Hi, I'm Rick Steves, exploring a city that in many ways is the capital of our Western civilization.
For the next hour we'll enjoy eternally entertaining and endlessly inspiring Rome.
Thanks for joining us.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ We'll marvel at the biggies: the Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the empire's exquisite art.
We'll also wander into some of Rome's oldest and most colorful neighborhoods.
After visiting some of early Christianity's holiest shrines, we'll enjoy a walking tour of some of Rome's many offbeat churches housing artistic gems.
Rome is the birthplace of the Baroque and we'll see masterpieces by the movement's father, Bernini.
We'll cross the border into the Vatican and ponder sunbeams in St. Peter's.
And we'll dine really well before going local after dark and lacing together some of the Eternal City's most romantic night spots.
We'll start where it all began: in this little valley amongst the fabled Seven Hills.
In a nutshell, classical Rome lasted about a thousand years, roughly 500 BC to 500 AD.
Rome grew for 500 years, peaked for 200 years, and fell for 300 years.
The first half was the republic, ruled by elected senators.
The last half was the empire, ruled by unelected emperors.
In its glory days, the word "Rome" meant not just the city, but what Romans considered the entire civilized world.
Everyone was either Roman or barbarian.
People who spoke Latin or Greek were considered civilized, part of the empire.
Everyone else, barbarian.
According to legend, Rome was founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus.
Abandoned in the wild and suckled by a she-wolf, they grew up to establish the city.
In actuality, the first Romans mixed and mingled here, in the valley between the famous Seven Hills of Rome.
This became the Roman Forum.
♪ In 509, they tossed out their king and established the relatively democratic Roman Republic.
That began perhaps history's greatest success story -- the rise of Rome.
From the start, Romans were expert builders, and they had a knack for effective government.
This simple brick building was once richly veneered with marble and fronted by a grand portico.
It's the Curia.
The senate met here and set the legal standards that still guide Western civilization.
The reign of Julius Caesar, who ruled around the time of Christ, marked the turning point between the republic and the empire.
The republic, designed to rule a small city-state, found itself trying to rule most of Europe.
Something new and stronger was needed.
Caesar established a no-nonsense, more disciplined government, became dictator for life, and, for good measure, had a month named in his honor...July.
The powerful elites of the republic found all this change just too radical.
In an attempt to save the republic and their political power, a faction of Roman senators assassinated Caesar.
His body was burned on this spot in 44 BC.
The citizens of Rome gathered here in the heart of the Forum to hear Mark Antony say, in Shakespeare's words, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I've come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."
But the republic was finished, and Rome became the grand capital of a grand empire.
The Via Sacra, or "Sacred Way," was the main street of ancient Rome.
It stretched from the Arch of Septimius Severus to the Arch of Titus.
Rome's various triumphal arches, named after the emperors who built them, functioned as public-relations tools.
Reliefs decorating the various arches show how war and expansion were the business of state.
Rome's thriving economy was fueled by plunder and slaves won in distant wars.
Ancient Rome had a population of over a million at its peak, and anywhere you dig in the modern city, you'll find remains of the ancient one.
Largo Argentina is a modern transportation hub, with traffic roaring all around some of Rome's oldest temples.
The Capitoline Hill, which rises majestically from the busy streets, has long been the home of Rome's city government.
During the Renaissance, Michelangelo designed this regal staircase.
He gave the square its famously harmonious proportions and its majestic centerpiece... An ancient statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
This is a copy.
The second-century original, the greatest equestrian statue of antiquity, is showcased in the adjacent Capitoline Museum.
This, like the other great statues of antiquity, is now safely out of the elements.
The museum helps you imagine life before the fall of Rome.
These reliefs show Marcus Aurelius performing the various duties of an emperor.
Here, as the chief priest, or "pontifex maximus," he prepares to sacrifice a bull.
Here, on the battlefield, he grants clemency to vanquished barbarian leaders.
And this one puts you curbside at a victory parade with the emperor, the Eisenhower of his day, on a chariot, Winged Victory on his shoulder, and trumpets proclaiming his glory.
♪ The art of imperial Rome almost always carried a message.
This "Dying Gaul," a Roman copy of a Greek original, was part of a monument celebrating another victory over the barbarians.
Like any propaganda art, battle scenes stoked imperial pride.
You can wander among heroic statues in grand halls and look into the eyes of long-forgotten emperors.
And the museum also shows a more peaceful and intimate side of Roman life.
Here, a boy quietly pulls a thorn from his foot.
At first glance, these look like paintings, but they're actually micro-mosaics, made of thousands of tiny chips.
This mosaic hung in Emperor Hadrian's villa.
Romans emulated the high culture of the Greeks, and when it came to capturing beauty, their forte was making excellent copies of Greek originals.
The "Capitoline Venus" is one of the truest representations of the concept of feminine beauty from ancient times.
