This diversified walking tour, which testifies to the glory of Ancient Rome, concludes with a stroll along the paths of the Gianicolo hill, where from its terraced summit, dominated by the Faro della Vittoria (Beacon of Victory), the most spectacular view of the city awaits. From this vantage point such landmarks as: St Peter's, Villa Borghese, Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni Laterano and the Aventine are easily spotted.
THE CIRCUS MAXIMUS
Said to be founded by Tarquinio Prisco, this area, referred to by the ancients as Murcia, which eventually became the most impressive 'circus' of Imperial Rome, is located in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills. We do know for certain that from the early days of the Republic, an area in the Murcia valley had been set aside for races and performances.
In the 2nd century B.C., the wooden grandstands, repeatedly destroyed by fires, were finally replaced with stone bleachers. It was continually enlarged and embellished. Under Augustus the Imperial box was added, as well as the Egyptian obelisque dedicated to Ramses III and taken from Heliopolis. A grand arch with three openings, which served as the entrance, was added by Vespasian and Titus. Trajan enlarged the bleachers and covered them with marble; at that time, the circus had a capacity of 150,000 spectators. The last modifications were ordered by Constantine and Costanzo II, which upped the bleacher capacity to 300,000, as well as architectural embellishments, which connected it to the Royal palace on the Palatine. Another obelisque was added which can now be found in Lateran square.
The Circus Maximus took the traditional form of all Roman circuses, that being a rectangle rounded at the angles, with it's exceptional dimensions of 600 meters in length by 100 meters in width. The chariot races attracted huge crowds. The obelisque set at the far, rounded end indicated the first 'meta' or curve in the race. The last known race was organized by Totila in 549. Its abandonment led to systematic looting, which eventually left it in its present state.
PIAZZA BOCCA DELLA VERITA (MOUTH OF TRUTH PLAZA)
This area, original site of the Foro Boario (Boarian Forum) is surrounded by ancient and medieval monuments. To the right stands the 10th century, Casa di Crescenzio, next to it, a few Ionic columns are all that remain of the republican era 'tempio della fortuna virile' (temple of virile fortune), and behind it, the 'tempio di Vesta' with its imperial era Corinthian columns.
On the extreme left hand side stands the quadruple 'Arco di Giano (Janus), from the period of Constantinian decadence. Beyond the arch rises the 6th century church of San Giorgio al Velabro, with its twelfth century portico and bell tower. Attached to the church is the 3rd century, Arco degli Argentari, erected in honor of Septimus Severus and Giulia Domna, shown depicted during an act of sacrifice to the gods.
BOCCA DELLA VERITÁ
This huge stone disc, originally a well cover, is now located in the atrium of the 'Santa Maria in Cosmedin' church. Etched into the stone is the face of the open-mouthed river god. Legend has it that it will keep the hand of any liar who dares to put it in his mouth.
SANTA MARIA IN COSMEDIN
Built in the high Medieval style in the 6th century, it was restored with the installation of the bell tower during the 12th century. Its suggestively sparse interior, consisting of three naves, is due to the incorporation of the ancient columns, originally part of the Roman Annoario, over-which it was built. The church houses valuable Cosmatetic designs, most notably the mosaic floors, Easter candelabra, bishop's throne, the altar canopy and the 'schola cantorum'.
TEATRO DI MARCELLO
This theatre, initially commissioned by Julius Caesar then later completed by Augustus in 11 B.C.., was dedicated to his nephew, Marcello who died at 20 years of age. It is the first Roman building containing two distinct classes of superimposed arches: Doric and Ionic. The three columns to the right of the theater are what remains today of a temple dedicated to Apollo Sosiano, and just beyond, the remains of the Portico di Ottavia, built by Agustus in 23 B.C.. in honor of his sister. It was relocated in the Caracalla baths in 203 A.D. Still present however, is the 'propileo'(monumental entrance) columns, that were later incorporated into atrium of the old church. Beyond the portico stand the remains of what was sadly refered to during World War II as the 'Jewish Ghetto'.
Surrounded by a wall with three gates, the Jews of Rome were forced to live a very restricted life here between the 16th and 19th centuries. The area in front of the Santa Maria del Pianto church is to this day referred to as Piazza Giudia (Hebrew Plaza). The modern synagogue (1917) is located along the backs of the Tevere de Cenci. The Jewish quarter today is a lively neighborhood full of typical trattorias, featuring traditional Jewish cuisine such as 'Jerusalem artichokes'.
ISOLA TIBERINA (Tiberian Island)
This island is located on a bend of the Tiber, in front of the Teatro di Marcello, accessible by two bridges: Ponte Fabricio, considered to be the oldest in Rome (62 B.C.), and the Ponte Claudio which takes you to the opposite bank. Dedicated in antiquity to Esculapio, the god of medicine, there is still, today, a hospital located on the island. Across the Ponte Claudio at Via della Lungara 230 stands Villa Farnesina, and exquisite example of Renaissance architecture.
Villa della Lungara 230
This classic example of Italian renaissance style was built along the Tiber river, at the foot of the Gianicolo, by Baldessare Peruzzi (1508-11), to serve as the Roman residence for the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. Its architectural development and sober decoration harks back to Florentine culture of that time. The front fašade is punctuated by two avancorpi (protrusions) and the cornice comes alive with a decorated band that runs along the entire surface. The entrance leads to the loggia, with its rich marbles, attributed to Rafael, Giulio Romano, as well as the collaborators of 'La Favola di Psiche' (the tale of Psyche). In the room next to the salon are outstanding examples of frescos by Rafael (Galatea), B. Peruzzi (Constellations), and Sebastiano del Piombo (Polyphemus and Scenes from a metamorphosis). On the upper floor is found the 'Salone delle Prospettive Architettoniche' (the room of architectural perspective) by B. Peruzzi and others, along with the bedroom, adorned with a fresco by Sodoma entitled: Nozze di Alessandro e Rossana (The Wedding of Alessandro and Rossana. In 1580 the palace passed into the hands of the Farnese family, whose original palace is located on the other side of the river. The Borbone family from Naples bought it in 1731. It presently houses the Accademia dei Lincei.
GIANICOLO - PASSEGGIATA DEL GIANICOLO (Gianicolo trail)
This hike is best undertaken after sunset. It takes a certain amount of stamina to arrive on foot, and the trail is a bit isolated. Afterwards, a nice meal in a typical Trastevere trattoria, washed down with large amounts of local wine, is highly recommended.
How to get there: accessible on foot or by car from Via Garibaldi, at the end of Via della Scala.
To Trastevere: bus 115 from Viale Trastevere
The trail begins past the park entrance, after Fontana Paola. In the first piazza you come to is an equestrian statue of Garibaldi, from here is a lovely view of the city. Continue on, past the statue of Anita Garibaldi, to the 'Faro della Victoria' (victory beacon), where, by far the most beautiful view of Rome awaits you. From here you begin the descent. Watch for the huge Oak tree trunk, struck by a lightening bolt, under which the poet Torquato Tasso used to love to sit.