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Best Free Sites in Rome

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Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Piazza della Minerva is just off Via della Minerva behind the Pantheon. The name of the church, Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, was given by the church's position as it is believed it was built over the Roman temple dedicated to Minerva Calcidica. Work began on the church in 1280 but the façade was only completed in 1453. In fact this was meant to be temporary but it has remained unaltered despite many plans up until the 19th Century to modify it. The interior is the only example of Gothic architecture in Rome. On one side of the church can be seen the former convent which was once the offices of the Ministry of Education and now of the Ministry of Scientific and Technological Research. It also holds the Casanatense Library with texts from the history of the Church. In the center of the square in front of the church stands a small Egyptian obelisk known as the Pulcin della Minerva.

Rome, Italy
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Pantheon

Originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, and subsequently rebuilt by Hadrian, the Pantheon is a monumental homage to the architectural finesse and ingenuity of the Romans. Massive bronze doors guard the entrance to the central space, sheltered by the graceful arch of the Pantheon's dome. The temple was transformed into a church in the early 7th Century by Pope Boniface IV and has remained well-preserved as a result. The building's primary source of light is the oculus, a circular opening at the dome's apex, rimmed with the original Roman bronze used at the time of its construction. Many famous Italians are buried in the Pantheon, including the Renaissance painter, Raphael, and King Vittorio Emanuele I.

Rome, Italy
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Trevi Fountain

Designed by Nicola Salvi for Pope Clemente XII, the Trevi Fountain was completed in the second half of the 18th Century. A towering likeness of Oceanus forms the centerpiece of the Baroque fountain, with Abundance and Salubrity on either side, while the rococo-style Poli Palace provides the perfect backdrop. Tritons guide the chariot of Oceanus, and all around the water flows, its gushing sound rising to a crescendo befitting the all-consuming power it represents. Tradition has it that throwing a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain guarantees a swift return to Rome. Anita Ekberg's dip in the Trevi Fountain was immortalized in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and Italian actor Toto even sold it to an American, passing himself off as its owner. Featured in numerous movies since Trevi Fountain has long inspired the passions of the human race and continues to be revered the world over as one of Italy's most triumphant sculptural works.

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Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Santa Maria in Cosmedin is one of the most represented sites in Rome thanks to cinema fans. How can you not remember Audrey Hepburn who placed her hand inside the Bocca della verità (Mouth of Truth) in Roman Holiday? It is here that the famous stone mask is located that, according to legend, bites off the hands of liars who place their hands inside. This basilica was constructed on the ancient site of a grocery market. Its famous façade consists of a portico with arches, inside which is a stone mask known as The Mouth of Truth, reputed to bite off the hand of any liar who dares to reach inside. Inside the basilica is a mosaic-covered floor and a wooden ceiling, added during successive restorations. Later restorations added the choir with two pulpits and the high altar in red granite. The seven story, Romanesque bell tower is considered the most beautiful in Rome.

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San Luigi dei Francesi

This national French church holds the tombs of many famous French people. Caravaggio is one artist who features in this beautiful Renaissance church. There is a wooden pulpit with painted panels, fairly unusual for Roman churches; the façade was carried out by Domenico Fontana following a design by Giacomo della Porta; San Luigi is immortalized in a fresco by Natoire, and Il Domenichino frescoed Santa Cecilia's chapel.

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Circus Maximus

In the 4 BC, Circus Maximus was one of the largest stadia in Rome, with a capacity of 250,000 seated spectators. It was the venue for horse racing, athletics tournaments and animal fighting. The last races held here were in 549 CE. Another very popular sport was marine battling, the arena was filled with water and fights between light boats took place. The tower is from medieval times. Of great historical significance, this place is sure a must visit attraction. Call ahead for more details.

