Rome
  Rome
Exploring

The ancient city of Rome was founded on the left bank of the Tiber River. Monuments from Antiquity stand alongside those of the Renaissance in the area between the Colosseum and the Pantheon. An oval amphitheatre built in AD 80, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 and was used for races and gladiator combats. A veritable architectural masterpiece, it has three levels of superimposed arcades resting upon Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns.

The Forums are found along the Via dei Fori Imperiali. The largest and oldest, the Foro Romano, served as a political, commercial and religious centre from the time of the Republic to the fifth century BC. Its ruins encompass 12 centuries of history. The Via Sacra, the Curia Hostilia, the bas-reliefs of Trajan, the Temple of Saturn, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Vesta, and the House of the Vestal Virgins are all located near the grandiose Basilica of Maxentius.

By way of the Forum, we reach the Palatino, or Palatine Hill, one of the most mythical of the city's seven hills. The ruins of several imperial buildings can be found here: Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana, the emperors' private residence and the stadium. Trees provide some welcome shade and make this a very pleasant place for a walk. At the Foro di Traiano, the extraordinary Column of Trajan is carved with more than 100 scenes from the war against the Dacians.

Among Rome's many religious heritage sites, a few churches and basilicas are definite must-sees, including the Chiesa del Gesú (Via degli Astalli 16, tel. 06.697001), the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Piazza di Porta San Giovanni) and the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore (Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore).

The Terme di Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla) were erected at the beginning of the third century AD and more than 1,500 people could enjoy the once-luxurious facilities at a time.

The Piazza del Campidoglio, atop Capitoline Hill and designed by Michelangelo (1536), is surrounded by three palaces: the 15th-century Palazzo dei Conservatori houses an art gallery and a museum of classical works featuring the famous she-wolf that symbolizes the legend of Romulus and Remus; the Palazzo Nuovo, built in 1655, houses the Musei Capitolini and its unique collection of ancient statues, including an equestrian statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius; and the Palazzo Senatorio, built during the 12th century, serves as the city hall.

Not far from the Via del Corso stands the Pantheon (27 BC), an extraordinarily well-preserved masterpiece of Classical Antiquity whose interior is dominated by a cupola with a height equal to its diameter. The tombs of several kings of Italy and artist Raffaello can be found here.

Throw a few coins into the most famous and largest of Rome's fountains, the Trevi Fountain. The majestic marble statue of Neptune has dominated this small piazza of the same name since the 18th century.

On the superb Piazza di Spagna, visitors will find the Barcaccia fountain, which is linked to the Trinità dei Monti church by a monumental staircase.

The Piazza Navona is Rome's most famous plaza. It's set on the site of an ancient Domitian stadium and follows its footprint. This cool and refreshing spot is reserved for pedestrians and a favourite meeting place for Romans. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, a Bernini masterpiece located in its centre, has statues representing the Danube, the Ganges, the Rio della Plata and the Nile, which symbolize the four corners of the earth.

The Campo dei Fiori is one of the most popular squares in Rome, where a picturesque market is held every morning.

Heading towards the river, you'll pass the facade of the Palazzo Farnese (16th century), the headquarters of the French embassy, which stands out nicely on the plaza. It's one Rome's most beautiful Renaissance buildings.

You can cross the river on the Ponte Sisto, which dates from 1475, to explore the picturesque Trastevere neighbourhood, renowned for its charming restaurants. You'll discover Trastevere's churches while strolling along its little streets: Santa Maria in Trastevere, dating from the 12th century, displays splendid mosaics in its choir, while the ninth-century Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is home to a magnificent work by Pietro Cavallini. The Gianicolo promenade offers an extraordinary view of Rome.

An autonomous state governed by the Pope, who holds the title of Holy Pontiff, the Vaticano covers 44ha on the right bank of the Tiber River. Within its walls are the Basilica di San Pietro, the Piazza San Pietro, the Palazzo della Cancelleria and other palaces, museums and interior gardens. The smallest nation in Europe, it has close to 1,000 inhabitants and coins its own money.

The design of the Basilica di San Pietro (1462-1626), the world's largest church, is the work of Bramante (1444-1514), and was remodelled by Michelangelo (1475-1564). Bernini (1598-1680), for his part, designed the 115m facade in a sumptuous Baroque style, as well as the basilica's oval-shaped plaza surrounded by columns surmounted by 162 statues of saints.

A massive restoration of the Cappella Sistina took place between 1980 and 1994. Upon completion, the chapel's frescoes, darkened and tarnished by years of grime and soot from altar candles, revealed themselves to be vividly coloured works, highlighted by lovely shades of orange, yellow, green and blue.

Begun as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, the fortress-like Castel Sant'Angelo became a fortress during the sixth century AD. Angels were believed to have protected Rome from the plague and the fortress was renamed in their honour.

The Villa and Galleria Borghese offer up the unparalleled collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, which was begun in the 17th century. Statues dot the villa's beautiful gardens, while masterpieces line the walls and corridors of the gallery.

South of the city, along Via Appia Antica, you can explore three of Rome's fascinating catacombs: San Callisto, San Sebastiano and Santa Domitilla.