger at Adam, thus bringing him to life. Completing the sequence are the Separation of Land from Sea; the Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants; and the Separation of Light from Darkness, featuring a fearsome God reaching out to touch the sun. Set around the central panels are 20 athletic male nudes, known as ignudi. Opposite, on the west wall is Michelangelo’s mesmeric Giudizio Universale, showing Christ – in the center near the top – passing sentence over the souls of the dead as they are torn from their graves to face him. The saved get to stay up in heaven (in the upper right), the damned are sent down to face the demons in hell (in the bottom right). Near the bottom, on the right, you’ll see a man with donkey ears and a snake wrapped around him. This is Biagio de Cesena, the papal master of ceremonies, who was a fierce critic of Michelangelo’s composition. Another famous figure is St Bartholomew, just beneath Christ, holding his own flayed skin. The face in the skin is said to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo, its anguished look reflecting the artist’s tormented faith. The chapel’s walls also boast superb frescoes. Painted in 1481–82 by a crack team of Renaissance artists, including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, Perugino and Luca Signorelli, they represent events in the lives of Moses (to the left looking at the Giudizio Universale) and Christ (to the right). Highlights include Botticelli’s Temptations of Christ and Perugino’s Handing over of the Keys. As well as providing a showcase for priceless art, the Sistine Chapel also serves an important religious function as the place where the conclave meets to elect a new pope. Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) These four frescoed chambers, currently undergoing partial restoration, were part of Pope Julius II’s private apartments. Raphael himself painted the Stanza della Segnatura (1508–11) and Stanza d’Eliodoro (1512–14), while the Stanza dell’Incendio (1514–17) and Sala di Costantino (1517–24) were decorated by students following his designs. The first room you come to is the Sala di Costantino, which features a huge fresco depicting Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge. The Stanza d’Eliodoro, which was used for private audiences, takes its name from the Cacciata d’Eliodoro (Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple), an allegorical work reflecting Pope Julius II’s policy of forcing foreign powers off Church lands. To its right, the Messa di Bolsena (Mass of Bolsena) shows Julius paying homage to the relic of a 13th-century miracle at the lakeside town of Bolsena. Next is the Incontro di Leone Magno con Attila (Encounter of Leo the Great with Attila) by Raphael and his school and, on the fourth wall, the Liberazione di San Pietro (Liberation of St Peter), a brilliant work illustrating Raphael’s masterful ability to depict light. The Stanza della Segnatura, Julius’ study and library, was the first room that Raphael painted, and it’s here that you’ll find his great masterpiece, La Scuola di Atene (The School of Athens), featuring philosophers and scholars gathered around Plato and Aristotle. The seated figure in front of the steps is believed to be Michelangelo, while the figure of Plato is said to be a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, and Euclide (the bald man bending over) is Bramante. Raphael also included a self-portrait in the lower right corner – he’s the second figure from the right. The most famous work in the Stanza dell’Incendio di Borgo is the Incendio di Borgo (Fire in the Borgo), which depicts Pope Leo IV extinguishing a fire by making the sign of the cross. The ceiling was painted by Raphael’s master, Perugino. Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Map Gallery) The last of three galleries on the upper floor – the other two are the Galleria dei Candelabri (Gallery of the Candelabra) and Galleria degli Arazzi (Tapestry Gallery) – this 394-ft-long corridor is hung with 40 16th-century topographical maps of Italy. Tickets and other practicalities Check online for the array of available tours, among them are some that include the Vatican Gardens or the Castel Gandolfo. Avoid what can be atrocious lines for the museum by buying your ticket in advance online. Print out the voucher and swap it in for a ticket at the appointed time in the entrance atrium. Overall, exhibits are not well labeled, so consider hiring an audio guide (€8 or $9.66) or purchasing a guidebook to the museums. The museums are well equipped for visitors with disabilities, with suggested itineraries, lifts and specially fitted toilets. Wheelchairs are available free of charge from the Special Permits desk in the entrance hall, and can be reserved by emailing email@example.com. Parents with toddlers can take strollers into the museums. Onsite/nearby restaurants There's a fine bistro in the Cortile della Pigna, a complex of self-service cafeterias and a cafe with an outdoor patio near the Pinacoteca. For a real bite to remember, leave the museums and head to Bonci Pizzarium, one of Rome’s best pizza al taglio (sliced pizza) joints.
