Rome (Italian: Roma), the Eternal City, is the capital and largest city of Italy and of the Lazio region. It's the famed city of the Roman Empire, the Seven Hills, La Dolce Vita (the sweet life), the Vatican City and Three Coins in the Fountain. Rome, as a millenium-long centre of power, culture (having been the cradle of one of the globe's greatest civilisations ever) and religion, has exerted a huge influence over the world in its circa 2800 years of existence.
The historic centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With wonderful palaces, millennium-old churches, grand romantic ruins, opulent monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, Rome has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of Europe's and the world's most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals.
What to see in Rome
The main area for exploring the ruins of ancient Rome is in Rome/Colosseo either side of via dei Fori Imperiali, which connects the Colosseum and piazza Venezia. Laid out between 1924 and 1932, at Mussolini's request, the works for such an imposing boulevard required the destruction of a large area of Renaissance and medieval buildings constructed on top of ruins of the ancient forums, and ended forever plans for an archaeological park stretching all the way to the Appian Way.
In Old Rome you must see the Pantheon, which is amazingly well preserved considering it dates back to 125AD. There is a hole constructed in the ceiling so it is an interesting experience to be there when it is raining. If you are heading to the Pantheon from piazza Venezia you will first reach largo di Torre Argentina, on your left.
If you are in Rome for the art there are several world-class museums in the city. The natural starting point is a visit to the area of Villa Borghese in Campo Marzio, where there is a cluster of art museums. Galleria Borghese houses a previously private art collection of the Borghese family, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia is home of the world's largest Etruscan art collection, and the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna houses many Italian masterpieces as well as a few pieces by artists such as Cézanne, Modigliani, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh. The Capitoline Museums in the Colosseo district opens their doors to the city's most important collection of antique Roman and Greek art and sculptures. Visit the Galleria d'Arte Antica, housed in the Barberini palace in the Modern center, for Italian Renaissance and Baroque art.
What to do in Rome
- Greet the Old Masters of the Capitoline - This is the city that has nurtured the art of Michelangelo. Housed in twin palaces on opposite sides of his piazza del Campidoglio are the Capitoline Museums. They constitute the oldest public gallery in the world, having opened their collection to the public in 1734. Once inside, you can admire breathtaking paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Caravaggio, and beautifully crafted statues by the Baroque genius Bernini. While on the art trail, don't miss the Borghese Gallery and the Palazzo Barberini Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica.
- Connect with your inner gladiator at the Colosseum - The Colosseum is a monument of epic proportions. Stories of gory battles between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals have emerged from this Flavian amphitheatre, which dates from AD 72. A vast arena of entertainment, with a seating capacity of over 50,000 people, it could fill up in 10 minutes. Nowhere in the world was there a larger or more glorious setting for mass slaughter. Today, the only gladiators that you will see are the ones parked outside for the tourist shutterbugs. But this is a necessary pilgrimage for history buffs, and the ideal starting point from which to take in the Roman remains of the city: the jaw-dropping Forum, the Domus Aurea and the Pantheon.
- Stroll through the Gardens of the Villa Borghese - Like any other capital city, Rome can be overwhelming. When the Colosseum starts to weigh down on you, find serenity in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, the city's most central public park. It's popular with joggers, dog-walkers and pleasure seekers. In recent years, it has grown a contemporary art museum in the Orangerie: the Museo Carlo Bilotti. To escape the crowds, climb the steep hill behind Trastevere and the Gianicolo, where you'll discover the green tree-filled expanse of the Villa Pamphili Park in the suburb of Monteverde. Children can feed turtles at the pond and ride ponies in the park, while you nap under a shaded tree before heading out to catch a glimpse of the Pope.
- Join an audience with the Pope at the Vatican - If you met the Pope, what would you say? Well, you probably won't, but you can join an audience with him on Wednesday mornings. If the weather is fine, then he'll hold this general audience in St Peter's Square; otherwise it takes place in the Sala Nervi audience hall. Expect to join clusters of Catholic devotees, and flocks of camera-waving tourists. Afterwards, you can take the opportunity to wander through St Peter's Basilica, admire Michelangelo's stunning frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and visit the famous 'Belvedere Apollo' and 'Laocoön' at the Museo Pio-Clementino among the Vatican Museums.
- Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain - These days the gorgeous Trevi Fountain is also a Red Cross piggy bank, thanks to all the loose change that tourists fling into the water as they make a wish. Tucked away in a tiny piazza and surrounded by jostling crowds, the fountains' creamy travertine gleams beneath torrents of water and camera flashes. It's a rococo extravaganza of rearing sea horses, conch-blowing Tritons and craggy rocks, erupting in front of the Palazzo Poli. A stone's throw away sits La Città dell'Acqua, which incorporates the remains of an Imperial-age apartment building and a holding tank for the waters of the Acqua Vergine gushing underneath.
- Perfect your geometry at the Pantheon - Appraise the architecture of ancient Rome with a trip to its best-preserved building: the Pantheon. Built by Hadrian around AD 119-128, it was originally a temple to the classical deities and remains a church today, holding the tombs of the united Italy's first king and the artist Raphael. The exterior still retains its original bronze doors, and inside the dimensions follow the rules set down by top Roman architect Vitruvius. The diameter of the hemispherical dome is exactly equal to the height of the whole building, giving it the capacity to hold a perfect sphere.
- Scope out delightful ice cream at San Crispino - There's so much ice cream on every street that scoping out a unique gelato experience is quite the challenge. But you'll find what many consider to be the best ice cream in the city at Il Gelato di San Crispino. The secret is the makers' obsessive control over the whole process. The flavours change as the seasons shift – try the summer-time lampone (raspberry) and suisine (yellow plum). Only tubs are allowed because cones interfere with the wonderful flavours.
- Photograph the city's best piazzas - For a snapshot of Rome's artistic heritage, visit its exquisite squares. At the Piazza del Popolo, you can follow Grand Tourists of the 18th century, who would have caught their first glimpse of the city through its most northern gate, at the end of the ancient via Flaminia. Designed in the shape of an oval by Rome's leading neo-classical architect Giuseppe Valadier in the 19th century, its focal points are the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, with a chapel by Raphael, and an Egyptian obelisk, brought to Rome by the emperor Augustus. The Piazza Navona, on the other hand, is a theatrical space, which is home to the works of great Baroque masters: the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone by Borromini and the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini.
- Scale new heights to see spectacular views - If looking up at historic buildings is straining your neck, then how about gazing down at some views instead? The Vittoriano, a huge white monument to united Italy, may obscure sights on the ground, but has a lift that will zip you up to its terraces in a matter of moments to enjoy a bird's eye view. If you're a stickler for tradition, then climb the 320 steps to the top of the dome of St Peter's Basilica. It will offer you a breath of fresh air after marvelling at the magnificent frescos.
- Glam up for a night at the Opera - A night at the opera can be an inspiring experience and a great opportunity to wear your elegant gloves. The grey, angular Mussolini-era facade of the Teatro dell-Opera di Roma-Teatro Costanzi gives way to a beautiful and harmonious interior with a good-sized stage. Here you'll find towering rows of boxes, and loads of stucco, frescoes and intricate gilding all around. For the best acoustics, splurge on a box - it's all part of the experience.
- Follow the legend of the wolf - Throughout Rome's history, anyone aspiring to power needed a legend to lend legitimacy to their rule. And you can find the relics of one story at the Lupercal - a cave discovered by the first Roman emperor Augustus beneath his home at The Palatine. Here, the she-wolf nursed the twin brothers Remus and Romulus after they were found in a basket by the Tiber. Legend had it that the lucky Romulus climbed this hill to found the city, so the emperor decorated the cave to charm the populous. Yet the monument was consumed by the ravages of time, and only came to light again in 2008. It was 'rediscovered' by the then culture minister Francesco Rutelli of the Democratic Party at the moment that the restored House of Augustus opened to the public. But this time around, the legend-based magic didn't work. Rutelli lost his bid to become mayor and the Democrats were beaten in the general elections.
- Tease your tastebuds at Il Pigneto - In the last couple of years Il Pigneto, just east of Porta Maggiore, has achieved that critical mass of bars and restaurants that turns a below-the-radar district hip. It's a mix of houses and low-rise 1960s condominiums, whose proximity to the San Lorenzo stockyards meant that the area suffered heavy wartime bombing. But the anarchic, bohemian feel of the place attracted arty types such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, who shot his first film here.
