Rome was once the capital of the world’s largest empire and the center of the civilized world. Its grandeur was most evident in its giant structures and monuments, which were a testament to the wealth, power and technological advancement of Rome. Now the capital of Italy, and its largest city, visitors to Rome today will be engrossed by the contrasts between the city’s modernity and the traces of its 2,500-year history.
The sheer number of sights to see in Rome can make it difficult for visitors planning a trip to the city, and those with only a few days should consider taking advantage of one of the private tours of Rome that are available, as they are a good way to pack a lot in and learn about the history of the city.
[Also see our travel article “Rome Travel Guide“]
The Sights of Ancient Rome
We all know the story of the Roman Republic and how it became the Roman Empire. Its history is still told thousands of years later and its leaders either revered or reviled. But no amount of historical knowledge can prepare for visitors for the experience of seeing the still-standing sights of ancient Rome in all their glory.
The Colosseum is by far the most recognized symbol of ancient Rome. Built 2,000 years ago, the Colosseum was not only the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire, but it remains the largest amphitheater in the world today. It is estimated that when it was functional, the arena held up to 80,000 spectators. Of course, the most infamous use of the Colosseum was for the bloody gladiatorial matches that were all the rage in Rome from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD.
The Roman Forum
Not far from the Colosseum, the ruins of the Roman Forum illustrate another aspect of Roman life. When citizens weren’t cheering fights to the death in the Colosseum, they were often found at the Forum engaging in civic debate. The center of public life in Rome, the Forum was a marketplace and a government center. Though it is now in ruins, they are impressive nevertheless, as they reveal the greatness and complexities of Rome. Hire a guide to explore the grounds to learn more about the history of both the Roman Republic and the Empire.
[Also see our travel article “The Four Must-See Major Cities in Italy“]
The Pantheon is another famous symbol of ancient Rome. Completed in 126 AD, this building is one of the best-preserved buildings of that ancient era. The Pantheon’s dome can be seen from a distance, but the Corinthian columns are the structure’s most recognizable feature.
Like many remnants of that long-ago period in Roman history, seeing the Pantheon in person is a way to experience the ineffable feeling of ancient history coming to life. Now in use as a church, the Pantheon was built as a temple dedicated to the ancient gods of Rome.
The Sights of Papal Rome
The Vatican, even though it is only about 110 acres in size and has a population of not much more than 800 people, is a sovereign state located entirely within the confines of Rome. The city-state is a must-see when visiting Rome, as it has a huge amount of historical attractions from period after the Roman Empire when the Pope was the preeminent power on the continent.
St Peter’s Square
St Peter’s Square is the focal point of the Vatican, and during the Papal Mass is one of the busiest spots in all of Rome. Whether one is Catholic or not, it’s easy to appreciate the stunning architecture of St Peter’s Basilica and the solemnity of the ceremony.
The Vatican Museums
No trip to the Vatican City would be complete without a visit to the incredible Vatican museums. The Vatican Museums have existed in one form or another for over five centuries, and host the magnificent collection of art that has been collected by the Roman Catholic Church over the past 500 years – including many of the most well-known works of the Renaissance. The museums are home to works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and others.
Speaking of Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel is another of the Vatican’s top-tier attractions. Completed in 1481, the walls of the Sistine Chapel are decorated with religious paintings from a host of period artists, including Pietro Perugino and Sandro Botticelli. However, there is little doubt that the chapel’s ceiling is home to its most famous art – commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Michelangelo. Michelangelo’s iconic imagery covers over 5,000 square feet of space.