An impressive – if rather confusing – sprawl of ruins, the Roman Forum was ancient Rome's showpiece center, a grandiose district of temples, basilicas and vibrant public spaces. The site, originally a marshy burial ground, was first developed in the 7th century BCE, growing over time to become the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman empire. If you can get your imagination going, there’s something wonderfully compelling about walking in the footsteps of Julius Caesar and other legendary figures of Roman history. Signature sights include the Arco di Settimio Severo, the Curia, the Tempio di Saturno and the Arco di Tito. History The Roman Forum was the center of daily life in ancient Rome, the site of public gatherings, trials, elections and gladiatorial combat. Markets and shops lined the narrow alleys and streets. During the Roman Empire, the Forum became the site of the city's grandest monuments and temples. Like many of ancient Rome's great urban developments, the Forum fell into disrepair after the fall of the Roman Empire until it was eventually used as pasture land. In the Middle Ages it was known as the Campo Vaccino (Cow Field) and extensively plundered for its stone and marble. The area was systematically excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries, and excavations continue to this day. Touring the Roman Forum buildings Via Sacra towards Campidoglio Entering from Largo della Salara Vecchia – you can also enter directly from the Palatino or via an entrance near the Arco di Tito – you'll see the Tempio di Antonino e Faustina ahead to your left. Erected in 141 CE, this was transformed into a church in the 8th century, the Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda. To your right, the 179 BCE Basilica Fulvia Aemilia was a 100m-long (328ft-long) public hall with a two-story porticoed facade. At the end of the path, you'll come to Via Sacra, the Forum’s main thoroughfare, and the Tempio di Giulio Cesare (also known as the Tempio del Divo Giulio). Built by Augustus in 29 BCE, this marks the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated after his assassination in 44 BCE. Heading right up Via Sacra brings you to the Curia, the original seat of the Roman Senate. This barn-like construction was rebuilt on various occasions before being converted into a church in the Middle Ages. What you see today is a 1937 reconstruction of how it looked in the reign of Diocletian (r 284–305). In front of the Curia, and hidden by scaffolding, is the Lapis Niger, a large slab of black marble that's said to cover the tomb of Romulus. At the end of Via Sacra, the 23m-high (75ft-high) Arco di Settimio Severo was built in 203 CE to commemorate the Roman victory over the Parthians. It is dedicated to the eponymous emperor and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. In front of the arch are the remains of the Rostri, an elaborate podium where Shakespeare had Mark Antony make his famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen…" speech. Facing this, the Colonna di Foca (Column of Phocus) rises above what was once the Forum's main square, Piazza del Foro. The eight granite columns that rise behind the Colonna are all that remain of the Tempio di Saturno, an important temple that doubled as the state treasury. Behind it are (from north to south): the ruins of the Tempio della Concordia, the Tempio di Vespasiano, and the Portico degli Dei Consenti. Basilica Guilia & Tempio di Castore e Polluce On the southern side of Piazza del Foro, you'll see the stubby ruins of the Basilica Giulia, which was begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus. At the end of the basilica, three columns remain from the 5th-century BCE Tempio di Castore e Polluce. Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua Nearby, the 6th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest and most important Christian site on the forum. Its cavernous interior, reopened in 2016 after a lengthy restoration, is a treasure trove of early Christian art with exquisite 6th- to 9th-century frescoes and a hanging depiction of the Virgin Mary with child, one of the earliest icons in existence. Accessible from the church is the Rampa di Domiziano, a vast underground passageway that allowed the emperors to access the forum from their Palatine palaces without being seen. Via Sacra towards the Colosseum Back towards Via Sacra is the Casa delle Vestali, home of the Vestal Virgins who tended the sacred flame in the adjoining Tempio di Vesta. The six virgin priestesses were selected from patrician families when aged between 6 and 10 to serve in the temple for 30 years. If the flame in the temple went out the priestess responsible would be flogged, and if she lost her virginity she would be buried alive. The offending man would be flogged to death. Continuing up Via Sacra, past the circular Tempio di Romolo, you'll come to the Basilica di Massenzio, the largest building on the forum. Started by the Emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine in 315, it originally measured approximately 100m (328ft) by 65m (213ft), roughly three times what it now covers. Beyond the basilica, the Arco di Tito was built in 81 CE to celebrate Vespasian and Titus' victories against rebels in Jerusalem. Nearby restaurants For a restorative coffee break, head up to the Campidoglio and the Terrazza Caffarelli, the Capitoline Museums' panoramic rooftop cafe. If you want something more substantial, search out Terre e Domus, which serves excellent regional cuisine and fine local wines. Tips for visiting the Roman Forum 1. Get grandstand views of the Forum from the Palatino and Campidoglio. 