Published April 26, 2012
Rome is a city that gracefully straddles the line between past and present. Though it’s one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities, the ancient history of its empire is pervasive throughout the city, particularly in the Centro Storico district, where world-famous landmarks are commonplace. Here are five of the best places to trace the history of Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Rome boasts one of the most astonishing churches in the world: St. Peter’s Basilica. The epitome of historical opulence, St. Peter’s Basilica has been at the center of the Catholic church for hundreds of years. Originally built in 324 by Emperor Constantine, the structure stood for almost 1,000 years before it was renovated in a High Renaissance and Baroque style. Today, throngs of sightseers flock to see this elaborately decorated church and marvel at some of the Vatican’s most exquisite treasures, including a huge bronze statue of St. Peter, as well as Michelangelo’s masterpiece: la Pieta.
The Vatican City’s massive museum complex contains what is arguably the greatest collection of art in the world. Hundreds of priceless masterworks from antiquity and the Renaissance period are housed inside a seemingly endless network of apartments, galleries and palaces. Every room of the Borgia Apartments is decorated with furnishings and frescoes by luminaries like Rafael and Fra Angelico. Elsewhere, 10 other museums contain everything from sculptures and paintings to jewelry and pottery.
Of course, the star attraction within this vast museum complex is the Sistine Chapel — the crowning achievement of the era’s finest artist: Michelangelo. His frescoes line the ceilings and walls of this breathtaking chapel. Above the altar, the Florentine master portrays an apocalyptic scene in the enormous fresco “Last Judgment.”
In a city famed for its architecturally stunning buildings, the Pantheon stands above the rest. This ancient Roman temple has seen the rise and fall of great empires during its 2,000-year history. This remarkable building is still widely considered as one of the world’s greatest architectural marvels. The ancient temple is equally impressive on the inside, where a single opening at the dome’s apex is the building’s only source of light, designed to symbolize the “all seeing eye of heaven.”
The Roman Forum and Palatine Museum
The Roman Forum provides a rare glimpse of everyday life for the ancient citizens of Rome. Located in the heart of the historical district, the Forum was once at the center of commercial activity during the days of the Roman republic. Although fragments and ruins are all that remain from the Forum’s heyday, it’s easy to imagine the streets bustling with life and activity. Some of the most intriguing landmarks within these ruins include the Arch of Septimius Severus – which commemorates the various victories of the ancient emperor – and the Temples of Saturn and Vesta.
Just a stone’s throw from the Roman Forum is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of ancient Rome. The Colosseum is an architectural wonder with a rich and checkered history. During the glory days of ancient Rome, the venue was built to satisfy the blood lust of the ancient Romans, with spectacular scenes of mortal combat between gladiators and wild beasts. The Colosseum was damaged throughout the years due to earthquakes, but the ruins of this magnificent amphitheater have been preserved as they were in ancient times.