Guide to Rome

Guide to Rome

There are so many churches, archaeological sites, piazzas and paintings to see that a lifetime is hardly enough. Don’t try to cram too much in: Rome moves at a slower pace than many northern cities, and to enjoy it you should take time out in pavement cafés as well as shuffle round the Sistine Chapel.
One of the world’s great art collections, the haul that Cardinal Scipione Borghese assembled in the early 17th century in his Roman garden villa includes Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, a gaggle of Caravaggios and Bernini’s sublime sculpture Apollo and Daphne - perhaps my single favourite work of art in the whole of Rome.
Later generations made some bad mistakes (allowing Napoleon, for example, to make off with 154 statues and countless other artefacts) but also some worthwhile additions, such as Canova’s risqué statue of Pauline Bonaparte. The extensive collection continues in storerooms which can be visited on guided tours (be sure to book) at 3pm and 4 pm.
Flanking the villa are a magnificent 17th-century aviary (uccelliera) and a series of 'giardini segreti' - secret gardens which are rarely open but can be appreciated through the fence. Note that visits to the gallery have to be booked, and run on designated timeslots - though if you turn up at a quiet time of year, there may be still be spaces that same day. You should be at the gallery to pick up your ticket 30 minutes before your entry time.
Half circus, half sports arena, Rome’s most famous classical ruin is unmissable – especially now that they have extended the visitor route to the underfloor passageways through which gladiators and wild beasts made their entrances.
The massive arena – officially called the Amphiteatrum Flavium – was inaugurated in 80 AD, and seated well over 50,000 people in its neatly arranged stands: emperor, aristos and Vestal Virgins down the front; plebs, slaves and all the other women up the top. Some 5,000 wild beasts were killed for the gory opening event.
By the time the last man vs beast fights took place in 523, the wild animal population of north Africa had been decimated. Occasionally though, the felines were fed too: any malefactor handed down a sentence of damnatio ad bestias was simply ushered unarmed into the arena and left there to make a lion's lunch.
The ticket office queues can be daunting: those in the know purchase tickets at the quieter Palatine entrance.

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