From wonders such as the immense Colosseum to the legendary Palatine Hill, the impressive Pyramid of Cestius and the long history of San Clemente, Rome is brimming with amazing historic places. Other top archaeological sites to see tend to include the famous Ostia Antica and the beating heart of the city: the Roman Forum.
With a legacy that spans over 2,000 years of history, the eternal city has scintillating archaeological attractions around every corner. Whether you’re on a whistle-stop tour of the city or just don’t want to miss the essentials, we’ve put together a guide to the 10 Key Historical Sites in Rome.
What Historical Sites Should I Visit in Rome? The Top 10
1. The Colosseum
The Colosseum is a site like no other. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, nothing represents the sheer power and magnificence of the Roman Empire like this stunning piece of ancient architecture.
The Colosseum, or ‘Colosseo’ in Italian, was once the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It was built in the 1st century AD by the Emperor Vespasian as a place for the people of Rome to enjoy. Originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre after Vespasian’s family name, the man who brought the Roman Empire back from the brink would not live to see its completion.
The Colosseum remained the amphitheatre of Rome until the end of the Roman Empire. This was the place where gladiators, lions and those accused of crimes were put to the test, often fighting to the death.
2. Temples of the Forum Boarium
The Temples of the Forum Boarium are two of the best preserved Roman temples to have survived from the Republican era, and together marked an important commercial and religious spot nestled by the Capitoline, Palatine and River Tiber. 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 2nd century BC.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the site saw new landscaping and conservation efforts towards both temples, resulting in the site we see today. Backed by tall trees and endless Roman blue skies, the temples are in fantastic condition, providing visitors with a sense of the bustling ancient cattle market dominated by these structures.
3. Pyramid of Cestius
The Pyramid of Cestius is the tomb of affluent magistrate Caius Cestius which was built in the 1st century BC in Rome, Italy. Constructed of white marble and brick, this ostentatious 35-metre high tomb was built in this style due to the popularity of all things Egyptian which swept through Rome after Egypt was incorporated into the Empire.
For those embarking on the Grand Tour during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Pyramid of Cestius was a must-see. Percy Shelley described it as “one keen pyramid with wedge sublime” in a 1821 elegy for the poet John Keats.
Ring-fenced by a guard railing, the Pyramid of Cestius continues to provide a dramatic, awe-inspiring feature to the ancient Roman landscape – a true feat when you consider the monuments it shares the city with.
4. Palatine Hill
The Palatine Hill or Palatino is considered as the birthplace of Rome. One of Rome’s 7 hills, the Palatine Hill is closely linked with the city’s history and today houses some of its most ancient and important sites.
Legend has it that the twins Romulus and Remus were taken to Palatine Hill by the she-wolf who raised them, and here they founded a village which would become Rome.
In a dispute over who was the rightful leader of the new settlement, Romulus eventually killed his brother at the Palatine Hill, thus becoming the namesake of Rome. Indeed, the Palatine Hill is where the earliest huts of Rome were found, supposedly built under the remit of Romulus himself.
5. Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica is an extraordinary Roman site just outside the city centre that contains the ruins of the ancient port town that once served as the gateway to Rome. Tracing its roots back to at least the 4th century BC, Ostia Antica served as Rome’s principle port for hundreds of years: a witness and monument to the rise of the ancient superpower, its dominance and eventual decline.
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, which is the oldest known synagogue site in Europe.
Yet Ostia Antica is so much more than these notable elements: it contains a huge range of well-preserved typical Roman dwellings, shops, flats and warehouses – even a Roman public toilet. These remains combine to provide visitors with a vivid picture of an ancient Roman town and allows you to get a real feel for day-to-day life in ancient Rome.
6. Roman Forum
The Roman Forum, or Forum Romanum, 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.
For over a millennia the Forum’s changing nature reflected the constant shifting in the fortunes of the religious, military, and political natures of the Roman world. The Roman Forum witnessed elections, public speeches, criminal trials, social gatherings, and religious ceremonies among many others.
Today, though much of the grandeur of the Roman Forum has been lost to the ages, it is still a spectacular display of ancient Roman life.
7. Capitoline Museums
Musei Capitolini – the Capitoline Museums – stand on the ancient Capitoline Hill in the centre of ancient and modern Rome, and host a huge wealth of artefacts from the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods.
Comprised of 3 main buildings, namely Palazzo Nuovo, Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Senatorio, the Musei Capitolini are located near the Roman Forum and a short walk from the Colosseum.
Current exhibitions include ‘The legacy of Caesar and the conquest of time’, exploring the marble timekeeping and history of Rome from its origins to the imperial age, and ‘The Torlonia Marbles’ which displays the world’s most prestigious private collection of ancient sculptures.
8. Baths of Diocletian
Once the largest ancient baths complex in the world, the Baths of Diocletian – or Terme di Diocleziano – was built between 298 AD and 306 AD in honour of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Today, they are open to the public as part of the National Roman Museum in Rome, Italy.
One of the key tourist attractions for those wishing to view the baths is the Museo Nazionale Romano – Terme di Diocleziano – which is part of the Rome National Museum (shown on map, above). The museum, which opened in 1889, was built within the Baths of Diocletian and contains several collections from the ancient world. Although the museum contains many interesting exhibits, it gives little insight into the original baths themselves.
9. The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is an iconic 18th century monument in Rome. A stunning depiction of 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.
Located in Rome’s Trevi district abutting the palazzo Poli, the Trevi Fountain was built on the site of an earlier fountain that was demolished in the 17th century. The Trevi Fountain marks the intersection of three major Roman roads – from which it gains the name ‘Trivium’ – and was the terminus of the Acqua Vergine. Revived from the Aqua Virgo of ancient Rome, this ancient aqueduct once served the Baths of Agrippa.
Any trip to Rome is not complete without visiting the 85 foot tall Trevi Fountain to throw a euro over your left shoulder into the fountain’s clear pool.
10. Curia Julia
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. The Curia stood at the very heart of the ancient city, both physically and politically, and would have borne witness to some of Rome’s most famous events and figures.
Curia Julia is one of many curia – which roughly translates to ‘meeting house’ – which existed during the course of the Ancient Roman civilisation and was the administrative centre of the empire.
Unusually for an Ancient Roman building, the Curia Julia stands intact due to its conversion into the church of Saint Adriano in 623 AD by Pope Honorius I.