During the Roman Empire the Tiber Bend area was a public training ground for soldiers called the Campo Marzio. With Rome’s fall, the city turned its back on this riverside neighbourhood and, aside from a few foreign settlements, it wasn’t until the 15th century that anything other than a few churches was built here. The Baroque boom gave the area’s palaces their distinctive look. Mussolini cleaned up the neighbourhood in the 1920s and 1930s to bring out its ancient character. He cleared away the debris surrounding Augustus’s Mausoleum, reassembled the Ara Pacis and surrounded the lot with reviled Fascist buildings, complete with self-aggrandizing bas-reliefs.

Recycled Temples

Romans are ingenious recyclers. The Pantheon became a church, Hadrian’s Temple a stock exchange; San Clemente was built atop a temple to Mithras, Santa Maria sopra Minerva one to Minerva. In the 11th century, the walls of San Lorenzo in Miranda in the Forum and San Nicola in Carcere on Via Teatro di Marcello were both grafted onto temple columns.


  1. The Pantheon

    “Simple, erect, severe, austere, sublime” – even Lord Byron struggled to find words to express this marvel of ancient Roman architecture, the only ancient Roman temple to survive the millennia virtually intact .

    Relieving arches, Pantheon
  2. Santa Maria sopra Minerva

    The only truly Gothic church in Rome, possibly built, as the name suggests, atop a temple to Minerva. Michelangelo’s Risen Christ (1514–21) is a muscular rendition of the Saviour so shockingly nude that church officials added the bronze wisp of drapery. Filippino Lippi frescoed the last chapel on the right; the lower scene on the right wall includes portraits of young Giovanni and Giulio de’ Medici (known as Popes Leo X and Clement VII), who are buried in tombs by Antonio Sangallo the Younger, in the apse, with Fra’ Angelico and (most of) St Catherine of Siena .

    • Piazza della Minerva

    • Open 7:10am–7pm Mon–Sat, 8am–noon, 2–7pm Sun

    • Free

    • DA

    Nave, Santa Maria sopra Minerva
  3. Galleria Doria Pamphilj

    The best of the private collection galleries in Rome. In addition to paintings by Rubens, Correggio, Tintoretto, Carracci and Brueghel, star works include Caravaggio’s Mary Magdalene, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, and Young St John the Baptist (a copy he made of his Capitoline version); Titian’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist; and Bernini’s bust of Pope Innocent X .

  4. Ara Pacis

    Augustus Caesar built this “Altar of Peace” between 13 BC and 9 BC to celebrate the famed pax romana (Roman peace) he instituted – largely by subjugating most of Western Europe, the Levant and North Africa. Fragments of the altar were excavated over several centuries, and in the 1920s Mussolini placed the reconstituted Ara Pacis by Augustus’s Mausoleum. The altar is now housed in a Richard Meier-designed museum, the first modern structure to rise in the centre of Rome in 70 years.

    • Piazza Augusto Imperatore & Lungo­tevere Augusta

    • 060608

    • Open 9am–7pm Tue–Sun

    • Adm €6.50


    Marcus Agrippa, Ara Pacis
  5. Sant’Ignazio di Loyola

    When the Jesuits’ new Baroque church was finished in 1685, it still lacked a dome. Master of trompe-l’oeil Andrea Pozzo used his flawless technique to create the illusion of an airy dome on the flat circle of ceiling over the church’s crossing; stand on the yellow marble disc for the full effect, then walk directly under the “dome” to see how skewed the painting actually is. Pozzo also painted the nave vault with the lovely Glory of Sant’Ignazio.

    • Piazza di S Ignazio

    • Open 7:30am–12:30pm, 3–7:15pm daily

    • Free

    Piazza Sant’Ignazio

  6. Column of Marcus Aurelius

    Trajan’s Column was such a success  that this 29.5-m (97-ft) one was erected in AD 180–93 to honour the military career of Marcus Aurelius. The spiral of reliefs celebrates his campaigns against the Germans (169–73) on the bottom and the Sarmatians (174–76) on the top. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V replaced the statues of the emperor and his wife with that of St Paul.

    • Piazza Colonna

    Relief, Column of Marcus Aurelius
  7. Augustus’s Mausoleum

    Augustus built this grand imperial tomb in 27 BC, his ashes later joined by those of emperors Tiberius and Nerva, and worthies such as Agrippa and Marcellus. Barbarian invaders later made off with the urns and locals mined its travertine facing for their palaces. The ancient rotunda has served time as a hanging garden, fortress, circus for bear-baiting, and concert hall. In the 1920s its crown was restored to the ancient style, covered with grass and cypress, and Mussolini laid out the Fascist piazza around it. Major architectural work is planned for this area.

    • Piazza Augusto Imperatore

    • Open by appt only

    • Adm

    Augustus’s Mausoleum
  8. Piazza di Sant’Ignazio

    Francesco Raguzzini laid out this masterpiece of Baroque urban design for the Jesuits in 1727–8, creating piazza carefully planned right down to the ornate iron balconies and matching dusty pink plaster walls.

  9. Bernini’s Elephant Obelisk

    An example of Bernini’s fun-loving side. This baby elephant, carved to the master’s designs by Ercole Ferrata in 1667, carries a miniature 6th-century BC Egyptian obelisk on its back. It is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Carthaginian leader Hannibal’s war elephants, which carried tall siege towers across the Alps to attack the Roman Empire in 218 BC.

    • Piazza della Minerva

  10. Piazza della Rotonda

    The square in front of the Pantheon was filled with a boisterous daily market until 1847; some of the Pantheon’s portico columns still bear square holes from the stall posts once set into them. The square is now filled with tourists, outdoor tables of cafés, and horse-drawn carriages, all ranged around Giacomo della Porta’s 1575 fountain, which supports a tiny Egyptian obelisk dedicated to Ramses II.

    Piazza della Rotonda
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