Once the home of one of the most important empires in the world, Rome is indeed a place to visit if you want to see history first-hand. The city itself is already a must-visit on the list of any traveler and keeps centuries of history preserved in its streets, and Roman ruins.
Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hills are definitely the most famous ancient monuments in Rome, however, there are many more Roman buildings that adorn the city and its outskirts, but here in this post, we will highlight the must-see ancient Rome monuments, those you should not miss!
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Ancient Rome Monuments: 13 Must-Visit Roman ruins in Rome
As the saying goes “Rome was not built in a day”, and since day one, Rome has experienced different people, cultures, and events.
Each one of them, left its own marks on the Italian Capital that can still be seen nowadays, turning Rome into a special place for history lovers who want to learn more about the history of the civilization.
Since the beginning, Rome has been the most important city in the region, and we can pretty much say that ancient Italy was summarized in Rome, as this was the largest city in the region, being the rest, were just small villages.
With that said, it is completely safe to assume that if you are looking for the best Roman ruins in Italy, Rome is the right place to go.
Nearby Rome, there are many other ancient Roman cities to visit, for those interested, many of these Roman cities can easily be visited on a day trip from Rome.
Unfortunately, these cities are all ancient roman bad now, but it is still possible to have a good idea of how life was back when the cities were crowded with pedestrians and wagons.
- Palatine Hill: History and Highlights
- A Brief Guide to the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
- 3 Days Rome Itinerary
Early Rome to Roman Empire
The history of Rome begins around 753 BC with its foundation by Romulus. Accordingly, to the famous legend, Romulus was one of the twin brothers, descendants of Aeneas, who were suckled by the Capitoline Wolf, a she-wolf who found the abandoned boys on the banks of the Tiber river.
The boys were then found and cared for by two shepherds.
Years later, during a disagreement on where would be the perfect hill to start their city, Romulus killed his brother Remus and fixed a settlement in Palatine Hill, where he founded Rome and became the first king of the Roman Kingdom.
Romulus was the first king of Rome and after his death, or disappearance, as some claim, six other kings ruled the kingdom, were replaced in 509BC when Rome became a Republic and was ruled by elected senators.
During this period, Rome started to expand, dominating the Italian peninsula entirely and spreading all the way over the Mediterranean.
After the death of Julius Caesar in 44BC and the victory of his adopted son Octavian over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the Roman Senate granted him overarching power, turning him into the first Roman Emperor, and giving him the title “Augustus”.
Best Roman ruins in Rome to visit
The iconic symbol of Italy and the Roman Empire, Colosseum is without a doubt the most famous monument in Rome to visit.
Located next to Palatine Hill, it is definitely one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Also known as Flavian Amphitheater, its construction began in 70 AD and was completed in 80 AD. During the rule of the emperor Titus.
🧐 What was the Coliseum made for? The Colosseum was a Roman entertainment center, that served as an arena for sports games, gladiator fights, and executions of prisoners, it was also a place where the inhabitants of Rome had the chance to see exotic animals such as tigers, lions, elephants, among others, which were used in combat against human beings. Studies show that the Colosseum also had the capacity to be flooded and to receive naval battles.
The Colosseum has a capacity of more than 50,000 and was used as an entertainment place where people had the chance to see exotic animals, prisoners’ executions, gladiator battles, etc. The complete personification of the Bread and Circus policy.
Titus inaugurated the Colosseum with a 100 days game that took the life of around 2,000 gladiators. It is estimated that during the 390 years that the Amphitheater was used for battles, around 400,000 people died inside, and about 1,000,000 animals were killed.
In fact, the Colosseum was the reason for the complete disappearance of some species in North Africa, Hippos were completely wiped from the Nile river banks and North African Elephants were extinct, in order to entertain the Roman population.
Best Guided Tours of the Colosseum
For those looking for a classic tour, go for this Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill priority ticket. It is a cheap option that offers you a fast-track entrance so you don’t need to wait in line. With this ticket, you will be able to visit these amazing ruins at your own pace, however, it is important to note that it does not include a guide.
- 1 – Colosseum with Underground, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill tour – Skip-the-line tour where you will be able to visit the underground. This tour also includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
- 2 – Colosseum tour with Arena – Skip-the-line tour that gives you access to the Arena, where the battles and other shows took place. You will see the Colosseum from the perspective of a gladiator.
- 3 – Colosseum & Roman Forum Private Tour – With this private tour, you will have all the comfort of being collected from your accommodation, skipping the entrance line thanks to the skip-the-line ticket, and having a private guide during your entire visit to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Located directly east of the Colosseum, and passing unnoticed by most tourists, is the ruins of the Ludus Magnus, the largest and one of the most important gladiatorial schools of the Roman Empire.
Gladiators from all over the Empire used to come here to live, practice, and prepare themselves for the games held in the Colosseum next door.
Nowadays it is still possible to recognize the barracks used by the gladiators and the areas where they used to practice. It is believed that there was an underground passage that linked the gladiatorial school with the Colosseum.
You can see Ludus Magnus for free by walking alongside them on the streets, on your way to the Colosseum. There is not much information on the site, so for those who don`t know about this Roman ruin, they indeed pass unnoticed.
Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus is next to the Colosseum and was erected in 82 by Emperor Domitian in honor of his older brother, Emperor Titus, who died of fever in the previous year (81). The bow commemorates the military victories of Emperor Tito.
🤔 How did Emperor Titus die? Tito’s death is cause for much debate. The most accepted story is that he fell ill, and ended up dying of fever, after having left for Sabine territories. Some historians believe that he was poisoned by Brother Domitian himself. Before he died, his last words were: “I just made a mistake”, which some understand as the mistake of not having executed Domitian.
Before being emperor, Titus was promoted to general, and assumed the responsibility of ending the Jewish people, in an attempt to stop the rebellion against the authority of Rome. The task he successfully completed after he besieged and destroyed Judea. As a form of thanks, the Arc de Triomphe was erected in honor of him.
🧐I bring facts! After finally repairing the walls of Jerusalem, the Romans destroyed the city, there were more than 100,000 during the battle and, finally, set fire to the Temple of Jerusalem and enslaved the survivors.
Over the years, the Arch of Titus has served as a model for many Arches of Triumph around the world, including the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Palatine Hill is one of the sevens hills in Rome, associated with the myth of Romulus and Remus and considered to be the cradle of Rome.
Palatine Hill was the most desired neighborhood in Ancient Rome, home of aristocrats and emperors. Nowadays it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Rome, many of the houses of important figures of the past can still be seen and visited, including its interior.
For example, we have the House of Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, and the House of Livia, Augustus’ second wife. Both houses can be visited. Their architecture, as well as wall painting, are the best examples of their time.
👉 Top Tip: To visit both houses though, it is necessary to make an appointment at the entrance of Palatine Hill or wait there until the next tour. This tour takes around 30 minutes.
The Domitian Hippodrome and the Flavian Palace are also must-sees on Palatine Hill. From Palatine Hill, you can also have a beautiful view of the Roman Forum and Colosseum.
The entrance to the Palatine Hill is already included in the Colosseum ticket, so if you buy your ticket at the entrance office, of any of the three main ruins of Rome: Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, they include a same-day entrance to these three ruins.
But in case of a more immersive and interesting visit, do hire a guide, to make the most of your trip.
Best Guided Tours of the Palatine Hill
- 1 – Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill Tour – Skip-the-line tour where you will be able to visit the three most important Roman ruins in Rome. This tour also includes hotel pick-up and drop-off.
- 2 – Colosseum with Underground, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill tour – Skip-the-line tour where you will be able to visit the underground. This tour also includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
- 3 – Palatine Hill & Roman Forum Light Show – This unique experience takes you back in time to the Roman Empire. Have an immersive experience with this evening light show while you learn more about important historical figures of ancient Rome.
The Circus Maximus was a hippodrome and arena of ancient Rome and is considered one of the most important entertainment centers of the Roman Empire. Following the same scheme as the Colosseum, it offered gladiator battles, public executions, as well as chariot races, and other competitions.
Another famous entertainment that took place at Circo Máximo was the so-called “Ludus Troianus”, equestrian presentations that simulated battles and were presented by young Roman aristocrats.
Did you know? It is estimated that the Maximum Circus had a capacity of up to 300,000.
It is located between the Aventino and Palatino mountains and can be seen from the ruins of Monte Palatino. In Ancient Rome, many houses of important people who lived on Monte Palatino overlooked the arena of Circus Maximus.
Unfortunately, little remains of Circo Máximo, only the terrace remains, with its original oval shape, where it used to be the sand arena.
Back in the Roman Empire times, forums were the heart of the city and the daily life of its citizens. They were big rectangular plazas surrounded by important buildings such as government buildings, temples, and markets. It was here that people used to buy goods, watch public speeches, and criminal trials, and gossip around.
Inside the complex, you will be able to see countless roman monuments, some of them are in pieces, but others are relatively well preserved, as is the case of the Temple of Saturn, the Roman god associated with wealth, it was built in 497 BC and where the reserve of gold and silver of Rome were stored; The House of Vestals, located behind a circular building known as the Temple of Vestals, the house used to be the residence of the Vestals Virgins, venerated priestess; and Arch of Titus, built after the death of Emperor Titus to commemorate the victory over Jerusalem.
Another point of interest is the famous Via Crucis, which used to be the main street in Ancient Rome, linking Colosseum to Piazza del Campidoglio.
It is hard to understand nowadays the importance of the Roman Forum back in ancient Rome, but bear in mind that it was here that the citizens of Rome witnessed the funeral of Julius Cesar and the execution of Ciceros, to have an idea of the historical value of this plaza.
Currently located on Via dei Fori Imperiali, an avenue that connects the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia, it is a complex of buildings known as the Trajan’s Market. It is a well-preserved ruin that, despite its name, was not limited to stores.
The Trajan’s Market is part of the Trajan’s Forum, which in turn is part of a large set of forums, known as Imperial Forums. This forum set includes the entire region between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia.
