Rome - Attractions
The Capitoline Hill, now the seat of the city's municipal authorities, was the centre of government of ancient Rome, and is the geographical centre of the modern city. It is especially beautiful at night, when it is usually deserted.
The piazza were designed by Michelangelo in 1538. It is bordered by three buildings (also by Michelangelo): the Palazzo Nuovo and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which together house the Capitoline Museums, and the Palazzo Senatorio at the rear.
The bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the centre of the piazza is a copy made from a mould created through computer-generated photographs. The original, which dates from the 2nd century AD, was badly damaged by pollution and pigeon dung and was removed in 1981. It has been restored and is now housed behind glass inside the Palazzo Nuovo.
For the greatest visual impact, approach the Capitoline Hill from Piazza d'Aracoeli and ascend the cordonata, a stepped ramp also designed by Michelangelo. It is guarded at the bottom by two ancient Egyptian granite lions and at the top by two mammoth statues of Castor and Pollux, which were excavated from the nearby ghetto area in the 16th century.
Castel Sant' Angelo
Reached by one of the world's most beautiful bridges - Bernini's billowing, angel-clad Pont Sant' Angelo - this strange, circular tank of a building was originally constructed as the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian.
It was converted into a papal fortress in the 6th century, and is linked by underground passages to the Vatican palaces. Several popes have felt the need to take advantage of the secret routes in times of threat.
The mausoleum is now an interesting museum, and its evocative atmosphere is heightened by the knowledge that it was from here that Puccini's Tosca plunged to her death.
Built over 900 years, the Roman Forum (Foro Romano) was the commercial, political and religious centre of ancient Rome from the Republican era until the 4th century AD.
The importance of the Forum declined along with the Roman Empire. During medieval times the area was used to graze cattle and extensively plundered for its precious marbles. During the Renaissance, with the renewed appreciation of all things classical, the Forum provided inspiration for artists and architects.
The area was systematically excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries, and you can see archaeological teams at work in ongoing digs.
The Forum is entered from the piazza leading from the Colosseum. You immediately enter another world: the past. Columns rise from grassy hillocks, and repositioned pediments and columns aid the work of the imagination.
This 'queen of all private collections' was formed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the most passionate and knowledgeable connoisseur of his day. The collection and the mansion were acquired by the Italian state in 1902; a lengthy restoration took place in the 1990s.
The ground floor contains some important classical statuary and intricate Roman floor mosaics. But Bernini's spectacular carvings - flamboyant depictions of pagan myths - are the stars. His precocious talent is evident in works such as Pluto and Proserpine, where Pluto's hand presses into Proserpine's solid marble thigh, and in the swirling Apollo and Daphne, which depicts the exact moment at which the nymph is transformed into a laurel tree, her fingers becoming leaves, her toes turning into tree roots, while Apollo watches helplessly.
There are six Caravaggios, including the wonderfully naturalistic Madonna dei Palafrenieri (Madonna with the Serpent), whose uninhibited realism led to its rejection by its ecclesiastical commissioners, allowing Scipione to snap it up.
The paintings on the first floor are testimony to Scipione's connoisseur's eye, and include masterworks by Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Veronese, Botticelli, Guercino, Domenichino and Rubens, among others. It's advisable to book.
Not many religions actually own a country, but Catholicism isn't just any religion. The Vatican is probably per square foot the richest country in the world, making up for its total lack of natural resources with an astonishing collection of priceless art treasures.
No-one passed on that stuff about the camel and the needle's eye to the Vatican: it's probably the most hysterically, hyperbolically lavish display of wealth you'll ever see. For art lovers it's the mecca of meccas, with iconic treasures ranging from the Sistine Chapel to Bernini's imposing piazza.
Marcus Agrippa's Pantheon is one of the world's most sublime architectural creations: a perfectly proportioned floating dome resting on an elegant drum of columns and pediments. It was built in 27 BC, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD.
The temple has been consistently plundered and damaged over the years; it lost its beautiful gilded bronze roof tiles in Pope Gregory III's time. Its extraordinary dome -is the largest masonry vault ever built.
After being abandoned under the first Christian emperors, the Pantheon was converted into a church in 609 and dedicated to the Madonna and all the martyrs.
The Italian kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I and the artist Raphael are buried here.
Via Appia Antica
Known to ancient Romans as the 'regina viarum' (queen of roads), the Via Appia Antica extends from the Porta di San Sebastiano to Brindisi on the coast of Puglia. It was started around 312BC by the censor Appius Claudius Caecus, but didn't connect with Brindisi until around 190BC.
The first section of the road, which extended 90km (56mi) to Terracina, was considered revolutionary in its day because it was almost perfectly straight - perhaps the world's first autostrada. Every Sunday, a long section of the Via Appia Antica becomes a no-car zone. You can walk or ride a bike from the Porta di San Sebastiano for several kilometres.
Monuments along the road near Rome include the catacombs and Roman tombs. The Chiesa Di Domine Quo Vadis is built at the point where St Peter had a vision of Christ as he was escaping the Neronian persecution. Noticing he was going towards the city, Peter asked 'Domine, quo vadis?' - ('Lord, where are you going?') When Jesus replied that he was going to Rome to be crucified again, Peter took the hint and returned to the city, where he was arrested and martyred.