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1. Campo dei Fiori. Started off life as a medieval market place where executions also took place. Last known guy burnt to death at the stake has his statue in the middle of the modern day Piazza. Cobblestones, a food market that continues to this day, ringed with bars and restaurants, it makes this a great spot to eat, drink, and people watch. Quite a small piazza, its architecture mostly medieval, makes a great back drop to soak up a bit of history in. Located right in the centre of the city of Rome.
2. Piazza Navona. A short stroll, preferably with ice cream in hand, from Campo dei Fiori is the much larger and grander Piazza Navona. Started off life as a race track for chariots and entertainment for decadent Roman emperors, hence its oval shape. It now houses some of Rome’s loveliest fountains, sculptures by Bernini, and is a permanent haunt of artists, who will paint your portrait, jugglers and other entertainers. Also ringed with bars and restaurants that mostly look better than they taste. Very romantic for an evening stroll.
3. Trastevere. Cross the river using the pedestrian foot bridge from Campo dei Fiori, (in the opposite direction to Piazza Navona). There lays the little neighbourhood of Trastevere. Once a separate tribe from the Romans. Trastevere means “across the Tevere”, the Roman name for the Tiber river. A maze of tiny, pedestrian only, cobbled streets, packed with bars and restaurants, a great place to go for a wander of an evening and to eat or drink. During the day explore the traditional, ancient Roman community who still hang their washing out of their windows and visit the church, Santa Maria in Trastevere.
4. The Orange Gardens. On top of one of the seven hills of Rome (yes they actually existed) is a small, walled-in garden offering magnificent views over the river to one of the other seven hills and over the city itself. Great for a quiet, refreshing sit down or to eat a panino. Wander along next door to the early Christian church and further along, where the Carabinieri hang out, to look through a key-hole at a huge door, and see an amazing sight. Don’t worry others will be doing it too. Don’t go to the park on a Sunday when it is taken over by the local population of live-in nannies on their day off. Located on San Saba hill, 25 mins walk south from the Colosseum.
5. The Spanish Steps. So named because of the Spanish Embassy housed in the same Piazza as the steps. Sit down and people watch for as long as you like. They have been used this way for centuries. Just make sure you don’t eat or drink anything while sitting unless you want a policeman to blow his whistle and point at you. Wander down the Via Condotti afterwards, directly in front of the steps, one of Rome’s most expensive shopping strips. Berlusconi pops into the jewellers half way down, regularly. Don’t be afraid to go into any of the big name shops – Prada, Valentino, Armani, Versace. They are all just local boys here and shop keepers are used the hordes of under dressed tourists that stream in every day. Located right in the centre of town.
6. Villa Doria Pamphili. A gigantic, sprawling park, up the hill behind Trastevere. Once the private grounds of the princely Pamphili family, walk amongst huge ancient pines, grottos, fountains, gravel paths and un-kept fields to your hearts content. A great break from all that concrete and crowds, it is a haven for joggers, lovers, and kids. A small lake, ducks to feed, and quiet paths to tread are included. Not included are toilets or a café. BYO everything for your picnic.
7. The Pantheon. My favourite! Ringed in by McDonalds and tacky, over-priced cafes it is a magnificent example of world class architecture from over 2000 years ago. It took another 1,500 years for those that came after this to work out what the Romans already knew, without the help of instruments or modern materials, – how to build a large domed roof without any columns to hold it up. It was built as a church to “all/many Gods”. Marble was stolen from the Colosseum to build it then stolen again from it to build St. Peters Church. Marble pillars were imported from Egypt, twice, as the first time they were so heavy they sank the ship. It has the world’s oldest and heaviest still functioning door. Over a foot thick and it opens and closes like it’s on IKEA rollers. The opening in the middle of the roof was to let smoke out from fires burnt to the Gods, note the 2000 year old drain openings in the floor, which is slightly sloped in the middle to let the rain out. The good thing about it being so close to McDonalds is that you can sit there for free and look at it rather than paying the exorbitant prices to sit at any of the other cafes. The other good thing about it being so close to McDonalds is that this McDonalds sells beer. A few minutes walk from Piazza Navona in the opposite direction from Campo dei Fiori.
8. Via Monserrato (and surrounds). Just a stone’s throw from Campo dei Fiori, parallel with the river, this longish street is lined with lovely examples of renaissance houses (mini palaces), built by newly rich merchants and nobles, over 500 years ago. Huge doors built for carriages open up into internal courtyards, some of which house lovely gardens. Although private, try standing casually next to a door as it opens to get a glimpse inside. Those that are open you can generally wander into for a quick look, although if there is a door man and you ask him, he will say not to. The outside walls of these medieval palaces are sometimes decorated with murals or stencilled, look up to get glimpses of rafter-lined, top-storey rooms.
9. The Colosseum. Really is still worth seeing. For its sheer size and architectural ingenuity. On really hot days, during the games that were held here over 2000 years ago, a shade cover was erected using sail cloth. Thousands of , you guessed it, sailors (!) were on-call to erect it. It was secured by the equivalent of concrete tent pegs, a few of which remain today and can be seen if you walk around to the right from the entrance til you are almost on the other side and below street level. Don’t miss the ancient Roman graffiti of huge phalluses carved into the marble at the old exits, “pointing” patrons towards the closest brothels. For photos see “Tourists & Residents” blog.
10. Santa Maria in Aracoeli (St Mary of the Alter in the sky). There has to be at least one church on this list! Standing on the Capilotine Hill behind the big Vittorio Emanuelle monument in Piazza Venezia, this church has long been the church of the Roman Senators and people. This was the hill from which Rome has always been governed and the church stands on the spot of the temple of Juno, the Roman Goddess who was protector of the State. Inside it houses breathtaking frescoes, paintings, sculptures, and mosaics on roof and floor. It is famous for housing a baby Jesus doll carved out of wood from a tree in the Garden of Gethsemane. The doll is renowned for healing sick children. Last time I looked it had been stolen.
P.S. These are not the ONLY top ten sights to see in Rome. The obviously missing ones are the Vatican, Trevi Fountain and the
Roman Forum. These are just my favourite.