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The Capitoline, the Forum, the Palatine & the Colosseum


1.1 Piazza del Campidoglio

Designed c. 1537, Michelangelo

The center of ancient and modern Rome. By climbing the sloping cordonata one escapes the deafening traffic noise of a bustling modern city to be transported through time, first to Michelangelo’s Renaissance and then to ancient Rome. Here stood the Temple of Capitoline Jove; nearby the sibyl appeared to Augustus Caesar announcing the coming of a greater king. Michelangelo has re-created the ancient center, clothing it in a thoroughly modern architecture. From this perfect platform—an outdoor room—one looks down upon the ancient Forum and into the distant past.


William E. Wallace is the Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor of Art History at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Capitol enjoys, like a Japanese mountain shrine, the drama of arrival and the reward of adorned space. Come from any direction, through all the seasons, all times of day, and all celebrations of place. I suppose no plaza in the Western world holds more substance for me.


James R. Turner is a landscape architect.

Refined combination of place-making, architecture, urban intervention, and sculpture. Inspiring and memorable. A singular architectural achievement.


Renowned architect Charles Gwathmey was founding partner of the award–winning firm, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects.

Earliest and best example of modern urbanism. Michelangelo’s paving pattern was compelling enough to have been installed four hundred years later in exact accordance with the original drawing.


George E. Hartman is principal emeritus of Hartman–Cox Architects, which has received numerous national and international design awards

Visit the piazza at night, around midnight (but not Friday or Saturday). Rome is magical always but in a special way at night. It’s the nexus point where ancient and modern intersect, and seeing it illuminated at night, with Michelangelo on one side of the Palazzo Senatorio, and the Forum, the Colosseum, on the other, is a haunting experience.


David Mayernik is an urban designer, architect, and painter. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture.

Considered the shifting point from Renaissance to Baroque, Campidoglio—Michelangelo’s landscape intervention—is a geometric organization of topography that articulates exterior space with the same precision as an interior condition. When one is looking at the plaza from the stairs of Palazzo Senatorio, the oval pattern is revealed as an embrace of space, mass, and movement, and gives the effect of an inhabited dome.


Adriana Cuéllar is principal of CRO studio, an architectural design and research practice in San Diego/Tijuana.

Perhaps the most perfect public space ever built—a marvel of harmony and elegance.


The principal historian for the Emmy-nominated PBS series Renaissance, Theodore K. Rabb is Emeritus Professor at Princeton University.

Climb up the ramp to the Campidoglio on a moonlit night (avoiding the cruising area by the Tarpeian Rock, unless this is your interest) and take the road down to the right, until the panorama opens out at your feet. This is where it all began, after all, in Iron Age times, and it was probably beautiful then, too.


Ingrid D. Rowland lives in Rome, where she is a professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

Roman Nuptials

Getting married on the Campidoglio is wonderful. Your names are posted on one of the pilasters, should anyone wish to object. The wedding is brief and, of course, in Italian. When the ceremony ends, attendants present the bride with flowers from the mayor of the city of Rome. Leaving the red ground-floor wedding room and walking out onto the Piazza del Campidoglio is amazing, especially when followed by a stroll through the Forum. I won’t tell you about the paperwork involved.


Michael Schwarting is a principal at Campani and Schwarting Architects and director of the graduate program in Urban Design at the New York Institute of Technology.

View of the Forum

One’s first sight of the Forum should be from the Capitoline Hill. From the Piazza del Campidoglio walk to the left of the Palazzo Senatorio along via San Pietro in

Carcere. As Fredrika Bremer wrote: I came to the Capitol and looked down the other side. There before my eyes opened an immense grave, and out of the grave rose a city of monuments in ruin . . . it was the giant apparition of ancient Rome.


Pamela Keech is an artist, curator, and collector. She is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome and the American Antiquarian Society.

1.2 Capitoline Museums

Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori

Piazza del Campidoglio 060608;

The Capitoline Museums are admittedly Renaissance but built near the first-century Tabularium, the state archive of ancient Rome. The collections of antiquities are superb. The name refers to the discovery of a human head around 500 B.C.E. at the foundation of the Temple of Jupiter, an omen that Rome would one day be the Caput Mundi.


