Of course if it’s ancient Rome you’re after, then Rome is an absolute must. You will want to put the Colosseum and Forum at the top of your list, and you might want to sneak in time at Circus Maximus. Plan plenty of time at the Pantheon, and as a general rule, be on the lookout when wandering the city. You never know what bits of ancient architectural magnificence you might find while trying to get from here to there in Rome.
With the Roman empire stretching from England to Egypt, evidence of Ancient Rome can be found throughout Italy, and parts beyond. Here’s some of the main places in Italy, beyond Rome, to walk among the ancients.
An easy day trip from Rome, about 40 minutes by car, Ostia Antica was once ancient Rome’s busy seaport. Ostia takes its name from the Latin word os, meaning mouth, which, in the port’s heyday made more sense, as it sat along both the Tiber River and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Today, as a result of gradual silting over centuries, Ostia Antica is situated about three kilometers from the seashore.
Ostia Antica is a large and well-preserved site with plenty to see, and ample space to wander, or even just ponder. Lonely Planet calls it a smaller version of Pompeii, and suggests on budgeting a few hours here to really take it all in.
Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli
Recognized by UNESCO as one of Italy’s 55 World Heritage Sites, Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) is about an hour east of Rome in Tivoli. The complex was commissioned around 118 B.C. for Emperor Hadrian’s country retreat. It sprawls seven square miles (18 square km), and was built to feature the many luxuries and splendors of ancient Rome. Thus, it included bath houses, libraries, theaters, sculpture gardens, and plenty of places for guests to dine and stay. At the pool in the photo above, it is said Hadrian enjoyed writing and painting.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
Pompeii is the infamous city which was destroyed in AD 79 by the deadly Mt. Vesuvius eruption, leaving behind a complex of sprawling, well-preserved ruins. Herculaneum (Ercolana) was destroyed in the same eruption, and offers another glimpse into the life of ancient Romans. While both were seaside cities, Herculaneum catered to a more upscale crowd, serving as a retreat for the wealthier ancients.
A quick train ride south from Rome is Naples and from there, Herculaneum is about seven miles (11 km) away. Pompeii is slightly further south, about 15 miles (25 km) from Naples. Many tours are available which include visiting both sites in one day, but get ready, as that’s a full day with much to take in. Our time constraints meant we had to chose to see one site only, and, as Herculaneum was more conveniently located to our travels, that’s where we spent a fascinating couple of hours, wandering the dusty pathways and imagining what life held for those who vacationed here two millennia ago.
If the universe had commissioned Walt Disney to create Italy, what he would have crafted, in my opinion, would have looked like today’s Verona. Verona is that exquisite, and magical.
Walking into Piazza Bra, the largest in the city, one is greeted by the magnificently preserved arena, built by the Romans in the first century. It still serves today as an active venue for live events, concerts and opera. “That means that these stones have seen everything from gladiator games to One Direction concerts, from medieval jousts to Puccini operas,” writes Ione Wang for Culture Trip.
And on a hopeful note for the future, the Arena’s website has a summer season planned for 2021.
Locations sourced from Rick Steves’ Europe 101: History & Art for the Traveler