A Walk Through the Heart of Rome
Rome is full of surprises.
There are hidden gems and visual delights -
but not always where you would expect to find them.
Step 1 - Capitoline Hill to the Trevi Fountain
If you do the cruise excursion 'Rome on Your Own' and want to see as many sights as possible - this walk will suit you! As some tourists walk quickly and some spend time sitting at sidewalk restaurants and puttering as they go - delete sights if your time is short. With the cruise excursion you should have 5 to 6 hours and you must be back on time, so use the following as a guide.
The picture above is the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, a huge white building that looks like a wedding cake or a typewriter, according to the locals who dislike it. Vittorio Emanuele was the first king of unified Italy. This building is hard to miss, and perhaps that is why cruise excursions usually stop close by.
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Most buses into Rome for 'On Your Own' day stop down the street to the right of the Monument. The picture beside shows the street, with the Vittorio Emanuele Monument behind the photographer.
In the back of the photo is the Theater of Marcellus. This Roman open-air theater was built in 13 BC by Emperor Augustus. Today the top floor has apartments. Summer theater events are held nearby.
Walk towards the Vittorio Emanuele, and before you get to it you will see a very long set of stairs to a plain looking brown church called Santa Maria in Aracoeli—in the sky or in heaven. In the early days women climbed those stairs on their knees if they wanted to get pregnant.
Beside the church stairs is a ramp for you to climb designed by Michelangelo for horses and carriages that goes up to Piazza del Campidoglio (again designed by M….) with a fancy pattern on the floor - hard to see when standing on it! The lions at the bottom of the ramp are Egyptian. This is the Capitoline Hill, the smallest and most important of the seven hills of Ancient Rome. Michelangelo designed the facades of the buildings around the square, with the center building the city hall of Rome. The equestrian statue is of Marcus Aurelius. On either side of the square are museums.
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Walk to the back left corner of the square, and climb the steps. Part way up the steps take more steps to the left that lead to the church. An odd church, very old—churches began on the site in the 600's. Churches in Italy are very ornate, and this one is filled with chandeliers. Walk through the church and out the front door – turn to the right and go around to get to the glass elevator that goes to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele for great views of Rome and the ruins in the Forum and Palatine Hill. Below is the view towards the Forum and the Colosseum from the roof.
Go back down to the square and then down to street level. Walk to the front of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, and then to the far end of the square, Piazza Venezia, to get good pictures of the monument. At the end of the square with your back to the monument, turn right. Walk two blocks to the building with arches and turn left. You are now on a quaint street with an ancient brick wall on your right and overhead passages. Walk straight - and you will come to the Trevi Fountain, perhaps the most beautiful fountain in the world. In the last few years it has been cleaned and repaired – it is glorious! Remember, if you throw in a coin, you will return. Stand with your back to the fountain and throw the coin over your shoulder.
Step 2 - The Trevi Fountain to Largo di Torre Argentina
Facing the fountain, walk to the left hand side, and when you are even with the back wall of the fountain, turn left (the street that shows on the picture above). Walk straight - this is a narrow little street, and there is a bit of a jog. In two blocks you will come to Via del Corso. You want to turn left on Via Del Corso, but take a look to your right at the Galleria Alberto Sordi (a fancy mall) and across from it is Piazza Colonna with a tall carved victory column—the Column of Marcus Aurelius. It is a Doric column featuring a spiral relief.
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Walk one block south on Via del Corso and turn to your right and walk one block. One wall is all there is left of the huge Temple of Hadrian (above) —the building is now the stock exchange. Look down beside the pillars to see the actual street level in Roman times. Walk to the far end of the pillars and continue down the street ahead for several blocks. Ahead is the Pantheon!
The Pantheon is awe-inspiring! It 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, apparently 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 as the distance from the floor to the top of the dome is 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 Pantheon was turned into a church in 600 AD, which has helped the preservation—it is still used as a church.
Stand facing the doorway of the Pantheon, and walk down the street that goes beside 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. This 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….) Within the archeological complex, behind the temples, you can see a big base, formerly part of the Roman Senate, where during the session of the Ides of March, on the 15 March 44 BC., Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. This area is also a cat sanctuary, where 130 cats shelter amongst the oldest temples in Rome (400-300 BC). Seven days a week volunteers feed, clean and look after them. There is a Cat Shop, and the cats can be adopted.
Step 3 - Largo di Torre Argentina to Piazza Navona
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, two more blocks and you come to a small square, Largo dei Librari, on your right, with restaurant tables out.
Continue up the street and one block on is a big market, Mercato di Campo de Fiori, which has been there since the mid 1800s. I love taking colourful pictures in markets! Italian markets have a lot of character. Perhaps buy some limoncello to take home! After shopping, go almost to the end of the market, turn right and take the street called Via de Baullari (there’s a sign on the street building, and a Golden Arches arrow as you enter it). Walk two blocks to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a main street, and cross it. There is a small square and you will pass a small church entrance and walk ahead on Via della Cuccagna—and then you are at Piazza Navona!
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Piazza Navona is a favourite place! There are wonderful fountains, painters, music, vendors and great people watching, with the three big fountains and the beautiful baroque church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. The first fountain you will see is the Fontana del Moro at the southern end of the piazza that depicts a Moor fighting a dolphin. La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) from 1651, is in the center and is the most impressive. 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). At the northern end of the piazza 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.
At the far end (Neptune fountain end) of the square—go into the toy store called Al Sogno—wonderful!
Sit by a fountain or at a sidewalk restaurant - this is a perfect place to people-watch.
From here you have some choices, depending on the time, your feet and energy.
Choice 1: Go back to catch the bus - walk back to Corso Vittorio Emanuele from the south end of the piazza. At this main street, turn left. Pass the Roman ruins at Largo di Torre Argentina, and when you come to a large church with a square in front, take the street that angles across the square. This street will take you to the bottom of the ramp to Capitoline Hill and the street where the bus stops. Complete walk approximately 4.7 km. (3 miles).
Choice 2: Get lost! Facing the church in Piazza Navona, take the street on the right hand side. This leads you into the streets of medieval Rome. You will almost immediately be lost as the streets go in all directions, but it doesn’t matter. The main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuel is to the south, the river to the west and 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. Enjoy! See 'Choice 1' to get back to the bus.
Complete walk approximately 5.7 km. (3.5 miles).
Choice 3: From the Neptune end of the piazza go down the street beside the Al Sogno toy store, and walk a short block, turn left for a very short block and then right onto Via G Zanardelli. In two blocks you come to the river. Cross the bridge. Ahead of you is the Supreme Court Building—very ornate! Walk to your left after crossing the bridge, along the river. There is usually a painter’s market on the pedestrian walk. The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant'Angelo is 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.
Walking past the Castel, you will be on the street that enters the Vatican - if you have time, explore this, or continue walking along the river until just past the street to the Vatican. Cross the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele bridge—it is beautiful with marvelous statues and gives you great views. The bridge leads you onto the street Corso Vittorio Emanuele - see choice 1 to get back to the bus.
Complete walk approximately 6.7 km. (4 miles).