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Campo de' Fiori

Tradition says that Campo de' Fiori was named after the woman loved by Pompey, Flora, but it is more likely to have come from something a bit less romantic. In the 14th Century, Campo de' Fiori was a long-abandoned field filled with flowers. In the second half of the 19th Century the square became a place of daily market. You may be tempted to buy some of the best fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, tablecloths, utensils and toys. It was also the scene of many executions, most notably that of Giordano Bruno, the philosopher who was burned here in 1600. The statue dedicated to him replaced a fountain that was moved to the nearby Chiesa Nuova square, and a reproduction of it was moved to the side of the Campo de' Fiori.

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Piazza Navona

One of the most beautiful and popular squares in the world, visiting Piazza Navona has to be in your itinerary while in Rome.The stunning buildings, fountain and the sculptures at this square have an magical appeal. The elegance and sheer beauty of Piazza Navona is bound to leave a long lasting impression on you. During the Christmas season, the square is packed with stalls selling toys, sweets and decorations for the nativity scene or Christmas tree, making it a favorite spot for children. Its unusual shape recalls the time of Domitian, who built a stadium for equestrian displays here. The Fountain of the Rivers, with the obelisk, and the Fountain of the Moor, with the God of the Sea, at the center of the square are both sculpted by Bernini.

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San Pietro in Vincoli

In the 7th Century a church was built in order to house the chain from Constantinople that was said that to have been one of two used to bind St Peter when he was imprisoned at Carcere Mamertino. The second chain was sent to Rome at a later date and when it was brought into the church it miraculously attached itself to the other chain. You can still see these chains under the altar, and this is how the church got its name San Pietro in Vincoli, meaning St Peter in chains. The church is also renowned for the tomb with the famous statue of Moses by Michelangelo, which was commissioned by Pope Julius II. Richly decorated with frescoes, the interior houses works by Guercino and Giovanbattista Parodi, as well as a beautiful mosaic icon of St Sebastian from the 7th Century. The cloister, built at the end of the 15th Century, is also worth visiting.

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Piazza di Spagna

An incredible, almost theatrical square with the lovely Spanish Steps leading up to the Chiesa di Trinità dei Monti. One of the most important fashion shows is held here, the steps being used as a catwalk. It is now an international meeting point. The fountain known as the 'Barcaccia' (boat) was commissioned by Urbano Barberini to commemorate the alliance made with the King of France, whose coat of arms can be seen on Trinità dei Monti. The square leads into several famous streets, Via dei Condotti, Via Frattina and Via Borgognona with their luxurious boutiques, and Via Del Babuino with its antique shops.

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Santa Sabina

Many couples choose to get married in this magnificent church on the Aventine hill, built in the 5th Century under Pope Celestine I. Ever since St Domenic was welcomed in this church by Pope Honorius III in the 13th Century, he has been patron of the Domenicans. A lot of the medieval decorations were lost after the late 16th Century restorations, but successive restorers, above all the most recent, have tried to retrieve the original look of the church, even using specialized recovery equipment. Legend has it that in the cloister (1200), St Dominic planted Rome's first orange tree. The central doorway, which dates from the 5th Century, is a masterpiece of carpentry. It was carved from cypress wood and cedar with scenes from both the Old and the New Testaments. The rear of the façade conserves only part of the highly refined mosaic-style decoration in marble, paintings and stucco, which used to cover the entire church.

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Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere is the first Roman church to be consecrated to the Madonna. Its foundations were laid in approximately AD 400, when Christianity was only just beginning to take root in Europe. The present edifice is dated 1300 and contains beautiful mosaics by Pietro Cavallini, especially those dedicated to the life of the Virgin Mary. There is a magnificent life-size icon, La Madonna della Clemenza, from as early as the 7th Century. The nave is formed from granite columns taken from ancient Roman edifices. The 12th-century mosaics of the façade, depicting the Madonna and child and ten women holding lamps, are not to be missed. The portico was renovated in the 18th Century by Carlo Fontana and the balustrade is decorated with statues of Popes, baroque additions which do not detract from the church's original medieval aspect.

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