Elaine Fantham is Professor Emerita of Classics at Princeton University. She is a classics commentator on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Check out the uncanny marble portrait busts of the emperors and philosophers. You can read Caracalla’s character as if he were standing right in front of you, living and breathing (and scheming). No fewer than three busts of Homer convey an astonishing sense of intelligence and skepticism, even though the eyes are no more than blank stone orbs.


Jeffrey Schiff is a sculptor and installation artist, and Professor of Art at Wesleyan University.

1.3 Palazzo dei Conservatori

Piazza del Campidoglio 4 060608;

The Capitoline Wolf

Probably Etruscan, 6th–5th century B.C.E.

She may not look very fierce—or maternal—but the She Wolf’s archaic stylization, abstraction, and taut intensity appeal to modern sensibilities. The fact that the human babies (Romulus and Remus) nursing under her belly were added during the Renaissance makes it even better, if less consistent. Clearly the meanings attached to this life-size bronze statue have changed over time, but that seems to me proof of its power, and another example of the way one period in Roman history builds on another.


Jayne Merkel is an architectural historian and critic.

Statue of Isis

120–138 C.E.

Isis is presiding over her own private ceremony. Her right hand holds the sistrum, the ancient Egyptian instrument for warding off evil and encouraging good; her left hand holds a pitcher containing sacred water from the Nile. Isis’s importance originated in ancient Egypt and, regarded as a major goddess by the Romans, she found devotees throughout the entire Mediterranean world.

The statue is intended to represent not Isis herself but, most probably, an empress or member of the royal family in her guise, for even in Egypt, and later in Rome, noblewomen affected her costume and attributes. This statue, carved in Luna marble, was found in Hadrian’s Villa. It is certainly Roman, even though the sculptor’s hand has been identified as Greek (by the carving and the struts). A voluminous Roman mantle completely conceals her figure; Egyptian representations show the female figure through diaphanous cloth. Isis and her priestesses are identified by the fringed shawl tied with the so-called Isis knot, or by the sistrum and pitcher. They often wear the uraeus on the headdress, as does this statue. The goddess of fertility and rebirth, Isis is often depicted nursing her infant son Horus.


Norma Goldman teaches in the Society of Active Retirees at Wayne State University, a program that she helped sponsor and develop. She taught in the department of Greek and Latin at Wayne State University for many years.

1.4 Vittoriano

1895–1911, Giuseppe Sacconi

Between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill

The Vittoriano has become one of the more important temporary exhibition spaces in the city. The vast interior halls mean that it can host a number of smaller, free exhibitions simultaneously—often on topics of special interest to historians of Italian culture and traditions—while the entrance off via dei Fori Imperiali sponsors art exhibitions of international significance. The terrace at the top offers a glass-enclosed café, views of the city and the Fori Imperiali, and a new glass elevator that, for a fee, carries you to the quadriga level for a splendid panorama of the ancient and modern city.


Ann Thomas Wilkins teaches in the department of Classics at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and on Duquesne’s Rome campus.

1.5 Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Begun 6th century

Piazza del Campidoglio 4

06 67 98 155

Within the rich array of Roman churches, Santa Maria in Aracoeli is like a microcosm of Rome’s history. Its name takes us back to the moment of Christ’s birth, when Augustus supposedly had a vision here of the Virgin Mary holding the newborn Jesus. The church stands on the Capitoline Arx, the summit previously occupied by the Temple of Juno Moneta. Courageous visitors ascend the daunting marble staircase, inaugurated by Cola di Rienzo for the Jubilee of 1350. (An easier access is through the right transept arm, from the Piazza del Campidoglio.) A seventh-century Greek monastery on the site was replaced by the present thirteenth-century Franciscan church, a large basilica in which an unusually diverse collection of ancient Roman column shafts, bases, and capitals divide the nave from the side aisles. Underfoot, the Cosmatesque pavement is another rich creation of recycled ancient marbles, granites, and porphyry. Overhead, the carved wooden ceiling of the late sixteenth century presents martial imagery galore, since it was offered as the city’s thank-you to the Virgin Mary following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when European forces defeated the far more numerous Ottoman Turks. Romulus and Remus can also be found on the wooden ceiling of the transept, a reminder that this huge preaching hall doubled as a civic gathering place, since it was the biggest interior space on the Capitoline Hill, where Rome’s civic institutions were housed. The most venerated artifact at the Aracoeli is the polychrome wooden statue of the Bambino Gesù, to whom Roman children write fervent letters in the Christmas season. The most significant artistic presence may well be the Bufalini Chapel, first on the right, with its wonderful frescoes by Pinturicchio (1486), dedicated to the famous fifteenth-century Franciscan preacher, San Bernardino of Siena. The quirkiest presence—to the modern sensibility—is probably the panoply of crystal chandeliers, which we imagine would feel more at home in a palace ballroom. In fact, such chandeliers, burning with candles, were a common form of church illumination before the era of electricity, and in their present electrified state, they still produce magnificent effects.


