|Rome Travel Guide|
The piazza were designed by Michelangelo in 1538. It is bordered by three buildings (also by Michelangelo): the Palazzo Nuovo and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which together house the Capitoline Museums, and the Palazzo Senatorio at the rear.
The bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the centre of the piazza is a copy made from a mould created through computer-generated photographs. The original, which dates from the 2nd century AD, was badly damaged by pollution and pigeon dung and was removed in 1981. It has been restored and is now housed behind glass inside the Palazzo Nuovo.
For the greatest visual impact, approach the Capitoline Hill from Piazza d'Aracoeli and ascend the cordonata, a stepped ramp also designed by Michelangelo. It is guarded at the bottom by two ancient Egyptian granite lions and at the top by two mammoth statues of Castor and Pollux, which were excavated from the nearby ghetto area in the 16th century.
Castel Sant' Angelo
It was converted into a papal fortress in the 6th century, and is linked by underground passages to the Vatican palaces. Several popes have felt the need to take advantage of the secret routes in times of threat.
The mausoleum is now an interesting museum, and its evocative atmosphere is heightened by the knowledge that it was from here that Puccini's Tosca plunged to her death.
The importance of the Forum declined along with the Roman Empire. During medieval times the area was used to graze cattle and extensively plundered for its precious marbles. During the Renaissance, with the renewed appreciation of all things classical, the Forum provided inspiration for artists and architects.
The area was systematically excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries, and you can see archaeological teams at work in ongoing digs.
The Forum is entered from the piazza leading from the Colosseum. You
immediately enter another world: the past. Columns rise from grassy hillocks,
and repositioned pediments and columns aid the work of the imagination.
No-one passed on that stuff about the camel and the needle's eye to the
Vatican: it's probably the most hysterically, hyperbolically lavish display
of wealth you'll ever see. For art lovers it's the mecca of meccas, with
iconic treasures ranging from the Sistine Chapel to Bernini's imposing
Museo e Galleria Borghese
The ground floor contains some important classical statuary and intricate Roman floor mosaics. But Bernini's spectacular carvings - flamboyant depictions of pagan myths - are the stars. His precocious talent is evident in works such as Pluto and Proserpine, where Pluto's hand presses into Proserpine's solid marble thigh, and in the swirling Apollo and Daphne, which depicts the exact moment at which the nymph is transformed into a laurel tree, her fingers becoming leaves, her toes turning into tree roots, while Apollo watches helplessly.
There are six Caravaggios, including the wonderfully naturalistic Madonna dei Palafrenieri (Madonna with the Serpent), whose uninhibited realism led to its rejection by its ecclesiastical commissioners, allowing Scipione to snap it up.
The paintings on the first floor are testimony to Scipione's connoisseur's
eye, and include masterworks by Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Veronese,
Botticelli, Guercino, Domenichino and Rubens, among others. It's advisable
The temple has been consistently plundered and damaged over the years; it lost its beautiful gilded bronze roof tiles in Pope Gregory III's time. Its extraordinary dome is the largest masonry vault ever built.
After being abandoned under the first Christian emperors, the Pantheon was converted into a church in 609 and dedicated to the Madonna and all the martyrs.
The Italian kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I and the artist Raphael are buried here.
Via Appia Antica
The first section of the road, which extended 90km (56mi) to Terracina,
was considered revolutionary in its day because it was almost perfectly
straight - perhaps the world's first autostrada. Every Sunday, a long
section of the Via Appia Antica becomes a no-car zone. You can walk or
ride a bike from the Porta di San Sebastiano for several kilometres.
For children, thrills abound. At the top of the hill, just off Piazza Garibaldi, there is a permanent merry-go-round and pony rides. A puppet show is regularly performed, and a cannon is fired daily at noon.
Renaissance glories are still intact at the Villa d'Este, most famous for its fabulous landscaped gardens and mischievous fountains. The villa was built for Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, grandson of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. Its prime attractions lie in the views of the gardens and fountains gained from its windows. In the gardens, water cascades into the air, pours down terraces, glides in horizontal pools and shoots unexpectedly from the mouths and nipples of statues.
The lovely Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is the area's heart. It's
a true Roman square - by day peopled by mothers with strollers, chatting
locals and guidebook-toting tourists, by night with artisans selling their
craft work, young Romans looking for a good time, and the odd homeless
person looking for a bed. The streets east of the piazza is where you'll
find the most photographed washing in the world.
The city is dominated by the massive 14th-century Rocca Maggiore - a hill fortress that offers fabulous views over the valley and back to Perugia. St Francis was born here in 1182, and work began on his basilica two years after his death in 1228. It's a magnificent tribute to the patron saint of animals, with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and Martini. Relics from Imperial days include the excavated forum and the pillared facade of the Temple of Minerva; Roman foundations are a common feature of many buildings.
For eye-watering attractions you won't need to venture far from Florence's medieval core, a Renaissance wonderland containing the graceful span of Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo's skyscraping dome, the gilded splendour of Basilica di San Lorenzo and the well-hung Uffizi gallery.
Milan is a sprawling metropolis, but most of its attractions are concentrated in its centre. Its hub is the Duomo, a fantastic Gothic confection topped by the Maddonina (our little Madonna), Milan's protectress. Not far away is La Scala, one of the world's great opera houses.
Naples' historic centre features a church-encrusted piazza and some seriously elaborate architecture. In addition to the usual Italian quota of castles, museums and palazzi, Naples has the priceless treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum at its doorstep.
Take time to meander - losing yourself in the maze of canals and lanes is one of Venice's principal pleasures. The cluster of sights around the Piazza San Marco are heart-clutchingly beautiful, but the more secret pleasures of the hushed backstreets are just as entrancing.
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