Like so many classical statues, this is a 2,000-year-old Roman copy of a 2,500-year-old Greek original.
And this statue, called the "Drunken Faun," is a playful reminder that a trait of ancient Rome that survives to this day is a fondness for good food and fine wine.
Part of your Roman experience, regardless of your budget, should be experiencing a fine meal, and we're doing that "al fresco" on Piazza Farnese.
We're starting with a great spread of "antipasti"... prosciutto, porcini mushrooms, "puntarelle," a local salad, and fresh mozzarella.
As everywhere, eat with the season.
Tonight we said, "Bring on whatever's fresh."
Travelers can enjoy better restaurants without going broke by sharing an array of smaller dishes.
And now the pasta.
I often find the "antipasti" and pasta dishes more varied and interesting than the more expensive "secondi," or main courses.
Even in early May, it's plenty warm to dine outside.
Dinner within splashing distance of a tub from the ancient Baths of Caracalla caps a perfectly Roman day.
Rome's a big city, too big to walk everywhere.
Take advantage of public transport.
I like a hotel in a convenient neighborhood, near a subway stop.
Rome's subway system, while not extensive, is easy to use.
From our hotel, it's a straight shot to the Colosseum.
That's our stop.
The Colosseum was -- and still is -- colossal.
It's the great example of ancient Roman engineering.
It was begun in 72 AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, when the empire was nearing its peak.
Using Roman-pioneered concrete, brick, and their trademark round arches, Romans constructed much larger buildings than the Greeks.
But it seems they still respected the fine points of Greek culture.
They decorated their no-nonsense mega-structure with all three Greek orders of columns... Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
Stepping inside, you can almost hear the roar of ancient Rome.
Take a moment to imagine the place in action.
Romans filled and emptied the Colosseum's 50,000 seats as quickly and efficiently as we do our super-stadiums today.
It's built with two theaters facing each other -- that's what an amphitheater is -- so twice as many people could enjoy the entertainment.
Canvas awnings were hoisted over the stadium to give protection from the sun.
These passageways underneath the arena were covered by a wooden floor.
Between acts, animals and gladiators were shuffled around out of sight.
Ancient Romans, whose taste for violence exceeded even modern America's, came to the Colosseum to unwind.
Gladiators, criminals, and wild animals fought to the death, providing the public with a festival of gore.
To celebrate the Colosseum's grand opening, Romans were treated to the slaughter of 5,000 animals.
Nearby, Trajan's column trumpets the glories of Emperor Trajan, who ruled Rome in its heyday.
This is a textbook example of continuous narration.
Like a 200-yard-long scroll, it winds all the way to the top.
More P.R., telling the story of yet another military victory.
Trajan extended the boundaries of the empire to its greatest size ever, from the Nile to the north of Britain.
Controlling its entire coastline, Romans called the Mediterranean simply "Mare Nostrum"... "Our Sea."
Downtown Rome is a kind of architectural time warp.
You'll see almost nothing built post-World War II.
A striking exception is this contemporary building showcasing the Ara Pacis.
This "Altar of Peace" offers a stirring glimpse at the pride and power of the Roman Empire at its peak.
Nine years before Christ, Emperor Augustus led a procession of priests up these steps to the newly built "Altar of Peace."
They sacrificed an animal on the top and thanked the gods.
The last of the serious barbarian resistance had been quelled, and now there could be peace.
The empire was established, and this marked the start of the Pax Romana.
The Pax Romana, or "Roman Peace," was a Golden Age of good living, relative stability, and military dominance that lasted from the time of Christ for about two centuries.
The altar's exquisite reliefs celebrate Rome's success and prosperity.
This goddess of fertility is surrounded by symbols of abundance, and this procession shows a populace thankful for its emperor.
The stability and relative prosperity that characterized the two centuries of the Roman Peace was due in part to a steady succession of capable rulers.
As visitors, it's our challenge to appreciate the grandeur of this incredible city built on the scale of giants.
For instance, when Rome went to the races, it came here, the Circus Maximus.
Imagine a quarter of a million Romans cheering on careening chariots, and overlooking it all, the Palatine Hill, filled with towering palaces.
And a visit to the National Museum at the Palazzo Massimo helps to humanize the empire.
While ancient Rome's architecture was monumental, its citizens were just people like you and me without electricity.
These frescoes, a rare surviving example of Roman painting, bring color to our image of daily life back then.
Romans liked to think of themselves as somehow living parallel with the gods.
These domestic scenes come with a twist of mythology.
And this painted garden, wallpapering a Roman villa, showed an appreciation for nature while creating an atmosphere of serenity.
Admiring the artifacts of Rome's elite, from exquisite jewelry to this delicate golden hair net, we can only marvel at "lifestyles of the rich and Roman."
Many aspects of Roman life are represented.
Roman artists excelled in realism.