Jeffrey Blanchard teaches at Cornell in Rome, where he is Academic Coordinator.

This is best at Christmas: Gypsy princesses carry the Santo Bambino to the presepio, or model crêche scene, as Abruzzo shepherds play bagpipes.


Brian A. Curran is Professor of Art History at Penn State. Mary J. Curran is a costume historian.

Go on the Epiphany (January 6). Arrive early for the service so you can see the gold Santo Bambino di Aracoeli statue in the crêche. The story goes that he was once stolen by Gypsies, returned, and then stolen again. This new statue was blessed by the Pope and is said to have the same miraculous powers as the original. Stand or sit near the back of the church. At the end of the Epiphany service, the Bambino is brought to the front doors and presented to the City of Rome, followed by a long procession through and around the Capitoline Museum.


Patricia Cronin is an artist and an Associate Professor of Art at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

RECOMMENDED READING: James S. Ackerman, The Architecture of Michelangelo, University of Chicago Press, 1986; Filippo Coarelli, Rome (Monuments of Civilization); Augustus Hare, Augustus Hare in Italy, Ecco, 1988 ; Georgina Masson, The Companion Guide to Rome (John Fort, editor), Companion Guides, 2009; Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the

Artists, Oxford University Press, 1998; William Wallace, Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture, Universe, 2009; Edith Wharton, Roman Fever, 1934.

Quiet Views of Rome

With sketchbook in hand, I have often enjoyed taking a picnic dinner up the many steps of Santa Maria in Aracoeli to watch the sunset through the dome of St. Peter’s. There aren’t many tourists around at that time of day, so you can have the view all to yourself.

Also, if you happen to be in Rome in the early spring, wander through the secret gated entrance at the base of the Campidoglio to the left of the first few steps. Walk to the top and take in the wisteria in bloom; the smell is intoxicating. Then pass across the Campidoglio and veer to the right, where a spectacular view of the Forum awaits. After April 1st, an alternate view can be had from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Forum.


Jana Dambrogio, a rare-book and manuscript conservator and contemporary book artist, works as a Senior Conservator for the U.S. National Archives.

1.6 Vecchia Roma

Piazza Campitelli 18

06 68 64 604;

Closed Wednesdays.

Always great; eat outside if possible. The service is superb and the roast goat shouldn’t be missed.


Peter G. Rolland is a founding partner of the award–winning firm Rolland/ Towers, Site Planners and Landscape Architects .

Quite well-known, but don’t let this terrific restaurant’s popularity keep you away. In the fall, I suggest the tagliatelle with white truffles and lemon. Unbelievable.


David St. John is a poet and the author of nine collections of poetry.


I try to think of the Roman Forum as a government center very gradually growing up around a flat open-ground meeting place. Start with a piazza, a market square, add loggias to get in out of the rain. Build basilicas as year-round meeting places, and then go from there as cult centers and specialized structures (Senate, Tabularium, etc.) are articulated. The interior of the Senate gives you some access to the ideal re-creation of what it was like, as do the churches along the city-side edge. You get a sense of the streets from walking inside Trajan’s Market.


James H. S. McGregor is Co-Head of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.

I still believe that this is one of the best introductions to Rome, to an understanding of the resonance of history as it is articulated again and again throughout the city as a whole—that intoxicating mix of the ancient and timeless with the recent. The Forum is startling, powerful, monumental, intimate, and always surprising.


David St. John is a poet and the author of nine collections of poetry.

1.7 Arch of Septimius Severus

203 C.E.

The enormous letters on the attic form the largest surviving dedicatory inscription from antiquity. As you look up, remember that the letters were once gilded bronze, now mostly pried away. On the four larger panels on the columns (two on each side), carved reliefs depict Severus’s victories over the barbarians of Parthia (now Iran). In the middle panels one can see barbarian prisoners being led in chains. This was almost certainly the model for the Arch of Constantine, which stands next to the Colosseum, and which was built more than a hundred years later.


