Justifiably described as ‘the Eternal City’, history and religion are inextricably linked in Rome and are the source of most of its glorious sights for visitors. Rome has been continuously inhabited for over 2,000 years and is the centre of two nation states, Italy and the Vatican
With such a background, it is not surprising to find that in every street or piazza there are links to the past, making it a photographer’s dream. For groups visiting Rome the hardest part is trying to prioritise what to see. There are so many places and so many themes – Ancient Rome, the glories of the Renaissance, Church and State, paintings and sculpture – and that’s just the start.
Some places, however, do stand out as being the absolute must-see sights for anyone visiting Rome for the first time. Top of the list has to be the Colosseum. A gigantic, awe-inspiring structure, it looms over the centre of the city. Built by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72, it allowed 55,000 spectators to watch gladiatorial games and wild animal fights on a massive scale. Over 9,000 wild animals were killed at the inaugural games. Booking in advance is essential to avoid the long queues, as thousands of people visit each day.
St Peter’s Square is another world-famous and iconic location. Part of the Vatican, it is frequently seen on television as the setting for papal events. This is where thousands of people gathered earlier this year to watch for the white smoke marking the choice of a new pope. The great balcony overlooking the square is where the Pope, accompanied by his distinctive Swiss Guards in their sixteenth-century uniforms, appears on ceremonial occasions. Built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, St Peter’s Square is constructed on the spot where the Roman Emperor Nero sent many Christians – including St Peter – to their deaths. In the centre of the square is an Egyptian obelisk.
St Peter’s Basilica is undoubtedly one of the greatest churches in the world, in terms of both size and importance. For Roman Catholics, it is their mother church and it really is a truly vast building. The façade is 114 metres wide and 47 metres high. Inside, the building is 186 metres long. The great dome has a diameter of 42 metres, and rises to 136 metres high. There are forty-five altars and eleven chapels, plus innumerable priceless works of art, the most significant being Michelangelo’s Pieta. During religious services, over 20,000 people can be present inside the Basilica.
The Basilica is open daily unless there is a papal audience planned. Entry to the Basilica is free, but there is a charge for the dome. A visit to the top of the dome is well worthwhile as it provides panoramic views across Rome.
The exquisite and unique Sistine Chapel is undoubtedly one of Rome’s key glories. This is where Michelangelo spent so many years lying on his back, painting the ceiling with the ultra-famous designs such as the hand of God reaching out to give life to humanity. The ceiling and walls are totally covered in the most spectacular artwork anyone could ever imagine.
Before leaving the area, art lovers should visit the Raphael Rooms located within the Vatican Palace. These form part of the Papal Apartments and are used as reception rooms. All the walls are covered with stunning frescoes, painted by Raphael and his workshop. Booking in advance for everything in the St Peter’s Square vicinity is absolutely essential here too, especially at Christmas, Easter and throughout the summer.
A short walk through the narrow streets leads to the tritons and horses adorning the Trevi Fountain, perhaps the most famous fountain in the world. This is where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck met in the iconic 1953 film Roman Holiday. It also appeared in Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita, and is the home of the song Three Coins in a Fountain. Legend has it that anyone who throws a coin in the fountain will, one day, return to Rome. Around 3,000 euro are thrown into the fountain each day and are quietly collected at night. The money is used to subsidise a supermarket for Rome’s poorest citizens.
For a touch of glamour, groups should explore the unusually shaped Piazza di Spagna and its adjoining streets, containing prestigious boutiques such as Prada, Valentino and Gucci. Each year the monumental Spanish Steps reaching between the Piazza di Spagna and the Trinita dei Monti church are used as a catwalk for a fashion show.