Rome Historic Centre is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Beginning with the Renaissance, Rome became first one of the major centres of the Italian Renaissance, and then the birthplace of both the Baroque style and Neoclassicism. Famous artists, painters, sculptors and architects made Rome the centre of their activity, creating masterpieces throughout the city. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, which in 1946 became the Italian Republic.
Symbol of Rome par excellence, the Flavian Amphitheatre, more commonly known as the Colosseum, was the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire. Its construction was begun by Vespasian in 72 AD and it was used to host entertainment spectacles, such as hunts and gladiatorial combat. The building was designed for entertainment and open to all: any citizen could attend the shows for free.
The name Colosseum may derive from the size of the monument or, more probably, from the huge bronze statue erected nearby, known as the Colossus of Nero.
Thanks to the engineering techniques of the time, the Colosseum included huge underground theatre facilities, with elevators, ramps and traps to provide all kinds of dramatic effects.
Via dei Fori Imperiali
The Via is a road linking the Colosseum with Piazza Venezia and encompassing the Forums of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva and Trajan, which were the centre of the political activity of ancient Rome and were built between 46 BC and 113 AD. The Via dei Fori Imperiali, as seen today, is the result of large-scale demolition of the entire district, decreed by Benito Mussolini, between 1924 and 1932.
National Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II
Better known as the “Altare della Patria” (“Altar of the Fatherland”) or “Il Vittoriano”, this imposing monument was built between 1885 and 1911 to celebrate Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy, the first king of Italy, and the grandeur of Rome as capital of Italy. The recurring plant symbols featured in the monument were not chosen at random: the palm symbolises victory, the oak strength, the laurel victorious peace, the myrtle sacrifice and the olive tree concordance. It houses the Altar of the Unknown Soldier, an unidentified Italian soldier killed during the First World War, as a symbol of all casualties of war.
It now houses the Museum of the Risorgimento and art exhibitions. Beneath it there are ancient caves that were used for shelter during the bombing of World War II.
In addition to the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Venezia also features other buildings, including Palazzo Venezia, an ancient papal palace from the balcony of which Pope Julius II used to watch the Barberi horse race, held along Via del Corso until 1883. Palazzo Bonaparte, residence of Letizia Ramolino, Napoleon’s mother, from 1818 until her death, is also part of the original layout of the square.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The result of various construction projects and work by the greatest architects of the 16th and 17th centuries, the building stands on the site of an ancient Constantinian basilica of the 4th century. It houses very important works, including the famous Pietà by Michelangelo. The arrangement of the square was designed and implemented by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1657 and 1667. Its imposing colonnade marks the boundary between the Italian State and the Vatican City State, the smallest sovereign State in the world.
It is the largest of the four papal basilicas in Rome and often referred to as the largest church in the world and the centre of Catholicism.
Known also as the Mausoleum of Hadrian and built in around 123 AD, Castel Sant’Angelo has undergone various and unusual changes of use over the centuries: from the ancient tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, a medieval fortification, a gloomy prison, a splendid Renaissance papal residence and a Risorgimento barracks to a museum, its current use. It is still connected with the Vatican State through the famous “passetto”, an elevated passageway which enabled Pope Alexander VI to take refuge there during the invasion of Rome by the militia of Charles VIII of France.
Ponte Sant’Angelo is a Roman bridge built in 134 by the Emperor Hadrian to link his mausoleum with the opposite side of the river. The parapet and sculptures of angels are by the school of Bernini.
The only Roman building that has remained virtually intact over the centuries, the Pantheon was inaugurated in 25 BC by Agrippa, as shown by the inscription on the lintel, translated as “Built by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in the year of his third consulate”. It was a temple dedicated to all the gods, hence the name (“Pan”, meaning “all”, and “theon”, meaning “gods”) and was converted into a Christian church in the 7th century. In 1870, it became the memorial monument of the kings of Italy and Raffaello Sanzio is also buried there.
The most striking feature of the Pantheon is its dome, which, with a diameter of over 43 metres, is one of the largest in the world.
Campo de’ Fiori
The present-day layout of the square dates back to 1858, when several houses were demolished. Since 1869, it has been the site of a lively and colourful market, whose working-class atmosphere was well captured in the 1943 film “Campo de ‘Fiori”, starring Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi. It is the only historic piazza in Rome without a church.
Executions used to be held publicly in Campo de ‘Fiori. On 17 February 1600, the philosopher and Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake there, accused of heresy.
Considered the largest sports stadium ever built, the Circus Maximus was used for horse racing and remained in operation until the early decades of the 6th century. It then became an agricultural area and, since the 19th century, the site of gas works, warehouses, factories, cottage industries and housing. The works for the archaeological walkway began in the early 1900s.
Bocca della Verità
On the left side of the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin there is an unusual mask of a bearded male face with holes and hollows for the eyes, nose and mouth. It may represent Jupiter Ammon, the god Ocean, an oracle or a faun. In any case, it served as a drain cover and has always been linked to a curious legend. During the Middle Ages, it was reputed to have the power to utter oracles and was used to test the fidelity of wives to their husbands. Still today there is a tradition of placing your hand into the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) in the hope of not being bitten.
“Legend has it that if you tell a lie and put your hand in there, it will be bitten off,” said Gregory Peck, daring Audrey Hepburn to do so in the film “Roman Holiday” from 1953.
Temple of Hercules Victor
A few metres from the Bocca della Verità is the oldest surviving marble temple in Rome, dating from the late 2nd century BC. Due to erroneous identification, it is popularly referred to as the Temple of Vesta; the mistake is due to its circular shape, similar to that of the true temple of Vesta located in the Roman Forum. It was dedicated to Hercules Victor, protector of traders, because of its proximity to the Foro Boario, the centre of commerce in ancient Rome.
There is a very small island in the heart of Rome, connected to the banks of the Tiber by two bridges, the Ponte Cestio and the Ponte Fabricio. Many legends are associated with the island, the best-known of which is that of Asclepius, the god of medicine, who chose it to protect the people of Rome from a terrible plague, for which reason the island has always been a place of care for the sick. The church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola was built on the ruins of the Temple of Aesculapius.
A few metres from there is the Ponte Emilio, now known as the Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge). The bridge was rebuilt several times over the centuries and what now remains is one of three sixteenth-century arches.
Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls
The basilica is located on the site where, according to tradition, Paul of Tarsus was martyred and buried. The early Christians built a chapel there to commemorate the Saint and a church was erected in the fourth century. Its present form dates back to the reconstructions of the 19th century. It is a property of the Holy See that enjoys extraterritoriality rights, despite being located within the Italian Republic.
It stands on the Via Ostiense, about 2 km outside the Aurelian walls, hence the name “outside the walls”.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites are places of importance to cultural or natural heritage as described in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, established in 1972.
Out of Italy’s 53 heritage sites, five are shared with other countries: “Monte San Giorgio” and “Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes” with Switzerland; “Historic Centre of Rome” with the Vatican; “Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps” with Austria, France, Germany, Slovenia and Switzerland; and “Venetian Works of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries: Stato da Terra – western Stato da Mar with Croatia and Montenegro. Four World Heritage Sites in Italy are of the natural type, all others are cultural sites (47). Therefore, Italy has the largest number of world “cultural” heritage sites followed by Spain with 39 cultural sites.