Rome is one of those cities that simply breathes history. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a big open-air museum full of historical landmarks and monuments.
In this post, we made an overview of the most famous historical sites in Rome. These are the things you absolutely must check out when visiting the city.
Related: Check out these famous historical sites in Berlin!
Famous historical sites in Rome
The Colosseum is one of the most infamous buildings ever constructed. It was used for fun and entertainment, but that didn’t mean the same as it does today in Ancient Rome. Gladiator fights and animal hunts were the most popular form of entertainment.
Constructed in the late 1st century under the command of Emperor Vespasian and his sons who succeeded him as rulers of Ancient Rome, Titus, and Domitian, he used the spoils of the sacking of Jerusalem to build the Flavian Amphitheater.
It’s estimated that an incredible half million people and over a million animals lost their lives in horrible ways to the cheers of 50,000 excited Romans at the Colosseum. Even though still standing, most of the structure lay in ruins today.
2. The Pantheon
The Pantheon in Rome is a remarkable building for multiple reasons. This former Roman Temple was built as a place to “honor all the Gods” as its name describes. It was turned into a Catholic Church after the fall of the Roman Empire, which is the main reason this been preserved so well.
It was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, a Roman general, and architect, during the reign of Emperor Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.). That’s the reason it has his inscription in the temple’s portico.
Emperors Trajan and Hadrian continued the construction until it was completed and dedicated in the year 126 A.D. The temple has a large portico with Corinthian columns and the main structure has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome which comes together at a central opening called an oculus at a height of 43 meters (142 feet).
3. Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was the main public square of Ancient Rome, the center of day-to-day life in the city. It contains the ruins of multiple important buildings of Ancient Rome, including government buildings, statues, and temples.
The citizens of Ancient Rome referred to this square, which used to be a marketplace as well, to the “Forum Magnum,” or simply the “Forum.”
It’s also here that all the triumphal procession of Ancient Rome passed, elections were held, and public speeches were given. Right now, it’s filled with architectural fragments and sites of excavations. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Rome, attracting millions of visitors every year.
4. Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous fountains in the world and was named after the district of Rome it’s located in. It’s an immense Baroque fountain that stands 26.3 meters (86 feet) tall and is 49.15 meters (161.3 feet) wide.
The work on the fountain, which is ornamented with a variety of amazing sculptures, began in the year 1732 and as completed in 1762.
It’s one of the most popular tourist spots in all of Rome and the fountain is famous for coin throwing. It’s estimated that on average 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain every day, which in return supports Rome’s poorest people.
5. Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are located in Vatican City, a city-state which is enclaved within Rome. It’s one of the world’s remarkable public museums, with art amassed by the Catholic Church for many centuries.
The collection, which consists of 70,000 works of which about 20,000 are on display, contains some of the most famous Roman sculptures and some of the most important masterpieces of the Renaissance, including works from the masters Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
The museums were founded in the 16th century by Pope Julius II, a contemporary of the 3 artists mentioned. The museums are visited by nearly 7 million people every year, making it the third-most visited museum in the world behind the Louvre in Paris and the National Museum of China in Beijing.
6. St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is located within Vatican City and is the largest Catholic Church in the world. The church is the epitome of Renaissance architecture and was designed by Donato Bramante and Michelangelo, among several others.
Despite not being the mother church of the Catholic Church or even the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, it’s considered to be the most important and one of the holiest shrines in the Christian world.
St. Peter’s Basilica is adjoined by the world-famous St. Peter’s Square and contains numerous pieces of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà, one of the most famous sculptures in the world.
7. Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is the chapel of the Apostolic Palace, the main residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It’s essentially part of the Vatican Museums and is officially called the “Cappella Magna” (Great Chapel).
Its name derives from Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484), the man who restored it between 1473 and 1481. Today, it’s mainly used for the Papal Conclave, a gathering of the College of Cardinals to elect a new Bishop or Pope.
The chapel is world-famous for its amazing frescoes, mainly the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, which includes the iconic “Creation of Adam,” and “The Last Judgement” painting which covers the entire Altar Wall. Both these frescoes were painted by Michelangelo in the 16th century.
8. Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch built in Ancient Rome and is located right next to the Colosseum. It was constructed to honor Emperor Constantine the Great for his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D.
The arch is located right on the Via Triumphalis, the route in which Emperors entered Rome to celebrate victories. The arch was dedicated just 3 years after the battle in the year 315 A.D.
The Arch of Constantine was the biggest triumphal arch in Ancient Rome and most of its monumental decorations were taken from various other monuments around the city. It stands 21 meters tall and is 25.9 meters wide.
9. Castel Sant’Angelo
The Castel Sant’Angelo translates to “Castle of the Holy Angel” and was originally constructed as a mausoleum for Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. Therefore the building has also been referred to as “Hadrian’s Mole.”