This boxer is a picture of exhaustion, with a roughed-up face and tired hands complete with brass knuckles.
The museum's collection tells the empire's story through art.
Caesar Augustus was the nephew of Julius Caesar and the first great emperor of the Pax Romana.
Looking into the eyes of the man who called himself "the first among equals," you get the feeling that the ship of state was in good hands.
But by the time this statue was carved, it's clear: the Pax Romana was finished, and Rome was falling.
This boy is about to become head of state.
It was a chaotic and unstable time.
In fact, in the third century, 16 emperors were assassinated in a 50-year period.
Surrounded by nervous senators, this child emperor is no picture of confidence.
Throughout the ages, people mined once-glorious buildings as quarries.
They were stacked with pre-cut stones, free for the taking.
Block by block, they carted away most of this temple and then incorporated what was still standing, like these columns, into a modern building.
Thankfully, no one cannibalized the magnificent Pantheon, the best-preserved temple from ancient Rome.
The portico, with its stately pediment, has symbolized Roman greatness ever since antiquity.
Like the obelisks, its massive, one-piece granite columns were shipped from Egypt.
It takes four tourists to hug one.
Step inside to enjoy the finest look anywhere at the splendor of ancient Rome.
Its dimensions are classic, based on a perfect circle as wide as it is tall: 140 feet.
The oculus is the only source of light.
The Pantheon survived so well because it's been in continuous use for over 2,000 years.
It went almost directly from being a pagan temple to being a Christian church.
The beauty of the Pantheon and the brilliance of its construction has inspired architects through the ages.
The dome is made of poured concrete, which gets thinner and lighter with height.
The highest part is made with pumice, an airy volcanic stone.
"Pan-theon" means "all the gods."
It was a spiritual menagerie where the many gods of the empire were worshipped.
There was a kind of religious freedom back then.
If you were conquered, you were welcome to keep your own gods, as long as you worshipped Caesar, too.
This was generally no problem.
But the Christians, who had a single and very jealous god, were the exception.
Because they refused to worship the emperor, early Christians were persecuted.
For a little early Christian history, we're heading outside the city for a look at the catacombs.
Rome's ancient wall stretches eleven miles.
It protected the city until Italy was united in 1870.
From gates like this, grand roads fanned out to connect the city with its empire.
The Appian Way, Rome's gateway to the East, is fun to explore on a rented bike.
It was the grandest and fastest road yet, the wonder of its day.
Very straight, as Roman engineers were fond of designing, it stretched 400 miles to Naples and then on to Brindisi, from where Roman ships sailed to Greece and Egypt.
These are the original stones.
Tombs of ancient big-shots lined the Appian Way like billboards.
While pagans didn't enjoy the promise of salvation, those who could afford it purchased a kind of immortality by building themselves big and glitzy memorials.
These line the main roads out of town.
Judging by their elegant togas, these brothers were from a fine family.
This is the mausoleum of Caecilia Metella, whose father-in-law was extremely wealthy.
While it dates from the first century BC, we still remember her to this day, so apparently the investment paid off.
But of course, early Christians didn't have that kind of money, so they buried their dead in mass underground "necropoli," or catacombs, dug beneath the property of the few fellow Christians who did own land.
These catacombs are scattered all around the city just outside the walls, and several are open to the public.
The tomb-lined tunnels of the catacombs stretch for miles and are many layers deep.
Many of the first Christians buried here were later recognized as martyrs and saints.
Others then carved out niches nearby to bury their loved ones close to these early Christian heroes.
By the Middle Ages, the catacombs were abandoned and forgotten.
Centuries later, they were rediscovered.
Romantic Age tourists on the "Grand Tour" visited by candlelight, and legends grew about Christians hiding out to escape persecution.
But the catacombs were not hideouts.
They were simply budget underground cemeteries.
Further along the Appian Way is Rome's Aqueduct Park, offering a chance to see how the ancient city got its water.
With its million people, Rome needed lots of water.
These ingenious aqueducts carried a steady stream from distant mountains into the city, and they still seem to gallop, as they did 2,000 years ago, into Rome.
These aqueducts were the Achille's heel of Rome.
If you wanted to bring down the city, all you had to do was take down one of the arches.
In fact, in the sixth century, the barbarians did just that.
Without water, Rome basically shriveled up.
Today, the park's a favorite with locals for walking the dog or burning off some of that pasta.
♪ With its imperial might and those stories about persecutions and hungry lions in the Colosseum, it's easy to forget that the last century of the Roman Empire was Christian.
In 312, the general Constantine, following a vision that he would triumph under the sign of the cross, beat his rival, Maxentius.
Taking power, Emperor Constantine then legalized Christianity.
This obscure, outlawed Jewish sect ultimately became the religion of the empire.
In the year 300, you could be killed for being a Christian.
In the year 400, you could be killed for not being a Christian.
