Again, this isn’t a guide-book – just places I particularly liked.
Campidoglio, Capitoline Museums, and the Aracoeli: obvious, but it’s worth going into the museums to see the area as it looked in the early days, when much of the Forum was a marsh. The Capitoline Hill starts out as a temple to an archaic Latin goddess Mater Matuta, the dawn, and then as the Temple of Juno Moneta (our word mint). Spare a thought for the statue of the consul Cola da Rienzo, he of Wagner’s opera, and in the mornings, a madman sometimes shouts down from the porch of S. Maria di Aracoeli. Incidentally, the Campidoglio is a fine shortcut (using the stairs of the Conservators’ Palace) from V. dei Fori Imperiali and the river (V. del Teatro di Marcello)
Trajan’s Market – this has been restored with a well-done iron-clad museum, that last time, had contemporary art in it. Quite cool museum space in an old building (incidentally, jazzing up ancient spaces for modern viewers is something the Italians seem to do very well), and an unusual view over the imperial fora.
Palazzo Farnese – tours are available, by booking with the French Embassy (whose building it is). Afterwards, have a drink at Bar Camponeschi.
San Luigi degli Francesi – inter alia the Caravaggios. Have a coffee before or after at Cafe San Eustachio nearby, or the one across the square that is less popular but perfectly good (especially if you don’t care for sugar in your espresso).
Catacombs – definitely worth a visit, if only for the walk from the bus stop, through green fields and a lane of bougainvillea, not far from the Via Appia Antica. Particularly welcome in the stifling city heat. The catacombs themselves are impressive, if rather less spooky than Palermo’s crypts.
Basilica San Clemente – must go, there are two basilicas (4th and 11th century) built on top of a mithraeum, with a super relief of a bull sacrifice.
San Pietro in Vincoli – go to see Michelangelo’s great tomb for Julius II. Suffer silently the photographing gaggle of fools.
Santa Maria degli Angeli & the Diocletian Baths – if I recall correctly, the primary interest here is the size and rawness of the space. There is possibly a group ticket that covers 2-3 other museums (which fall within the National Roman Museum of archaeology), including the Palazzo Altemps.
San Ignazio – Andrea Pozzo’s overdose of tromp l’oeil in the ceilings, but most notably, in a fake dome that is designed to only be seen from the entry to the church (not only is it painted on, it is painted with a skewed perspective)
Palazzo Altemps – must go, wonderful art in a wonderful, not super crowded, space. Palazzo Massimo and the Balbi Crypt are part of this ticket also.
Arca Sacra del Largo Argentina – a field of ruins, still under archaeological intervention, that is home to a large family of cats and bums. Very atmospheric.
Ara Pacis Augustae – the ex-mausoleum, in the form of an Etruscan (?) tumulus, of Augustus, very grand, very ruined. Not sure one can go inside, but there is also a modern museum next door with an exhibit about a relief that recounts the achievements of the Emperor. The pizzeria, restaurant, enoteca in the Piazza di Augusto Imperatore (Gusto), is meant to be very good, and is hyper-trendy.
Chiostro del Bramante – a wonderfully un-crowded space, with a fine little cafe, and excellent shows – we saw the great Catalan Joan Miro, as well as Karl Lagerfeld there.
Santi Quattro Coronati – it is venerable, from end of 6th century. Not really sure what else distinguished it other than it’s great antiquity.
Palazzo Doria Pamphili – quite possibly, my favourite museum, if only for the Velazquez Innocent X that became Bacon’s model for his “screaming pope” paintings
MAXXI & MACRO – the two modern/contemporary art museums. Both are worth a visit, MAXXI for its Zaha Hadid design, and MACRO for its location in an old Peroni brewery (and the art)
GNAM – near the Villa Borghese, this is perhaps somewhat overlooked in a city of brilliant old art, but has a strong collection of 20th century Italian art; we saw some great Fontanas, Burris, etc.
Santa Sabina & the Cavalieri di Malta – both on the Aventine hill, through a key-hole one may see all the way to the Vatican
Fahrenheit 451 – my favourite bookstore, in Campo dei Fiori. Definite art and left-wing stance, with lots of postcards that I think might date to the Red Brigades years. There are a few other art bookstores nearby.
Vatican – besides the usual stuff at the Vatican museums, bankers might care to seek out IOR – the Institute for the Works of Relgion, aka the Vatican Bank. A perpetual centre of scandal, most famously in relation to the Roberto Calvi affair (the head of the bankrupt Banco Ambrosiano, found hung at Blackfriars Bridge, supposedly for losing Vatican, and Mafia, money).
Via Michelangelo Caetani – a plaque marks the spot where the kidnapped PM Aldo Moro’s body was found in the boot of a red FIAT, precisely half-way between the Communist Party and Christian Democrat headquarters. Have a drink to Moro at a Communist wine bar, possibly at 35 V del Monte della Farina.
Commercial contemporary art galleries:
Lorcan O’Neill – near Vaticano
Marie-Laure Fleisch – near Pza Navona
CO2 Contemporary Art – near MACRO
Frutta – near Pza Navona
Gagosian – near Spagna
Monitor – near Pza Navona
Pastificio – a former pasta factory, now with galleries and artist studios
Valentina Bonomo – near Ghetto
Pio Monti – near Ghetto