“Yes, I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life … Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Rome is a large city, and its history cannot be condensed into a day. Especially on a walking tour! However, with your own private NCC car and licenced driver, and accompanied by a local, licenced guide and expert on all things Rome, you can visit all the main attractions in comfort and style, while learning how all the beauty, history, politics, religion, ruins and architecture come together to weave the unique tapestry that is … Rome!
We begin our tour at the Circus Maximus, home to epic chariot races in Ancient Roman times. Today you can still see the entire length of the race-track, which was six football fields long! In the background is the Palatine Hill, home to the Roman Emperors and the aristocrats of Rome. This hill overlooked the Roman Forum, the epicentre of Rome geographically and the centre of Roman life, culturally.
Your driver will take you from the Circus Maximus to the Arch of Constantine, from where your guide will give you a tour of your surroundings without leaving Piazza del Colosseo – the square whose name is earned from the most famous of all Roman monuments – the Colosseum. This amphitheatre – one of the wonders of the Ancient world and a UNESCO World Heritage site – was used by the Romans for games which included gladiatorial fights, public executions, chariot racing and other, less gory, games and events. The immense building has stood the test of time, both literally and in design, as many stadiums around the world have copied its dimensions, and some even its name. You will stand on the Via Sacra, Rome’s most sacred road, where victorious generals would lead their armies to glorious triumphal parades, into the Roman Forum.
You will then drive along the via dei Fori Imperiali, a road built by Mussolini in the 1930s, with the intention of restoring the pomp of Roman triumphs with a road that went directly from the Colosseum to his residence in Piazza Venezia – unfortunately destroying countless priceless artefacts from the Imperial Fori, the remains of which can today be seen on the opposite side of his road from the Roman Forum. Excavations of the Roman Forum and the Imperial Fori were at an early stage at that time, and subsequent digs have accentuated the travesty that was the construction of this thoroughfare.
You will see the former office of Mussolini, from where he gave his rousing speeches to the crowds gathered in Piazza Venezia below, in what is now Palazzo Venezia. Your driver will take you up to Capitoline Hill, also known as Campidoglio, from where you can look back at the Roman Forum for a truly breathtaking view of Ancient Rome, as you leave it behind and move forward through Rome’s history. In fact, you will see as you stand in Piazza del Campidoglio, that it was designed precisely so that the Roman Forum – the centre of the power of the ancient city – is at your back, while the steps that lead you out of the piazza point you in the direction of the future – directly to the Vatican City, who commissioned the design of the piazza in the 1530s to one Michelangelo Buonarotti.
Your driver will now take you along the longest road in Rome – the via del Corso – which takes you to Piazza del Popolo. Along the way, you will pass some of Rome’s most famous and wonderful shopping streets, so ask your guide to remind you of the street names if you want to return later to buy some Gucci, Prada, Bulgari etc!
At Piazza del Popolo, home to Rome’s oldest Egyptian obelisk and the northern gate of the ancient city, the Porta Flaminio, you will see two examples of magnificent Baroque architecture, in the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto, largely designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Santa Maria dei Miracoli, designed by Bernini’s student, Antonio Raggi. The entrance to the Borghese Gardens and villa, another possible place of interest for you on another day, can be seen on one side of the piazza.
The twin churches split the roads departing the piazza into a so-called “trident”, and we will take the left-most of these to take you to the Spanish Steps. These famous steps were designed in the 1700s, to connect the church at the top of the Pincian Hill, the Trinità dei Monti, to a palace at the bottom of the steps which was owned by the Holy See. Attractions in this bustling piazza include a uniquely designed fountain, the Barcaccia, in the centre of the square at the bottom of the steps, a museum dedicated to John Keats, who lived and died in the building, and one of Rome’s most famous shopping streets – via dei Condotti.
We will continue our driving tour to take you to one of the most famous attractions in Rome – the Trevi Fountain. Forever associated with romance, thanks in part to its cameo in several movies including Three Coins in the Fountain and Roman Holiday, it also has deep connections with Rome’s history, as the fountain is connected to the Virgin Aquaduct, which supplied this area of Rome with fresh drinking water from mountain springs in ancient times. Throw a coin into the fountain to ensure you will return to the Eternal City!
The Pantheon is the next stop on your full day driving tour of Rome. Here, your guide will take you through the fascinating history of this relic of Imperial Rome – a perfectly preserved pagan temple, later converted to a Catholic church in typical Vatican style, re-dedicating a temple to “all the gods” of the Roman Pantheon to “all the saints and martyrs” of the Roman Catholic Church! The design of this temple is remarkable for its time, indeed, for any time, and your guide will explain this to you on site, pointing out details you would otherwise miss.
Next we visit one of Rome’s most famous and popular places to relax, eat and people-watch! Piazza Navona was built atop an ancient Roman circus – a track used in Rome for Greek-style track and field sports. This makes it the iconic symbol of Rome today, perfectly highlighting how the modern city embraces and incorporates its ancient, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque histories, into a beautiful blend that cannot be rivalled.
Close by, and in keeping with the laid-back atmosphere of Piazza Navona, is Campo de’ Fiori, our next stop. This piazza was built on a site that at one time was noted for exciting races and public executions. In the centre of the square you’ll see the statue of philosopher and cosmological theorist Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake here for defying Vatican teaching on the earth’s place in the universe.
We are now departing the Historic Centre of Rome, and heading in the direction of the Vatican City. Along the way, we will take you through the Jewish Ghetto, where you will see the Portico d’Ottavia, the Synagogue and the remains of the Teatro Marcello – an ancient theatre similar in design to the Colosseum, which you will see has been marvellously integrated into the modern city with the seamless construction of apartments on its upper floors, while modern day concerts are held here during the summer.
Next we cross the Tiber river to introduce you to one of the most popular parts of Rome for locals. Trastevere is the 13th, and one of the oldest, districts of Rome, on the west bank of the Tiber River, south of Vatican City. Its name comes from the Latin trans Tiberim, literally meaning “beyond the Tiber”.
The location is just across the river from the major archaeological monuments of Ancient Rome. The narrow, cobbled streets are loaded with charm and authenticity. Trastevere feels like a small village (with a large percentage of people who eat out), yet you’re right in the heart of Rome!
We will now drive uphill, ascending one of the seven hills of Rome – the Janiculum Hill. The views from here are majestic, as you look down on the entire city, with breathtaking views especially of the Historic Centre you have just left behind you, and the Vatican City, your next destination.
Your penultimate stop will be Castel Sant Angelo, an ancient Roman mausoleum later used as a fortress by medieval Popes, which even became a sanctuary for Pope Clement VII, when Rome was sacked by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1527, and he barely escaped the Papal Palace with his life. The wall built with the purpose of connecting the palace to the castle – one of the historical accuracies in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons – can still be seen today.
We will finish our tour at the Vatican City. St Peter’s Square, with its symmetrical colonnades mimicking both the elliptical design of the arena of the Colosseum as well as that of Piazza Navona, was designed in the 1600s by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, to complete the 120-year effort to rebuild St Peter’s Basilica and design an open space welcoming pilgrims into its bosom – hence the arm-like colonnades. There are marvellous details in the design of St Peter’s, which your guide will share with you while you stand in the centre of the piazza.
Our hope is that, by the end of your driving full day tour of Rome, you will have a greater appreciation of how the history of Rome is not only evident in every part of the city, but how the different ages of that history are intricately intertwined, interconnected and woven together, to create a city that is like no other, and one who richly earns the title of “The Eternal City”.
“Rome is not like any other city. It’s a big museum, a living room that shall be crossed on one’s toes.”
-Alberto Sordi, Italian actor