The Vatican and Western Rome
The section 'Travelling to Rome' gives you ideas for travelling to Rome and the Vatican. You can get tours through the cruise ship, or go to Rome by train to the San Pietro station and walk the short distance to St. Peter's. If you want to go into the Basilica, this is free - but there are long lines as visitors must go through security.
Because of the crowds at the Vatican, the best solution is to buy 'Skip-the-line' tickets to see the Vatican Museum, either to explore on your own or with a tour guide. The museum leads to the Sistine Chapel and from there into St. Peter's Basilica. This will save you time and you will see more.
The sights in the Vatican are well documented. This website will give you an overview:
The tour of the Vatican may take you 2 to 3 hours, and perhaps you still have time to see more of Rome! The following walk is about 4 km. or 2 1/2 miles, and will take approximately 2 hours.
Step 1 - To the Piazza Navona
1. Walk to your left (north) along the river to the Supreme Court building.
2. Cross the bridge and walk until the street ends.
3. Turn left and then right at the first street.
Walk through St. Peter's Square and straight down the street towards the river and turn left. Continue walking straight with the river on your right. Ahead is the Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant'Angelo, a towering cylindrical building. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family and completed in 139 AD. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle.
Walk out onto the bridge at the Castel Sant'Angelo, for great views and photos of the angel sculptures.
Back on the Castel side of the river, continue along the pedestrian walkway above the river. Most of the year there is a painter’s market along the path. Ahead of you is the Supreme Court Building (beside) —very ornate! At the center of the Supreme Court Building, cross the bridge and walk straight until the street ends. Turn left for a few steps and then right on the first street and you are in the beautiful Piazza Navona.
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On your right as you enter Piazza Navona is a wonderful toy store called Al Sogno.....
The first fountain you will see is the Fontana di Nettuno, (Neptune) built in 1576 by Giacomo della Porta. The statues of Neptune surrounded by sea nymphs were added in the 19th century. La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) built in 1651, is in the center. In the center of the fountain is a tall Roman obelisk and surrounding it four figures, each representing the great rivers: Ganges, Nile, Danube and Rio de la Plata (South America). Fontana del Moro at the southern end of the piazza depicts a Moor fighting a dolphin - Bernini's addition in the 17th century.
Step 2 - To the Pantheon
Piazza Navona is a wonderful place to people-watch! Sit by a fountain or in an outdoor restaurant and enjoy the ambience. In the pic beside, watching people peole-watching!
1. With your back to the large church in Piazza Navona, walk down the narrow street ahead of you.
2. When that street ends turn left.
3. Turn right at the first street and walk straight.
To continue the walk, go to the center of the piazza, and with your back to the church take the narrow street facing you. Where that street ends, turn left and then turn right on the first street - a narrow little alley with a clock on the corner. Walk straight for two blocks and you will be at the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is the best preserved ancient Roman monument, a temple to all gods, built in 120 AD. The walls and dome are built of what seems to be similar to modern day concrete, except it also contains volcanic ash. It remains the largest unsupported dome in the world. The diameter of the dome is 43.30 meters or 142 ft. and is in perfect proportion - the distance from the floor to the top of the dome is exactly equal to its diameter. The beautiful marble on the floor and on the walls is the Roman original. The 16 massive Corinthian columns in front were brought from Egypt. Originally there were statues of the Roman gods in the niches. The walls are about 20 feet thick, to support the dome. The Pantheon was turned into a church in 600 AD, which has helped the preservation—it is still used as a church.
Step 3 - To Largo di Torre Argentina
1. Facing the Pantheon, walk down the street on the right hand side.
2. Go straight, crossing a busy street.
Stand facing the doorway of the Pantheon, and walk down the street that goes by the right side of it, the Via di Torre Argentina. This is a narrow little alley that after 3 blocks opens out to a wide intersection. Cross the street to the interesting block facing you. If this is your first trip to Rome, this will be a surprise! It is called Largo di Torre Argentina, with the ruins of four Roman Republican temples and the remains of Pompey's Theatre. (‘Argentina’ has nothing to do with the country….) Behind the temples - some of the oldest in Rome (400-300 BC), there is a large base that was part of the Roman Senate. This is where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death during the session of the Ides of March, on March 15, 44 BC. This area is also a cat sanctuary, where 130 cats live. Seven days a week volunteers feed, clean and look after them. There is a Cat Shop, and the cats can be adopted.
Step 4 - Choices
Choice 1 - Go back to St. Peter's
If time is short or tired feet are a problem, walk back to the Vatican by simply following the busy street you crossed to get to Largo di Torre Argentina. This street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, will take you to the river and then to St. Peter's. From St. Peter's Square, re-trace your steps to the train station.
Choice 2 - Go to the market
1. Walk one block past the ruins, following the tram tracks.
2. Turn right, crossing the tram tracks.
3. Walk this street to the market.
Continue walking down the same street where you walked from the Pantheon, beside the ruins and then one block more—the street has a kink—and turn right where there is a treed square, crossing the tram tracks. Walk in front of a church and there are cars parked. Follow this street, Via dei Giubbonari, about four blocks to a big market, Mercato di Campo de Fiori, which has been there since the mid 1800s. Legend says that the name of the square comes from the Latin ‘Campous Florae’, that is the Field of Flora, a woman loved by General Pompey, who had built his theatre close to the market, in Largo di Torre Argentina. From the far end of the market, take the wide street to your right which will lead you to the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and turn left to the river and St. Peter's.
Choice 3 - Get lost!
My adventurous 16 year old granddaughter and I agree - the best travelling experiences are found when walking in strange cities and being somewhat lost - it is such fun turning a corner and getting a surprise. One of the best places to do this is in the twisting streets of medieval Rome. From Largo di Torre Argentina go back across the main street and trace your footsteps back to Piazza Navona. Walk to the church, and when facing it, go into the street on the right hand side. You will almost immediately be lost, but it doesn’t matter. The main street you left is to the south and west, the river to the north, and the Piazza Navona and its access streets to the east. There are lots of hidden delights in this area - little squares, ornate churches, quaint restaurants, archways into tiny alleys and more. To get back to St. Peter's - if you come out at the river, turn left; if you come out on the main street Corso Vittorio Emanuele, turn right. Enjoy, and keep your cell phone to take pictures, not to find out where you are!