There are few cities that you can’t miss in your lifetime, and one of them is Rome, believe me! Once you have landed in Fiumicino Airport, the first thing you want to do is get to your hotel, have a bit of a rest…and then what? Well, there’re so much stuff to do, so much food to taste, so many monuments to see that even a month won’t be enough time for you. That’s why I want to give you some tips and suggestions of tourist attractions in Rome that you can’t miss, and that are all for free!
The Pantheon is a temple dedicated to all the gods of Ancient Rome and was built in 126 AD. The building is circular, with a portico of three ranks of granite columns. The central corp of the building is a huge rotunda covered with a concrete dome that has a central opening to the sky named oculus.
The Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, even almost two thousands years after it was built. The Pantheon has been in continuous use throughout its history and it is now possible to see a collection of tombs of important and famous people, such as the Italian painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, inside the building, as well as the tombs of several Italian kings like Vittorio Emanuele II, Umberto I and Queen Margherita.
Of course, the entrance to the Pantheon is free!
St. Peter’s Basilica
I don’t think I need to spend any words on describing the St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s simply one of the most beautiful churches in the world and is, for sure, the most famous! Even though it’s so famous, not everyone knows that the entrance to the church is free (actually the entrance to almost all the churches in Italy is free).
Already the Basilica itself is an amazing monument and it’s worth the visit, inside the Basilica you can also find some of the most beautiful pieces of Renaissance art in the world, such as the Michelangelo’s Pieta’ and the alter with Bernini’s Baldacchino.
One of the squares you can’t miss in Rome is Piazza Navona – for at least 2 reasons: the Christmas market (the most famous in Italy) and for the beautiful fountains that can be found in the square. One of them is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Bernini. In the base of the fountain it is possible to see the four river gods, who represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread: the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia, and the Plate in the Americas.
Piazza Navona is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in the 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium.
The Spanish Steps is the widest staircase in Europe and is also one of the most famous. This monumental stairway connects Piazza di Spagna with Piazza Trinita’ dei Monti and is one of the best spots in the centre of Rome where you can rest a little and enjoy an amazing view on the city.
The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous fountains in the world and one of the biggest in Rome. The fountain is also one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque art and is very famous – not only for its beauty, but also for a traditional legend: if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome; two coins will lead to a new romance and three will ensure either a marriage or divorce. Your next question will be: “wow, a lot of money must be thrown into the fountain…but how much exactly?” We are talking roughly 3000 Euros every day that have been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.
The Circus Maximus was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and could accommodate about 150,000 spectators (it would still be the largest sports stadium in the world, were it still standing). The area is now a public park, but very little now remains of the Circus, except for the grass-covered racing track and the spina. Some of the starting gates remain, but most of the seating has disappeared.
Mouth of truth
La Bocca della Verità (in English, “the Mouth of Truth”) is an image of a man-like face thought to be part of a 1st century ancient Roman fountain, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The most famous characteristic of the Mouth is its role as a lie detector. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off.
Sant’Angelo Castle and Bridge
Ponte Sant’Angelo (Sant’Angelo Bridge) is a Roman bridge completed in 134 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian, to span the Tiber, from the city centre to his newly constructed mausoleum, now the towering Castel Sant’Angelo. The castle and the bridge later took on the name Sant’Angelo, explained by a legend that an angel appeared on the roof of the castle to announce the end of the plague.
After the 16th century, the bridge was used to expose the bodies of the executed, and in 1669 Pope Clement IX commissioned to Bernini the replacements for the aging stucco angels. Bernini’s project was to place ten angels holding instruments of the Passion. The walk on the bridge is, of course, free.
The Popes converted the structure into a castle from the 14th century; the structure is connected to St. Peter’s Basilica by a covered fortified corridor. The Papal state also used Sant’Angelo as a prison. In 1536 Montelupo created a marble statue of Saint Michael holding his sword after the 590 plague to surmount the Castel. Montelupo’s statue was later replaced by a bronze statue of the same subject. The Castel Sant’Angelo is now a museum and is for free for people younger than 18 and older than 65 and for all the students of Arts and Architecture, and also for groups of students (you need to call and book your visit).
The Milvian Bridge (Ponte Milvio in Italian) is a bridge over the Tiber that was an economically and strategically important bridge in the era of the Roman Empire.
In recent years the bridge began attracting couples who use a lamppost on the bridge to hang padlocks as a sign of their love. The ritual involves the couple locking the padlock to the lamppost, then throwing the key behind them into the Tiber.
Arco di Costantino
The Arco di Costantino (Constantin Arch) is a triumphal arch situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill in Rome. It was erected to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. The Arch of Constantine is the latest of the existing triumphal arches in Rome.
Villa Borghese is the second largest public park in Rome. It took its name from the owner of this park, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, who turned his former vineyard into the most extensive gardens built in Rome since Antiquity. Villa Borghese is a landscape garden in the naturalistic English manner containing a number of buildings, museums and attractions. The Spanish Steps lead up to this park, and there is another entrance at the Porte del Popolo by Piazza del Popolo.
