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Ancient Rome, Rome

Ostia, Italy, Europe: Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum
Italy's insider take:

The Roman Empire was ruled from the Capitoline. Business was done in the Forum. Movers and shakers built grand homes on the Palatine. And the mob was entertained at the Colosseum. An unparalleled wealth of historical and artistic treasures clusters in a small area at the heart of the Eternal City. At the top of the cordonata (sloping road of steps) up from Piazza Venezia lies the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio, with a modern copy of a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at its center. The first century A.D. original is now spectacularly displayed in a new wing of the Palazzo dei Conservatori—to your right as you enter the piazza—which also houses massive chunks of the ancient Temple of Capitoline Jupiter.

One of the world's oldest galleries, the Capitoline Museums (comprising the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo) host a worthwhile collection that ranges from some fine ancient Roman sculptures (check out the Dying Gaul in Palazzo Nuovo's Room 14) to canvases by the likes of Caravaggio and Velázquez (39-06-6710-2071;; Tues.–Sun. 9 am–8 pm). There is a breathtaking view over the Forum from the Tabularium, the ancient Roman archive building that joins the museum's two halves.

The Forum can be a bewildering jumble of masonry, but stroll along the Via Sacra—the ancient main drag—and up to the Palatine hill, which rises beyond. Here, the Horti Farnesiani gardens are a verdant haven, and the enormous dimensions of ruined imperial villas become easier to grasp (39-06-700-5469; daily 9 am–one hour before sunset).

Five thousand wild beasts were slaughtered during the Colosseum's inaugural party in A.D. 80. Nowadays, the battle is against fellow visitors, who pack into this monument in colossal numbers. (Note that tickets for the Palatine also cover the Colosseum and allow you to jump to the head of the interminable lines.) Climbing to the top is the only way truly to appreciate this feat of ancient engineering (39-06-3996-7700; daily 9 am–sunset).

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