Rome Sightseeing/Illumination Drive

On The Road Travel Essays

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Rome Sightseeing/Illumination Drive

Capitoline Hill  There are actually two museums on the Capitoline Hill, the Capitoline Museum and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, flanking the Piazza del Campidoglio, which Michelangelo designed. Both have examples of ancient sculpture but the most impressive collection is in the Capitoline: Dying Gaul, Cupid and Psyche, the Faun and the nude and voluptuous Capitoline Venus. The She-Wolf of the Capitol, the Etruscan statue of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the mythical wolf of Rome, is located in the Palazzo.

The Piazza itself was designed in 1538 by Michelangelo. The equestrian statue in the middle of the square is Marcus Arelius (2nd century A.D.), the philosopher-emperor.

The legend of Romulus and Remus is preserved by a family of wolves housed in cages half-way up the staircase.

Piazza Venezia  The balcony from which Mussolini addressed the crowds is easily seen along the otherwise plain facade of the Palazzo Venezia, along the west side of the square.

The Monument to Victor Emmanual (the "Wedding Cake") dominates the square. It is the grave of Italy's unknown soldier and it also houses the Museo del Risorgimento, dedicated to the long struggle for the unification of Italy in the 19th century.

Roman Forum  Located between the Capitoline and the Palatine Hills, the Forum was the commercial, civic and religious center of Roman life in the Republican era. The site was abandoned after the Barbarian invasions and excavated in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most impressive of the ruins are the Arch of Septimius Severus, the six perfect columns of the Temple to Antonius and Faustina, the three fluted columns to the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Julius Caesar, and the Temple of the Vestals.

Across the Via dei Fori Imperiali from the Roman Forum are the ruins of forums from all periods of ancient Rome: The Forum of Trajan, the Forum of Julius Caesar, of Augustus, and of Nerva. Buried beneath the street itself are the ruins of the Forum of Vespasian.

Colosseum  The Flavian Amphitheater, so-called after its initiator, was opened by the Emperor Vespasian in 80 A.D. Its familiar name, the Colosseo, is derived from the colossal statue of Nero which stood near it. Here naval battles (naumachiae) as well as the gladiator contests took place.

If it is possible, stop here for a view of the inside; at night it is very impressive.

Piazza Esedra and Piazza della Repubblica  Located at the end of the Via Nazionale and not far from the railroad stations, this square (which is still generally referred to by its old name "Esedra") is famous for the beautiful fountains of the Naiads — one of the largest in Rome.

Via Nazionale  The route one takes from the Piazza Esedra toward the Quirinale is one of the popular shopping areas of Rome, which your people should be alerted to for future reference.

Quirinale  The Quirinale was once the residence of the Popes, and is now the residence of the President of the Republic. Many artists, including Bernini and Maderna had a part in its decoration. When the President is in residence (his flag flies from the Quirinal on those days) there is a marching band to accompany the changing of the guard at 4:00 p.m. It is worth watching because of the festive, relaxed nature of the occasion, in stark contrast to images of fascist Italy.

Fountain of Trevi  The fountain is a large wall made up of numerous allegorical figures, rocks and grottoes, built as many of Rome's fountains are, to honor a particular source of water supply — the "Acque Vergine". More than 17 million gallons a day pour from the fountain.

Piazza di Spagna  The church at the top of the Spanish Steps is the Trinite dei Monti. The fountain is the Barcaccia, designed by Pietro Bernini. Next to the steps is the Keats Museum. It houses one of the finest collections of the Romantic poets. Although called the "Spanish Steps", the steps were built by French diplomats in 1723. The staircase is actually three staircases, perhaps to fit the theme of the church at the top, which is named for the Holy Trinity. (The church was built long before the staircase.) The name "Spanish Steps" comes from the fact that the Spanish Embassy used to be located in the palace on the left (as you face the steps). In April and May, outdoor flower markets are set up on the steps, making for a kaleidoscope of color.

Piazza del Popolo  This is another of the famous places in Rome. The obelisk in the center is the largest, and the second oldest in Rome. It was brought from Egypt to Rome by Augustus to stand in the Circus Maximus. Nero is said to be buried to the left of the piazza near the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The inner face of the Porta del Popolo was designed by Bernini.

Castel Sant'Angelo  This immense castle was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 135 A.D. to be his tomb. Until the time of Caracalla, the Roman emperors and their families were buried inside. In the Middle Ages, it was transformed into what it is now — a papal fortress. During these times, the Pope was never completely secure in Rome. Germanic emperors from the north were always free to invade the city, and so the Popes had to have a place of refuge in case of attack. Thus, a secret underground passageway was dug between the fortress and the Vatican gardens. That tunnel is still intact. It was used more than once in the Middle Ages, and tradition still requires that a Swiss guard stand at the Vatican end of the tunnel with the key in his possession at all times. The castle now houses a museum, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Angelo, which among other exhibits contains one of the largest collections of military hardware in the world, ranging from the Stone Age to the present.

Ponte Sant'Angelo  This is the famous and much-photographed bridge crossing the River Tiber at the castle. The 12 statues on the bridge were by Bernini, and are thought to represent the 12 apostles. Of the original statues, Bernini himself sculpted 5, and his pupils did the other 7. The authorities found them so beautiful that they asked for another set to put on the bridge, and took the originals to a museum. Of the replacement-statues, Bernini sculpted 7, and his pupils 5 (the numerical reverse of the original proportion).

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