This is the city that has nurtured the art of Michelangelo. Housed in twin palaces on opposite sides of his piazza del Campidoglio are the Capitoline Museums. They constitute the oldest public gallery in the world, having opened their collection to the public in 1734. Once inside, you can admire breathtaking paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Caravaggio, and beautifully crafted statues by the Baroque genius Bernini. While on the art trail, don’t miss the Borghese Gallery and the Palazzo Barberini Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.
The Colosseum is a monument of epic proportions. Stories of gory battles between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals have emerged from this Flavian amphitheatre, which dates from AD 72. A vast arena of entertainment, with a seating capacity of over 50,000 people, it could fill up in 10 minutes. Nowhere in the world was there a larger or more glorious setting for mass slaughter. Today, the only gladiators that you will see are the ones parked outside for the tourist shutterbugs. But this is a necessary pilgrimage for history buffs, and the ideal starting point from which to take in the Roman remains of the city: the jaw-dropping Forum, the Domus Aureaand the Pantheon.
Like any other capital city, Rome can be overwhelming. When the Colosseum starts to weigh down on you, find serenity in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, the city’s most central public park. It’s popular with joggers, dog-walkers and pleasure seekers. In recent years, it has grown a contemporary art museum in the Orangerie: the Museo Carlo Bilotti. To escape the crowds, climb the steep hill behind Trastevere and the Gianicolo, where you’ll discover the green tree-filled expanse of the Villa Pamphili Park in the suburb of Monteverde. Children can feed turtles at the pond and ride ponies in the park, while you nap under a shaded tree before heading out to catch a glimpse of the Pope.
If you met the Pope, what would you say? Well, you probably won’t, but you can join an audience with him on Wednesday mornings. If the weather is fine, then he’ll hold this general audience in St Peter’s Square; otherwise it takes place in the Sala Nervi audience hall. Expect to join clusters of Catholic devotees, and flocks of camera-waving tourists. Afterwards, you can take the opportunity to wander through St Peter’s Basilica, admire Michelangelo’s stunning frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and visit the famous ‘Belvedere Apollo’ and ‘Laocoön’ at the Museo Pio-Clementino among theVatican Museums.