It’s located on the right bank of the Tiber in Parco Adriano, a park in the center of Rome. Apart from the remains of Hadrian and his family, the building has also been used to bury the remains of the emperors succeeding him with the last being Caracalla in the year 217 A.D.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the building as mainly used as a castle and fortress of the Popes in Rome. Right now, the building is used as a museum called the “Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.”
10. Circus Maximus
The Circus Maximus was Ancient Rome’s most famous chariot-racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. It was located in a valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills in the center of the city.
Apart from the famous chariot-races, the Circus Maximus was also the most popular place for “Ludi,” public games related to Roman religious festivals. These games could include horse and chariot racing, athletics, plays, beast-hunts, and gladiator fights.
The Circus Maximus was an immense stadium with a capacity of over 150,000 spectators. It was 621 meters (2,037 feet) in length and 118 meters (387 feet) in width. Today, the are is a public park.
11. Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps is a stairway in Rome that lead from the Piazza di Spagna at the base to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti. At the top, there is a church named the Trinità dei Monti church.
There are a total of 135 steps and construction was funded by a French diplomat named Étienne Gueffier who bequeathed 20,000 scudi. The Steps were constructed between 1723 and 1725.
The Spanish Steps are arguably the most famous steps in the world and have been featured in many movies and television series. They have a prominent role in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) starring Matt Damon.
12. Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus is another triumphal arch located right on Via Sacra, the main street of Ancient Rome, and just southeast of the Roman Forum, the main square of Ancient Rome.
It was constructed around 81 A.D. during the Flavian Dynasty which consisted of Vespasian (who commissioned the Colosseum), Titus, and his brother Domitian. The latter commissioned the construction of the Arch of Titus to commemorate his brother and father and honor the sacking of Jerusalem and the victory during the Jewish Rebellion.
13. Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla are the second-largest bathhouse that was ever constructed in Ancient Rome and was one of the largest construction projects of the Roman Empire. The baths are located just southwest of the historical center of Ancient Rome and south of the Colosseum.
Construction of the baths, which consisted of a lot more entertainment facilities such as a public library, an Olympic size pool, and 2 gyms, started around 211 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus. The baths were inaugurated during the reign of his son Caracalla in the year 216 A.D.
The baths fell in disuse after Rome was besieged in the year 537 and the aqueducts supplying the water for the baths were destroyed by Germanic tribes. The site was used as a quarry in the Middle Ages and several important pieces of art were retrieved which used to decorate the baths in their glory days.
14. Trajan’s Market
Trajan’s market is located on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, right across the Roman Colosseum in the historical center of the city. It was constructed by Roman Emperor Trajan in the early 2nd century and inaugurated in the year 113 A.D.
It was part of a massive building campaign lead by Trajan after he defeated the Dacians in the year 106 A.D. and was able to sack their capital and loot the region. The market is considered to be a multi-functional structure that included stores, bars, a library, and administrative offices for the emperor.
This remarkably well-preserved ancient structure consists of multiple floors and gives you a really great insight into the daily life in Ancient Rome. There’s a street full of bars that must have been bustling with people in the glory days of the empire, and this complex is one of the few landmarks that give you the impression you’re actually back in Ancient Rome!
The Tempietto literally translates to the “Little Temple” and that’s what it literally is. It’s a small temple which is located in the courtyard of the San Pietro in Montorio church in Rome. It was built in the early 16th century and commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.
This remarkable building was designed by Renaissance architect Donato Bramante and is considered to be one of the most harmonious buildings of Renaissance architecture and an absolute masterpiece of the High Renaissance.
This remarkable structure had a great impact on architecture in the following decades and centuries. It’s believed it served as the inspiration of the famous dome of the St Peter’s Basilica.
16. St. Peter’s Square
It’s a monumental public space in Vatican City, the papal enclave located in Rome. It was designed by a man who spent most of his life decorating the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The square is dominated by massive rows of Doric Columns, 4 rows deep, and is decorated with an Ancient Roman Obelisk dating back to the 1st century A.D. during the reign of Emperor Domitian. The square itself was constructed between 1656 and 1667 and has been one of the most remarkable public spaces in the world ever since.
17. Arch of Septimius Severus
The Arch of Septimius Severus is another famous triumphal arch located on the northwestern end of the Forum Romanum. It was constructed during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus and dedicated in the year 203 A.D. to commemorate his victory in the Roman-Parthian Wars.
The arch very much resembles the arches built by previous Roman Emperors and features multiple reliefs and sculptures in reference to the wars fought against the Parthian Empire.
This remarkably well-preserved triumphal arch stands 23 meters (75 feet) tall and is about 25 meters (82 feet) wide, making it a very prominent landmark on the ancient Roman marketplace.
This concludes our list with the top 17 most famous historical sites in Rome. As you can see, Rome is literally filled with history, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!