2. Visit first thing in the morning or late afternoon; crowds are worst between 11am and 2pm. 3. In summer it gets very hot and there’s little shade, so take a hat and plenty of water. Comfortable shoes are a must. 4. If you're caught short, there are toilets by the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua. Tickets and admissions To visit the Roman Forum's internal sites, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua, Rampa di Domiziano and Tempio di Romolo, you'll need to purchase a SUPER ticket and plan carefully. The ticket, valid for two consecutive days, covers the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatino. The Roman Forum sites (Tempio di Romolo, Chiesa di Santa Maria in Antiqua, Rampa di Domiziano) are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons.
Sandwiched between the Roman Forum and the Circo Massimo, the Palatino (Palatine Hill) is one of Rome's most spectacular sights. It's a beautiful, atmospheric spot, complete with towering pine trees, majestic ruins and unforgettable views. This is where Romulus supposedly founded the city in 753 BCE, and Rome's emperors lived in palatial luxury. Look out for the stadio (stadium), the ruins of the Domus Flavia (imperial palace), and grandstand views over the Roman Forum from the viewing balcony in the Orti Farnesiani. Rome’s mythical founders, twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were supposedly brought up on the Palatino by a shepherd, Faustulus, after a wolf saved them from death. Their shelter, the 8th century BCE Capanne Romulee (Romulean Huts), is situated near the Casa di Augusto. In 2007 the discovery of a mosaic-covered cave 15m (49ft) beneath the Domus Augustana reignited interest in the legend. According to some scholars, this was the "Lupercale," the cave where ancient Romans thought Romulus and Remus had been suckled by the wolf. History Roman myth holds that Romulus established Rome on the Palatino after he killed Remus in a fit of rage. Archaeological evidence, however, puts the establishment of a village here to the early Iron Age (around 830 BCE). As the most central of Rome's seven hills, and because it was close to the Roman Forum, the Palatino was the ancient city's most exclusive neighborhood. The emperor Augustus lived here all his life, and successive emperors built increasingly opulent palaces – in fact, the word "palace" is derived from the hill's Latin name, "Palatium." But after Rome's decline, the area fell into disrepair, and in the Middle Ages churches and castles were built over the ruins. During the Renaissance, members of wealthy families had landscaped gardens laid out on the site. Most of the Palatino as it appears today is covered by the ruins of Emperor Domitian's vast complex, which served as the main imperial palace for 300 years. Divided into the Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana, and a stadio, it was built in the 1st century CE. What to see On entering the complex from the main entrance on Via di San Gregorio, continue left until you come to a gate giving onto a path (open 9am to 3pm). This skirts the hill's southern flank, offering good views up to the ruins and providing a clear chronology of the Palatino's development – as you walk, you're essentially going back in time as the ruins become increasingly older. Back on the main site, the first recognizable construction you come to is the stadio. This sunken area, which was part of the main imperial palace, was probably used by the emperors for private games and events. A path to the side of it leads to the towering remains of a complex built by Septimius Severus, comprising baths and a palace. Here you can enjoy sweeping views over the Circo Massimo and, if they're open, visit the Arcate Severiane , a series of arches built to facilitate further development. On the other side of the stadio are the ruins of the huge Domus Augustana, the emperor's private quarters in the imperial palace. This was built on two levels, with rooms leading off a peristilio (peristyle or porticoed courtyard) on each floor. You can't get down to the lower level, but from above you can see the basin of a big, square fountain and beyond it rooms that would originally have been paved in colored marble. Also here are the Aula Isiaca