History, human genius and the hot midday sun have conspired to make Rome one of the world’s most seductive and thrilling cities.
A trip to Rome is as much about lapping up the lifestyle as it is gorging on art and historic sights. And there’s no better way of getting into the local spirit of things than by eating and drinking well. Food and wine are central to Roman social life and the hundreds of pizzerias, trattorias, restaurants and gelaterie that crowd the city centre do as much business catering to locals as to tourists and out-of-towners. Do as the Romans do, says the proverb, and there’s nothing more Roman than enjoying a tasty wood-fired pizza in a packed pizzeria or dining al fresco on a glorious city-centre piazza.
Rome, the Capital
But there’s more to Rome than history, fine art and great food. Rome is Italy’s capital and largest city, and while history reverberates all around, modern life is lived to the full. Rome is Italy’s political and religious heartbeat and the twin presence of government and Church dominates the city. Many city-centre palazzi house government offices while over in the Vatican the dome of St Peter’s Basilica serves to remind everyone of the pope’s presence. Political intrigue is thick in the air and as tourists tuck into their pasta politicians hunker down to hatch plots over spaghetti and wine.
For much of its history Rome has been at the centre of world events, first, as caput mundi (capital of the world), the fearsome hub of the Roman Empire, then for centuries as the seat of papal power. It was a city that counted and this is writ large on its historic streets - martial ruins recall ancient glories, stately palazzi evoke Renaissance intrigue, towering basilicas testify to artistic genius and papal ambition. Elsewhere, underground temples, buried houses and maddonelle (roadside shrines) tell of past lives and local beliefs.
With an artistic heritage dating back to Etruscan times, Rome is one of the world’s great art cities. Throughout history, it has played a starring role in the major upheavals of Western art and the results are there for all to see – amazing classical statues, stunning Renaissance frescoes, breathtaking baroque churches. Walk around the centre and even without trying you’ll come across masterpieces by the greats of the artistic pantheon – sculptures by Michelangelo, paintings by Caravaggio, frescoes by Raphael, fountains by Bernini. In Rome, art is not locked away from view, it’s quite literally all around you.
There are Powerful Roman families in the 16th and 17th centuries prided themselves on their collections of classical statuary, and they had no qualms about bringing in a sculptor of their own to replace missing arms and noses. Hence many of the remarkable ancient statues displayed in this gallery of collections from four dynasties look surprisingly intact. There's an Ares patched up by Bernini, and an Athena returned to her full glory by Alessandro Algardi.
Rome has a lot of astonishing Piazzas (public squares) which you can reach in almost every area of the city, some of the most popular and spectacular are:
Probably the most elegant piazza in Rome, Piazza Navona was constructed over the ruins of the ancient circus of Domitian and maintains its distinctive oval shape, albeit now lined with gorgeous pastel palazzi and dotted with elaborate Baroque fountains. The square is always bustling with activity but is worth visiting at night when the tourist crowds die down and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers is perfectly lit.
Campo de’ Fiori
Home to one of Rome’s most historic and colourful markets, Campo de’ Fiori should be seen in the morning when locals and visitors rub shoulders while stocking up on fresh produce. The name refers to the ‘field of flowers’, which was what the site was in ancient times before being developed into a public square used for executions (note the ominous statue of the heretic Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake on this site in 1600). Once the market clears and the sun begins to set, Campo de’ Fiori begins its transformation into one of Rome’s most frequented nightlife spots thanks to the concentration of bars and eateries in the area.
Piazza di Spagna
With the iconic Spanish Steps and multiple designer stores and boutiques, Piazza di Spagna is the hub of upper-class Rome and one of the most instantly recognisable spots in the city. Head there early in the morning to get the staircase (almost) to yourself or join the throng at sunset when the piazza is bathed in a rosy glow and climbing to the top of the steps will reward you with one of the most romantic views of the Eternal City.
Piazza San Pietro
The vast expanse of St Peter’s Square provides the perfect approach to Basilica di San Pietro, the largest church in the world and symbol of the Vatican. The two sweeping colonnades were designed by Bernini to represent welcoming arms and the square was constructed to accentuate the enormity of the building and to allow as many people as possible into the piazza to see the pope. Make sure to visit at night when the hoards of tourists have dispersed and the empty piazza and church are beautifully illuminated with a warm light.
Piazza del Popolo
One of the largest squares in Rome, the circular Piazza del Popolo is almost perfectly symmetrical, from the twin churches on the southern edge to the fountains on either side, while the centre of the square is dominated by the imposing imposing Egyptian obelisk. The size of the piazza makes it a frequent location for concerts and events in the summer months, while a trip up the steps to the edge of the piazza will bring you to the Pincio terrace, which offers a fantastic view over the piazza and right across the rooftops of the city.
While visiting Rome every turn you take most propably whould reveal to you a piece of architecture, history and beauty.
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