Richard Brilliant is Professor Emeritus of Art History and Archaeology and Anna S. Garbedian Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

1.8 The Rostrum

From 338 B.C.E.

This large, high platform at the northwest corner of the Roman Forum was the central stage for many important public events during ancient times, including the greeting of foreign dignitaries, funeral orations, political debates, and trials. Attached to the front were bronze prows, the ram tips from captured enemy warships (thus the name Rostrum), and, for a time, the severed head and right hand of the orator and politician Cicero, following his fall from power in the first century B.C.E.


Thomas L. Bosworth practices residential architecture in Seattle, Washington, and is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington.

1.9 Terrace Restaurant at the Hotel Forum via Tor de’ Conti 25–30, at via Madonna dei Monti 06 67 92 446;

The terrace incorporates a medieval bell tower; it overlooks the center of the Roman Forum with the Colosseum off to the left and Piazza Venezia to the right. In between, Caesar’s Forum, the Forum of Augustus, the Capitoline Hill, with its buildings ancient, medieval, and modern. The massive, medieval Torre de’ Conti and Nerva’s colonnacce all crowd beneath you. Even for a veteran Romanista, it’s enough to take your breath away. On a moonlit night, adjourn to the terrace of the Campidoglio that overlooks the Forum and see it all in moonglow. Edith Wharton’s great story Roman Fever was surely set right here.


Ingrid D. Rowland lives in Rome, where she is a professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

1.10 Tempio de Antoninus and Faustina

141 C.E.

San Lorenzo in Miranda

via in Miranda 10

06 67 92 123;

Open Thursdays only, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

One of the most dramatic features of the Forum has to be the hollow ruins of an ancient second-century temple borrowed as the portico of a seventeenth-century Christian church (San Lorenzo in Miranda, open only two hours a week; access from outside the Forum). The rough synthesis of pagan and Christian monuments (take note of the detail on the side of the entablature; it is almost as if the church slides into the ruin like a car into a tight garage) exemplifies the historical and ideological stratification of Rome, and its eternal accommodation to its past.


Jeffrey Schiff is a sculptor, installation artist, and a Professor of Art at Wesleyan University.

1.11 Four Maps of the Roman Empire

1932, Benito Mussolini

via dei Fori Imperiali

I love to stand before these maps of marble and gaze awestruck at the grandeur that was the Roman Empire, marvel at its vast extent, and weep at its fall, with nostalgia for the loss. The first shows Rome’s dominion in the eighth century B.C.E.; the second as it was expanded in 146 B.C.E., after the Punic Wars; then in 14 C.E., after the death of Augustus; and finally as it looked under Trajan, in 98–117 C.E., covering North Africa and up into Britain, and east to Turkey.


Alexander Gorlin is principal and founder of the award–winning firm Alexander Gorlin Architects in New York City.

RECOMMENDEDREADING: Filippo Coarelli, Rome (Monuments of C ivilization); Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776–1788; Alta Macadam, The Blue Guide: Rome and Environs, 10th edition, Blue Guide, 2010; Nash, The Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome; L. Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992; John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849.

1.12 Santa Francesca Romana

9th century; 17th century, façade

Piazza Santa Francesca Romana 4

The church is open from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, and from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. The Sacristy is opened upon request; ask the custodian or a priest to be accompanied to the Sacristy.

Icon of the Virgin and Child

Late 6th or early 7th century, artist unknown

One of the few icons surviving from this period and typically Roman in style. Though it’s often photographed, to be in this painting’s actual presence is an almost spiritual experience.


John F. Kenfield is an archaeologist and art historian. He is Professor of Greek and Roman Art at Rutgers University.

1.13 Arch of Titus

81 C.E.

At the southeastern end of the Roman Forum stands a monument whose history resonates into the present: the Arch of Titus. Built around 80 C.E. by the emperor Domitian to honor the victories of his brother Titus and their father Vespasian in the war against Judaea a decade earlier, it served as the Forum’s eastern entrance and exit. Its exterior is nearly all a nineteenth-century reconstruction, and the inscription on the side facing the Forum records the restoration of the arch by Pope Pius VII. Although smaller and simpler than the Arch of Septimius Severus at the Forum’s opposite end, it records an event that reverberates to the present day. The Romans’ victory in their long and savage war against Judaea put an end to the Jewish state for nearly nineteen hundred years. Only with the foundation of modern Israel in 1948 was the result of Rome’s triumph finally undone.