and Loggia Mattei, two of several sites accessible with a SUPER ticket. The former is a frescoed room from a luxurious Republican-era house, while the latter is a Renaissance loggia decorated by Baldassarre Peruzzi. The white building next to the Domus Augustana is the Museo Palatino, a small museum which charts the development of the Palatino with video presentations, models and archaeological finds. North of the museum is the Domus Flavia, the public part of the palace complex. This was centered on a grand columned peristyle – the grassy area you see with the base of an octagonal fountain – off which the main halls led. To the north was the emperor's audience chamber ( aula Regia); to the west, a basilica where the emperor judged legal disputes; and to the south, a large banquet hall, the triclinium. Near the Domus, the Casa di Livia is one of the Palatino's best preserved buildings. Home to Augustus' wife Livia, it was built around an atrium leading onto what were once reception rooms decorated with frescoes of mythological scenes, landscapes, fruits and flowers. Nearby, the Casa di Augusto, Augustus' private residence, features some superb frescoes in vivid reds, yellows and blues. Near to the Casa di Augusto, but closed off to visitors, are the Capanne Romulee, where it's thought Romulus and Remus were brought up by a local shepherd named Faustulus. Northeast of the Casa di Livia lies the Criptoportico Neroniano, a 130m (427ft) tunnel where Caligula was thought to have been murdered, and which Nero later used to connect his Domus Aurea with the Palatino. The area west of this was once Tiberius' palace, the Domus Tiberiana, but is now home to the 16th century Orti Farnesiani, one of Europe's earliest botanical gardens. A viewing balcony at the northern end of the garden commands breathtaking views over the Roman Forum. Tickets and other practicalities Access to the Casa di Livia and Casa di Augusto requires the SUPER ticket and is by guided tour only. The ticket, valid for two consecutive days, covers the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatino. Numbers are limited, so it's best to book an entry time when you buy your ticket.
Why you should go Everyone wants to see the Colosseum, and it doesn’t disappoint, especially if accompanied by tales of armored gladiators and hungry lions. More than any other monument, this iconic amphitheater symbolizes the power and drama of ancient Rome, and still today it’s an electrifying sight. Inaugurated in 80 CE, the 50,000-seat Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, has survived in remarkably good shape. And it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to picture it in its pomp, with its steeply stacked stands full of frenzied spectators as armored gladiators slug it out on the arena below. After 2000 years, it's still Italy's top tourist attraction, drawing more than seven million visitors a year. To avoid the crowds, visit in the early morning or late afternoon. Consider booking tickets online, and make sure to get in the right entry line – the quickest are for those with pre-purchased tickets or passes. History The emperor Vespasian (r 69–79 CE) originally commissioned the amphitheater in 72 CE in the grounds of Nero's vast Domus Aurea complex. But he never lived to see it finished, and it was completed by his son and successor Titus (r 79–81) a year after his death. To mark its inauguration, Titus held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5000 animals were slaughtered. Trajan (r 98–117) later topped this, holding a marathon 117-day killing spree involving 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals. The arena was originally named the "Anfiteatro Flavio" after Vespasian's family (Flavian), and although it was Rome’s most fearsome arena, it wasn’t the biggest – the Circo Massimo could hold up to 250,000 people. The name "Colosseum," when introduced in medieval times, was not a reference to its size but to the Colosso di Nerone, a giant statue of Nero that stood nearby. The outer walls have three levels of arches, framed by decorative columns topped by capitals of the Ionic (at the bottom), Doric and Corinthian (at the top) orders. They were originally covered in travertine and marble statues filled the niches on the second and third stories. The upper level, punctuated with windows and slender Corinthian pilasters, had supports for the 240 masts that held the awning over the arena, shielding the spectators from sun and rain. The 80 entrance arches, known as "vomitoria," allowed the spectators to enter and be seated in a matter of minutes. The Colosseum's interior was divided into three parts: the arena, cavea and podium. The arena had a wooden floor covered in sand – "harena" in Latin, hence the word "arena" – to prevent the combatants from slipping and to soak up spilled blood. Trapdoors led down to underground chambers and passageways beneath the arena floor – the hypogeum (aka Sotterranei del Colosseo). Animals in cages and sets for the various battles were hoisted up to the arena by 80 winch-operated lifts. The cavea, for spectator seating, was divided into three tiers: magistrates and senior officials sat in the lowest tier, wealthy citizens in the middle and the plebs in the highest tier. Women (except for Vestal Virgins) were relegated to the cheapest sections at the top. The podium, a broad terrace in front of the tiers of seats, was reserved for emperors, senators and VIPs. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Colosseum was abandoned. In the Middle Ages it became a fortress occupied by the powerful Frangipani family. Later, it was plundered of its precious travertine, and marble stripped from it was used to decorate notable buildings such as Palazzo Venezia, Palazzo Barberini and Palazzo Cancelleria. More recently, pollution and vibrations caused by traffic and the metro have taken a toll. To help counter this, it was given a major clean up between 2014 and 2016, the first in its 2000-year history, as part of an ongoing €25-million ($30 million-plus) restoration project. Tickets and other practicalities General admission tickets and tours can be purchased online for €16 ($19.21) plus a €2 ($2.40) booking fee. Valid for 24 hours, each ticket allows one entrance to the Colosseum and one entrance to the Forum-Palatine area. A ticket purchased on Friday can be used on Monday. You might also consider getting the Roma Pass or SUPER ticket. If you don't want to buy a ticket online, and the lines onsite are long, you can get your ticket at the Palatino. The top three floors (known collectively as the "Terrazzo Belvedere") and hypogeum are accessible only by guided tour. These require advance booking and there is an additional charge on top of the normal Colosseum ticket. A guided tour of the Colosseum's main area can be booked for an additional fee as well. Basic full-price admission tickets can be pre-printed; others (reduced/free/tours) must be picked up on site. Print your ticket rather than relying on a saved smartphone version. The Colosseum is open from 10:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday and is closed Saturday and Sunday. Visitors are screened at security checkpoints. Glass containers, alcoholic beverages, aerosols, backpacks, bulky bags and luggage are prohibited. Medium and small backpacks will be inspected. Nearby restaurants Avoid the rip-off restaurants in the immediate vicinity. Instead push on to the area east of the Colosseum for a light casual meal at Cafè Cafè. Alternatively, head up to Via Cavour where Cavour 313 is a good bet for a glass of wine accompanied by platters of cheese and cured meats.
Why you should go In the city of outstanding churches, none can hold a candle to St Peter's, Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular basilica. Built atop a 4th-century church, it was consecrated in Rome in 1626 after 120 years of construction. Its lavish interior contains many spectacular works of art, including three of Italy's most celebrated masterpieces: Michelangelo’s Pietà, his soaring dome, and Bernini’s 95ft-high (29m) baldachin over the papal altar. The cavernous 646 ft-long (187m) interior covers more than 3.7 acres (15,000 sq m). Michelangelo's hauntingly beautiful Pietà was sculpted when he was only 25, and it is the only work the artist ever signed – his signature is etched into the sash across the Madonna's breast. Nearby, a red floor disc marks the spot where Charlemagne and later Holy Roman Emperors were crowned by the pope. Dominating the center of the basilica is Bernini's famous baldachin. Supported by four spiral columns and made with bronze taken from the Pantheon, it stands over the high altar, which itself sits on the site of St Peter's grave. The pope is the only priest permitted to serve at the altar. Above, Michelangelo's dome soars to a height of 390ft (119m). Based on Brunelleschi's design for the Duomo in Florence, the towering cupola is supported by four stone piers named after the saints whose statues adorn the Bernini-designed niches – Longinus, Helena, Veronica and Andrew. From the dome entrance on the right of the basilica's main portico, you can walk the 551 steps to the top or take a small elevator halfway and then follow on foot for the last 320 steps. Either way, it's a long, steep climb. But make it to the top, and you're rewarded with stunning rooftop views. At the base of the Pier of St Longinus is Arnolfo di Cambio's much-loved 13th-century bronze statue of St Peter, whose right foot has been worn down by centuries of caresses. Accessed from the left nave, the Museo Storico Artistico sparkles with sacred relics, including a tabernacle by Donatello and the 6th-century Crux Vaticana, a jewel-studded cross that was a gift of the emperor Justinian II. And extending beneath the basilica, the Vatican Grottoes contain the tombs and sarcophagi of numerous popes, as well as several huge columns from the original 4th-century