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We advise the visitor to ROME to spend his first evening visiting Piazza Venezia, going up Michelangelo’s monumental staircase to the Capitol, through its marvelous Piazza and out on to the Rupe Tarpea (Tarpean Rock) to look over the Forum under its floodlighting; the marbles, the columns, the arches and the dark mass of the Palatine in the background.
If you are not in the mood for a sound and light show, don’t lose patience. Wait for it to finish and silence will return and you will join thousands of visitors who have come before you, many of them famous in history: the Emperor Charles V, for instance, or Montaigne; John Milton, Chateaubriand and Goethe; Edward Gibbon, Shelley and Byron. They all in their time gazed at that comparatively small space of ruins, and in some way or other, that view altered their lives and ours.
On our first morning we will begin our first tour from Piazza Venezia once more. In front of us the white mass of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, built between 1885 and 1911; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added after World War. To the right of the piazza, the powerful outline of Palazzo Venezia (15th century), once the seat of the Venetian ambassadors to the Holy See. The interior is very fine, with courtyard and loggias attributed to Giuliano da Maiano: in its splendid halls there is the Museum of Palazzo Venezia, with some fine paintings sculpture, weapons etc. In the right wing of the Palace, under the great tower, we have the graceful Basilica of San Marco.
Now cross the road and go round the right hand corner of the Victor Emmanuel Monument to the steps leading to Santa Maria in Aracoeli (1250) with its rich interior of nave two aisles, with many works of art such as the tombs carved by Bregno and Donatello paintings by Cavallini and Benozzo Gozzoli, outstanding frescoes by Pinturicchio. Leaving the church on the south side, a few paces brings us to Piazza dei Campidoglio, a masterpiece of architecture and planning by Michelangelo (1536); in the centre is the Palace of the Senate, to which Michelangelo added the fountain and the double ramp of steps. On either side are the two palaces he designed; to the right, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the New Museum, an archaeological collection of fundamental importance, with the Conservator! Museum and the Capitoline Picture Gallery. To the left is the Palace of the Capitoline Museum, one of the richest collections of Classical art. In the middle of the Piazza, the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor-philosopher (cent.).
Going down the ancient Clivus Argentarius behind the Capitol we get our first view over the Forum, passing the ancient Mamertine Prison, where the Catiline conspirators and Vercingetorix were killed and where legend says St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned. We now come to the majestic rums of Caesar’s Forum, which we skirt as we enter the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
This we cross, going towards the two domes of Santa Maria in Loreto and Santo Nome di Maria, before which is Traian’s Forum; in the centre of this rises the extraordinary Traian’s Column, erected in memory of the Emperor’s exploits in Dacia (now Rumania) (101-106 AD).
There are more than 2500 figures in the spiral frieze which runs up the Column: this is the most imposing example of Roman sculpture. Returning along the Via din Fori Imperiali, keeping on this side of the road, we come to a vast semi-circular ruin, which is that of Traian’s Markets, the great trade centre of Imperial Rome.
It is a majestic sight; behind the Markets rises the Torre delle Milizie, or Knights’ Tower, which is medieval; on the right there is the small 15th century palace, with loggia, of the Knights of Rhodes. Keeping in this direction we pass Augustus’ Forum, Nerva’s Forum whit its massive columns, and arrive at the Torre dei Conti, another medieval fortress on the corner of the Via dei Fori Imperials and Via Cavour.
Go up Via Cavour to the point where there is a flight of steps to the right, leading up through an ancient arch into the square of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains); this church contains Michelangelo’s Moses, carved for the unfinished tomb of Julius II. Return to Via Cavour through the narrow streets of what, in ancient Rome, was the ill-famed district of the Suburra and go back towards the Forum, crossing Via dei Fort Imperiali, to enter the Forum itself:
as you enter, on the left arc the superb vaults of the Basilica of Maxentius, on the right, the great Emilian Basilica, beyond which is the Curia and then the Arch of Septimius Severus, under the precipitous walls of the Capitol. shall not describe this magnificent scene – there is no lack of printed guides. Turning left, we are on the Via Sacra which began by the graceful House of the Vestals and rose to the solitary splendour of the Arch of Titus.