In this image you can get a better idea of what this complex was like:
The ruins of the Trajan’s Forum can also be seen today, but they are divided from the market by a pedestrian street.
👩🏫Did you know? Trajan’s Market was the first covered shopping center in the world. Built between the years 100 and 110 A.D. The building had six floors with more than 150 stores.
It is believed that the products sold in the shops of the Trajan’s Market would have come from all parts of the empire and would include fruits, vegetables, fish, wine, etc.
It is believed that the external part of the complex was intended for commerce, while the internal part served as an administrative area. In addition to a shopping center, the complex also had gardens and a covered area for exercises and games, and also served as a link between the forums and Suburra, a residential area.
Today, the ruins of the Trajan’s Market guard the Museum of the Imperial Forums, inside. In the museum, you will be able to visit some still well-preserved parts of the interior of the building, and the exhibition that better explains the different aspects and functions of the Trajan’s Market.
Entrance to the Museum of the Imperial Forums: € 11.50.
Castel Sant Angelo
Famous for being the refugees for popes in times of difficulties, as well as a prison and military base, Castel Sant Angelo is nowadays a museum of military history.
What most people don’t know is that Castel Sant Angelo was built long before the Roman Catholic period. It is also known as Hadrianeum and was built to be the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian and his family.
Soon, however, it began to serve as a military base and was incorporated into the Aurelian Wall. In the Middle Ages, the building still served as a stronghold for Popes.
Another famous ancient Hippodrome was the Stadio di Domiziano, located in today’s Piazza Navona, it was smaller than the Circus Maximus, but similar in architecture.
The stadium was named after the fact that it was a gift from Emperor Domitianus. Nowadays, nothing has been left of the Hippodrome, apart from its oval shape, which gives the square its unique shape.
It had a capacity of about 30,000 spectators. The Estadio de Domiziano was a great center of Roman entertainment and hosted the famous games of the famous religious festival Agonium Martiale, or Agony (the term comes from the Greek, and means fight, exercise), so the stadium was also known as Circus Agonalis
After the damage caused by fires at the Coliseum, the Estadio de Domiziano also received gladiator shows for some years.
Today Piazza Navona is considered one of the main squares in Rome, famous for its beautiful church and three water sources.
Another famous landmark in Rome is the Pantheon, the best-preserved ancient building in the city. The Pantheon was originally built in 27 – 25 BCE by Marcus Agrippa, who was Emperor Augustus’ right hand man. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by a fire, however, the pediment still proclaims “Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it.”.
Two other buildings were erected on this same site and the one that resisted until today was built in 125 CE during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, who decided to rebuild it as a Greek Temple.
Pantheon was and still is considered a masterpiece. Its Corinthian granite columns were brought from Egypt and its dome, made of a lightweight concrete created by Romans, became a model for Michelangelo’s dome for St. Peter’s Basilica.
At the top of it, there is the oculus, or eye, which is Pantheon’s only source of natural light.
Although we can’t assure the real function of the building, it is believed that the Pantheon was used as a temple for all of the gods.
Accordingly to Pliny, a famous Roman author in the 1st century, inside the Pantheon, there were statues of many Roman gods and famous Roman figures, including a statue of Venus wearing a pearl that was once owned by Cleopatra, and Julius Cesar.
One of the reasons why the Pantheon might have survived in such a perfect state until our days is the fact that in an early period, around 608 CE, it was converted to the church of St. Mary of the Martyrs.
Many important figures in Italian history are buried here, among the most illustrious are Vittorio Emanuele II, the king who united Italy, and the famous artist Raphael.
Like many other cities, Rome had its own defensive wall, known as the Aurelian Walls, which is considered one of the oldest defensive walls still standing in the World. It was built in the 3rd century by Emperor Aurelian of Rome, in order to defend the city from the Germanic tribes.
The Aurelian Walls surrounded the entire ancient city of Rome, stretching across 12 miles. All the famous tourist points in Rome are now located within these walls, including all seven hills and the most popular neighborhoods.
The Appian Way
“All roads lead to Rome”, the famous phrase goes back to the 1st century, when Rome was the navel of the world, and its more than 80 thousand kilometers connected the city to Brittany, and even to Persia.
The Appian Way, in turn, was one of the main roads and used to connect Rome with Brindisi, a city in the southern part of Italy, covering more than 300 miles (563 km). Built in Rome by the censor of Rome, Appius Claudius Caecus, in 312 B.C., the Appian Way can be considered the first highway in Europe and one of the oldest in the world.
A large part of the road is well preserved and can be visited. Along with the road, it is possible to see many tombs and beautiful old buildings. Most of the tombs belong to important and wealthy figures from ancient Rome, the majority being merchants and religious.
Most of the tombs are very elaborate, with paintings and a well-decorated interior. As a highlight of the Appian Way, we have the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, and the Aqueduct.
This text was originally written and posted in July 2019 and updated in May 2022. New information has been added and links have been updated so that it could offer a better experience to the reader.