basilica. The entrance is in the Pier of St Andrew. Excavations beneath the basilica have uncovered part of the original church and what archaeologists believe is the Tomb of St Peter. In 1942, the bones of an elderly, strongly built man were found in a box hidden behind a wall covered by pilgrims' graffiti. And while the Vatican has never definitively claimed that the bones belong to St Peter, in 1968 Pope Paul VI said that they had been identified in a way that the Vatican considered "convincing." The excavations can only be visited by guided tour. For further details, and to book a tour (this must be done well in advance), check out the website of the Ufficio Scavi. History The original church was commissioned by the emperor Constantine and built around 349 on the site where St Peter is said to have been buried between 64-67 CE. But like many medieval churches, it eventually fell into disrepair, and it wasn’t until the mid-15th century that efforts were made to restore it, first by Pope Nicholas V and then, rather more successfully, by Julius II. In 1506 construction began on Bramante's design for a new basilica based on a Greek-cross plan, with four equal arms and a huge central dome. But on Bramante’s death in 1514, building ground to a halt as architects, including Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo, tried to modify his original plans. Little progress was made, and it wasn’t until Michelangelo took over in 1547 at the age of 72 that the situation changed. Michelangelo simplified Bramante’s plans and drew up designs for what was to become his greatest architectural achievement, the dome. He never lived to see it built, though, and it was left to Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana to finish it in 1590. With the dome in place, Carlo Maderno inherited the project in 1605. He designed the monumental facade and lengthened the nave towards the piazza. Built between 1608 and 1612, Carlo Maderno’s immense facade is 157 ft (48m) high and 377 ft (115m) wide. Eight 89-ft high (27m) columns support the upper attic on which 13 statues stand representing Christ the Redeemer, St John the Baptist and the 11 apostles. The central balcony is known as the Loggia della Benedizione, and it’s from here that the pope delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" blessing at Christmas and Easter. Tips Expect lines and note that strict dress codes are enforced (no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders). Free two-hour, English-language tours of the basilica are run by seminarians from the Pontifical North American College between October and May. These generally start at 2:15 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, leaving from the Centro Servizi Pellegrini e Turisti (no tickets necessary; check online for details).
Why you should go With its showy fountains, baroque palazzi and colorful cast of street artists, hawkers and tourists, Piazza Navona is central Rome’s elegant showcase square. Built over the 1st-century Stadio di Domiziano , it was paved over in the 15th century and for almost 300 years hosted the city's main market. To catch the piazza at its most alluring, come first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive or after dark when the fountains are illuminated. Fill up with water at the nasone ("big nose") drinking fountain in the north of the piazza. Another draw is the historic Christmas market staged in December, which traditionally runs until Jan. 6. History Its grand centerpiece is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a flamboyant fountain featuring an Egyptian obelisk and muscular personifications of the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate. According to legend, the Nile figure is shielding his eyes to avoid looking at the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone, designed by Bernini’s bitter rival Borromini. In truth, Bernini had completed his fountain two years before Borromini started work on the church's facade, and the gesture simply indicated that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time. Other fountains include the Fontana del Moro, at the southern end of the square, which was designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1576. Bernini added the Moor in the mid-17th century, but the surrounding Tritons are 19th-century copies. And at the northern end of the piazza, the 19th-century Fontana del Nettuno depicts Neptune fighting with a sea monster, surrounded by sea nymphs. In addition to the fountains, top sights here include the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone. With its theatrical facade and rich, domed interior, it is typical of Francesco Borromini’s baroque style. The church, which regularly hosts classical music concerts, is said to stand on the spot where the martyr Agnes performed a miracle before being killed. Legend has it that after being stripped naked by her executioners, her hair miraculously grew to