Ancient Rome in a Day

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Ancient Rome in a Day

Ancient Rome lends itself quite easily to a day trip. Many of the sites are free to enter, while others can be bundled together with a sightseeing pass or card. Lace up your sturdy walking shoes and walk through time in Rome’s historic center, taking as much or as little time as you like at each site. As always when you’re limited for time, consider pre-purchasing tickets for museum and site admission, buying skip-the-line tickets for the busiest attractions, using a hop-on hop-off bus tour and getting an early start on your day. Here’s what to see in ancient Rome in a (very full) day!
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1. Piazza del Campidoglio
The site of the Temples of Jupiter and Juno, the Campidoglio is the smallest of the seven hills of Rome, but one of the most sacred. It was here that generals made sacrifices to the gods in thanks for victory. Look for the recreated statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius – the original is in a nearby museum. Two museums here are well worth it, if you have the time: the Palazzo Nuovo, home to Greek and Roman sculpture, and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, with art, sculpture and fresco galleries. From the hill, you’ll get an outstanding view of the Roman Forum and, in the distance, the Colosseum.
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2. Imperial Forums
Grab a map so you know which ruins of the famous forums of Imperial Rome you’re viewing as you make your way along the railings that skirt the site. Look for Trajan’s Column, a bas-relief sculpture showing Trajan’s victorious 2nd-century campaign against Dacia. Look, too, for the Basilica Ulpia, the Forum of Julius Caesar, the ancient Rome stock exchange and the Temple of Venus. Continue on to view the Form of Augustus, the Forum of Nerva, the Forum of Vespasian and the Temple of Venus and Roma.
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3. Colosseum
Of course, no day in ancient Rome is complete without a stop at the enormous Colosseum, on which construction began in AD 72. It was dedicated in AD 80 by Titus and, at the time, held 80,000 spectators who flocked here to watch gladiators battle and animals fight. You’ll want about 90 minutes to explore the engineering marvel. As with other popular ancient Rome sites, consider pre-purchasing a skip-the-line ticket. And come early in the day!
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4. Arch of Constantine
Whether or not you know much about engineering and architecture, you’ll be awestruck by this arch, erected in AD 312 to commemorate Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius. Look for the inscription in the upper part of the arch, stating: “To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pius, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and only the force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.”
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5. Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Palatine Museum
The heart of ancient Rome and a center for trade, religion and politics, the Roman Forum will come to life in your imagination as you wander through the ruins of temples, basilicas and arches. There are walking tours available if you’d like a guided approach with more insight. From here, explore Palatine Hill, where once stood the gilded palaces of wealthy families and emperors. Dating back to the 1st century AD, the Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana were the official emperors’ residences for more than three centuries. Atop the hill, you’ll find ruins of these ancient villas, gardens and great views of the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the city.
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6. The Pantheon
Amazingly preserved, the Pantheon, stands on the Piazza della Rotonda with an obelisk and Baroque fountain. Take about 45 minutes to explore the ancient monument, which was rebuilt several times over the ages. What you see today was reconstructed in the 2nd century AD by the Emperor Hadrian as the temple of all gods. Early Christians converted the temple to a church in the 7th century and now it is lined with tombs. It’s difficult for archaeologists to determine exactly how old the Pantheon is, or what it’s made of, due to these numerous reconstructions. It’s free to enter, so don’t miss it.
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7. Baths of Diocletian
Originally covering 32 acres, the Baths of Diocletian were the largest public baths in ancient Rome. The remains of the baths, as well as reconstructed, painted tombs, are part of the National Roman Museum, which you can visit every day except Monday. Visit the outdoor section of the baths to see a 16th-century garden with almost 400 pieces of artwork, including statues, sarcophagi and reliefs.
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8. Baths of Caracalla
Used between the 2nd and 6th centuries, the Baths of Caracalla are now a set of ruins at the foot of Aventine Hill. Where once the massive bathing complex stood – which could hold up to 1,600 bathers at a time – now stand the interesting ruins, as well as art galleries, gardens and a few shops. These are the most extensive remaining ruins of any Roman bathing establishments.
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9. Trajan’s Market
If you’re a fan of shopping malls, check out what is thought to be the world’s oldest one. The various arcades found in the red-brick Trajan’s Market today may have been the original administrative offices of Emperor Trajan, as well as apartments – perhaps up to 150 at one time. Visitors are allowed on several of the six levels, where you can view the intricate marble floors, the remains of the library and the ancient artifacts at the Museum of the Imperial Forums.
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10. Via Appia
If you have more time, consider biking or walking the Via Appia, which when constructed starting in 312 BC was a major route into ancient Rome. Today, it’s a 10-mile-long archaeological park. Along the road, you’ll find tomb ruins and monuments, some of which are open for public viewing. Visit the various catacombs and San Clemente Church on one of the many offered guided tours.

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