Church attendance boomed and Emperor Constantine built the first great Christian church right here... San Giovanni in Laterano... St. John's.
It opened as a kind of "first Vatican."
St. John's, which has been rebuilt over the ages, was the original home of the bishop of Rome, or "Pope."
High atop the canopy over the altar, a box supposedly contains bits of the skulls of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The church is filled with symbols of Christianity's triumph over pagan Rome.
For instance, tradition says these gilded bronze columns once stood in pagan Rome's holiest temple.
And what better doors for this first grand church than those which once hung in ancient Rome's Senate House?
The adjacent Holy Stairs are a major stop on Rome's pilgrimage trail.
Many credit Emperor Constantine's mother, Saint Helena, for her son's conversion.
She brought home wagon-loads of relics, including these stairs, believed to be from the palace of Pontius Pilate.
For 1,700 years, pilgrims, believing Jesus climbed these stairs on the day he was condemned, have scaled the Scala Santa on their knees.
The importance of Rome is due in part to its location.
The city was born about 2,500 years here along the Tiber River.
This was as far upstream as boats could sail and the first place the river could be crossed by bridge.
As a center of river trade, Rome connected the interior of the Italian peninsula with the Mediterranean.
This riverbank would have been bustling in ancient times.
Imagine -- busy docks, ramshackle boats, water mills, and platforms for fishing.
Until modern times, Rome's river was part of its economy.
Then, in the 1870s, in order to protect the city from flooding, the Romans walled off the Tiber.
They built these tall, anonymous embankments that continue to isolate the river from the city to this day.
While Rome was born on the Tiber, today the town seems to ignore its river, but the city's graceful bridges connect thriving neighborhoods.
Just over the Tiber from here is one of Rome's most colorful districts.
Trastevere is the place to immerse yourself in the crustier side of Rome.
The name "Trastevere" actually means "across the Tiber River."
Wandering here offers a chance to hone your senses to see Rome more intimately.
You'll discover a world of artisans who've found their niche and love it.
The people here, "Trasteverini," are proud.
Old-timers once bragged of never setting foot on the opposite side of the river.
As we explore and observe, the big city seems worlds away.
For maximum Trastevere fun and insight, I'm joined by my friend and Roman tour guide, Francesca Caruso.
Especially here in Trastevere, you get this sense of the many layers of Rome.
Certainly, that is really the key to understanding Rome.
This city has almost 3,000 years of history.
It was never abandoned, so people have just built on top and around of what was already there.
Like a layer cake, isn't it?
Boy, there's a beautiful roof garden.
Most of us in Rome live in apartments, so no gardens, no back yards, so we all dream of the attico con terrazzo.
Attico con terrazzo, an attic with a terrace.
Yes, so the skyline of Rome is full of these little jungles on the rooftops.
Everything is so intimate.
It's like we're walking through somebody's laundry room.
Well, we've always lived very close together here.
Sharing space is really not a problem.
We don't even have the word for "privacy" in Italian.
We use the English word instead.
We simply roll the "r," so we say privacy.
I know one more Italian word now.
[ Laughs ] [ Conversing in Italian ] So why are so many of the oldest churches in Rome on this side of the river?
Because Trastevere was the neighborhood of foreigners, often Christian, who brought their faith with them.
For the whole period of the persecutions, they could not build churches, so mass would be celebrated in the homes of wealthy converts who offered their homes for mass.
So then this is one of those kind of churches.
Yes, it was the house of Cecilia, and in later times they built a church dedicated to her.
And today, the name of the church?
The Santa Cecilia.
Steves: Now, what happened to Saint Cecilia?
Saint Cecilia and her husband were killed because of their faith.
The Romans tried to stane her to death for three days in her own home, and after that, they beheaded her.
This is a beautiful statue.
It's just peaceful.
Yes, it's very quiet.
There's something very tender about it and also very sad, about a young woman who was killed so brutally for her faith.
Fronting another early Christian church -- Santa Maria in Trastevere -- is an inviting piazza.
The concept of a piazza serving as a community center goes back to ancient times.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere still functions as the beating heart of this neighborhood.
Great part of exploring a neighborhood is just sitting on the main square.
I think it's really in our DNA.
We've been living in our piazzas as common living rooms since ancient Roman times, so it's always been this way, and let's hope it will always be this way in the future, too.
For dinner we're venturing into a different neighborhood.
One of my favorite restaurants is a short cab ride away, back on the other side of the river.
Ristorante il Gabriello provides a peaceful and local-feeling respite from the intensity of the big city.
Claudio serves with charisma, while his brother, Gabriello, cooks Roman cuisine with a creative twist, using fresh, organic products from the market and from his wife's farm.
Sometimes Italians like to ignore the menu, just trust the restaurateur, and go with the meal he suggests.
Whenever possible, so do I, and that's the plan tonight.