cover her body and preserve her modesty. Also worth noting is the Palazzo Pamphilj which was commissioned by Giovanni Battista Pamphilj to celebrate his election as Pope Innocent X. This elegant baroque palazzo was built between 1644 and 1650 by Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi. Inside, there are some impressive frescoes by Pietro da Cortona, but the building, which has been the Brazilian Embassy since 1920, can only be visited on a pre-booked guided tour. Like many of the city’s landmarks, the piazza sits atop an ancient monument, in this case the Stadio di Domiziano. This 30,000-seat stadium, whose subterranean remains can be accessed from Via di Tor Sanguigna, used to host athletic meets – hence the name Navona, a corruption of the Greek word "agon," meaning public games. Inevitably, though, it fell into disrepair and it wasn’t until the 15th century that the crumbling arena was paved over and Rome’s central market was transferred here from the Campidoglio. Nearby restaurants Around Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori and the Pantheon you’ll find all manner of places to eat, including some of the capital’s best restaurants (both contemporary and old-school), several excellent gelaterie and a number of highly rated street-food joints. Needless to say, there are also hundreds of overpriced tourist traps. To the south, the atmospheric Ghetto is the place to head to for traditional Roman-Jewish cuisine. Housed in the ground floor of Palazzo Braschi at the southern end of the piazza, Vivi Bistrot is a charming spot for a lunchtime bite. Another good option is Etablì, a cool bar-restaurant in the warren of streets west of the square.
Why you should go A striking 2000-year-old temple, now a church, the Pantheon is the best preserved of Rome’s ancient monuments and one of the most influential buildings in the Western world. Built by Hadrian over Marcus Agrippa’s earlier 27 BCE temple, it has stood since around 125 CE. And while its greying, pockmarked exterior might look its age, it's still a unique and exhilarating experience to pass through its vast bronze doors and gaze up at the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built. It’s vast, and you’ll feel very small as you look up at the record-breaking dome soaring above your head. Adding to the effect are the shafts of light that stream in through the central oculus (the circular opening at the dome’s apex), illuminating the royal tombs set into the marble-clad interior. With its revolutionary design, this awe-inspiring temple has served as an architectural blueprint for millennia. History For centuries, the inscription under the pediment – “M:AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT,” or “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulate built this” – led scholars to think that the current building was Agrippa's original temple. However, 19th-century excavations revealed traces of an earlier temple and historians realized that Hadrian had simply kept Agrippa's original inscription. Hadrian's temple was dedicated to the classical gods – hence the name Pantheon, a derivation of the Greek words pan (all) and theos (god) – but in 608 CE, it was consecrated as a Christian church, and it's now officially known as the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres. Thanks to this consecration, it was spared the worst of the medieval plundering that reduced many of Rome's ancient buildings to near dereliction. But it didn't escape entirely unscathed – its gilded-bronze roof tiles were removed and bronze from the portico was used by Bernini for his baldachin at St Peter's Basilica. Its exterior is a massively imposing sight with 16 Corinthian columns, each 39ft (11.8m) high and each made from a single block of Egyptian granite, supporting a triangular pediment. Rivets and holes in the brickwork indicate where the original marble-veneer panels were removed. During the Renaissance, the building was much studied – Brunelleschi used it as inspiration for his cupola in Florence – and it became an important burial chamber. In the cavernous marble-clad interior you'll find the tomb of the artist Raphael, alongside those of kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I. Tips and other practicalities Each Pentecost, tens of thousands of red petals are rained down on the Pantheon through the oculus. This centuries-old tradition represents the Holy Spirit descending to earth. Tourist visits are not allowed during mass (from 5pm Saturday and from 10:30am Sunday). An audio guide costs €7 ($8.47). There is talk of an admission charge being levied in the future. Restaurants nearby The streets around the Pantheon are thick with trattorias, cafes and bars. For an uplifting espresso, try the nearby La Casa del Caffè Tazza d’Oro, one of Rome's finest coffee houses. On the other side of the Pantheon, Ginger is a contemporary all-day dining spot, good for sandwiches, burgers and full-on restaurant meals.