On the walls of the single-arched opening are two sculptured panels celebrating Titus and Vespasian’s victory, during which Jerusalem was looted and nearly destroyed. One panel shows Titus riding in a chariot, with the goddess Roma guiding his horses, while the jubilant citizens of Rome crowd around him. On the opposite side we see the start of the triumphal procession that would in fact have passed this way. Soldiers carry the spoils of war, including the altar table, silver trumpets, and the huge, seven-branched gold candelabrum plundered from the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem.

Among the other spoils of the Jewish War were thousands of captives. Many were put to work as slaves during the Colosseum’s construction, and some may also have worked on the Arch of Titus a decade later—with what bitterness of heart we may easily imagine. The arch became a potent symbol of Jewish defeat, a place the Jews of Rome avoided for centuries, refusing to walk under it.

But on May 14, 1948, the day the State of Israel was founded, all of that changed. As radios announced the rebirth of their ancient homeland, the Jews of Rome, some of them descendents of Titus’s captives, spontaneously began pouring in from all over the city and converging on the Arch of Titus. Laughing, shouting, weeping, cheering, banging on metal pots or anything that would make a joyful noise, they skipped, ran, walked, hobbled, or had themselves carried through the Arch of Titus. Today, the immediate surrounding area is closed off and nobody is allowed to walk under it, but Israeli tourists still take each other’s pictures in front of this place where history has turned a page.


Judith Testa, Professor Emerita of the History of Art at Northern Illinois University, is the author of Rome Is Love Spelled Backward: Enjoying Art and Architecture in the Eternal City.

The Arch of Titus on the Forum contains relief carvings showing treasures taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. Until recently, Roman Jews never passed under this arch.


The late Rudolf Arnheim was an author, art and film theorist, and perceptual psychologist. His major books are Visual Thinking; The Power of the Center; and Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, which is one of the most widely read and influential art books of the twentieth century. He taught at Harvard University and the University of Ann Arbor.

Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun

For this walk, have in hand a copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romance The Marble Faun. Begin at the bottom of the stepped ramp, or cordonata, which leads up to the Capitoline Hill, or Campidoglio. At the top and with the statue of Marcus Aurelius in front of you, turn left and go into the Palazzo Nuovo, which houses two floors of ancient statuary. Upon entering, climb the grand staircase and proceed into the room straight ahead—the Sala del Galata Morente, or the Room of the Dying Gaul. At this moment open The Marble Faun to chapter 1 and read the first paragraph, in which Hawthorne describes this sublime warrior in his death swoon. The marble statue is a Roman copy of the original bronze from the school of Pergamon, dating from the third to the second century B.C.E. You might be less interested, at this moment, in the history of the statue as in the spell that Hawthorne creates as one reads his lines. Then proceed to the window in the same room that overlooks the Roman Forum and beyond. Read the next paragraph: From one of the windows of this salon, we may see . . . What he describes is the same now as it was then: the foundation of the Capitol, the Arch, the Forum, the domes of Christian churches, the sweep of the Colosseum beyond. So much history heaped into the intervening space from the place where one stands at the window to the landscape beyond. The moment and the read are spellbinding.

Alternative Stroll:

Read The Marble Faun in its entirety; then go to the Dying Gaul, then the window. From here proceed through the Sala del Fauno to the great, middle salone in search of Hawthorne’s Marble Faun. This being is hard to track down, as there are many fauns in the room. (In The Companion Guide to Rome, Georgina Masson places Hawthorne’s faun in the room with the Dying Gaul, but, to my mind, it is neither there nor in the Sala del Fauno. The faun in the large salone is much more consistent with Hawthorne’s description.) Read carefully and you will find this creature, or in the words of Hawthorne: Neither man nor animal, yet no monster, but a being in whom both races meet on friendly ground, and if the spectator broods long enough over the statue, he will be conscious of its spell; all the genial characteristics of creatures that dwell in woods and fields, will seem mingled and kneaded into one substance, along with the kindred qualities in the human soul . . . . The essence . . . was compressed long ago, and still exists, within that discolored marble surface of the Faun of Praxiteles.

