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Holiday Guides for Europe - Italy

Classical Rome: Heart of an Empire

The Eternal City - home to some of the finest and most evocative historical sites to be found anywhere in the world.

A trip to explore the treasures of Ancient Rome in the Eternal City provided an opportunity to see some of the world's most important classical sites.

The city was the centre of the western world for centuries and simply walking around Rome it is impossible not to bump into examples of its ancient history.

Of those sites we actively chose to visit, the Forum was my favourite as it was at the heart of Roman life and politics. Although it is now in ruins, the sense of history in the remains of its carved marble elegance is palpable.

Entering through the impressive Arch of Constantine, we walked around the site, surrounded by the columns and marble stones from ancient temples and government buildings. It was extraordinarily exciting to see the place where the body of Emperor Julius Caesar is said to have burst into flames following his murder, the rostra from which Mark Anthony spoke and the Arch of Septimius Severus.

From the Forum, we made our way up to the Capitoline Hill and the museums there, stopping to look at the statue of Romulus and Remus the legendary founders of Rome, being suckled by the she-wolf. The Capitoline museums house a large collection of Roman sculpture, art and other artefacts.

The Colosseum is a macabre celebration of the Ancient Roman love of violence and much of the famed theatre still survives, towering above the surrounding buildings, with room inside for tens of thousands of spectators.

The stunning Pantheon, the Temple of All Gods, is a monument to the beautiful artistry and skill of the Romans. It is still possible to enter the building and marvel at the perfect proportions of its dome, built between AD 118-125 by Emperor Hadrian.

We spent some time wandering around the Villa Giulia, with its huge collection of Etruscan art and artefacts charting life before the Roman Empire was created, the Baths of Diocletian, now a major museum, and the Palatine Museum.

During the week we also found time to visit the vast, circular Castel Sant'Angelo, across the stunning Ponte Sant'Angelo, which was built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and converted into a fortress by monks, the Domus Aurea (Nero's Golden House) and the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla.

Just outside Rome, the Villa Adriana provided a quieter taste of Ancient Rome. A palace of the Emperor Hadrian, it is a Unesco World Heritage sites and covers a large area, with parts of the original roads, temples, buildings and aqueducts surviving. We had planned to travel by bicycle along the ten mile long Appian Way, an outdoor stretch that features ruins of tombs and monuments, but were unfortunately too pressed for time.

Another joy of visiting the Italian capital is la dolce vita and the evenings during our visit were spent sampling the delights of the city's stylish bars, cafes and restaurants. One of the most pleasant evenings was a trip to the beautiful Piazza Navona, once a stadium for athletics and chariot racing, now a Renaissance square surrounded by charming places to sit and watch the world go by.

We booked flights direct from the UK to the city's Ciampino Airport and stayed for four nights at the beautiful Residenza Cellini in the Trevi district of Rome. Travelling in early May meant that the weather was warm and pleasant, ideal for sightseeing.