Why you should go Rome's most famous fountain, the iconic Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain, is a flamboyant baroque ensemble of mythical figures and wild horses taking up the entire side of the 17th-century Palazzo Poli. Thousands visit the fountain every day, keeping up with the tradition of tossing a coin into the water to ensure they will return to Rome. That, and it makes for a great photo opportunity. On average, about €3000 ($3600) is thrown in daily. Want to avoid the crowds? Visit later in the evening, when the fountain is beautifully lit, and you can appreciate its foaming majesty in a quieter environment. History The fountain's design, the work of Nicola Salvi in 1732, depicts sea-god Oceanus in a shell-shaped chariot led by Tritons with seahorses – one wild, one docile – representing the moods of the sea. In the niche to the left of Neptune, a statue represents Abundance; to the right is Salubrity. The water comes from the Aqua Virgo, a 1st-century-BCE underground aqueduct, and the name Trevi refers to the "tre vie" (three roads) that converge at the fountain. The famous tradition of tossing a coin into the fountain to ensure your trip to Rome comes from the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain. The money thrown into the Trevi is collected daily and goes to the Catholic charity Caritas, with its yield increasing significantly since the crackdown on people extracting the money for themselves. Most famously, Trevi Fountain is where movie star Anita Ekberg cavorted in a ballgown in director Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita (1960); apparently she wore waders under her iconic black dress but still shivered during the winter shoot. In the summer of 2016, a British woman was fined €450 ($542) for dancing in the fountain in an evening dress and fur stole in blatant imitation of the iconic actress. In 2016, fashion house Fendi staged a "Legends and Fairytales" fashion show at the fountain during which catwalk models walked on water – or rather strutted across a glass walkway constructed above the emerald water – as the sun set over this Roman icon. It was given permission to do so in acknowledgment of its €2.18 million ($2.62 million) sponsorship of the fountain's restoration. Trevi Fountain rules and etiquette Paddling or bathing in the fountain is strictly forbidden, as is eating and drinking on the steps leading down to the water. Both crimes risk an on-the-spot fine of up to €500 ($600). Coin-tossing etiquette includes throwing with your right hand over your left shoulder, with your back facing the fountain. Nearby restaurants Indulge in a tasty Tuscan lunch before or afterwards at Il Chianti or head to Hostaria Romana, beloved by tourists and locals alike. Brasserie-style Baccano is a great all-rounder, perfect for a drink or snack whatever the time of day. San Crispino is the nearest recommended gelateria for cool treat after admiring the fountain.
Extending beneath the Basilica di San Sebastiano, these underground burial chambers were the first to be called catacombs – the name was derived from the Greek kata (near) and kymbas (cavity), because they were located near a cave. They were heavily developed from the 1st century, and during the persecutory reign of Vespasian, they provided a safe haven for the remains of Saints Peter and Paul. Tours are offered in several languages and last about 45 minutes, with moderate stair climbing. The 1st level is now almost completely destroyed, but frescoes, stucco work and epigraphs can be seen on the 2nd level. There are also three perfectly preserved mausoleums and a plastered wall with hundreds of invocations to Peter and Paul, engraved by worshippers in the 3rd and 4th centuries. There's even a section of pagan Roman tombs. Above the catacombs, the basilica, a much-altered 4th-century church, preserves one of the arrows allegedly used to kill St Sebastian, and the column to which he was tied. It's also home to the last sculpture created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a marble bust of Jesus known as the Salvator Mundi (1679). Tickets and other practicalities The catacombs are open from 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday, with the last entrance at 4:30pm. They are closed in December. Standard tickets are € 8 ($9.72), and reduced tickets for ages 7-16, students and priests are €5 ($6.08). For more specifics, check the Catacombe di San Sebastiano website. Children under 6 and caregivers for people with disabilities are free.
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