Rome wasn’t built in a day and if you’re pushed for time on a trip to the Eternal City, you’re certainly not going to see everything it has to offer in a day. But while there’s plenty to experience in terms of culture, food and ancient history, it’s not impossible to squeeze in the landmark ruins, piazzas and museums of Rome’s capital city in only one day. If that’s all the time you have available, we’ll show you how to make the most of it.
Start your day in Ancient Rome around the area known as the Forum, of which the Colosseum (also spelt Coliseum or Colosseo) is the masterpiece. To get into the amphitheater, arrive earlier than the 9am opening time as the queues grow quickly.
The Colosseum, regarded by many as the symbol of Rome, was the brainchild of Emperor Vespasian. He oversaw the initial construction in AD 72 before it was inaugurated by Titus – an occasion said to have been marked by a 100-day massacre of thousands of wild animals, which set the tone for the structure’s later excesses. Inside the elliptically shaped Colosseum, gladiators – surrounded by tiered seating that shaped where each social class would sit – battled to the death. These competitors were mostly criminals, slaves or Roman prisoners. The victor didn’t necessarily have to kill his or her opponent but the emperor made the final decision on the loser’s fate with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down signal.
Next, walk west along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, an ancient avenue that gives an overview of the Forum’s many monuments. Look out for the House of the Vestal Virgins, home to the priestesses who tended the flame in the Temple of Vesta, and the prominent Basilica of Constantine, which features in most photos of the Forum.
Other highlights include the Arch of Septimius Severus that was built in AD 203 and which depicts scenes from the war against the Parthians.
Now walk to the Piazza del Campidoglio and admire the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Although this is a copy, with the original housed in the Palazzo Nuovo, it is impressive, particularly at night when the square is illuminated.
The piazza’s geometric paving and the facades of the buildings were designed by none other than Michelangelo; the building that stands in front of you as you enter the square is the Palazzo Senatorio. This structure belonged to the Roman Senate from the 12th century and today contains the mayor’s offices.
You’re now standing on top of Capitoline Hill, the heart of Ancient Rome, and close to the entrance of two extraordinary collections – the Palazzo Nuovo (on the right as you enter the square) and the Palazzo dei Conservatori (on the left). Together they’re known as the Capitoline Museums.
Enter the museums (note that they’re closed on Mondays, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December) and make your way to the restaurant where the views across Rome are a sight to behold.
Start your exploration in the Palazzo dei Conservatori where – if you’re running out of time – you should focus on three particularly noteworthy exhibits. These are the bust of Medusa, made of marble by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1644 and 1648, the bronze bust of the legendary She-Wolf suckling Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus, and the iconic head of Constantine I, all that remains – along with a hand and other pieces – of a colossal 4th century statue of the emperor.
In the Palazzo Nuovo look for the Dying Galatian, a Roman replica of a sculpture dedicated to Pergamum by Attalus I to commemorate victory over the Galatians. Take time to stroll through the Hall of the Philosophers, a who’s who of Greek and Roman philosophers and literary giants, and the Hall of the Emperors, which depicts important people from the Imperial Age to the Late Ancient period.
Don’t miss the Torso of Discobolus, a Greek statue of a discus thrower that was, in the 18th century, amended by French sculptor Pierre-Etienne Monnot to resemble an injured warrior.
Head northeast of the Capitol to the districts known as Piazza della Rotonda and Piazza Navona. Each area has an iconic landmark that is worth seeing; the first, in the Piazza del Rotonda, is the Pantheon, a temple built by Marcus Agrippa and dedicated to all the gods.
The temple is a classic example of Roman art in the Hellenistic style; it was transformed into a church on the ascension of Christianity, and is home to many chapels and tombs, including that of Raphael.
Now walk west towards Piazza Navona where, in the Piazza di Trevi, you’ll find the Trevi Fountain, possibly the most famous of its kind in the world. Owing to Italy’s dire economic situation, the Trevi has been neglected and ornate stucco reliefs crumbled off it in June 2012. However, it’s now believed an Italian mineral water company will help fund the restoration work the fountain needs.
Commissioned in 1732 and built by the architect Salvi, it is carved out of one side of a palace and is dominated by a statue of Neptune being drawn in a chariot. Soak up the atmosphere around the Trevi before partaking in a Roman legend: hold a coin in your right hand, and with your back to the fountain, toss it over your left shoulder. If the coin lands cleanly in the fountain, you’re assured of a return to the Eternal City.
Complete your day by dining at the rustic Trattoria Al Moro (Vicolo delle Bollette 13); be sure to sample the spaghetti alla Moro.