From ancient ruins to sumptuous cuisine and trend-setting fashion, Rome offers an unforgettable cultural experience. Jenny Southan takes a tour of the Eternal City’s most iconic sights.
SEE WHERE ROME BEGAN
The Palatine Hill is supposedly where Rome was founded. According to legend, it is where twins Romulus and Remus were brought up by a she-wolf. Centuries later, Emperor Tiberius built a grand palace here, the remnants of which now lie beneath the Farnese Gardens. If you do have time to visit, buying a ticket at the Palatine first will cover entry into the Colosseum, and allows you to jump the queue when you get there. Open daily 0830 to 1800; E11 (US$17) for the double ticket.
SIP A CUPPA AT THE PIAZZA
Make your way into more modern surroundings and stroll through the cobbled streets lined with shuttered houses to Campo dei Fiori. This square used to be the site of public executions. In the 16th century, Giordano Bruno, “the first martyr for science”, was burned alive here by the Roman Inquisition as his ideas were seen as an attack on the religious ideologies of the time. A statue in the centre honours him.
Since 1869, the piazza has been home to a vibrant market. The sight of beautifully arranged figs, pears, chillies, tomatoes and olives, the aroma of roasted garlic and fresh focaccia bread, and the sound of energetic Italian voices provide a feast for the senses. Bordering the market are colourful palazzi and numerous cafés, which are perfect to slip into for a quick shot of syrupy espresso. Alternatively if you fancy alfresco dining, there are many restaurants to choose from.
PEEK INTO THE PANTHEON
A short distance away in Piazza della Rotonda is the Pantheon, the most complete ancient structure in the city and a work of architectural genius even by today’s standards. The dome of this church appears unsupported by arches or columns and in the centre is a great hole, nine metres wide, through which shafts of sunlight fall to illuminate the dim interior. Among those buried inside is Renaissance painter Raphael. Entry is free; open Monday to Saturday from 0830 to 1930 and Sunday from 0900 to 1800.
WISH AT THE FOUNTAIN
Following the route taken by Marcello and Sylvia in Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita, find your way to the Trevi fountain, which lies tucked away at the back of a palace near Via del Tritone. Unfortunately, that is as far as you will get with your pastiche of one of the most famous scenes in cinema, as bathing in the fountain is forbidden. But you can join the rest of the tourists by tossing coins into the glittering pool to ensure your return to Rome. Not only that, but your contribution will find its way to the Red Cross.
CLIMB THE SPANISH STEPS
At the far end of Via Condotti, this great flower-festooned flight of steps leads up to a rose-coloured church from Piazza di Spagna (so named because the Spanish Embassy is nearby), which has been the main meeting point for Romans for nearly 300 years. Beyond the boat-shaped Barcaccia fountain in the middle, sweeping upwards, are the famous Spanish Steps. If you are not too exhausted after all the walking, climb the 137 steps to the top and you will enjoy one of the most romantic views in the city. In the evenings, young Italians congregate here to drink and flirt, and street sellers carry armfuls of red roses.
There’s nothing like the reminder of death to make you appreciate life more fully, so the next stop on our tour is the macabre Capuchin crypt in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione.
The interior is decorated in Rococo patterns with human bones belonging to 4,000 16th-century Capuchin friars. Their remains were collected over the years and some have been preserved as complete skeletons dressed in brown robes. Don’t miss the crypt of skulls, the crypt of pelvises, and the crypt of leg and thigh bones – and don’t bang your head on the ribcage lampshades.
Entry is free but donations are welcome. Open daily except Thursdays from 0900 to 1200 and 1500 to 1800.
In the 1950s, Via Vittorio Veneto was one of the most glamorous streets in Rome. In La Dolce Vita, paparazzi hounded the beautiful, famous and wealthy as they ate dinner outside Via Veneto’s exclusive restaurants. Although you are unlikely to spot quite so many stars here these days, the high-end bars, restaurants and hotels remain. At number 150 is Harry’s Bar, which was recreated in Italy’s Cinécitta film studios for Fellini’s movie. From Monday to Saturday it is an ideal place for a business lunch (1230 to 1500) or dinner (1930 to 0100), tel 39 6 484 643, www.harrysbar.it.
Another option is La Terrazza at Starwood’s Hotel Eden, off Via Veneto at 49 Via Ludovisi. This Michelin-starred restaurant has a rooftop terrace on the sixth floor, with panoramic views of Rome’s seven hills, and serves gourmet Mediterranean cuisine created by chef Adriano Cavagnini. From Monday to Saturday, lunch is served 1230 to 1430 and dinner from 1930 to 2230. Bookings are essential, tel 39 6 478 121.