There are many other places that one could go to follow the journey of Hawthorne’s four individuals. Next for me would be the Church of the Cappuccini (Santa Maria della Concezione, see p. 80) at the bottom end of the via Vittorio Veneto. In the first chapel on the right one finds Guido Reni’s great altarpiece St. Michael Trampling on the Devil. Hawthorne’s characters are very excited by this painting, which plays a significant role in the story’s plot, and the book led me to a painting that I otherwise might not have contemplated so intently. The church itself is also a perfect setting for the peregrinations of Hawthorne’s otherworldly and somewhat sinister foursome.

If this is not already enough, I would now proceed to the Tarpeian Rock, or Rupe Tarpeia. One gets there by following the via di Monte Tarpeio, a narrow alley, leading up to the foot of what is believed to be the Tarpeian Rock beneath the Palazzo Caffarelli on the back side of the Capitoline Hill. It is from this point that the Rock is best seen. Many a traitor to the Roman Republic leapt to his death from this bare cliff. And it was here, in a small courtyard that existed until 1868, that one of Hawthorne’s characters meets a tragic death. This rock also captured the imagination of Virgil, who refers to it in the Aeneid, and Milton writes about it in Paradise Regained.


Judith Di Maio is Dean of the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology.

ITINERARY: Capitoline Museum, Room of the Dying Gaul; Capitoline Museum, Room of the Faun, or Sala del Fauno; Santa Maria della Concezione (see p. 80); Tarpeian Rock, via di Monte Caprino

RECOMMENDED READING: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1860; Henry James, Italian Hours, 1909; Georgina Masson, The Companion Guide to Rome (John Fort, editor), Companion Guides, 2009.


The strongest echoes of Roman antiquity are here, uncompromised by contemporary intrusion. From the Palatine, great panoramas of Rome can be seen, including monuments of later eras. Early in the morning, before other tourists arrive, one can enjoy the Palatine undisturbed. The effect is hypnotic, and undiminished by familiarity.


Steven Brooke is an architectural photographer, a writer, and an Adjunct Professor in the University of Miami’s School of Architecture.

1.14 Vigna Barberini

Southeast corner of the Palatine Hill

Located on the edge of the Palatine Hill, the Vigna Barberini is a large open terrace that provides the very best view of the Colosseum. Elevated, you can take in the form and structure of this most celebrated monument almost in a single glance, and you can see it in its urban context, situated at a crossroads nodal point. So, too, the Temple of Venus and Rome, a monument so large (and so perpetually closed to the public) that it is difficult to see; but here it is at your feet.

Equally exciting are new excavations that may have found remains of the Domus Aurea, the golden palace of Nero: a circular feature on this terrace may be the extravagant rotating dining room in which the emperor entertained his guests. Turn and you will see the Roman Forum, the Palatine palace, and the triumphal route along the Colosseum valley, all in a single evocative sweep: city, palace, triumph. Invisible under the Temple of Venus and Rome is the imposing vestibule built by Nero to link these areas of imperial and civic power. At its center—in front of your very eyes—stood the hundred-foot gilded statue of the sun god with, so it is said, the features of the emperor himself. Could a setting be more imperial?


Inge Lyse Hansen is Adjunct Professor at John Cabot University and a Research Fellow at the British School at Rome.

1.15 Nero’s Cryptoporticus c. 65 C.E.

This underground passage—cool, damp, and dark—carries you deep into memory from the Palatine’s Farnese Gardens (sixteenth century) overlooking the Forum, back into the Roma Quadrata, where primitive Roman civilization began, where you find the birthplace of Romulus and Remus and the ilex-covered remains of the Temple of Cybele, the Asia Minor fertility goddess worshiped in that spot through the ages. A favorite place for dreaming about Roman history and enjoying picnics—the picnics now forbidden! Could the Cryptoporticus have carried Freud to his now famous analogy between the human mind and the Palatine, in which he proposes the process of ruin, disintegration, and reconstruction both in the mind and the ancient city as a way of allowing room for everything in the inexorable process of growth? Visiting the Palatine, indeed visiting Rome itself (the Palatine being an emblem for the city), you have the experience of the continuum of space and time—especially at the moment you come up out of the Cryptoporticus and find yourself standing among the most alluring remains of ruin, disintegration, and reconstruction in the world.


Janet Sullivan is Professor Emerita of Writing and Literature at