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Inspirational Rome

Explore the Vatican Riches
Inspirational Rome
Emcompassing almost three millennia of history, Rome's ancient ruins and Renaissance, baroque, and neoclassical architecture jolts even the most jaded traveler into a state of awe. Tour the city's many UNESCO World Heritage sites, and grapple with the divine in its incomparable art museums.

By Erica Firpo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Explore the Vatican Riches
    Explore the Vatican Riches
    The world's smallest country—and home to the pope—Vatican City bustles with Catholics, architecture buffs, and tourists who line up to see sites like St. Peter’s Basilica, a baroque masterpiece built on top of what's believed to be St. Peter's tomb. Don't miss the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, gloriously imagined by artists such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and Michelangelo.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Art of the Ages
    Art of the Ages
    Rome's intricate history is well represented in its art. Visit the Palazzo Massimo to see antiquities and frescoes (watercolor paintings) from the empire's rise, then head to La Galleria Nazionale for paintings and sculptures from the 19th-century Kingdom of Italy to the present-day Italian Republic. Galleria Borghese, in the same lovely park as the Villa Borghese, has a staggering collection of ancient statuary, Renaissance paintings, and baroque sculpture.

    Photo by Juergen Ritterbach/age fotostock
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    Rome's Churches
    Rome's Churches
    Rome has more than 900 magnificent churches to explore, and it's impossible to pick the best. Start with the Basilica di San Clemente, a multifaceted jewel adorned with gorgeous mosaics and paintings. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is a gorgeous example of an early Christian basilica, a monumental structure divided into thirds by rows of columns marching up its nave. (Look up: The church's gilded, coffered ceiling is supposedly decorated with gold brought back from the New World by Christopher Columbus.) Across town, the ornate San Luigi dei Francesi is known for its paintings of St. Matthew.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Watch the World Go By
    Watch the World Go By
    Tired? Take a seat on the Piazza di Spagna and watch the city ebb and flow. Also known as the Spanish Steps, this spot is a magnet for shoppers and tourists, but it's also the perfect place to relax and watch Romans go about their daily lives. You can reserve a table at Ciampini down the street for even more people-watching, or grab a seat at literally any caffè in Piazza di Santa Maria at sunset for a spectacular view of both the church and the entertainers who inhabit the square.
    Photo by Andrea Wyner
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    Outdoor Masterpieces
    Outdoor Masterpieces
    Hands down, Rome's most famous fountain is Trevi, an imposing sculpture featuring sea-gods, horses, and Tritons. (It steals the scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita.) The Fountain of Acqua Paola, on Janiculum hill, is fondly known as the Fontanone for its majestic size, and Piazza Navona alone boasts three fountains. For an intimate backdrop, head to the Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei.
    Photo by Andrea Wyner
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    Rome's Street Art
    Rome's Street Art
    Even centuries ago, Rome was a hub for dynamic street art. Now its Quadraro and Garbatella neighborhoods serve as canvases for bold, intricate murals by local and international artists such as Sten + Lex, Alice Pasquini, Gary Baseman, Jim Avignon, and Zio Ziegler.

    Photo by Erica Firpo
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    Rome's Parks
    Rome's Parks
    When Rome residents need to escape the city chaos, they spend time in one of the city's many glorious parks. Villa Borghese, a vast green space just north of the city, offers acres of soft lawn perfect for midday lounging. In Monteverde, there's Villa Pamphili, Rome's biggest landscaped public park. And on elegant Aventine Hill, near Circo Massimo, the more intimate Giardino degli Aranci's historic orange grove and sunset views will reboot your nervous system.

    Photo by Dan Fogarty
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    Descend into Rome's Subterranean
    Descend into Rome's Subterranean
    Take a look around you: Rome is more than just what you see at its ground level. Almost every building in the city rests on centuries of history, and it's the Eternal City's ancient subterranean sites that shed light on Rome's epic past. For a bit of the old and older, explore the Basilica di San Clemente, a church whose ground level hides two subterraneans—the original medieval church atop a Roman domus. Perhaps the most epic underground is the Vatican Necropolis, also known as the scavi (excavations), a labyrinthine underground with a 1st-century C.E. necropolis, 5th-century Christian burial area, and Vatican grotto.
    Photo by Raimund Kutter/age fotostock
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    Dive into the Past
    Dive into the Past
    An "old" city like Boston has 300 years of history behind it, but Rome's got 3,000 years of stories to tell. The Roman Forum is a great place to kick off your exploration, with football fields of ancient ruins spanning from the Roman Empire's heydey to its Grand Tour revival. Down the road, the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, will reveal centuries of secrets to you on the after-hours tour.
    Photo by Larry Robinson