First up, fresh scampi, oysters, and shrimp, and they're served the way Romans like it -- crudo, or raw.
Oh, yes, that's nice.
Next, Claudio switches us from a white to a red wine in anticipation of the pasta dishes.
Claudio: Ravioli, "si," stuffed with ricotta, ricotta cheese, and spinach.
First, a ravioli with a delicate cream sauce and a pinch of sage.
That's a nice lead-in to our second pasta -- "spaghetti alla carbonara."
Carbonara is eggs, pancetta, some pecorino, and a little bit of parmigiano and pepper.
Very simple and very Roman.
Claudio recommends a wine change to a super Tuscan.
[ Laughs ] This will be super with a dish of rare beef topped with thin strips of lard.
As an extra treat, he's prepared a special local white fish.
And finally, the "dolce."
Sorry, but these desserts taste even better than they look.
What a meal!
While much of Rome is splendid and grandiose, it can be intimate as well.
Regardless of your sightseeing agenda, getting out early lets you enjoy some of the world's great public spaces while they're just waking up.
Early birds can even enjoy the generally packed Pantheon nearly all to themselves.
A morning spent wandering is filled with surprises.
Playful fountains decorate squares.
In the back streets, it's clear -- this city is a collection of real neighborhoods artfully living well in a rustic and ancient shell.
As the rhythm of daily life hits its stride, the famous Spanish Steps, today adorned with azaleas, fill with people.
For over 200 years, romantics have gathered here to enjoy a little "dolce vita" with their sightseeing, and it remains a popular place to savor the joy of simply being in Rome.
Another characteristic and interesting old neighborhood, and a delight to explore, is the ghetto, or Jewish Quarter.
In ancient times, this bridge was called Jews' Bridge, because Jews and other foreigners who weren't allowed to live in central Rome would commute from Trastevere over there across this bridge to get into town.
To understand the Jewish chapter of Rome's story, we're joining my friend and fellow tour guide Michaela Pavoncello.
Michaela's family goes all the way back to the Jewish community living here before Christ, and the family line continues.
Her baby's due in just a few months.
So what's unique about the Roman Jewish community?
Well, first of all, we're not Ashkenazi and we're not Sephardi.
You know, the Ashkenazi went to Germany and Poland and the Sephardi went to Spain.
The Roman Jews came straight from Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple, so we were here since before the Diaspora.
So when you think Ashkenazi or Sephardic, that's after the Diaspora.
So you can say this is the oldest Jewish community in Europe.
Yes, one of the oldest outside of Israel.
So if the Roman Jews came before the Diaspora, why did they come here in the first place?
Because they were diplomats and businessmen, and during the centuries, we had to live with emperors and popes, and we were tolerated because we were good for the business and we were not pushing our religions to the others and we were keeping it for ourselves.
Steves: So then what happened?
Then, we're in 1500, the Reformation came and the church had to fight any alternative religion, and so the ghetto was established in Rome to...
Okay, so the church is fighting the Protestants and at the same time fighting the Jews.
Yeah, and to avoid any contamination between Jews and Christians, Jews were segregated in a walled area in Rome in 1555.
So what was the life like in the ghetto?
Well, you have to imagine 9,000 people squeezed in a four-blocks area, flooded every single winter because the Tiber would flood every winter.
So it was squalid, muddy, disgusting -- it was the worst real estate of Rome.
Steves: The synagogue was the community center.
It looks like a church because back when it was built there were no Jewish architects handy, and that's what Christian builders knew how to make.
It's Art Nouveau with a dash of Tiffany.
The dome was painted with the colors of the rainbow, symbolic of God's promise to Noah that there would be no more floods.
The stars symbolized that the Jewish people would be as many as the stars in the sky.
Back in previous centuries, when the ghetto was a walled-in town, Christian Romans built churches at each gate, and each of these churches came complete with an attempt in Hebrew script to convert the Jews.
While most of the squalid ghetto was demolished with Italian unification in 1870, the buildings facing the main drag survive.
Shops sell fine, locally produced Judaica, and kosher restaurants proudly serve traditional dishes, like those with artichokes.
While the Jewish community now lives all over town, many Roman Jews still enjoy gathering here in the neighborhood where they have such deep roots.
Pavoncello: So I'll take you to the Jewish bakery.
The same family has been running the same business for 200 years.
They only offer five or six recipes, so don't ask for weird things.
They only have cheesecake with chocolate, cinnamon biscotti with almonds, macaroons, and the pizza.
That's called a Jewish pizza.
What's in a Jewish pizza?
It's like a -- almost like a fruit cake, with pine nuts, almond, candies.
Tell me about the challah bread.
Ah, the challah bread, it's what we serve when a baby boy's born or when a couple gets married or when you have a bar mitzvah.
So this is to celebrate a new baby.
