WHAT TO SEE
ANCIENT ROME PORTION
This is probably the most hidden part of Rome and can be the most boring without a proper guide and explanations – because besides the Colloseum, alot of what’s left is really up to one’s imagination. And trust me, without a guide, forget about Foro Romano (Roman Forum) and the Palatine Hill — you’d be staring a piles of rubble and column wondering what’s the significance. I’d suggest an itinerary that starts at the Colloseum, taking the special tour that takes you to the restricted ground (gladiator’s) level and the 3rd storey of the Colloseum (which gives you a commanding view of the Colloseum, as well as parts of the Foro Romano).
Following that, resist the urge to follow the crowds to Foro Romano, but head toward the quieter Basilica di San Clemente, a Basilica built atop of a 4th century basilica that was once an “underground” church (when the Christians were persecuted), which in turn was built atop of the ruins of the home of a Roman nobleman. This is remarkable because you really get the sense of returning in time as you descend the depths of each layer, and you can almost truly imagine what things were like in Ancient Rome at the bottom layer.
For those needing some help in the imagination section, head to Le Domus Romane Palazzo Valentini, tucked at the back end of Piazza Venezia, which uses technology (laser lights and shows) and the actual excavations under Palazzo Valentini to attempt recreate the actual magnificent villa that once occupied this spot. It’s truly an immersive experience and allows you as close a glimpse as to what Ancient Rome must have looked like in the past. And to be honest, I had the tinge of sensation of being truly wowed when all the laser lights were turned on and the room was literally transformed into the past villa. This place also explains the Trajan Column and the ruins adjacent to the column, so it’s a pretty good deal for 11.50 euro. there seems to be only one english tour everyday, at 1:30pm, with very limited slots.
Other notable places to visit would be the Pantheon and if you are very lucky, the necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica, where the only way to book a tour is via the Vatican’s website (i’ll try soon).
THE ART AND SCULPTURES OF RENAISSANCE ROME
Hmm.. pardon me as I’m not expert, but here’s some tips of what to see for art and sculptures. Head to the Vatican Museum when you are in a good mood, because the massive swelling crowds and annoying, insensitive tourists that INSIST on snapping pictures within the Sistine Chapel really pissed me off when I was there. But yeah, these things need to be seen. The best segments of the Vatican Museum include Raphael’s Rooms (including the all too over-exposed School of Athens), the Sistine Chapel, and the Sculpture Garden where you can see the Belvedere Torso – an important antiquity find that influenced Renaissance artists to sculpt their works in a more muscular manner and in a contrapposto pose.
for a less crowded, and more immersive and beautiful experience, you simply cannot miss Galleria Borghese – a beautiful mansion situated at the edge of Villa Borghese, one gets to see how mansions in the past looked like, complete with precious works of art, sculpture and how these inter-played with the furniture, frescoes and flooring. this is art in its original context, which is so much better than going to a museum. Another such experience, albeit a little less famous and grand, would be Villa Farnesina, near Trastevere.
of course, if you don’t want to pay (and yes, you do not need to pay — ignore the gypsies outside who demand a fee), just drop by any of the beautifully adorned churches to see your fill of beautiful sculptures and paintings. Note that most churches observe general opening hours of roughly 9 -12 in the morning, and then roughly 4 – 7 in the afternoons. honestly, there i was time i kept thinking all the churches in rome remained close but that was because I kept trying my luck after lunch. Some notable churches include (based on my biased order of art content, impressiveness and importance):
 St Peter’s Basilica – huge Renaissance church in the Vatican that literally rose from ancient monuments (since alot of marble etc from ancient ruins were recycled to build the entire complex). Michelangelo’s spectacular Pieta is right inside.
 Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola – the sheer magnitude of the trompe l’oeil employed to “open” up the ceilings and create a dome within the church is nothing short of impressive. what’s even more impressive is if you know that the entire work was created by Andrea Pozzo, a monk and painter in his spare time. He completed it in a short span of 4 years. Go in and find the exact vantage point when all the illusions work to create a truly magnificent, dizzying effect.
 St Pietro in Vincoli – contains a beautifully rendered Moses by Michelangelo. Anyone read the book “the rule of four”? You get to see Moses’ horns here.
 San Luigi dei Francesi – known for three beautifully rendered Caravaggio masterpieces depicting the life of St Matthew (see picture above). What I love about this is you get to see the masterpieces in their intended location, instead of removed (and kinda rendered somewhat impotent) in an austere museum.
 Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva – considered the only Gothic church in Rome, its known for Filippino Lippi’s beautiful frescoes (of girls/angels with swirls of hair, ribbons etc) in the Carafa Chapel, as well as for the odd monument, Pulcino della Minerva, consisting of an elephant supporting a short obelisk. (there are a total of 11 obelisks in Rome)
 Church of Santa Maria del Popolo – interesting church located at the top edge of Piazza del Popolo, containing many treasures, including an apse designed by Bramante, two canvases painted by Caravaggio and of course, the famous Chigi Chapel, designed by Raphael and containing the Bernini sculptures of Habakkuk and the Angel and Daniel and the Lion. Unfortunately, as of now I think the Chigi Chapel is still under renovation (i.e. blocked by scaffolding) which is a huge pity and why I have ranked it so low. (yes, Habakkuk and the Angel was weaved into Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, who claimed it to be the “Earth” Altar)
 Santa Maria della Vittoria – an ornately beautiful church (the exterior is scaffolded) near to Repubblica that houses another of Bernini’s masterpieces, the Ecstasy of St Theresa. The sculpture itself, the detail of the flowing robes and how it fits with the entire architecture is well worth a visit. (and yes, Dan Brown’s claim of the “Fire” Altar)
 Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle – anyone who has been to Castel St Angelo will have been mesmerized by Ponte St Angelo will the row of beautiful sculpted angels by Bernini. Guess what? The most beautiful two angels are actually kept within this church, at the request of the Pope. Cool stuff