Sightseeing in Rome
Rome is a city so rich in history, that you almost have to divide your sightseeing into at least two sections: ancient ruins, and everything else.
There are lots of "minor" historical sites compared to places like the Pantheon, some of which are overshadowed by their more famous neighbors, but you can find some delightful parks and other attractions as well.
Campo de'Fiori Market
Plunge into daily life in Rome at this open-air market, where meat, fish, fruits and other products have been sold for centuries. A lively, colourful atmosphere, surrounded by enticing small shops and cafes, the market opens early and is completely gone by mid-afternoon in preparation for its transition to an evening hangout spot.
For the best panoramic view of Rome, this can't be beat. Not only that, at the top there is a permanent merry-go-round, pony rides, and a puppet show for the kids. A cannon is fired from the hill every day at noon.
Another spot with a glorious view of Rome. This is the place to take a break, or take your lunch. The peaceful, walled garden is not among the most elegant in Rome, but it is a lovely spot for resting while enjoying the vista of Rome.
Now that you've done all the major ruins of Rome, most of which involved rich people, or rich people's pastimes, get a taste of a different kind of life in ancient Rome.
Back then, Ostia was a port city at the mouth of the Tiber, crowded with merchants and hopping with activity. Because it was a commercial district, the ruins are more directly related to the "common" population.
Among the ruins to visit are baths, a theatre, merchants' offices, temples and forums. There is an excellent on-site museum containing mosaics, wall paintings and statues.
For this, Nero burned Rome... or so the tongue-in-cheek story goes. Deep beneath the ruins of Trajan's Baths lays the remains of the golden palace built by Nero, after the great fire that almost levelled Rome.
It was mind-boggling in its luxury, with gardens, an artificial lake, and pavilions galore. Part of it was razed after Nero's death, and the rest was simply built over in succeeding years.
Excavated in the last century, the ruins have only been available to the public since 1999. There is limited opportunity to tour, and only by advance reservation. You will need to speak to a travel agent, or contact a group like ContextRome who conduct walking tours of the lesser-known subterranean ruins.
Villa D'Este, Tivoli
While the hilltop centre of Tivoli is worth a visit for its overall charms, the Villa still boasts some of the glory and glamour from ancient times. The gardens and fountains, viewable from its windows, are extraordinary sites. Unexpected geysers of water erupt out of statues' body parts, pour over terraces, shoot joyfully into the air, and slide along beautiful pools.
Church of Santa Maria and The Mouth of Truth
For those who like architectural features and history, and who just happen to have the kids along, this is an entertaining place to stop. The Church itself was built on pagan ruins, as so many buildings in Rome are.
Hanging on a wall, is a cracked marble disk, several feet across, depicting the face of the river god, with an open mouth. According to legend, anyone who put their hand in the mouth and lied, would have it bitten off. However, it has not been "hungry" for many centuries.
As the story goes, a man decided to test his wife's faithfulness, and in front of a gathered crowd, she put her hand in the mouth, and was instantly assaulted by a man who leaped out and began kissing and embracing her. Everyone thought he was crazy, and he was let go.
So when the husband asked the fateful question, the wife was able to answer that other than her husband and this crazy person, no man had every touched her. She told the truth... because the crazy man was her lover. In a fit of pique, the god stopped biting people.
The Spanish Steps
Located at the end of the Via Condotti, the aerobics workout of a lifetime can be had by climbing the 12 flights of stairs, which vary in width, and lead eventually to the Piazza Trinita dei Monti.
It is said that in the early eighteenth century, after they were built, potential models lingered on the steps, auditioning for the artists who lived in that quarter of the city. In front of the steps is a fountain featuring the "Barcaccia", a large boat that gushes water as it sinks.
The Catacombs of Rome are the subterranean Christian cemeteries of the third to fifth centuries. Romans themselves practiced cremation; above-ground burials were forbidden within the city.
As a consequence, Christians were forced to look outside the city to bury their dead, which they believed must be done in imitation of Christ's death, the body remaining whole for a resurrection.
Land, however, was expensive, and as a rule, the Christians were not one of the richer sectors of the population. The solution was simple, and proved valuable over the course of three centuries.
They dug subterranean passages, sometimes three and four levels deep, where niches would be cut into the walls, measuring roughly 24 x 59", and where the dead were laid in their clothes and funeral linens, sprinkled with scented oils to mask the odour of decay.
The well-to-do had their "vaults" sealed with a slab on which had been chiselled their name, date of death, and perhaps a Christian symbol. The bodies are gone, but you can still walk the echoing passages, and get a sense of the lingering spirits.