My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

by Dale Davies / Oct 30, 2015 /
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Much like Paris, the Italian capital of Rome requires little introduction and not much in terms of marketing. So much of the western world's history was founded within the city and the Empire which covered the Mediterranean that people have been travelling to the city to see where everything began.

For history enthusiasts, a trip to Rome is an inevitability and although I've personally only really fallen in love with drama of the empirical age of Italy over the past few years, even as a simple novice historian I've found the sites in the city to be enthralling.

Over the past few years I've been more fortunate than most to see Rome every summer and it never fails to take my breath away. Every trip gives time to visit the stone and marble buildings you see pictured on postcards and your friends' Instagram photos, and every trip I try and see at least one more new location or unusual off-the-path monument.

Of them all I have my favourites - some of them quite unusual - and by sharing them with you now I hope you'll love visiting these ancient sites as much as I have.

My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Colosseum

It's incredible to believe that much of Amphitheatrum Flavium still remains now 1900 years after the ground was broken to lay the foundations of what today is seen as the most iconic symbol of Rome.

Although much of the Colosseum has crumbled away due to earthquakes, neglect, and the practice of 'relocating' many of the stones from the interior and exterior walls by poorer people to build their own homes, what you seen today is still an incredible example of the brilliance of Roman engineering at the height of the empire's strength.

What I love most about the Colosseum is how well the interior exhibition spaces have been planned out to explain the full story of how the arena was built, used, and examined over the past one hundred years.

Although possibly Rome's busiest tourist attraction, it's one ancient site in Rome that you can't afford to miss. Be sure to book your tickets ahead of time and arrive early to navigate the queue.

The Colosseum. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Trajan's Column

I was listening to the History of Rome Podcast during the second time I visited Rome and it had me scribbling down a list of sites and monuments I didn't want to leave the city without seeing.

One monument in question that I didn't realise I'd already seen, yet failed to understand, was that of the ancient monument of Trajan's Column.

The thirty meter tall column has been, since its construction in the 1st Century, an inspiration for many of the most famous columns throughout the capitals of many of the modern era's seats of civilisation, and it's easy to understand why.

Wrapped around the entire height of the monument is a plaster depiction of the successful conquest of the Dacian Kingdom, which was located across the sovereign boundaries of today's Balkan states.

It's an incredible depiction and has been painstakingly restored and studied over the past century to give the story and political propaganda piece the recognition it deserves.

Trajan's Column. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Pantheon

Crowding beneath the oculus in the centre of the Pantheon is as necessary for visitors to Rome as eating gelato should be. You really can't visit the ancient site and avoid doing it; however, there's a lot more to see and appreciate about the mixed-religious building than the hole where the rain pours in.

Built around 27BC, burned down in 80 AD, and reconstructed at the order of the Emperor Hadrian around the year 120 AD, the building has seen several transformations over the past few millennia. One of the most interesting changes to the building is the way it has been used by the populous.

Originally, the ancient site was constructed for the pagan Roman gods after the success of the Roman general Agrippa in his military campaigns, as was the custom by successful military commanders.

Over the centuries, the temple was a witness to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, and it, too, was converted to the followers of Christ. Close to 2000 years later and the temple still serves as a place of religious ceremony and prayer.

Pantheon. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Via Appia

Having friends living locally is always a huge advantage to any trip, as the tips they have are without doubt the most reliable.

When on an overnight stopover whilst on a trip to the Italian south, my friends recommended to myself and Franca that we shake off some of our jet lag by going into Rome to walk along the ancient Via Appia, or the Appian Way.

"Into Rome? How could it be quieter in the centre?" I asked my friends. Little did I know that the old Roman road is flanked on both sides by some of the greenest fields in the Lazio region, and one of the quietest parts of the city I've ever seen. What's even more surprising is that on every side of the park in which the road passes down the middle of are houses and roads filled with the many noises a car makes, yet you don't hear a sound. It's outstandingly soothing.

Via Appia. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Pyramid of Cestius

After the annexation of Egypt by Augustus, the architecture, fashion, and foods of the Egyptians became an exotic interest for the richest of Roman society, who then incorporated as much as they could afford of the culture into their lives. This entailed lavish parties filled with Egyptian food and fancy dress parties in which dressing in Egyptian dress was encouraged; the design and decoration of buildings with Egyptian motifs became an increased trend.

Monuments were regularly transported from Egypt to decorate the public spaces and ancestral homes of many, but for some this wasn't enough.

For magistrate and former campaigner in the North Eastern region of Nubia, Gaius Cestius, the pyramid was built in his dedication to the similarly styled pyramids in the region and to serve as his tomb.

If there's one way of outdoing your competition in the "I've been to Egypt, I'm better than you" stakes, I think Cestius may have easily beaten his rivals.

After the pyramid was renovated, cleaned, and reopened in 2015, it's easy to determine that there was no doubting it would have made a big impression, and one that's left a deep mark on me.

Pyramid of Cestius. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Largo di Torre Argentina

Popular culture is filled today with the story of Julius Caesar and his death at the hands of the senate he wished to rule over. We've all seen the scene re-enacted a thousand times over in film, on TV, and in dramatic productions such as Shakespeare's classic - but how many of us know where he met his foretold death?

I, for one, had always imagined that he was murdered by the Republican Liberators within the white marble hall of the senate. However, it wasn't until much later on after visiting Rome that I learned that he'd actually been murdered in Pompey's Theatre - another building altogether. The reason for the confusion is that during Caesar's time as dictator, the senate had been forced to move out of the usual senate building after a fire, and had instead been meeting in the House of Pompey.

What's most surprising is that you can actually visit the place in which he was slain by his co-senators - sort of.

The Largo di Torre Argentina is an open space within the very heart of Rome in which the foundations of the theatre and other buildings built on the land can still be seen and is impressive to see, especially considering the magnitude of history that occurred there.

Largo di Torre Argentina. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

Parco degli Acquedotti

Possibly my favourite ancient site to visit in Rome, the Parco degli Acquedotti, is an outstanding monument that stretches from the edge of the old boundary of Rome out into the heat-drenched countryside, and it's a mouth opening and impressive site.

The Aqua Claudia construction was originally more than seventy kilometres in length. However, within the park itself, you'll only see a small part of the stone arches which carried water into rapidly growing city from around the year 50 AD onwards.

What I loved most about this particular monument wasn't the bewildering fact that it's still standing today, instead, it's how peaceful the area is to walk around. Many people meet there for quiet walks together or to go jogging during the less hot hours of the day, and I personally loved watching the local Romans enjoying their peaceful surroundings. It made for such a refreshing change to see only two tourists there - Franca and myself!

Parco degli Acquedotti. From My 7 Favourite Ancient Sites in Rome

More Ancient Sites To Visit

When a city is more than 2000 years old, it's not entirely surprising to find that when your visit is over, you look over the list of things you wanted to see and realise that you've barely scratched the surface of the sights worth seeing. There's the Palace of Augustus that has recently reopened to the public that I'd love to see in the next year or so, not forgetting the Forum which I've somehow managed to never see even after four or five visits to the city.

Maybe one day, I'll be able to share a few more interesting ancient sites I can recommend you to visit, but for now I hope you enjoy these seven of my personal favourites.

Which is your favourite ancient site in Rome?

 

 

Dale Davies is a freelance travel writer who's been travelling full-time since the summer of 2012. Together with his partner Franca Calabretta he writes about slow travel and veganism on the blog angloitalian | slow vegan travel

Find him on social media at:
twitter.com/ai_followus
facebook.com/angloitalianfollowus

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Dale Davies

 

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