Whether you like archeological sites, ruined buildings or just really really old stuff or not, there is no denying the impact that ancient Roman civilisation has had on our lives. The Monty Python sketch, “what have the Romans ever done for us” (please watch this, it’s hilarious!) wasn’t wrong. The Romans are responsible for kickstarting much of our modern concepts of government, law and politics, and we can see much of their influence in engineering, art, literature, architecture and language too.
Ever since I learnt about the Romans in primary school, I had wanted to see more of the culture and history – including a long awaited trip to Pompeii. But Rome is where it all began. And whilst Rome has so much to offer the excited tourist from art to religion to romantic architecture to food, it’s ancient Rome that got my heart beating out of my chest.
Here’s 10 reasons why visiting ancient Rome is pretty awesome, and a bonus 20 pictures to go with it!
1. The Colosseum is about the most impressive place you’ll step inside, and you can pretend you are in Gladiator
I definitely wasn’t prepared for the sheer magnitude of the Colosseum, and it was my first real “pinch me” moment after arriving in Rome. What is truly spectacular about Rome as a city, is how much normal life has developed around these fascinating sites, and as you stand at the top of the Via dei Fori you’ve got one of the most iconic sites in Ancient Rome in front of you, and one of the busiest roundabouts in the city just behind.
The Colosseum is a huge huge site, and is busy to boot. I’d thoroughly recommend a guided walk/tour of the site (you can find all my Rome booking recommendations on my comprehensive Rome city guide), or at the very least booking your entry ticket in advance so you don’t have to spend time queueing.
You may well have seen other amphitheatres across Europe, but you won’t have seen anything like this – it’s the largest amphitheatre ever built and I dare you not to step inside, close your eyes and pretend you are Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
2. You can hang out with cats AND see an important ancient archeological site
So, I’m kind of a cat person. In fact there is no kinda about it, with three cats at home I adore them, and I’m always seeking out the local cat community when I travel. In Rome, that was really easy because the Largo di Torre Argentina just so happens to be a cat sanctuary based on an important Roman site.
Largo di Torre Argentina showcases the remains of four Roman Temples, including the famous Pompey’s Theatre (the spot where Julius Caesar was said to be assassinated). It’s never busy (which is surprising due to its history), and we ended up passing by there daily to do other things, so got the chance to observe the cats just doing their own thing amongst the ruins.
It’s a quirky hangover of Rome’s ancient past, and is a must do on a Rome city break!Here's 10 reasons to visit ancient Rome (it's pretty awesome), + a bonus 20 pictures to go with it!Click To Tweet
3. Drinking a Spritz whilst waiting for the sun to go down over the best preserved building of ancient Rome is totally possible
In case you weren’t aware, The Pantheon is the best preserved building of ancient Rome, and it stands proud and magnificently on the Piazza della Rotunda surrounded by restaurants, bars and hotels. Once an ancient Roman temple (you might have seen something inspired by the Pantheon in Paris) and now a church you can watch the sunrise over it with a coffee and even take a look inside.
But the best way to appreciate The Pantheon in sat down at one of the many bars and restaurants in the square in the early evening with a Spritz in your hand, watching the sun set over one of the most beautiful ancient buildings in the city.
4. Pretending to look out over ancient Rome like the Emperors used to will give you a feel for Roman life
Sometimes, Rome can feel overwhelming. It’s busy, it’s sprawling and in many ways a true assault on the senses. But, there are quite a few places to get away from it all, and peacefully take in everything that Rome is pushing right under your nose. It’s a pushy city – after all, it wants you to get the best of it.
When I feel overwhelmed, I like to get up high and you can do as the Emperors did and look out over ancient Rome from the Palatine Hill. As the centremost of the seven hills, and the most ancient part of the city it stands over 40 metres above the Roman Forum, giving you an optimum view of some of the most ancient of the Roman ruins. This area is hugely important in Roman mythology, known as the place where the cave where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf was located. And as well as at, from 27BC it started to become the exclusive residence of the emperors.
So, head there to get a look over Roman life as the rich and powerful did (more tips and guidance on how to see it in my Rome guide).
