The magnanimous proportions of the Colosseum have long been a source of wonder. Originally envisioned in 70 CE, the construction of this grand structure was completed in 80 CE. At that time, it is believed that this vast amphitheater could seat upwards of 50,000 spectators at once. The Colosseum also features on the Italian version of the five-cent Euro. Deemed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Colosseum was designed to be a horse racing circuit and arena for animal fighting and gladiatorial battles, although it has also hosted significant religious ceremonies in its early days. It is a symmetrical wonder set in the historic landscape of Rome's heart. The enormous ruin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered by many to be an iconic symbol of Italy.
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.
A bygone beacon of the Roman Empire, the Foro Romano was the nucleus of social, political and economic life in this historic city. Located between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, it was a revered meeting place that witnessed the alpha and omega of a thriving empire. Triumphal processions raked the regal roads of this plaza, while morbid silences hung in the air after trials and executions that were carried out. Among the priceless vestiges that remain today, the most salient ones include the Regia, the royal residence, the Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Saturn. Towards the northwest, the Umbilicus Urbis indicates the symbolic heart of Ancient Rome, and the northern aisle of the Basilica of Maxentius still stands in grandeur. While their transient glory is lost to the ravages of time, what is left behind is not less than awe-inspiring. Worn columns, near-crumbling facades of ancient marble and stoic triumphal arcs still dominate the ruins' antiquated skyline.
Some of the world's foremost examples of Renaissance art grace the ceiling of the spectacular Sistine Chapel. Originally built in 1479 under the direction of Pope Sixtus IV, the chapel forms a part of the Vatican City's Apostolic Palace. It is here that the College of Cardinals gather to elect a new Pope and has been the host of such gatherings and other Papal functions since it was first conceived of. At the time of its construction, while the walls of the chapel were painted with frescoes by artists like Sandro Botticelli, Pinturicchio and Cosimo Roselli, the ceiling was rendered a simple, solid blue with stars. It was not until 1508 that Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Many considered this an odd choice as Michelangelo, at that time, was not known as a skilled painter. This led to speculations that Michelangelo's lofty commission was a ploy devised by rival artists Raphael and Bramante to ensure his fall from grace. Not to be deterred, Michelangelo envisioned and achieved a series of frescoes that depict scenes from the Old Testament, beginning with Creation and ending at Noah's voyage aboard his ark. Each a masterpiece in its own right, together they form a vision of unmatched artistry that draws millions of visitors to the Pope's residence each year.
The splendid fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in 139 CE. In the 10th Century CE, it was transformed into a castle, then, 500 years later, into the elegant residence of Pope Alexander VI Borgia. Michelangelo designed the marvelous main court for Pope Leo X and many of the rooms inside are decorated with frescoes of great beauty. It is also been used to house prisoners, including the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. The terrace offers a fine view of the river Tiber and opera lovers will know that this was where the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Tosca (1900) took place. The building is now a museum with a fine collection of suits of armor which is open to the public.
Capitoline Hill is located near the Foro Romano and Campus Martius. The hill is one of the seven hills that were located in the ancient city, and was the center of all the activities of the empire. The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the most revered temple at that time stood here, and its ruins are still visible. Housed here are the Musei Capitolini and City Hall.
Beset on all sides by roads, the square is heavily congested with traffic. In the background, the Altare della Patria is dedicated to King Vittorio Emanuele. Romans refer to it as the "wedding cake" or the "typewriter" because of its shape and color. Shortly after World War I, the body of the Unknown Soldier was brought here and placed in the center of the steps of the Vittoriano. It has a permanent armed guard. Palazzo Venezia was built during the second half of the 15th Century and was where the Venetian ambassadors to Rome stayed. Later it became the residence of the Cardinal of the Basilica of St Mark.
One of the most important collections of medieval and Renaissance art is housed at Museo di Palazzo Venezia. There are Renaissance paintings, painted wooden sculptures and chests from all over Italy, tapestries from elsewhere in Europe, Neapolitan ceramics, silverware, suits of armor, and 17th and 18t Century paintings. One of the most dramatic pieces is a 13th Century enameled Byzantine Christ. There are also terracotta studies by Bernini for construction of the Triton fountain and the decoration of Castel Sant'Angelo.
Piazza d'Aracoeli is a public square located in the capital city of Rome. The square is surrounded by several noteworthy structures of historic significance such as the Palazzo Muti-Bussi, Palazzo Massimo di Rignano and Palazzo Fani. The fountain of Aracoeli, built in the late 16th Century still stands at the square.
Alongside the steps of Aracoeli are the remains of this "apartment block" built about 2000 years ago, providing homes for poorer people who lived in difficult conditions. Just the first six floors of the construction can be seen: it is believed to have been higher, with space for perhaps 400 people. The top three floors were partly used in the Middle Ages for the construction of a church. In the 1940s, a renovation operation uncovered three lower floors.
The basement floors of Palazzo Senatorio contain relics of religions of ancient Italic populations, relating in particular to the cult of the god Veiovis. This god had a preference for unhealthy, marshy locations, and took the form of Jupiter of the underworld. However, in the version created for this temple he takes the form of a beautiful young man without any of the original unpleasant characteristics. The temple, according to an inscription, was erected in 78 BCE and was discovered almost intact in the 1940s. The architecture is reminiscent of the Greek style: this beautiful god is guarding the altar of his own temple.