This wedge-shaped area holds the dubious distinction of being the place where Caesar was assassinated – but it is also home to the Capitoline Hill, Rome’s finest glory right up to the present day. In ancient times, the zone was full of important public monuments, but in the 14th century, when the papacy moved to France, Rome sank close to extinction and it was along this bend in the river that the remaining 15,000 citizens huddled, in abject squalor. With the popes’ return, serious gentrification took place – papal palaces sprang up, long avenues were laid to connect them with the basilicas, and commerce thrived. Today, you can find clear signs of the long history of Rome’s most authentic neighbourhood.

The Jews in Rome

Since the 2nd century BC, Jews have been a significant presence in Rome. They thrived throughout the Middle Ages, until, in 1556, Pope Paul IV, founder of the Inquisition, confined them to the squalid Ghetto, where they remained until 1870. Sixty years later they again suffered deadly persecution under the Fascists, but today Roman Jews are an integral part of civic life and number about 16,000.

  1. Campo de’ Fiori

    The “Field of Flowers”  occupies what was, in ancient times, the open space in front of the Theatre of Pompey. Since the Middle Ages, it has been one of Rome’s liveliest areas, a backdrop for princes and pilgrims alike. On the darker side, it was also the locus of the Inquisition’s executions, as attested to by the statue of the hooded philosopher Giordano Bruno, burned here in the Jubilee celebrations of 1600.

    Campidoglio square

    Campo de’ Fiori market
  2. Capitoline Hill

    The basic principle for comprehending Rome is that everything is built on top of something else. For example, the Capitoline was originally two peaks: one, called the Arx, graced by the Temple of Juno, and the other, the Cavo, with the Temple of Jupiter, now mostly occupied by the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The huge Tabularium (Record Office) was built between them in 78 BC, thus forming one hill, called the Capitol; and over that the Palazzo Senatorio was built in the 12th century.

    Palazzo Senatorio
  3. Largo di Torre Argentina

    The important ruins of four Republican temples (one dating back to the 4th century BC) were uncovered here in 1925 . On the northwest side is the pleasing façade of the 18th-century Teatro Argentina, with its inscription to the Muses. Many operas received their debuts here in the 19th century, including Rossini’s Barber of Seville. It was a crashing flop on its first night, but only because his enemy, Pauline Bonaparte, had paid a gaggle of hecklers.

    Largo di Torre Argentina
  4. Sant’Andrea della Valle

    How could one of the most impressive 17th-century Baroque churches have been left with an asymmetrical façade? The answer is artistic temperament. Looking at the grandiose pile, it is quickly apparent that only one angel, on the left, supports the upper tier. Upon its completion, Pope Alexander VII dared to criticize the work, and sculptor Cosimo Fancelli refused to produce an angel for the right side. “If he wants another he can make it himself!” was his rejoinder to His Holiness .

    • Piazza di Sant’ Andrea della Valle

    • Open 7:30am–12:30pm, 4:30– 7:30pm daily

    • Free

  5. Santa Maria in Cosmedin

    Originally a bread distribution centre, the site became a church in the 6th century and, 200 years later, the focus of Rome’s Greek exile community. The Greek epithet “in Cosmedin” means “decorated”. Very little of the earliest ornamentation remains; most of it is from the 12th and 13th centuries, although there is a graceful altar screen characteristic of Eastern Orthodox churches. The most popular element, however, is the “Bocca della Verità” (“Mouth of Truth”), an ancient cistern cover. Legend has it that the mouth snaps shut on the hands of liars.

    • Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18

    • Open daily 9am–5pm (6pm summer)

    • Free

    Santa Maria in Cosmedin
  6. Foro Boario

    The name refers to the ancient cattle market that was once here. Now the area is a mini-archaeological park, with two 2nd-century BC temples and a later Arch of Janus. If not for the ferocious traffic, it would be a wonderful place to linger. Dating from the reign of Constantine or later, the arch is unprepossessing, but the temples are amazingly well preserved. The rectangular shrine is to Portunus, god of rivers and ports, while the circular one is a Temple of Hercules.

  7. Gesù

    A windy piazza hosts the prototype Counter-Reformation church. Enormous and ornate, it’s meant to convince the wayward of the pre-eminence of the Jesuit faith. The façade is elegant, but the interior is the major dazzler – first impressions are of vibrant gold, bathed in sunlight. Then there’s the vision of angels and saints being sucked into heaven through a miraculous hole in the roof. The tomb of Ignatius, the order’s founder, is adorned with the world’s largest chunk of lapis lazuli.

    • Piazza del Gesù

    • Open daily 7am– 12:30pm, 4–7:45pm

    • Free

    St Ignazio chapel, Gesù
  8. Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    The 6th-century church stands on the site of the ancient Temple of Juno Moneta (Juno the Sentinel), but it was also the Roman mint – and the origin of the word “money”. Superstition claims you can win the lottery by climbing on your knees up the 14th-century staircase leading to the unfinished façade – but what you will definitely gain is a fine view. Inside, the nave’s 22 columns come from ancient structures; the third one on the left is inscribed “a cubiculo Augustorum” (“from the emperor’s bedroom”).

    • Scala dell’Arca Capitolina 12

    • Open 9am–12:30pm, 2:30–5:30pm (to 6:30pm in summer) daily

    • Free

    Santa Maria in Aracoeli
  9. Fontana delle Tartarughe

    The “Fountain of the Tortoises” is the work of three artists. First created in the late 1500s for the Mattei family, it was designed by Giacomo della Porta. The four bronze boys, however, were sculpted by Taddeo Landini. The crowning touch came almost a century later, when an unknown artist (some say Bernini) added the tortoises and gave the fountain its name .

    • Piazza Mattei

    Fontane delle Tartarughe
  10. Theatre of Marcellus

    One of three ancient theatres in this district, dating back to the 1st century BC, and probably the most frequented of all Imperial theatres until the Colosseum captured the public’s favour. The lower archways once housed picturesque medieval shops, until cleared away by archaeologists in the 1920s. To the right of the theatre stand three columns and a frieze fragment that belonged to a Temple of Apollo, also from the 1st century BC.

    • Via del Teatro di Marcello

    • Open 9am–6pm (to 7pm in summer) daily

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