5. You can pass through the Roman Forum and imagine what daily life was like in ancient Rome
Once you’ve watched it from above, it’s well worth coming down from the hill to get in amongst Roman daily life in the Roman Forum. Once the city centre of Rome, this area was a square surrounded by important government and administration buildings and has seen processions, elections, criminal trials, marches and celebrations. Here stands statues and monuments of some of Rome’s great men and the ruins of the Temple of Saturn, one of the oldest buildings in this area.
It’s easy to visit at the same time at the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, and wander through the area imagining what Roman life might have been like. At one point in our history, this location was one of the most important meeting places in the world!
6. The Piazza Navone will give you all the Chariots of Fire vibes
If you’re visiting The Pantheon, then there is no excuse not to walk just a few moments further to stand proud in the Piazza Navone. Built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, this open space follows the same layout of the stadium, meaning that you can get a real feel for what went on there. Most of the time the stadium was used for gladiator type activity, but it didn’t stop me thinking that the oval shaped ring around the square wouldn’t be great for chariot racing!
At the square now you can visit the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro and the Fountain of Neptune, all beautiful examples of baroque architecture in their own right, and sit down for some lunch or a coffee soaking in both the history and the musical players that often perform in the area.
7. Because passing through the Arch of Constantine is way more impressive than the Arc de Triomphe
We all know Paris gives good arch, none more so than the Arc de Triomphe which I myself have climbed and loved. However, the Arch of Constantine is a hugely impressive rival to this arch and soaked in a far more interesting period of history (in my opinion).
Situated between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, it is Rome’s largest triumphal arch, located across the Via triumphalis (the route taken by the emperors in victory). It is a beautifully detailed design, with three arches and covered in exquisite Roman iconography. It’s huge too, which is difficult to accomplish being located so close to the Colosseum itself.
8. There’s a castle that was actually a mausoleum for Roman Emperor Hadrian himself
The Castel Sant’Angelo is a slightly different take on Roman history and design, located right between The Vatican and the rest of the city. It’s a huge, imposing cylindrical design and has been both a fortress and a castle for different popes in its history.
However, it was first built as a mausoleum for the very famous Roman emperor Hadrian, and become the resting place for more emperors as the years went by. Much of this history has been lost when it was converted to a fortress many years later, but it still evokes a huge amount of history and intrigue in its visitors.
Located on the banks of the Tiber, The Castel Sant’Angelo is now a museum in which you can see parts of the mausoleum, prison cells, papal residences, art and weapons. It’s an interesting mishmash of things, which rather plays into its varied uses throughout history!
9. You can train to be a gladiator right next to the Colosseum (you can’t, but you can imagine)
You you want to be a gladiator right? No, probably not but in ancient Roman times being a gladiator was sometimes seen as a glamourous profession. Let’s not forget however, that gladiators fought to the death and so were often slaves, former slaves or condemned prisoners. Gladiator fights were big business and were the most watched form of entertainment throughout the Roman empire – this included animal fights and gladiator on gladiator spectacles. Until 200 CE, even women could participate.
More than 100 gladiator schools where built across the Empire, although ruins can only be found in Rome, Pompeii and Carnuntum at this time. Training schools where like prisons, fortresses which drives home the fact that this was not a plum profession to have within the Empire (although successive victors often become darlings of Roman society).
Right around the corner from the Colosseum are the ruins of a gladiator training school known as Ludus Magnus. It was the largest of the training arenas, and you can visit for free, with a little information available on a sign in English and Italian – it gives an interesting insight into life as a gladiator before stepping inside the Colosseum.
10. The world’s first multi-level shopping mall was in fact Roman
Trajan’s Market, located on the Via dei Fori just before the Colosseum really is the first example of a shopping mall ever built. Those Romans, they were smart. You can see the structure from the road )although it is possible to visit the upper levels) and it provides an incredible insight into their prowess as architects, builders and their life in general.
It’s rare to be able to say you visited the world’s very first shopping mall, and the fact that it is in Rome, surrounded by such history and beauty is just an added bonus!
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what ancient Roman sites you can see on a trip to the Eternal City, and I’m sure I could visit five more times and still have more to explore. I’m now on a mission to visit more Roman archeological areas outside of Italy, so if you have any recommendations, please comment below!