Hanging a right from the Via del Corso (the central street of the trident starting at Piazza del Popolo) we go towards the Campo Marzio and one of the more ancient parts of town which then turned into Medieval Rome. We will hit upon the Pantheon temple. This is the lowest part of the city as it is at only 13m above sea level and being so close to the river it also happens to be the part of town that the remaining population retreated to during the early middle ages (the Dark Ages). From here, across to Piazza Navona (which was a circus) and Campo De’ Fiori we have a perfect blend of ancient and medieval Rome.
This whole area was properly developed by Emperor Augustus over what used to be the military training grounds. Part of the reason for the development project was political propaganda. For example the Pantheon was built over the site where Romulus reputedly ascended to the heavens, Augustus’ tomb was built here not far from the majestic altar to peace. Augustus “turned a city of brick into a city of marble” as befitted the capital of the empire Rome had become. Ever since then this area has remained a hot spot of political and commercial activity in Rome.
The Palazzo di Montecitorio, built at the end of the 17th century by Pope Innocent the XIIth was constructed over what was supposedly the funeral area of the emperors. The building housed the Papal law courts and is now the Italian government’s Chamber of Deputies. Virtually all the buildings around here are dedicated to government and political administration as well as to a number of banks. Rome’s stock exchange is here also, housed in what used to be Emperor Hadrian’s temple (partly still visible at Piazza di Pietra so go and visit it, there’s a great coffee bar at the end of the square too.)
Just by Montecitorio we have the wonderful column of Marcus Aurelius (actually dedicated to Antoninus Pius) which in the style of the more famous Trajan’s column depicts detailed historical events. These columns were a perfect symbiosis of propaganda, symbolism and historical
Facing the Pantheon and to the left you will find Piazza della Minerva, so called because of a temple which once stood there. There’s a very interesting elephant and Egyptian obelisk lovingly referred to as the “chick” (Pulcino). The sculptor (following designs by Bernini) obviously lacked a direct visual reference of an Elephant for his sculpture. The heavy decoration of the saddle was the consequence of a monk’s insistence that the structure wouldn’t be able to support the weight of the Obelisk, contrary to Bernini’s design which as shown at Piazza Navona’s fontana dei Quattro Fiumi would have stood perfectly well. The symbolism is interesting: the elephant represents the virtues required of Christians to reach wisdom (the obelisk).
The church behind, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, is a must. Not only because it’s the only Gothic church in Rome and is extremely rich in works of art but also because it happens to be the place where the Holy Inquisition undertook its proceedings. It was the headquarters to the Dominican monks (hatefully referred to as Domini Canes -the dogs of god). Galileo fought his up-hill battle here (and lost). Saint Catherine of Siena and the painter/monk Beato Angelico are buried here.
Following the street to the right of the church, we will bump into a huge marble foot. This is one of many remnants of statues of gigantic proportions which the ancient Romans loved to populate their city and temples with. They usually represented the emperor or gods or a mixture of the two (eg Caligula as Jupiter). The most famous such statue standing some 35m high was of Nero and moved to stand by the Colosseum. It is since lost.
The church “Del Gesu'” should also be visited – it is the first Jesuit church and was highly influential, a landmark, in the transformation of Renaissance architecture into the Baroque which is so pronounced in Rome.
The shopping in the Pantheon area is not bad and the nightlife is generally quite good, thanks to the many restaurants, bars and quality cafés.
Areas of Rome: | The Vatican | Capitoline hill | Palatine hill | The Forums | Villa Borghese & Villa Giulia | Piazza del Popolo | Pantheon | Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori | Quirinal hill | Esquiline hill | Caelius hill | Aventine hill | Trastevere & Janiculum hill | Via Veneto | Outside the city walls | Overview of Rome’s districts and areas |