Exploring the History of Ancient Rome

Rome, Italy’s capital city, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and the world. It is particularly enticing to history buffs; from its famous ancient ruins to hidden gems, Rome is teeming with remarkable landmarks that make it an excellent place to visit for lovers of history.

With a legendary legacy that dates back thousands of years and prominent figures such as Augustus and Julius Caesar once roaming its streets, there’s a reason why the Italian capital has earned the moniker the “Eternal City”. The city’s rich and colorful past is best told through its plethora of historical sites, museums, and monuments. We’ve narrowed down the options to put together this history buff’s guide to exploring Rome.

Top Must-See Historical Sites in Rome 

It can be overwhelming to visit a large and historically-rich city like Rome, especially if you only have limited time to spare. To make the most of your trip, the following tips might come in handy:

  • Consider buying a Roma Pass, which gives you access to a museum or archaeological site, free unlimited use of public transport, and special discounts on tours and other services. Another option would be to buy an Omnia Pass, which includes access to the Vatican’s top sites as well as a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.
  • Look into getting group tickets for multiple historic attractions to save money (and skip queues!), such as this Colosseum-Palatine-Forum combo ticket.
  • Expect to do a lot of walking around the city. Wear your most comfortable footwear!
  • A number of historic attractions in Rome are Catholic-related (e.g. churches) so it’s best to abide by their dress code.
  • Save yourself the hassle of carrying heavy shopping parcels and bags by depositing your items at a Rome luggage storage facility.

Without further ado, here are the top 8 historical attractions in Rome that you cannot miss:

  • The Colosseum

Almost every major city in the world has a landmark that serves as a “symbol” – for Paris, it’s the Eiffel Tower; Sydney has the Opera House; for London, there’s Big Ben; and the Statue of Liberty serves as the symbol for New York City. For the city of Rome, the most recognizable landmark is the Colosseum.

Originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum was built around 72 A.D. and took almost 10 years to be completed; in 80 A.D., it was inaugurated by Titus and used for combats featuring animals and gladiators. Made out of concrete stone, the amphitheater has a 50,000-seat capacity and features arches, windows, and columns that stood over 160 feet. Today, it is one of the best-preserved buildings from Ancient Roman times and is the most historic and recognizable monument in the city.

Another surprisingly well-preserved landmark from the Ancient Roman Empire, the Pantheon has been around for nearly 2,000 years and is the only building from the Roman times that is still in use. While the true nature and the purpose of the Pantheon are still unknown, the building’s design suggests that it was meant to be used as a temple or a site where the emperor could make public appearances and demonstrate his powerful status.

The Pantheon’s most interesting feature is its 43-meter dome, which is suspended in mid-air without visible supports. The building also houses the graves of some of the world’s most prominent figures, including King Victor Emmanuel II and famous Italian artist Raphael.

  • Roman Forum

The Roman Forum, which has been in existence since the 7th Century B.C., was once the center of activity in Ancient Rome. The Forum served as the commercial, political and social heart of the Roman Empire. With that said, you will find some of the most important buildings here, such as the Arch of Titus, Arch of Septimius, the Temple of Saturn, and the Basilica of Maxentius, to name a few. Walking through the area will transport you back in time and gives you a glimpse of ancient Roman civilization, an experience that all history buffs will enjoy.

When it comes to exploring Rome, there’s no way that you should miss The Vatican Museums, which house a massive collection of fine art collected by the Roman Catholic Church over the past centuries. It is the world’s largest museum complex and features more than 50 galleries spread across Vatican City.

One of the highlights is the Sistine Chapel, the home of the iconic ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo. The Vatican Museums also contain works from prominent artists such as Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, and Bellini.

  • Palatine Hill

Found about 40 meters above the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill is dubbed the “first nucleus of the Roman Empire” and widely considered as the city’s birthplace. According to legend, twins Remus and Romulus were brought to the hill and raised by a she-wolf known as Luperca. One day, the twins decided to build a city but couldn’t come to an agreement over the ruling. Hence, Romulus killed Remus and eventually founded the village that would become Rome.

At present, the Palatine Hill is one of the city’s most visited attractions and home to numerous sites and landmarks, such as the Farnese Gardens, Domus Augustana, Baths of Septimius Severus, and the House of Livia. To know more, check out this comprehensive guide to visiting Palatine Hill.

  • St. Peter’s Basilica

One of the largest and most famous churches in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica is a must-visit for history lovers. Built over a period of nearly 120 years, the church was designed by the biggest names in the Renaissance period, such as Bernini, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Aside from being a functional Catholic church, St. Peter’s Basilica also serves as the residence of the Popes since 1377.

  • Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain)

The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s most historic sites and has been around since the 17th century. It has since been made more popular with its appearance in a number of Hollywood films. The fountain, which was built between 1732 and 1751 for Pope Clement XII, was designed by architect Nicolo Salvi and features Oceanus, the god of the sea. Nowadays, tourists come here to throw coins and make their wishes come true, just like in the movies.

The final attraction on this list is Villa Borghese, one of Europe’s biggest urban parks and a treasure trove of historical sites in the city of Rome. Its main point of interest is none other than the Borghese Gallery, one of Italy’s most important museums and home to artworks by the likes of Caravaggio, Titian, Botticelli, and Raphael.

Other noteworthy historic landmarks in Rome to check out if you have the time are:

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