The city of Rome is one of the most enduring achievements of Western Civilisation. The vast range of historic sites, stretching from Etruscan pre-history to the 21st century, creates an unrivalled sense of historical continuity between ancient and modern society. The works of art and architecture to be found within the city are of exceptional quality and priceless value. The juxtaposition of all this in the narrow laneways and piazzas of the old city create a destination of unique character and charm, and one well worth an extended visit if you have time for it. However, if you only have a short amount of time when visiting Rome, our tour leader Robert Veel has listed five experiences you must make the time for…
1. Capitoline Museums for classical sculpture
The Capitoline Museums are the oldest publicly owned museums in the world and should be on everyone’s list for cultural travel in Rome. The art and archaeological collections date all the way back to 1471 and feature a phenomenal collection of early statues, including the Spinario, the Esquiline Venus and Rome’s iconic emblem of Romulus and Remus.
2. The Roman Forum, for ancient and modern history
The Forum earns its spot on the top five list due to its complex layers of history. The site evolved from marshland to marketplace to centre of modern politics and beyond, with its Republican buildings, House of the Vestal Virgins, Basilica of Maxentius and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Most buildings were constructed during the reign of Julius Caesar and Augustus, only for many to fall as the Roman Empire did. From 1804 the site took over 100 years to excavate and Mussolini also left his mark, carving through the area with his Via dei Fori Imperiali.
3. Ostia Antica for a glimpse into a working Roman harbour
Visit Ostia Antica, what was once the mouth of the River Tibia, and take a fascinating journey into a thriving harbour town of the 4th century BC that served as a port for Rome’s grain supply. You will see the remains of docks, warehouses, a theatre, baths, shopping arcades and homes with exquisite mosaics. The site is exceptionally well preserved and often much quieter than Pompeii.
4. Museum Borghese for the spirit of Caravaggio
Cardinal Scipione Borghese was the nephew of Pope Paul V, but he was better known for his passionate patronage of the arts. His private art gallery, Villa Borghese, houses the world’s largest collection of Caravaggio artworks along with masterpieces by Titian, Raphael, Bellini, and Antonello da Messina. Complement this with a visit to Rome’s beautiful churches to see Caravaggio’s best-known work in situ, including The Calling of St Matthew and The Madonna of Loreto.
5. Tivoli for hectares of Italian architecture and gardens
Tivoli is half an hour out of Rome and features two must-see sites – Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este. The first comprises an awe-inspiring 100-hectare complex of fountains, Greek and Egyptian structures, statues, mosaics, a nymphaeum and a maritime theatre built in the 2nd century AD. The second, Villa d’Este, was dreamt up by renowned architect Pirro Ligorio in the 16th century for the governor of Tivoli at the time, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este. You’ll want to set aside plenty of time to explore his endless terraced gardens dotted with cascading fountains.
Robert Veel is a cultural historian with over 20 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, the USA, Scandinavia and Turkey. He has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, architecture and music, and is a founding director of Academy Travel. Robert holds a BA, Dip. Ed and M.Ed, all from the University of Sydney. He worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney before a long stint at the University’s Centre for Continuing Education, lecturing in Italian history and culture and working as Assistant Director.