Yeah, it's to celebrate new babies, or -- well, that's very appropriate today.
[ Laughs ] Very nice.
Rome is a city of magnificent art.
It's everywhere you look, and most of it was paid for by the church.
Public squares like Piazza Navona, with Bernini's much-loved Four Rivers fountain, are decorated with church-sponsored art.
Until modern times, it was the church that had the power, the money, and the need for great art, and going to church offered the masses, whose lives were so dreary otherwise, a promising glimpse of the glory that awaited them in the next life.
The importance of the church in Rome is obvious.
Around every corner, there seems to be another little nondescript church, hiding sumptuous art treasures.
The wonderful thing about seeing art in churches is that it's "in situ," not hanging on museum walls, but exactly where the art was designed to be enjoyed.
These churches span many different eras: Byantine, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and beyond.
Thoughtfully stringing together a series of lesser-known churches can be an art lover's delight.
When visiting historic churches, like Santa Maria sopra Minerva, our challenge is to appreciate the art with the mindset of a medieval churchgoer.
Here we find a glorious Gothic interior laden with great art.
The altar sits upon the tomb of Saint Catherine with the ornate tombs of two Medici popes looking down.
For generations, pilgrims have marveled at this Michelangelo statue of Christ carrying the cross.
And, in the side chapel, is a lovely series of frescos by Filippo Lippi showing the good works of Saint Thomas Aquinas accompanied by a celestial serenade.
And, popping into one of Rome's many Baroque churches, you hardly know where to look.
Every inch is slathered with ornamentation -- oh-wow spiral columns framing scenes that almost come to life; cupids doing flip flops; and ceilings opening up into the heavens.
After the intellectual nature of the Renaissance, Baroque, which followed, was emotional.
By the year 1500, Renaissance artists had mastered realism.
Now, in 1600, Baroque went beyond realism to wow its viewers with exuberance.
Baroque art was propaganda.
It served the needs of the divine monarchs and of the Church.
By pulling emotional strings, it convinced people to obey.
Rome is the birthplace of the Baroque style, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who lived and worked here in the 17th century, is considered its father.
Seemingly insignificant churches like Santa Maria della Vittoria come with lavish interiors, and, if you know where to look, important Baroque treasures hide out.
Bernini designed this side chapel like a theater, with members of the family who paid for the art looking on from their box seats.
The master Bernini invigorates reality with emotion.
Center stage is "The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa."
Bernini captures the feeling Theresa described when the angel pierced her heart with a heavenly arrow.
She said, "The pain was so sharp that I cried aloud, but at the same time, I experienced such delight that I wished it would last forever."
Rick: "Scusi signora, dove Campo de' Fiori?"
Woman: "È là."
For a break from all that art, head to Campo de' Fiori.
Literally, the "field of flowers," this has long been a fragrant and vibrant market.
The market thrives in the morning.
What's seasonal during your visit will be favored by local chefs and featured on their daily menus.
We're here in May, and it's "puntarelle," asparagus, and artichokes.
Whether you come for the produce or just for a stroll, Campo de' Fiori is one of Rome's beloved public spaces.
Rome is notorious for noisy traffic, and until recently, that plagued many of Rome's fine public spaces.
But the notorious Roman traffic is being tamed.
Like cities all over Europe, more and more of its old center has become traffic-free and pedestrian-friendly.
Still, watch out for the scooters.
After years of searching out my favorite European restaurants, I've found a few universal indicators for a great eating value, and a place like this has them all.
The best eateries are little family-run places that cater to locals.
This one's open weekday lunches only.
At a glance, you know this place is really a find -- limited selection, hand-written menu in one language, packed with the neighborhood gang.
Each day there's a special.
Today it's spaghetti carbonara.
Simple, tasty "cucina casalinga" -- that's home-cooking Roman style.
For a breezy escape from the big-city noise and intensity, head for the Borghese Gardens, Rome's "Central Park."
Romans are proud of their generous green spaces.
This sprawling park has long offered people here a place to relax, unwind, and let the kids run wild.
The park's centerpiece is the Borghese Gallery.
Once a cardinal's lavish mansion, today it welcomes the public.
As is the case with many of Europe's top sights, admission requires a reservation.
Getting one's easy -- just a quick phone call or visit the web site and you get an entry time.
Good guidebooks have all the details.
The wealthy Borghese family filled their 17th-century villa with art.
This was the age when the rich and powerful not only collected beautiful art but actually employed leading artists to spiff up their homes.
Cardinal Borghese was the pope's nephew and one of the wealthiest people in Rome.
With unlimited money, his palace dazzled with both fine art of the past, such as Raphael's exquisite "Deposition," and with the best art of the day.
Each room has a masterpiece at its center, like this intriguing look at Napoleon's sister, Pauline, by Canova.
The polished marble is lifelike, even sensuous.
