From the wonders of the Colosseum to the amazing Palatine Hill, the mind-boggling Pyramid of Cestius and the hidden secrets of San Clemente, Rome is brimming with amazing historic places. Other top archaeological sites to see tend to include the famous Palatine Hill, Ostia Antica and the Roman Forum.
With a legacy that spans over 2,000 years of history – and such giants from the past as Julius Caesar, Augustus and Constantine once treading its streets – the eternal city has scintillating archaeological attractions around every corner.
We’ve put together an expert guide to the very best Rome historical sites, monuments and museums with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of historic sites in Rome, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What Historical Sites Should I Visit in Rome? The Top Ten
Once the largest amphitheatre of Ancient Rome where gladiators, criminals and lions alike fought for their lives, the Colosseum remains a world renowned, iconic symbol of the Roman Empire.
Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum was opened with great fanfare by Titus, Vespasian’s son and successor. He marked the opening of the Colosseum with one hundred days of games, including stunning battle recreations on artificial lakes of water. The fact that the Colosseum was completed by this date was particularly impressive considering the building’s incredible complexity, vast size and the fact that Vespasian only came to power in 69 AD.
A visit to the Colosseum offers a great insight into the lives of Roman citizens and those who had the misfortune of fighting there. In particular, it is now possible to tour the underground hallways and corridors where the gladiators of ancient Rome would prepare to fight and ponder their mortality. Also recently opened are the higher areas of the structure, from where you can take in views of the Roman Forum.
The Temples of the Forum Boarium are two of the best preserved Roman temples to have survived from the Republican era. Comprised of two temples, the Temple of Hercules Victor and the Temple of Portunus, the Temples of the Forum Boarium date back to approximately the second century BC. The Forum Boarium was itself originally part of the Roman cattle market before becoming a commercial centre. In medieval times, both of the temples were incorporated into churches, probably accounting for their excellent state of preservation.
The Pyramid of Cestius is the tomb of affluent magistrate, Caius Cestius which was built between 18 and 12 BC. Constructed of white marble and brick, this ostentatious 35-metre high tomb was likely built in this style due to the popularity of all things Egyptian which swept Rome after Egypt was incorporated into the Empire. This pyramid-tomb was later set into the Aurelian Walls, helping to ensure its preservation through the ages.
The Palatine Hill is known as the birthplace of Rome. It houses some of the city’s most impressive ancient sites. Legend says that the twins Romulus and Remus were taken to Palatine Hill by a she-wolf who raised them. Here they founded a village which would become Rome.
Today, the Palatine Hill offers some of Rome’s best ancient sites and is a must-see, especially for history enthusiasts. Amongst the buildings excavated at the Palatine Hill are the House of Augustus and the home of several of Rome’s emperors, the Domus Augustana.
Ostia Antica is an extraordinary Roman site that contains the ruins of the ancient port town that served as the gateway to Rome. Just half an hour from central Rome by train, Ostia Antica has all the inspiration of Pompeii without the throngs of tourists. In fact, if you want to examine well preserved Roman ruins in peace and quiet with time to contemplate the ancient world, you’ll be hard pressed to find better.
Ostia Antica’s place in history is most notable for an attack by pirates in 68BC which led to unprecedented powers being handed to Pompey the Great, setting yet another precedent which damaged the foundations of the Republican system.
Today, visitors can view a great many ruins from the ancient town, including a well preserved Roman theatre, the Baths of Neptune, remains of the military camp, temples to ancient deities, the forum and even Ostia Synagogue.
The Roman Forum was the very centre of ancient Rome. Throughout the lifespan of Roman civilisation the Forum served as the focus of political, civic and religious life. No visit to Rome is complete without a stroll around the Roman Forum and it is a must see for anyone visiting the city.
There are a large number of historic buildings or their remains in the Roman Forum, some of the notable ones are: The Temple of Saturn; the Arch of Septimius Severus; the Arch of Titus; the Atrium Vestae; the Temple of Caesar; and the Basilica of Maxentius.
The Capitoline Museums stand on the ancient Capitoline Hill in the centre of Rome and host a huge wealth of artefacts and exhibits from the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods. Among the museum’s many wonders are collections of classical sculptures and statues, exhibits on ancient mythology, medieval and renaissance artworks as well as many bronzes and portraits.
Once the largest ancient baths complex in the world, the Baths of Diocletian were built between 298AD and 306AD in honour of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. One of the key tourist attractions for those wishing to view the baths is the Terme di Diocleziano, which is part of the Rome National Museum. This museum, opened in 1889, was built within the Baths of Diocletian and contains several collections from the ancient world. Probably the best place to view the actual structure, and get an idea as to the original scale of the Baths of Diocletian, is the well preserved Aula Ottagona.
The Trevi Fountain is an iconic eighteenth century monument. A stunning depiction of several ancient deities and resplendent with frescos of legends and myths, the Trevi Fountain attracts floods of tourists, keen to throw their coins into its waters to assure their return to Rome – or so goes the myth.
The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum was the senate house in Ancient Rome, built under Julius Caesar and later restored by Diocletian after being damaged by fire.
It stood at the very heart of the ancient city, both physically and politically and would have borne witness to some of the most famous of Rome's events and figures.
Unusually for an Ancient Roman building, the Curia Julia stands intact, this being due to its conversion into the church of Saint Adriano in 623 AD by Pope Honorius I.