- Grab a slice of authentic pizza - In Rome, cheesy stuffed crust pizzas would be a cultural sacrilege. Here, authentic pizzas are made with freshly tossed thin crusts in wood-fired ovens. To experience the authentic Pizza Romana, visit the Testaccio institution of Remo. To sample crunchy, gourmet Roman pizzas over dinner with a glass of wine in a rustic restaurant, try La Gatta Mangiona in Monteverde. But if you're after a quick takeaway, then stop by the newly opened Bir and Fud, where pizzas made with organic flour and experimental toppings are served with mugs of lager.
- Have a glass of white Frascati - If you're a wine buff, then visit Al Vino Al Vino, a friendly hostelry with a range of over 500 wines. Its real specialty is the distillati: fine grappas, whiskies and other strong spirits. There's Sicilian-inspired food to soak it all up. Apart from this, enoteche (wine shops) can be found on almost every street in the city. We recommend visiting the painters' haunt Antica Enoteca di Via della Croce and the cosy wine bar of Il Goccetto.
- Discover geek chic at a book bar - Italians are not big readers, but they've taken to nights out in book bars, where they drink, have fun and discuss literature. Caffè Letterario led the charge in a part of the city bustling with Terza Università students. The move came on the crest of a cultural wave accompanying the transformation of peripheral Mattatoio into an area of cutting-edge cool. Bohemian Trastevere, just across the river, boasts the highest concentration of book bars, the largest of which is Bibli, where readers can mingle with artists and authors over a glass of wine.
What to eat in Rome
Eat like a Roman :) In Rome you can ask for:
- Cornetto & cappuccino - A croissant and cappuccino (coffee and creamy milk).
- Panino - Generic word for a stuffed sandwich.
- Pizza al taglio - Pizza by the slice.
- Fiori di zucca - Zucchini flowers, prepared in a deep fried batter.
- Supplì - Fried rice balls with tomato and mozzarella.
- Carciofi alla romana - Artichokes, Roman style.
- Carciofi alla giudia - Artichokes, Jewish style (fried).
- Puntarelle - Chicory salad with olive oil and anchovies.
- Bucatini alla matriciana - A pasta dish with cheek lard, tomato and pecorino romano (Roman sheep cheese).
- Spaghetti (or rigatoni) alla carbonara - A sauce made with egg and pancetta (bacon).
- Abbacchio "alla scottadito" - lamb chops.
- Scaloppine alla romana - Veal sautéed with fresh baby artichokes.
- Coda alla vaccinara - Oxtail stew.
- Trippa alla romana - Tripe; offal is a Roman tradition, e.g. osso buco (bone marrow).
Shopping in Rome
Rome has excellent shopping opportunites of all kinds - clothing and jewellery (it has been nominated as a top fashion capital) to art and antiques. You also get some big department stores, outlets and shopping centres, notably in the suburbs and outskirts.
Main shopping areas include via del Corso, via Condotti (plus the surrounding streets) and via Cola di Rienzo; the finest designer stores are around via Condotti, whilst via del Corso has more affordable clothing. The surroundings of via del Tritone, piazza Campo de' Fiori and the Pantheon are the places to go for cheaper items. UPIM is a good shop for cheap clothing of workable quality.
As mentioned above, via Condotti is Rome's top haute couture fashion street (equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York City, via Montenapoleone in Milan or Bond Street in London). Here, you can find big brand names such as Gucci, Armani, Dior, Valentino and Hermès, and several other high-class shops.
Nightlife in Rome
Given a heart for exploration, Testaccio is the place to wander for after-dinner partying on the weekends. Head down there around 23:00 (take Metro line B and get off at the Piramide stop) and listen for music. There are usually loads of people simply walking through the streets or looking for parking.
In Rome is a huge and beautiful pub called Flann O' Brien, one of the biggest in Rome. On the same street near piazza Venezia there is another cluster of pubs including The Nag's Head Scottish Pub. After 22:00 it's very expensive as it becomes more like like a disco. Entrance with first drink costs €13 while the drinks themselves cost €8. Before midnight, they sometimes host live music concerts.
As for discos, there are many; unfortunately, the city is huge and it's not very easy to find them, unless you have a very good guide. The best way to start is from the most renowned ones: the Piper, the Gilda and the Alien - all of which are run by the Midra Srl.
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