The Pantheon is a magnificent ancient temple in Rome that was later converted into the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. Dating from 125 AD, this is the most complete ancient building in Rome and one of the city's most spectacular sights.
Until the 20th century, the Pantheon was the largest concrete structure in the world. Michelangelo studied its great dome before starting work on the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.
The Pantheon was dedicated to pan theos, "all the gods." When it became a church, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs.
The Pantheon is the burial place of several important Italians (including the artist Raphael), and it remains an active church. It is a major tourist destination and a popular place for weddings.
The main area for exploring the ruins of ancient Rome is in Rome/Colosseo either side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, which connects the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. Constructed between 1931 and 1933, at the time of Mussolini, this road destroyed a large area of Renaissance and medieval buildings constructed on top of ruins of the ancient forums and ended forever plans for an archeological park stretching all the way to the Appian Way. Heading towards the Colosseum from Piazza Venezia, you see the Roman Forum on your right and Trajan's Forum and Market on the left. To the right of the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine and the beginning of the Palatine Hill, which will eventually lead you to ruins of the Flavian Palace and a view of the Circus Maximus (see Rome/Aventino-Testaccio). To the left, after the Colosseum is a wide, tree-lined path that climbs through the Colle Oppio park. Underneath this park is the Golden House of Nero (Domus Aurea), an enormous and spectacular underground complex restored and then closed again due to damage caused by heavy rain. Further to the left on the Esquiline Hill are ruins of Trajan's baths.
The narrow streets frequently broaden out into small or large squares (piazzas), which usually have one or more churches and a fountain or two. Apart from Piazza Navona and Piazza della Rotonda (in front of the Pantheon), take in the nearby Piazza della Minerva, with its unique elephant statue by Bernini and Piazza Colonna with the column of Marcus Aurelius and Palazzo Chigi, meeting place of the Italian Government. On the other side of Corso Vittorio Emanuele are Piazza Farnese with the Palazzo of the same name (now the French Embassy) and two interesting fountains and the flower sellers at Campo dei Fiori, scene of Rome's executions in the old days. All of these squares are a short distance from each other in Old Rome. The enormous Piazza del Popolo in the North Center, which provided an imposing entrance to the city when it represented the northern boundary of Rome, is well worth a visit. A short walk back towards the center brings you to Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Yet another fascinating fountain here. The area was much used as backdrop for the 1953 film Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
St. Peter’s Basilica – A huge sanctuary of Christian religion. Its façade is 45 meters high, and its enormous dome is 136 meters. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, overlooks the square that carries the same name that was designed by Bernini and which is surrounded by a colonnade. Grandeur and majesty: this is the sensation that one gets walking up Via della Conciliazione towards Piazza San Pietro. One of the most important works of art inside is the “Pietà” sculpture by Michelangelo, that was created between 1498 and 1500.
The Sistine Chapel – This chapel owes its name to Sixtus IV, the Pope who commissioned the building of the chapel at the end of the 14th century. The Chapel was decorated by famous 15th century painters such as Botticelli and il Ghirlandaio. Later, in the 16th century, Michelangelo was called upon to paint all the frescoes on the chapel’s vaulted ceiling: about 1000 square meters. He painted frescoes representing stories from the Bible such as the amazing Universal Judgment, which caused a scandal because of the nudity of about four hundred people in it, and the Creation of Mankind.
San Giovanni in Laterano – This is the Cathedral of Rome, the most important church after St. Peter’s. The first church was built in 314, when the Emperor Constantine gave the land to the Pope. The current building complex is made up of the Church, the Baptistery, Palazzo Lateranense, the Scala Santa and the Hospital of San Giovanni.
San Paolo fuori le mura – This church is in Via Ostiense and was founded in 330. It was only finished, however, in the 5th century. The Church was built on the wishes of Constantine, who wished to commemorate the Deacon Lorenzo, who became a martyr together with Pope Sixtus II in the middle of the 3rd century, with a magnificent tomb.
Santa Maria Maggiore – This church stands on the Esquilino hill and is the first Roman church to be named after the Holy Virgin. Its bell tower is the highest in Rome. There is a story that this was the site where fragments of wood from Jesus’ crib were kept. For this reason, the church was called Santa Maria ad Praesepe for a certain period of time.
The Vatican Museums – This group of museums is divided into several sections such as the Egyptian Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the Painting Gallery and the Raffaello Rooms to name a few. As well as the ancient artifacts, the Vatican Museums contain hundreds of works of art commissioned and collected by the Popes over the centuries and created by the most famous artists in history. The statue of Laocoonte in the courtyard of Palazzo del Belvedere is not to be missed.
The Capitoline Museums – This museum, founded in 1471, houses findings and works of art that tell the full history of Rome, from the antique sculptures and bas-reliefs portraying the acts of the emperors to the paintings on show in the Picture Gallery.
Galleria Borghese – This is one of the largest collections in the world. The collection was begun in 1600 by the Borghese family; it was plundered by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century and then partly recompiled once more and was acquired by the State at the beginning of the 20th century. There are many works of art by painters and sculptors to see: Amor sacro e Amor Profano by Tiziano, la Pietà by Rubens, Davide con la testa di Golia by Caravaggio, Apollo e Dafne, David and Pluto e Prosperina by Bernini.
The Seven Hills of Rome
To the modern visitor, the Seven Hills of Rome can be rather difficult to identify. In the first place generations of buildings constructed on top of each other and the construction of tall buildings in the valleys have tended to make the hills less pronounced than they originally were. Secondly, there are clearly more than seven hills. In Roman days many of these were outside the city boundaries.
The seven hills were first occupied by small settlements and not recognized as a city for some time. Rome came into being as these settlements acted together to drain the marshy valleys between them and turn them into markets and fora. The Roman Forum used to be a swamp.
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