Now widely known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, Rome is renowned for beautiful architecture and Classical antiquities spanning over two and a half thousand years, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world.
We asked Fotolia’s Italian team for their insider suggestions on must-see attractions and places to visit – tips you won’t find in your average tourist guide.
Fotolia: Where would you recommend as must-sees for someone who’s visiting Rome for the first time?
Rome: Where to begin!? Rome has so much to see and do!
The Coliseum is an awe-inspiring structure, especially when you consider its prominent position within the city, juxtaposing 2,000 year-old Roman Empire architecture against a modern European city. This monumental building has capacity of 50,000 people, and in its heyday would have hosted bloodthirsty gladiatorial sports.
Another nod to Rome’s historical importance and significance is the Pantheon, a 2,000 year old temple dedicated to the Classical gods. This imposing structure is a continuing homage to Roman power and know-how. Remarkably, it contained the world’s largest un-reinforced dome right up until the 15th century.
The Vatican, whilst in Rome is actually a distinct entity, the world’s smallest independent state, and it’s separated by enclosing walls. Within these confines lie some of the most famous religious building in the world, such as the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.
From the outside alone they are beautiful works of art, but for real breath-taking scenery you need to pay a visit inside. Marvel at the world-famous Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo over a four-year period from 1508 to 1512. Its extraordinary detail and size will have you gazing in awe and disbelief.
Art is an intrinsic part of the Vatican, with over 7 kilometers of exhibitions between the two Palaces (Vatican and Belvedere) so plan what you wish to see in advance!
Fo: Rome is extremely popular with art-lovers; where should their priorities be for visiting and for creative inspiration?
Ro: Beautiful art can be found on every street corner in Rome, whether it’s in a magnificent church, an art gallery, museum, or even just a particularly striking house or park.
One of the finest collections of Roman art can be found at the Galleria Doria Pamphilij, a palazzo owned still by one of Rome’s oldest aristocratic families. Works by Caravaggio, Velazquez, Titian, and Claude Lorrain can all be found in these breathtaking surroundings.
The Renaissance is very much part of Rome’s cultural heart – a heart worn prominently on its sleeve in the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo. The walls are a smorgasbord of artistic genius, covered in works from many of the most famous painters in the world: Bernini, Carracci, and Caravaggio; and Raphael was the first to work on it.
Those searching for the essence of Rome’s Classical past never need to look far. The Roman Forum can be located in the heart of Rome’s city center. A rectangular plaza surrounded by the ancient ruins of government buildings, which were at the epicenter of Roman life. Many famous artists have been inspired by the visual and empowering strength of the Roman Forum and it truly feels like a magnificent honor to walk through these great feats of architecture from over 2,000 years ago.
Not all of Rome’s art is centuries old. The Maxxi, The National Museum of Art from the 21st Century, is dedicated entirely to contemporary art and hosts an exciting array of Italian as well as international artists in a striking building designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid.
Split between direct acquisitions and temporary exhibitions, the quality and diversity of the exhibits are thoroughly spectacular, with works including those by Gilbert & George, Anish Kapoor, Kiki Smith, and Gino De Dominicis.
Fo: Where can you recommend for returning visitors looking for a more unique taste of the city?
Ro: The Gianicolo – a hill that rises above the city – offers arguably one of the two best views of Rome, and overlooks many of the city’s most stunning buildings. But be warned – the tranquility is broken every day at noon, when a single shot of the cannon is let off (a tradition heading back from the 19th Century).
There’s also Il Vittoriano, an impressive monument built in 1885 to commemorate Italy’s first King, Victor Emmanuel II. It even has a glass lift to take you to the top, and there are some spectacular 360° views there.
If you’re looking for something a little more offbeat, take a trip to the Capuchin Crypt, a small space comprising of six rooms buried underneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini Church in Rome. The rooms contain over 3,700 skeletal remains of bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order.
It might sound just a little morbid or macabre, but many see it as a thought-provoking and calming reminder of our own mortality and the fleeting nature of life. But if skeletons and skulls are not your cup of tea then maybe give this one a miss!
For lovers of literature, a trip to the Protestant Cemetery is essential, as it contains more famous and important graves per square foot than any other. English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelly have been laid to rest here, as have many other examples of the great and the good.
We’ve discussed the best visual delights that Rome has to offer but we’ve gone one better. To accompany one of the most magnificent (and lesser known) views of the city is one of the most beautiful smelling. The Aventine Hill is one of Rome’s seven famous hills, but what separates it from its six counterparts is the addition of the bitter orange trees that line it. You will want to bottle the sweet scent and take it home.
Or maybe just move to Rome!