One of the reasons Rome has been a major tourist destination for as long as it has is the fact that there are so many different appealing aspects of the city. For example, some tourists might prefer to go to Rome to tour all of the wonderful churches. That would certainly be a dream vacation for any architecture aficionados. Others might want to go to Rome to sample some of the fabulous food, or to shop at upscale boutiques that sell authentic Prada and Gucci goods. And still others might want to catch a glimpse of Roman antiquity.
Indeed, one of the most striking things about the city is that there are modern buildings located right next to ancient ruins. Not many places could pull of this kind of dual existence, but it seems perfectly natural in Rome. You’ll have to see it for yourself to understand what I mean. If you are planning a trip to Rome in the near future, here are some of the ancient sights that should be on the top of your list of things to see.
The Colosseum (or Coliseum)
The Colosseum is definitely one of the most recognizable structures in all of Rome. It was built during the eight-year span from 72 to 80 A.D., and was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater. It was basically a huge stadium that was used as an arena of entertainment for the Romans. According to many historical accounts, a lot of the Roman emperors enjoyed putting on mock battles in the Colosseum. There were even times when the emperors staged mock naval skirmishes by flooding the Colosseum and bringing real boats into the arena. In addition, the Colosseum was also the scene of many bloody battles to the death. It was the arena in which gladiators could make a name for themselves as skilled fighters, or where slaves could win their freedom by conquering opponents time and again. Another favorite pastime of the Romans was to see humans fight it out against animals.
One of the reasons the Colosseum is so recognizable today is due to the fact that it has been severely damaged over the centuries. The upper wall of the structure is entirely missing in one section, which gives the Colosseum its distinctive look. Most of the damage was inflicted by nature in the form of lightning strikes and earthquakes, but some of the destruction was carried out by man. For example, much of the Colosseum, including the bench seating, was made of marble. This marble was later taken out and used in the construction of other structures, such as St. Peter’s church.
Today, the Colosseum is admired for its innovative engineering as much as for its age. In fact, some of the techniques used in the construction of the Colosseum are used in modern designs. It is still possible to walk around inside the Colosseum and see some of the views that the ancient Romans surely saw. The Colosseum is also beautifully lit up at night, so consider an evening viewing for something a bit different. Unfortunately, the structural integrity of the Colosseum continues to decay year by year, and there is occasionally some talk of shutting it down to tourists. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
The Pantheon is a large temple that was built to honor the Roman gods and goddesses of antiquity. The structure that stands today is actually not the original Pantheon, but it dates back to ancient times nonetheless. The original Pantheon was completed in the year 25 B.C., when Marcus Agrippa was consul of Rome — which is why the inscription over the door bears his name. But that Pantheon was later destroyed by a fire, and had to be rebuilt. This was done in the year 125 A.D., so we’re still talking about a structure that is many centuries old.
Today, most tourists visit the Pantheon to admire its architecture, which makes prolific use of sunken interior panels and other devices which helped to support the weight of the circular roof. This is the only explanation that scholars have been able to come up with to explain how the concrete roof hasn’t collapsed in under its own weight.
Perhaps the most famous part of the building is its so-called Great Eye, which is a 27-foot wide opening in the roof. But there are many other notable features of the Pantheon, including Corinthian columns, large bronze doors, and numerous arches.
Visitors also come to pay their respects to a few famous Italians who call the Pantheon their final resting place. The Renaissance artist Rafael, and former kings Umberto I and Vittorio Emanuele II are entombed there.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was, for all intents and purposes, the city center of ancient Rome. This is where daily activities such as shopping at markets, business trading, and politics took place. Eventually, the forum came to hold courts of law and the senate building, too.
These days, there are still many things for tourists to see on a walk through the ruins of the ancient forum. Be warned, however, that at any given time, certain sections of the Forum might be inaccessible due to repairs or some other projects that are going on. For the most part, you should be able to see a great deal if you walk from one end of the forum to the other.
First of all, you should take a look at the Curia, which was the senate building. Next, you should make sure to stop by the Temple of Caesar, which was constructed in 29 B.C. to honor Julius Caesar. Many people still put flowers on the altar of the temple in remembrance of Caesar. Other notable monuments and structures that are considered part of the Roman Forum include: the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Romulus, the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Venus and Roma, and the Temple of Vesta.
Terme di Caracalla (The Baths of Caracalla)
Large public bathhouses were an important part of ancient Roman culture. Going to the public bath was more like going out for an evening of entertainment than anything else. It was a time of enjoyment and relaxation, where one could socialize with friends and take in the peaceful surroundings at leisure.
The Baths of Caracalla is a very large complex that was completed in the year 219 A.D. Along with an adequate pipe system that allowed for the continual flow of both hot and cold water, as well as a drainage system that kept the baths as clean as possible, the complex featured heated rooms (similar to today’s saunas), dressing rooms, and massage rooms.
Today, visitors are free to wander through the vast complex to admire the grand scope of the undertaking. You’ll be amazed at how well the baths are laid out and at the sheer size of some of the rock structures within it.
The Circus Maximus
The Circus Maximus was another place that the ancient Romans gathered for wild entertainment. The most famous type of entertainment, by far, were the chariot races. According to most historians, the track of the Circus Maximus was large enough to hold nearly a dozen chariots — which were breathlessly watched by the more than 150,000 spectators in the stands. Some parts of the track were purposely made dangerous in order to provide more excitement for the viewers, and it wasn’t uncommon for charioteers to lose their lives during these events.
Today, the only thing that remains of the original Circus Maximus is the oval shape of the track. It is now a public park that is frequently used by university students and others as a place to play sports such as soccer or rugby. Even though there’s nothing left of the arena, it would still be worth your while to visit the site. It’s fun to walk around the length of the track and imagine what it would have been like to be a charioteer in ancient times. In addition, you’ll get a great view of the imperial palace directly behind the Circus Maximus track.
The Column of Trajan
The Column of Trajan might not be as big in scale as the other destinations listed here, but it is just as significant in terms of the history of Rome. The column was erected as a means to commemorate the military success of the Emperor Trajan, who was head of the Roman Empire from the year 98 A.D. to the year 117 A.D.
The height of the Column of Trajan is generally given as 29.77 meters, and it is approximately 3.7 meters in diameter. It stands in a section of the city known as Trajan’s Forum, which is easily accessible by tourists.
The most interesting characteristic of the column is how it tells the story of Trajan’s military victories over the Dacians, who were an ancient Germanic Tribe. The column is covered in bas relief figures that wind their way around the structure in a spiral. It is estimated that there are around 2,500 carved figures in all on the column, which took a year to complete. Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of these figures is actually discernable by someone standing on the ground.
Originally, a statue of the Emperor Trajan stood atop the column, but it was lost during the Middle Ages and never recovered. These days, the statue that visitors see atop the column is actually St. Peter. It is thought that the original structure also contained extensive use of color and other accessories that have long since been lost.
After the Emperor Trajan died in the year 117, his ashes were deposited in the base of the column.
These days, the Column of Trajan is still a popular monument among tourists, despite the difficulty they have of seeing all the details. It would definitely be a nice experience for you to go and view the column, as long as you know before you go that you won’t be able to see every single detail, and that it can be difficult to get a good angle for photographs.