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Rome - Piazza Navona


Rome - Fori Imperiali

Rome, the ‘eternal city’, exerts an enduring fascination over its countless visitors. Capital of Italy and the country’s largest city, it is littered with the relics of over 2000 years of history. Only in very few places in the world is the visitor confronted with the past in such an immediate and forceful way. It has a unique atmosphere. The monuments of ancient times and the splendors of the Baroque are the backdrop to the hectic buzz of swarming scooters, bellowing motorists and animated street cafés.

The streets contain reminders of all the eras in Rome’s rich history – the Colosseum and the Forum are the most famous from the classical period, ancient basilicas bear witness to the early Christian era. As the major city of the Counter Reformation, it is not surprising that Rome is also infused with the feel of the Baroque. It is, indeed, the influence of the 17th century which defines the city through the work of architects such as Bernini, Maderno and Borromini. The magnificent squares and flamboyant façades mask a wealth of painting and sculpture by some of the greatest high-Renaissance and Baroque artists – Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, Caracci and Raphael to name but a few.

The Via del Corso, Rome’s main thoroughfare, cuts through the length of the city centre from the Piazza Venezia in the south with the vast marble Vittorio Emanuele Monument (erected in the late 19th century to honor Italy’s first king and to commemorate the unification of Italy), to emerge in the Piazza del Popolo in the north, beyond which lies the cool green refuge of the Villa Borghese. To the east of the Via del Corso lie the elegant shopping streets including the Via Condotti and the Via Borgognona which lead up to the Piazza di Spagna and the famous Spanish Steps. At the nearby Trevi Fountain visitors guarantee their return to Rome by throwing a coin into the waters. To the west of the Via del Corso a maze of narrow streets winds its way down to the Tiber River. It is here, in the historic centre of Rome, that the most complete ancient Roman structure is found. The Pantheon, on Piazza della Rotonda, was the work of Emperor Hadrian and was finished in AD125. Monumental in scale, the dimensions of the dome and its height are precisely equal while the building’s interior is illuminated by the sunlight entering through the 9m (30ft) hole in the dome’s roof. Just beyond the Pantheon lies the Piazza Navona. It is a long thin square, on a classical site, but rebuilt in the 17th century at the behest of Pope Innocent X in the high-Baroque style. It is almost entirely enclosed and thronged with people night and day. It is here that the crowds come on a warm summer’s evening to sit late into the night on one of the many café terraces and to watch the passing scene. Moving across to the right (west) bank of the Tiber, the Vatican City is an independent sovereign state and has its own chapter later in The World Travel Guide. On the way to the Vatican the visitor will pass the circular hulk of the Castel Sant’Angelo, burial place of the Emperor Hadrian and in later times the papal city’s main fortified defense. Moving south, the district of Trastevere is the city’s alternative focus and is home to numerous bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The life-long inhabitants of Trastevere regard their home as separate from Rome across the river, an independence that is celebrated every year in July with its Festa Noiantri.

Inland from Rome are the hill towns known as the Castelli Romani, which are popular for excursions. Tivoli, just 40km (25 miles) east of Rome, was once the haven of the rich, first in Roman times and later during the Renaissance. It is well-known for its magnificent villas and gardens, such as the Villa d’Este, Villa Gregoriana and, just outside of Tivoli, the Villa Adriana.

, only 20km (12.5 miles) south of Rome, is famous for its Frascati wine, a light, delicate, dry white wine which has an international reputation. The town itself is also very pleasant. Many of the town’s restaurants specialise in the local wine and it is widely available in all local shops. Other hill resorts include Genzano, Castel Gandolfo and Rocca di Papa.

The presence of malarial mosquitoes in the coastal marshes that once stretched the length of Lazio prevented settlement on any scale. The marshes have been drained and this quiet, gentle coastline can now be enjoyed without risk. Ostia, the ancient port of Rome, is now a well-organised beach resort. Terracina, further south, is a resort with miles of soft, white sand beach. The nearby town has a modern quarter offering plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. The crumbling but lively old part of town is higher up on the hill. The Duomo is appealing, as is the Roman Temple of Jupiter Anxurus, believed to have been built in the 1st century BC. On the very top of the hill overlooking the sea, it is a perfect place, either by day or night, to view the town of Terracina and, indeed, the entire bay spread out on either side.

One of the most popular resorts among the locals is Sperlonga, south of Terracina. The beach there is among the most beautiful in the region and the town itself is reminiscent of a Greek island village. Getting around town can be hard work. Seemingly endless steps wind up and around through white arches and vaulted ceilings only to suddenly open up with spectacular views of the sea and cliffs. Down below, on the far end of the beach, is a romantic-looking grotto beside the remains of the Villa of Tiberius. 30km (20 miles) offshore is the unspoilt island of Ponza.

Other resorts in the area include Anzio (site of the Allied Second World War landing), Sabaudia and San Felice Circeo.

Civitavecchia is an important naval and merchant port; there are also regular sailings to Sardinia.

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