Going towards the Arch of Titus along the Via Sacra, we see on the left the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, transformed into a church, and the round Temple of Romulus, also now a church. Farther on stands the white church of Santa Francesca Romana, with a fine 12th century campanile. To the right, the wooded slopes of the Palatine, one of the seven hills, and the dwelling place of the Emperors. Climb up to the right of the Arch of Titus to the Farnese Gardens laid out by Cardinal Farnese in the 16th century, and the impressive Stadium of Domitian. Going down from the Palatine along the Triumphal Was’(now under the more modest name of Via San Gregorio) we arrive at the Arch of Constantine, beyond which rises the most famous monument of ancient Rome, the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum. (72-80 AD).
As it will now be lunchtime, we suggest lunching in one of the restaurants along the Appian Way. Going along Via San Gregorio between the Palatine, on one side and the Celian on the other,one emerges into a wide crossroads. Here is the Obelisk of Asian brought to Rome in 1937. On the right, the Circus Maximus and beyond it the Aventine. Here bear left through a broad avenue of trees with the Baths of Caracalla (217 AD) on the right.
Straight on now to enter the Via di Porta San Sebastiano passing the Arch of Drusus and the impressive Porta San Sebastiano (5th cent.); straight on over the crossroads, by the little church of Quo Vadis and we are on the Appian Way.
To reach one of the restaurants near at hand one takes the Via Ardeatina for a short stretch. Then one can turn back and follow the Appian Way once more, this fascinating archaelogical zone with the background of the Alban Hills, past tombs and acqueducts and suburban villas. At about 2 kms. (1 1/2 mi.) is the entrance to the Catacombs of St Calixtus, the largest of the Cristian catacombs and, about 500 yards farther on, the Basilica of San Sebastiano (also with catacombs), in a landscape composed of greenery and imposing ancient ruins.
The most fascinating stretch of the Appian Way itself begins from here, after the circular tomb of Caecilia Metella, which the family of Caetani transformed into a feudal manor-house in the 13th century. After following the Appian Way for a mile or two, turn back and take the Via delle Sette Chiese, which brings you to San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul outside the Walls), the largest church in Rome after St. Peter’s, built in 314 AD but destroyed by fire in 1823 and rebuilt according to the original plan.
Of the original church there are the wonderful Tabernacle by Arnolfo di Cambio (13th cent.), the splendid Venetian mosaics of the apse, and the Romanesque cloister with a tinge of Oriental atmosphere Returning towards Rome by the Via Ostiense we arrive at Porta San Paolo, with a stretch of the original Aurelian Wall and the Pyramid of Cams Cestius, a tomb of the Augustan period, beside which lies the enchanting Protestant Cemetery, where Keats and Shelley are buried. We now run along Via della Piramide Cestia and the Viale Aventino to arrive once more on the Via dei Trionfi in the direction of the Colosseum.
This tune, at the church of San Gregorio, we fork right to climb on to the Celian Hill as far as the Via Claudia, to the point where Santa Maria in Domnica (next the garden of the 16th century Villa Celimontana) and Santo Stefano Rotondo, a circular church of the 5th century, stand. Via di Santo Stefano brings us to San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran) with the severe Lateran Palace, once a Papal residence, containing an important Archaeological Museum, next the lateral Facade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran: the West Front faces on to Piazza di Porm San Giovanni, monumental and theatrical, with the ancient city walls running along one side. St. John Lateran with facade by Galilei (1735) and 17th century interior by Borromini is the cathedral of Rome.
Visit the picturesque 13th century cloister and the central plan Baptistery (5th century). Turning back towards the Colosseum along Via di San Giovanni in Lateratio, we pass, first, Santi Quattro Coronati, which looks like a medieval fortress from the outside, but rich inside has fine frescoes and perhaps the most beautiful cloister in Rome and then San Clemente, a 12th century church built over a 6th century one, with fine mosaics, 9th century frescoes and others by Masolino da Panicale.
From here we reach the Colosseum once more, and then Piazza Venezia. Taking the Corso to Piazza Colonna and turning right into Via Tritone, we reach Piazza Barberini and the famous and smart Via Veneto, where we can spend an amusing evening.