Bernini's "David" is textbook Baroque.
Bursting with life, David's body, wound like a spring and lips pursed as he prepares to slay the giant, shows the determination of the age.
Bernini was just 25 when he sculpted this, and the face of David is his.
Caravaggio tackled the same topic on canvas.
Grabbing an opportunity to shock his viewers, the artist Caravaggio also sneaks in a self-portrait, this time as the head of Goliath.
In keeping with the Baroque age, Bernini's "Rape of Persephone" packs an emotional punch.
Persephone's entire body seems to scream for help as Pluto drags his catch into the underworld.
His three-headed dog howls triumphantly.
Bernini's "Apollo Chasing Daphne" is a highlight.
Apollo, happily wounded by Cupid's arrow, chases Daphne, who's saved by turning into a tree.
In typical Baroque style, Bernini captures the instant when, just as Apollo's about to catch Daphne, her fingers turn to leaves...
Her toes sprout roots, and Apollo's in for one rude surprise.
The statue, as much air as stone, makes a supernatural event seem real.
This classical scene, while plenty fleshy, comes with a church-pleasing moral -- chasing earthly pleasures leads only to frustration.
The place to contemplate that thought is at the Vatican.
Here's a case where crossing a street is crossing a border.
I just left Italy.
Vatican City may be the world's smallest independent country, with just 1,000 inhabitants, but it's the spiritual capital of hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics.
The Vatican is built upon the memory and grave of the first pope, St. Peter, its centerpiece: St. Peter's Basilica.
Even though the Vatican City occupies less than a square mile, this country has its own radio station, newspaper, post office, and a cute little train station.
Along with the grandest church on Earth, it has a massive museum.
The Vatican is ruled both politically and religiously by the pope.
The Vatican City is embedded in the city of Rome.
It's surrounded by a mighty medieval wall that evokes a less-than-peaceful history.
After the fall of Rome in the fifth century, the city of Rome eventually came under control of the pope.
In fact, for centuries, the pope was called the "King Pope."
Little by little, the "King Pope" established his own empire.
At its peak in the 1600s, these "Papal States," as they were called, encompassed much of the Italian peninsula.
When the modern nation of Italy unified in the late 1800s, it absorbed most of the Papal States, including the city of Rome, but the pope held out.
For 60 years, the pope was holed up here, behind the Vatican walls.
Finally, in 1929, the pope and Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty, establishing the Vatican as its own nation.
The garden-like core of the country, where serious administration takes place, is closed to the public.
The Vatican military is made up of the Swiss guard.
In 1506, the pope imported mercenaries from Switzerland who were known for their loyalty and their courage.
Today, about a hundred Swiss soldiers, clad in their flamboyant Renaissance-style uniforms, still protect the pope, keep the crush of visitors as orderly as possible, and patiently answer tourists' questions.
Piazza San Pietro sits on what was the site of an ancient Roman racetrack.
Imagine chariots making their hairpin turns around that obelisk.
For added entertainment during the games, Christians were executed here.
In about 65 A.D., the Apostle Peter was crucified within sight of this obelisk.
Peter's friends buried him in a nearby graveyard on what pagan Romans called the Vatican Hill.
For 250 years, Christians worshipped quietly at his tomb.
Then, in 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and changed the course of history.
A basilica was built here, and this became the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
1,200 years later, the original St. Peter's was replaced by this most glorious church in Christendom.
Upon entering, your first impression is it's huge.
600 feet long, bathed in sunbeams.
It can accommodate thousands of worshippers.
The ornamental cherubs dwarf a large man.
As a tour guide, I've lost entire groups in here.
Visitors marvel at grand paintings decorating the many chapels, but they're not paintings at all.
Because oil on canvas would soon be covered by candle soot, you won't find actual paintings in St. Peter's, just the magnificent work of the Vatican School of Mosaics, with thousands of different colors in their arsenal of chips.
This scene, showing Peter looking after early Christians, while centuries old, looks almost new.
Michelangelo's "Pieta" is adored by pilgrims and tourists alike.
Here the 25-year-old Michelangelo makes the theological message very clear -- Jesus, once alive but now dead, gave his life for our salvation.
The contrast provided by Mary's rough robe makes his body, even though carved in hard marble, feel soft and believable.
The high altar, like so much of the art decorating the Vatican, is another masterpiece by Bernini.
With sunlight illuminating its alabaster window, as if powering the Holy Spirit, it encrusts the legendary throne of St. Peter with a starburst of Baroque praise.
Directly above the altar which marks the tomb of St. Peter stands Bernini's bronze canopy, and above that, Michelangelo's dome, taller than a football field on end.
The inscription declares, in Latin, "Tu es Petrus" -- "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."
This is the scriptural basis for the primacy of Rome in the Catholic Church.
Climb Michelangelo's dome to the cupola for an unrivaled view of both Rome in general and the Vatican grounds.
