Three thousand years of history line the streets of Rome – triumphal arches, columns, fragments of statues, temples…Walking through the city centre feels like being transported back in time, particularly when you’re exploring the Colosseum and the sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.
However, the sheer size of the archaeological sites can be overwhelming, and when you’re exploring Rome on your own, it’s difficult to make sense of the history. Although the monumental columns in the Forum are undoubtedly impressive, they become even more amazing when you know what you’re looking at. Visiting the Forum with a knowledgeable guide and discovering that these columns are the remnants of the famous Temple of Saturn gives you a whole new perspective, bringing the past to life.
A visit to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill is an essential part of any trip to Rome. To make sure you don’t miss out on the most intriguing parts of these fascinating sites, join an in-depth Colosseum tour and discover atmospheric ruins and spectacular views of the ancient city.
The Colosseum is one of the wonders of the world. Even if you’re a local and see it on a daily basis, walking past on the way to work, it’s impossible to take it for granted. Its sheer size is awe-inspiring, and it becomes even more amazing when you consider the amphitheatre dramatic history.
For an even greater appreciation and understanding of Roman history, visit the amphitheatre with an expert guide on a Colosseum tour. Exploring the Colosseum with a guide allows you to see the parts that many other visitors miss, while hearing stories about the bloody spectacles that took place in the arena. As well as violent gladiatorial combat there were wild animal hunts, and even naval battles; on a guided tour of the Colosseum you’ll learn about how these events were staged, and what went on behind the scenes.
Your guide will also reveal the more human side of the games – the lives of the slaves and gladiators who worked and died at the Colosseum. The games were organised for the entertainment of the people of Rome, but there were often ulterior motives, such as the depraved desires of the emperors, or political power play. You may think you know the Colosseum, but during your Rome tour you’ll discover the truth behind this magnificent monument.
The Temple of Saturn
The vast columns of the Temple of Saturn have come to represent the Roman Forum, appearing in countless paintings, photos and postcards. They’re an evocative symbol of the former glory of Rome, and a reminder of the prominence of religion in the ancient city.
This sacred temple contained an enormous hollow statue of Saturn, which was filled with olive oil. For most of the year, ordinary Romans would not have been able to see this statue, as only priests were allowed to enter the temple. During the pagan festival of Saturnalia the temple doors were opened, and people would gather in front of the temple to watch the sacrifice to the god. This was the beginning of one of the most hedonistic Roman festivals, which involved excessive drinking, gambling, and social order being turned temporarily upside down.
Although the priests, the statue and the temple walls are long gone, the remaining columns are some of the most iconic ruins in the city, helping us to imagine the legendary grandeur of Ancient Rome.
The House of the Vestal Virgins
One of the most intriguing ruins in the Roman Forum is the House of the Vestal Virgins, once the home of the priestesses of the Temple of Vesta. These women generally came from wealthy families and were selected at a young age – sometimes only six or seven. After leaving home, they came to live in the House of the Vestal Virgins, a building located near the Temple of Vesta on the eastern side of the Forum.
As priestesses, their main responsibilities were guarding the sacred flame in the temple, and retaining their virginity. They lived privileged lives and could expect a comfortable retirement, but for those who strayed, the punishment was extreme. Women who broke their vow of chastity were buried alive, although the authorities didn’t see it that way. The victim was imprisoned in an underground room with a small amount of food and then left to die “a natural death”.
The House of the Vestal Virgins was once a grand building with fifty rooms. Although little remains of the original structure, on a tour of the Roman Forum you can still see the statues of the Vestal Virgins in the courtyard and explore the ruins of the house, gaining access to the private world of the priestesses.
Just like the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Imperial Ramp was previously accessible only to the privileged few. Last year it was opened to the public for the first time in history, so even if you’ve been to the Forum before, you’ve probably never seen the Imperial Ramp.
Now you can walk in the footsteps of emperors such as Domitian and Augustus, who would have used the ramp as a private shortcut to their opulent palaces on the top of the Palatine. The passage was covered by a 30 foot high ceiling, allowing the emperors to ascend on horseback. Even on foot, it’s still an impressive sight, and there’s something almost surreal about climbing the ramp, knowing that the last time it was in frequent use was about 2,000 years ago.
Santa Maria Antiqua
On your way up to the Palatine, look out for the 6th century church of Santa Maria Antiqua, one of the oldest surviving churches in Rome, which is decorated with Byzantine frescoes. It’s been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages” and is an interesting example of Rome’s multi-layered history, as it sits in the middle of the Roman ruins of the Forum.
The church was buried under rubble during an earthquake in the 9th century, and was not rediscovered until 1900. The paintings are in surprisingly good condition, having been protected by centuries of burial, and they were recently restored. Now that this unique church is finally open to the public, make sure you pay a visit on your tour of Rome.
The Stadium of Domitian
Not to be confused with the other stadium of Domitian (beneath Piazza Navona), this stadium on the Palatine Hill was once part of the vast complex of Domitian’s palace. The exact function of the stadium is still uncertain – it may have been a public hippodrome, or a private stadium for the emperor and his guests, or even a simple garden. Legend has it that Saint Sebastian was martyred here; he was tied to a column and killed with arrows on the orders of Diocletian.
Regardless of the stadium’s true function, these enormous ruins are some of the most impressive on the Palatine, giving a sense of the wealth and power of the emperors.
View of the Roman Forum from the Palatine
The best view of Rome? It might just be the view from the Palatine Hill. When you’re standing in the shady gardens of the Palatine, looking out across the city, you can understand why it was once the most desirable neighbourhood in Ancient Rome.
Emperors and aristocracy chose to build their luxurious villas here for numerous reasons, inspired by the hill’s legendary history (Romulus and Remus lived here) and attracted by the cooler temperatures. Another advantage was the spectacular views across the city, which can still be enjoyed today. The temples and courthouses of the Roman Forum may not be in the same condition as they were in Augustus’s day, but they’re still there, along with the columns and triumphal arches that stretch all the way to the Colosseum.
From the Palatine Hill you can see the Forum in its entirety, as well as the Colosseum, the Capitoline Hill, the Vittoriano, and countless churches. If you want to get a sense of the size and grandeur of Rome – both now and then – there’s no better place to be.