Piazza Colonna is a piazza at the centre of the historic heart of Rome. It is named after the marble Column of Marcus Aurelius, which has stood there since 193 BC. The north side of the piazza is taken up by the Palazzo Chigi, seat of the Italian Government.
The Column of Marcus Aurelius is a Doric column featuring a spiral relief: it was built in honour of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and was modelled on Trajan’s Column. The spiral picture relief tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ Danubian or Marcomannic wars, waged by him from 166 BC to his death.
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo (‘People’s Square’) was, in the past, the traveller’s first view of Rome upon arrival. The Piazza del Popolo was a place for public executions, the last of which took place in 1826.
An Egyptian obelisk of Sety I from Heliopolis stands in the centre of the Piazza. Three sides of the obelisk were carved during the reign of Sety I, and the fourth side under Rameses II. The obelisk was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus.
Piazza del Campidoglio
Piazza del Campidoglio is located on the top of the Capitol Hill in Rome. The design of the piazza and of the surrounding buildings was created by Michelangelo in 1536. Michelangelo provided new facades to the two official buildings of Rome’s civic government; the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Senatorio, that are present in the piazza. The Palazzo Senatorio (“Senatorial Palace”) houses the Roman city hall. Its double ramp of stairs was designed by Michelangelo.
In the centre of the square is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The statue was erected in 176 AD. Although there were many equestrian imperial statues, they rarely survived because it was practice to melt down bronze statues for reuse as coin or new sculptures in the late empire. The statue of Marcus Aurelius was not melted down because in the Middle Ages it was incorrectly thought to portray the first Christian Emperor Constantine.
Piazza della Repubblica and the Fountain of the Naiads
Piazza della Repubblica is a semi-circular piazza next to the Termini station in Rome. The former name of the piazza, Piazza dell’Esedra, originates in the large exedra of the baths of Diocletian, which gives the piazza its shape. The center of the square is occupied by the fountain of the Naiads. The naiads represented are the Nymph of the Lakes, the Nymph of the Rivers, the Nymph of the Oceans, and the Nymph of the Underground Waters.
You can still find part of the ancient Roman walls that were protecting the city from its enemies. Nowadays you can still visit two sections: the Servial wall and the Aurelian walls.
The Servian Wall was a defensive barrier constructed around the city in the early 4th century BC. The wall was up to 10 metres high, 3.6 metres wide at its base, and 11 km long. A small preserved section of the Servian Wall is located close to the Termini Station.
The Aurelian Walls is a line of city walls built between 271 and 275 BC during the reign of the Roman Emperors Aurelian and Probus. The walls enclosed all the seven hills of Rome plus the Campus Martius and, on the right bank of the Tiber, the Trastevere district. The walls were constructed in brick-faced concrete, 3.5 metres thick and 8 metres high, with a square tower every 30 metres.
The Vatican Museums, inside the Vatican City, are among the greatest museums in the world, since they display works from the immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries, including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.
The entrance to the museum is free of charge on the last Sunday of every month.
Cripta dei Cappuccini
In via Veneto in Rome you can visit a church unique in its style; the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Though the church itself is nothing special, what is special is its crypt. In 1631 the Pope’s brother, who was a member of the Capuchins order, ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt. The bones were arranged along the walls, and the friars began to bury their own dead here, as well as the bodies of poor Romans. Here the Capuchins would come to pray and reflect each evening before retiring for the night.
The crypt contains the remains of 4,000 friars buried between 1500-1870. The crypt walls are decorated with the remains in elaborate fashion, making this crypt a macabre work of art. Some of the skeletons are intact and draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part, individual bones are used to create elaborate ornamental designs. The entrance of the crypt is technically for free, but is a good habit (read “mandatory”) to give a small donation…bearing in mind that, unlike the country surrounding it, the Vatican is hardly on the verge of bankruptcy…
Largo Argentina (Roman cat sanctuary)
Largo Argentina is a square in Rome that hosts four Roman temples, in addition to the remains of Pompey’s Theatre. After Italian unification, it was decided to reconstruct part of Rome, demolishing the zone of Largo Argentina. During the works, however, the colossal head and arms of a marble statue were discovered. The archeological investigation brought to light the presence of a holy area, dating to the Republican era, with four temples and part of Pompey’s Theater.
Julius Caesar was killed in the Curia of the Theatre of Pompey, and the spot in which he was believed to be assassinated is in the square.
Located in Largo Argentina is the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter for homeless cats (of which Rome has many), as the historical area abounds with various breeds of cats. If you love cats and ancient Rome, this is the place for you!
Basilica di San Clemente
The Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) is a Roman Catholic basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I. Archaeologically speaking, the structure is a three-tiered complex of buildings: the present basilica built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages. Beneath the present basilica is a 4th century basilica that had been converted out of the home of a Roman nobleman, part of which had in the 1st century briefly served as an early church, and the basement of which had in the 2nd century briefly served as a mithraeum. The home of the Roman nobleman had been built on the foundations of a Republican era building that had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 64.
After this extensive catalogue of monuments and attractions, it’s now your turn; do you know of any free tourist attractions in Rome worth suggesting?