The long rectangular building is the Vatican Museum, with one of the greatest collections of Western art anywhere.
Over the centuries, the popes have amassed enough art to fill eleven miles of museum hallways, sumptuously decorated with precious tapestries, dramatic frescoes, and ancient statues.
The museum features art from every age.
Its exquisite painting gallery includes Raphael's much-loved "Transfiguration."
Halls and courtyards are littered with ancient Greek and Roman masterpieces like the "Laocoön," so inspirational to the great masters of the Renaissance.
And the pope's apartments tell Christian history.
This is the battle in which Emperor Constantine was led by angels and a holy cross both to a key military victory and to his own religious conversion.
And these rooms celebrate pre-Christian philosophy.
Here Raphael paints "The School of Athens," a who's who of ancient Greek intellectual heroes, many painted with the features of Renaissance greats -- Leonardo, Michelangelo, and a self-portrait of Raphael himself.
Of course, there's much more, as we've just scratched the surface of this vast collection.
If you're pondering eternity, try covering the Vatican Museum thoroughly.
Busy and big as Rome is, getting around is relatively easy.
If your time's limited, catching a cab can be a good budget tip.
It's sweat-free and it's the quickest way from point to point.
Especially for a small group, it can be a fine value, and from the window of the cab, we enjoy another lively look at the city.
I find Roman cabbies generally honest, but still, count your change.
In Rome, you simply round up whatever's on the meter.
[ Speaks Italian ] -"Grazie."
In 1870, Rome became the capital of a newly united modern state of Italy.
Shortly after that, the thunderous Victor Emmanuel Monument was built to honor Italy's first king.
That's him on the huge horse.
The monument, built to stoke the spirit of a new and struggling nation, harkens back to the glories of ancient Rome.
In fact, if you want to envision ancient Rome in its pomposity today, imagine a vast city made of buildings like this.
The square fronting it is where, in the 1930s, Mussolini whipped up Italy's nationalistic fervor, ultimately sending a generation of Italian men off to a catastrophic war, and to this day, here on the national altar burns the eternal flame, remembering Italy's Unknown Soldier.
Riding the elevator to the top of the monument, we enjoy a sweeping view of the Eternal City.
Many locals love this perch, because from here, they can see nearly all of their beloved Rome.
Another towering Egyptian obelisk dramatically marks Piazza del Popolo.
This is the starting point of a ritual in Rome -- the evening stroll, or "passeggiata."
We're meeting my friend and Roman tour guide, Francesca Caruso, to join in the fun.
-Yes, I have.
-Let's go for a walk.
I think it's a great time.
-Yes, it's a perfect evening.
Steves: As the sun goes down, the people come out.
Downtown Rome's main street, the Via del Corso, is pedestrianized, and strollers just love it.
It offers some of the best people-watching anywhere.
Caruso: I think in the end, what I really like about the Italian way of life and I really enjoy it here in Rome is the fact that all I have to do is step outside and I'm surrounded by people.
I never feel lonely.
I always feel connected with a sense of community.
I think the "passeggiata" is a wonderful way of living the city.
So this is just sort of an inclination, early evening, cool of the day... Oh, yes.
You just go outside, meet your friends, have a gelato, an "aperitivo," and just enjoy your city.
Check out who's with who, who's wearing what.
Oh, yes, that always, you know, the Italians are so aware of themselves and they like to be looked at and they like to look at each other.
Steves: After dark, Rome takes on yet another personality, and a short walk laces together its top nightspots.
Back at Campo de' Fiori, the artichokes and tomatoes are packed away and the social street lamps are turned on.
These characteristic lanes, even late at night, feel safe and friendly.
The nearby Piazza Navona is a carnival 365 nights a year.
While this oblong square got its shape from a long-gone ancient stadium, today the games are limited to browsing and flirting around its famous Bernini fountain.
Just down the street is the floodlit Pantheon.
It looms high above our 21st century, as if aching to tell its story -- 2,000 years of Roman history.
And at the same time, it provides a venerable backdrop for "al fresco" diners.
There's too much life in the streets to go home yet.
The Trevi Fountain's close by.
This bubbly Baroque avalanche, dating from the 1700s, seems purpose-built for today's Roman embrace of life.
With history, art, and people perpetually partying under the stars, it's no wonder people come here in droves for the promise that a coin tossed over the shoulder will assure their return to this Eternal City.
That may sound silly, but every year, I go through the ritual, and it works.
But we're not done yet.
The final stop on our floodlit walk is the ever-popular Spanish Steps.
The Piazza di Spagna has been the hangout of countless romantics over the years, and I hope someday soon that includes you, too.
Of course it's the city of Caesars, popes, and floodlit fountains, but for over three million people, it's also simply home.
Thanks for joining us.
I'm Rick Steves.
Until next time, keep on travelin'.