The Roman Empire ruled large areas of Europe and influenced commerce, architecture and language from 44 BC to 1453 AD. The Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the state religion in 380 AD, and spread Roman Catholicism to all conquered lands. Today, Rome is a busy metropolis with 2.8 million inhabitants, and many of the buildings, roads and statues created during the Roman empire still survive today. Vatican City was established in 1929 as a sovereign walled state within the city of Rome. The Vatican is considered an independent ecclesiastical state ruled by the Pope who is the Bishop of Rome.
It is difficult to drive in Rome. The traffic is congested, the streets are narrow, street parking is difficult to find, and there are many pedestrians. Within the city of Rome it is usually better to use public transportation or taxis than to rent a car. Public transportation in Rome is good and fairly inexpensive. Tour bus tickets that are valid for 24 or 48 hours allow you to stop at points of interest along the bus route, and re-board later. There are two metro lines and several metropolitan rail lines that can take you all over the city for about €1.00 Euro.
The most popular tourist destinations in Rome include the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. These picturesque locations have been the settings for many movies and are obligatory stops for most visitors to Rome. Vatican City, discussed separately, is another popular location for religious pilgrims, particularly when the Pope gives his blessing from a window overlooking Saint Peter's square in front of the great Basilica. At any of these places you can expect to see large crowds of people.
Construction of the Roman Colosseum started in 72 AD and was completed 8 years later. The Colosseum had a capacity for 50,000 spectators and was used for dramas, public spectacles and gladiatorial contests. Every day, there is a parade of performers dressed as Roman soldiers, gladiators and nobles that try to reproduce the sounds and regalia of two thousand years ago.
The Arch of Constantine is directly across from the Colosseum; it commemorates the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. The victory was important because it gave Constantine absolute control of Rome. The arch has served as a prototype of many triumphal arches throughout the world. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and he proclaimed tolerance for all religions throughout the empire. Constantine erected the magnificent St. John Lateran Cathedral (San Giovanni in Laterano) which is one of modern Rome's architectural and artistic marvels. Constantine is also known for rebuilding the city of Byzantium and renaming it Constantinople. Today, it is the Turkish city of Istanbul.
The Castel Sant'Angelo was originally commissioned as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The structure was erected on the bank of the Tiber between 135 AD and 139 AD. Hadrian's ashes were placed there a year after his death. The building became a military fortress in 401 AD. The castel is located less than one kilometer from the Vatican, and the popes converted the structure into a castle. Today, it is a museum.
The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) was designed by Nicola Salvi and competed in 1762. The site originally was the terminal of an aqueduct built in 19 BC. The central figure of the fountain is Neptune, the god of the sea. The fountain has been featured in films like "Roman holiday" and "Three coins in a fountain". There are many pizza and gelato shops around the fountain.
The Museum of the Via Ostiense is an archaeological museum depicting the road that connected Rome to Ostia. It is located across the Pyramid of Cestius. The Via Ostiense was a major road connecting Rome and the Trajan harbor near the town of Ostia. The hexagonal shaped harbor has been preserved as a lake (Lago di Traiano) just south of the current Fiumicino airport. The museum is actually the gatehouse called Porta San Paolo which was part of the third century Aurelian Walls of Rome, and it features relief models of the town of Ostia and the Harbor.
The Pyramid of Cestius was built approximately between 18 and 12 BCE as a tomb for Caius Cestius, a rich Roman magistrate. The pyramid was built of Roman concrete with the outer surface overlaid with slabs of white marble. The pyramid is located at a busy intersection close to the "Pyramid" metro station. The pyramid has a hight of 37 meters.
The Spanish Steps is a broad stairway from the Spanish square (Piazza di Spagna) to the Trinità dei Monti church. The stairway has 138 steps. In addition to the picturesque steps, the neighborhood has many shops, high-end designer stores, fountains and attractions that are very popular with tourists.
St. John Lateran Cathedral (San Giovanni in Laterano) was the first cathedral built in Rome. It was built by Constantine the Great in the 4th century. The hall of the apostles is particularly breathtaking. Each of the apostles is represented by exquisite marble statues that have some symbolism of the role that the apostle played. For example, Saint Peter is depicted holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Everywhere you look, from the ceiling to the floor, there are beautiful carvings, mosaics and ornaments. This is definitely a place that should be on everybody's list of things to see in Rome.
Santa Maria Maggiore and the Church of Saint Cecilia are also notable churches in Rome that are frequently visited by pilgrims. The church of Saint Cecilia has a marble statue of the saint in the same pose in which she was found when she died.
Don't forget to try the pizza! Roman pizza is very thin and crispy. Follow that with a nice gelato. Yum!
Virtual Reality Tour of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran