Civitavecchia is Rome’s main cruise ship and ferry port, and was one of the stops on a Royal Caribbean cruise last month that Chris and I took from Barcelona. I had first imagined Civitavecchia to be just another busy, grimy port with nothing interesting to see there. But after noticing a medieval fort right at the end of the port, we thought the city might be interesting enough to see on its own. Instead of joining the busloads of cruise ship passengers bound for Rome on their day-excursions, Chris and I decided to spend the day at Civitavecchia to check it out.
The city has quite an interesting history. The present city sits atop an ancient Etruscan settlement. After the Romans occupied the city around 100A.D., Emperor Trajan built the port, and it has remained Rome’s main port for the last 2000 years.
The city runs a very well-organized system of free shuttle buses that connect between the cruise ships and a small bus terminal just outside of the city center. It’s easy to connect from the bus terminal to trains to take you directly to Rome or to other destinations.
The bus terminal is to the left of city center on the map. We made our way to the historical city center toward the center of the map.
Along the way, we noticed lots of signage throughout the city pointing the way to various points of interest.
Soon we ran into one of the largest local traditional markets that I’ve seen in any Italian city. The market occupies the entire Piazza Regina Margherita. Vendors were selling everything from vegetables, household goods, clothing, and meats.
Along one side of the market we walked into a building that was a dedicated fish market. We both noticed the market didn’t smell “fishy” at all, a testament to the freshness of the fish that’s sold there!
Just a block away from the bustling market, we noticed how peaceful the residential areas of the historical center were, with no crowded tourist shops or expensive handbag stores to be seen anywhere!
We had a tasty seafood lunch at an L’Acqua Salata and enjoyed sitting outside along a pedestrian-only street.
Continuing our walk toward the other end of the historical center, we found ourselves on a terrace overlooking the Forte Michelangelo and the adjoining harbor.
This fortress was commissioned by Pope Giulio II early in the 16th century, and was completed in 1535 when Michelangelo finished its construction after designing and building its central tower.
The fortress is surrounded by lots of grassy areas and walkways, and is now used mostly for exhibitions and cultural events.
Walking back to the bus terminal along the port, we noticed some remnants of the original ancient Roman port, including what is left of “Il Lazzaretto”, a contagious-diseases hospital.
Right behind this building, we saw a reconstruction of the bow portion of a second-century Roman warship.
Next time you’re in Civitavecchia, either to begin a cruise or on a cruise stopover, consider taking some time to enjoy the peaceful, traditional Italian town. We found it to be a great “home away from Rome”!
So you are heading off to Italy! You researched flights online and got the best deal or you went with a travel agent. You have your hotels, your trains, your cars all figured out. It is going to be GREAT!
And it will be. You almost cannot go to Italy and have it be anything other than great.
But Italy, with all its beautiful cities, amazing structures and fabulous art can be a bit overwhelming. Everywhere you look there is something spectacular to see. Italy is a giant art bath and it literally takes your breath away.
So how do you somehow get everything in order in your mind so that you don’t see it all in a giant blur and then not remember any of it?
My husband and I are avid Italophiles. We have a place in Calabria and get over there whenever we can. We always stop over in Rome and many times Florence before taking the train down south and every time we go we see new and exciting things.
Florence is a very special city and the birth place of the Renaissance.
But Rome and Florence can also be a giant blur unless you know the history and at least have an idea of the chronology of the events and the personalities that have shaped these cities and made them bright stars in Italy’s crown.
Since we first realized that we needed proper context in order to really enjoy these cities on a deeper level, my husband and I started purchasing courses through The Great Courses.
In addition we founda great series on YouTube that anyone can view for free. There is so much available that it is difficult to pick out a few favorites.
1) “The Rise of Rome” by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete Ph.D. (The Great Courses Plus)
In his course The Rise of Rome, Dr. Aldrete explains in entertaining detail how from the 8th century BC, Rome rose to a massive civilization that controlled the entire Mediterranean basin and beyond.
Dr. Aldrete not only goes over the chronology of the rise of Rome but puts in perspective all of the main events and characters that shaped Rome as she rose and then started her demise.
Dr Aldrete is as entertaining as he is brilliant sometimes giving his lecture in a Roman toga and inserting anecdotes that enlighten and add color.
Many of the Great Courses lectures are offered in DVD format or you can stream them. They come with an accompanying text with pictures and important information but even if you simply watch the lectures you will gather tons of great data that will put the entire city in perspective for you.
2) “Meet the Romans” series by Dame Mary Beard(YouTube)
Dame Mary Beard is a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge as well a a fellow of Newnham College and the Royal Academy of Arts. Honestly she has so many achievements that it would take pages to list them all, however despite her amazing depth of knowledge of all things Roman, Dame Mary Beard has managed to create a series that is intimate and understandable.
The most fascinating part of her series is that she follows the steps of the Roman Empire and on the way, translates various monuments and grave stones from Latin to English and gives historical context to each one.
Apparently back in ancient Rome, when someone died, a lot of information about them was written on their grave markers. Since these are in Latin, we pass them by in the streets, in alleyways and lining the Via Appia, and never know what secret treasures they contain.
Dame Mary opens up this treasure trove of intimate information so we see how the inhabitants of Ancient Rome lived, from the emperors to the men and women in the streets.
3) “The Prince” by Professor William Landon (The Great Courses Plus)
The Prince is a lecture series that follows the life and downfall of Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact his book “The Prince” has had on society up to and including present day.
Machiavelli lived in Florence during the Renaissance and is a contemporary of Michelangelo, Lorenzo De’ Medici, Rafael, Leonardo Da Vinci and the insane Franciscan monk, Savonarola.
Political situations were volatile back then and one could be in a cushy government job one minute and hanging upside down in a bonfire in the piazza the next.
This lecture series gives a close up look not only at the political situation and surrounding events during that incredibly active time, but also how the crucible of political upheaval helped create Machiavelli’s brilliant work and how his ideas have permeated our culture today.
Walking the streets of Florence, you can’t help but understand better everything around you and to see the city in its ancient context bringing the Renaissance to life.
4)“The Genius of Michelangelo” by Professor William E. Wallace.(The Great Courses Plus)
Of all the courses my husband and I have studied, this is my favorite because I have a deep love and respect for the genius that is Michelangelo.
Professor Wallace shares that love and respect and takes you through the journey of Michelangelo’s life from his relatively ignoble birth to his rise in Florence and to the associations with various popes who commissioned him to create some of the most beautiful art works ever created anywhere.
Florence is a treasure trove of Michelangelo’s works and one of the homes he owned is now a museum dedicated to him where you can see up close and personal his early works like “The Madonna of the Stairs” and “The Battle of the Centaurs”.
Walk in Michelangelo’s footsteps in both Florence and Rome and see where they cross those of Machiavelli and Leonard Da Vinci. Glimpse of the personality of the artist and understand the barriers he had to overcome to create everything he created in one short life time.
This lecture series more than any other take both Rome and Florence from one dimensional tourist destinations to multi dimensional story tellers with every street, palace or museum contributing to the tale.
5) “Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City” by Professor Steven L. Tuck (The Great Courses Plus)
In the days of the Roman Empire, Pompeii was a thriving port city and a playground for the rich. That all changed in 79 AD when an explosion blew the entire top off the mountain of Vesuvius and created a pyroclastic flow that killed everything in its path and enshrouded the entire city and all its inhabitant in volcanic ash where they lay for centuries.
It was not until the 1700’s that Pompeii was properly discovered and excavations began uncovering a city almost perfectly preserved as if in amber right down to a loaf of bread that was cooking in a bakery as the eruption began.
Walk with professor Tuck through the ancient city and get a taste of life on the Mediterranean in ancient times.
6) The Life and Operas of Verdi” by Dr. Robert Greenberg (The Great Courses Plus)
In addition to being an Italophile and Renaissance addict I am also a musician. I have purchased and studied many of Dr. Greenberg’s lectures and find him uniquely understandable and highly entertaining.
Travel with him through the life and the operas of Italy’s favorite musical son up through the Italian Risorgimento.
Verdi’s operas are beautifully constructed and anyone who loves opera has seen one or more of them.
Dr. Greenberg gives us a glimpse of Verdi’s character, his trials and tribulations as well as his resounding successes. This is all presented within a rich historical context giving us a unique slice of life in Verdi’s beloved Italy.
If you love music, you will love this set of lectures. On another topic, Dr. Greenberg has similar lectures exploring the life and works of Beethoven and an all around favorite “How to Listen to and Understand great Music”
These lectures and other similar studies have deepened our understanding of these unique beautiful Italian cities and of Italy itself.
Italy has the deepest and richest history of any European country. It boasts of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and gave birth to the most compelling and greatest artists, architects and statesmen the world has ever seen.
If you study even one on the above lecture series, you will have a depth of understanding that will allow you to remember your trip long after you return home and will also you to reignite your memories when you rewatch them.
The Great Courses offers the courses we referenced above and much more through the Great Courses Plus video-on-demand service offering over 8,000 engaging video courses taught by university professors from top schools. We have viewed many of their courses and recommend them without hesitation. The Great Courses Plus has a free 30-day trial that you can take advantage of by clicking on the banner link below. We do receive a commission from signups through this link, but it’s at no extra cost to you and helps us fund additional content for this site.
With all of the art, architecture, and history to see in Rome, you could spend years looking at it 24-7 and still just scratch the surface of what’s there. But when to see Rome is just as important as what to see. Here are three reasons why after the best time to see Rome is after dark:
1. The Light
As the sun starts setting over Rome, ancient buildings and structures begin to glow, first from the orange rays of the setting sun, and then from artificial lighting.
Objects that might have appeared dull and lifeless during the day suddenly pop out in front of you under dramatic lighting.
The combination of white and warm yellow lighting in some areas of the Roman Forum creates some surreal views that you would never see during the day.
Small works of art that you may miss during the day reveal themselves to you under directed light.
After dark, most of Ancient Rome is bathed in the warm glow from sodium-vapor lights. This lighting has been designed to mimic the glow from torches that originally lit the ancient parts of the city. You can really imagine yourself in ancient times walking through the narrow cobblestone streets!
Many of the large ancient structures such as the Colosseum and the Castel Sant’Angelo dramatically come to life at night.
2. The Cooler Temperatures
Many sights, especially with tour groups, can only be seen during the day, such as the Palatine Hill. But being out in the hot sun, especially in the afternoon during the summer months, can be exhausting.
If you have a choice, why roast under the hot sun when you can experience most of Rome’s iconic sights under more comfortable conditions?
In general, the crowds will be smaller at night, so you can more intimately enjoy works of art like the Trevi Fountain or the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona.
In fact, during the winter months, you can enjoy many of Rome’s most popular sights without the large throngs of tourists that you might encounter during the summer.
3 . The Life
Rome really comes to life after dark. Because the lighting is more intimate, and the crowds are smaller, and you don’t have to constantly shade yourself from the hot glare of the summer sun, life becomes more enjoyable. You can be around people in a more relaxed setting, and also relax al fresco over dinner with your friends and family.
Contact us for help and advice in planning your trip to Rome after dark!
A few years ago, Pete and I were visiting Italy and chose as our accommodations a charming little apartment in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto.
Finishing our trip there was ideal. After running all over Southern Italy it gave us pause and left us with a nice taste in our mouths like the perfect after dinner mint after a perfect dinner.
One of the main factors that made it so perfect was that we stayed in a lovely little apartment overlooking the main piazza.
The Jewish Ghetto has a long and unpleasant history. It was created back in the 1500’s at which time all Jews in Rome were required by Pope Paul IV to live in the walled portion of the city.
The Jews were not allowed out at night and were only allowed into the city proper during the day.
Because Rome was a Christian city under papal rule, the Jews were treated as less than second class citizens. They were not allowed any skilled labor position and were subject to base humiliation regularly by Christians.
Additionally they were not allowed to own property and were forced to listen to compulsory Christian sermons every week.
When the Jews did venture outside of the gates, the men were forced to wear a yellow cloth and women had to wear a yellow veil.
The Jewish Ghetto was the poorest and worst real estate in the city. Every year the Tiber River which bordered it flooded filling the streets with water and mud. This made the area a breeding ground for the plague which ravaged the Jewish population in 1656.
Over time, the population of the Ghetto grew and since there was nowhere else to build, the inhabitants built up creating high density housing that further subjected the population to decimation by virulent illnesses whenever one came through.
This deplorable state went on intermittently until the Italian Risorgimento (the final unification of the Italian Papal States which resulted in the papacy losing its power and the power being established under the Kingdom of Italy in the 1800’s.) and the Ghetto walls were torn down.
At that point, Jews were allowed to live anywhere in the city and the Ghetto, as a ghetto ceased to exist.
Much of the Ghetto was demolished and new apartment houses were built in its place. What remains of the Ghetto today is a tiny area where Kosher foods dominate and a small slice of Jewish culture remains to be savored and enjoyed by those passing through and who stop to experience it.
Our visit there started with a BnB rental that advertised itself as a cute Jewish Ghetto Apartment.
It was indeed cute and very centrally located. The apartment is located in the Sant’Angelo neighborhood in a small piazza right across from the oldest Jewish Bakery in Rome.
This bakery alone is reason enough to stay in the Jewish Ghetto. Pasticceria Boccione has sat in the same place and had the same family running it for the last 200 years. It has seen poverty, slavery and humiliation as well as final freedom and notoriety for its fabulous creations.
Pasticceria Boccione is known for its pastries, such as ricotta cake and cinnamon almond biscotti. The star in this line-up however is the Jewish Pizza.
This is not a pizza at all but a cookie type confection which is obviously stuffed with butter and filled with almonds, pine nuts and candied fruit (not the hideously dried out stuff you get in Christmas fruitcakes, this is not too sweet and it is very soft and chewy.)
The angels who bake this serve it up warm and fresh from the oven. It falls apart in your mouth and is a swirl of sweet nuttiness that I simply cannot picture life without after having tasted it.
The piazza containing Pasticceria Boccione leads off into a wide street, the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia. If you click on this link you can see a photo of this street. Above the white umbrella on the right, the second window up is the apartment in which we stayed. On the right hand side in the ancient building with the white awning is Pasticceria Boccione.
The Via Del Portico D’Ottavia extends in both directions and is designated an area pedonale (Area where cars are not permitted.)
Therefore the restaurants have seating outside under the incredible Roman sun where you can have your perfect cappucino and a piece of Jewish Pizza that will hold you over until lunch.
The restaurants in this area are good but pricey. That said, I did have a spectacular antipasto of mussles and clams in an out-of-this-world broth containing garlic butter and tomatoes at G. Spizzichino a few steps from the apartment.
Although my dish was an appetizer, it was enough food for me as it came with bread to sop up the ecstasy-inducing broth that accompanied it. And the portions were almost too hearty as is the norm with Italian restaurant portions in my experience.
The next day we ate at the restaurante Al Portico where I ordered Carciofo ala Guida. This is an artichoke that has been trimmed and chucked into the deep fryer. It comes out all brown and crispy.
I had never had a deep fried artichoke quite like this so I asked the waiter how to eat it. He said you eat it with a knife and fork and unless I misunderstood, I was supposed to eat the leaves and choke as well as everything else. Of course I tried it but the leaves were too chewy and fibrous so I ate it like a normal artichoke.
It was fantastic. Once out of the deep fryer it was dressed in olive oil and salt which tastes spectacular on a hot Roman day after sightseeing.
There is something about deep frying anything that brings out the natural flavors which is the only explanation I can see for the recent America craze of deep frying Snicker’s bars.
The artichoke’s natural nutty flavor was beautifully enhanced and it was a perfect opening act for my main course which was grilled lamp chops all in a pile with a delightful sauce drizzled sparingly over the top.
Toward the end of the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia, there is an archeological site where you can walk off your fattening artichoke and view ancient Roman columns being excavated.
Situated very close to the Jewish Quarter are most of the famous monuments and attractions that one looks for in Rome.
On a three day visit to Rome and while staying in the Jewish Quarter, my husband and I did not have to take one bus or metro ride because everything we wanted to see that trip was within walking distance.
Click this link to see a map of Rome. Zoom in on the bend in the Tiber River between the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Piazza Navona. The Jewish Ghetto is right there. You can also type in Via Della Portico D’Ottavia and you will find it.
From the apartment on the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia, the Campo Dei Fiori,or Field of Flowers, named for its flower market which now includes stalls for any gastro-gnome (my word, I made it up) was a short walk.
The morning market there is quite lovely and after passing the fruit and vegetable stalls along with the obligatory T-shirt and tourist stalls, we were able to purchase some beautiful prosciutto for lunch and in the stall next door, spices specifically blended for well known Italian dishes.
From the Campo Dei Fiori, the Piazza Navona is only a block or so. The walk is not made through crowded streets filled with cars but through tiny winding alleyways with shops and beautiful architecture around every corner.
Do wear good shoes because the alleys are paved with cobblestones and the ground tends to be uneven. If you are wearing heels or shoes with no support, it could be dangerous as well as simply annoying.
My recommendation is Sketchers Air Walks. My chiropractor recommends these to all his patients as they have great padding and support.
Also nearby are the Colosseum, the Forum, the Trastevere neighborhood, the Tiber River with its famous bridges, The Vatican and many other attractions.
At night, in Summer, the Tiber river has shops and restaurants set up along the Lungotevere (The walkway that extends along the Tiber River). You can go there and have a meal, watch the soccer match, shop or just wander.
There are marvelous street musicians along the way and the weather is generally really warm and nice.
All in all I can’t say enough wonderful things about this area and our recent trip there.
Rome is wild, loud, beautiful, and always unpredictable. There is honestly so much to love about Rome that I am doing her a disservice listing only 5 things to be crazy about.
Go to Rome armed with these 5 things and make up your own list of favorites.
1) The Vatican Art Museums
Rome is a city filled to the eyeballs with art. It is everywhere.
A trip to the Vatican Art Museums is a must when visiting Rome because it is the greatest collection of fine art in existence. Much of it is Renaissance Art.
The Vatican Museums were originated by Pope Julius II in 1506.
At that time, Michelangelo was working at the Vatican for Pope Julius and the pope had Michelangelo go and look at a sculpture that had just been found and unearthed in a roman vineyard.
Michelangelo confirmed that this sculpture was the original Laocoon and his sons which had been praised in the writings of Pliny the Elder centuries before.
Based on the recommendation of Michelangelo, Pope Julius purchased the statue and placed it on display in the Vatican.
Since that time, different popes have added art to the museums and have had to add new wings to accommodate it all.
A tour through the Vatican Museums is like taking an art bath. You see it, breathe it and take it in through your pores.
Like a perfect bath, it refreshes you and gives you new life.
Make sure you avoid the lines and headaches by booking yourself a tour. I like Through Eternity Tours in Rome because their tour guides are well trained, personable, entertaining and professional.
Book months in advance because they fill up, especially in Summer.
The museum contains paintings by Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and, the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1477 and 1480.
The museum tour includes a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the amazingly beautiful Pieta sculpture, sculpted by Michelangelo from white Carrera marble when he was only 24 years old.
Michelangelo was such a prolific artist and you will see many of his pieces on this tour. You will see why he is still the most beloved artist ever born and so cherished by Italians.
Or Café Macchiato or Café Latte, or Cappuccino.
When ordering coffee in Rome, understand that if you order coffee (or café) you will get a tiny cup filled with fiercely strong and biting espresso.
The Italians don’t fool around with their coffee. It is a source of pride.
If this is too much for you, you can order a café latte. Don’t confuse a cafe latte at Starbucks with a cafe latte in Rome.
Both cafe latte and capuccino are perfectly blended combinations of milk, coffee and in cappuccino, chocolate.
Don’t order a “latte” as we do here in the states or you will get a glass of milk.
Having heard that ordering coffee with milk in it after lunch was taboo all over Italy, I put this to the test in Cremona one afternoon.
My friends and I entered a small café and a tiny Asian lady attended us.
My friends ordered their café and I looked at her and asked for a café latte. Her perfectly crafted eyebrows shot up into her hairline in surprise.
She covered it well and brought me my café latte but I am sure I was forever branded a tourist in that shop.
A café macchiato in Italy is espresso with a small amount of milk in it but still strong. I have ordered this after lunch and the eyebrows rose minimally so I think it is ok.
If you like your coffee a little weaker, you can order a café lungo which is an espresso with a small amount of water in it.
The Italians, recognizing that Americans drink our coffee differently, have created a café Americano which is espresso with more water.
The coffee in Italy is, to my mind, the best in the world. Great care is taken to make it perfect and bar staffs are well trained.
Even the ground coffee you purchase in the supermarket is top notch even though it is inexpensive.
Order a cafe, dump a packet of sugar in it and stir. You are rewarded with a couple mouthfuls of the sweetest, bitterest, most fragrant and coffee-est sip you can imagine.
You digest your food better and you are wide awake for several hours.
Rome has several fine shopping districts including the Via Veneto, which is a street dedicated to shopping and outdoor cafes.
It is a beautiful tree lined street and an afternoon spent in a sidewalk cafe watching the beautifully dressed Italian businessmen and women go by is a treat.
Italy is well known for fine Italian leather goods. Italian leather crafting goes back centuries.
The Via Veneto has many fine leather emporiums however I have found that going a few streets over can save you money.
Aside from the shopping that you would normally expect from a large city, Roman streets are a riot of colorful outdoor markets.
Every day you can purchase fresh produce and other delectables at the Campo De Fiori (literally, The Flower Market). This market has been going strong since medieval times.
4) The Food!
The Italians have raised cooking to a fine art form and almost every restaurant I tried has been amazing! A similar meal here in California would be ruinously expensive.
I never go hungry in Rome. Even when I have just eaten I am eagerly looking forward to my next meal.
Even those with dietary restrictions can relax as vegetarian cuisine is always available and I had no trouble finding gluten free meals that were unbelievable.
Only once have I had a bad meal in Italy and that is when Pete and I unadvisedly ducked into a restaurant right next to Termini Station, the main train station in Rome.
Pete’s pizza was hard and burnt and my Roman artichokes hung their heads limply as if they had a severe case of erectile dysfunction.
It was sad.
Whenever possible, stay away from any eating establishment close to the train stations, the monuments or any of the touristy areas.
If you find yourself in a touristy area and you are hungry, walk a few streets away from the attraction and you will likely find a great place.
In my experience, you are not taking much of a chance as most restaurants are operated by people who have pride in what they serve you. I can guarantee you that when in Rome you will eat well if you look for restaurants not geared for tourists.
5) The history!
Rome was the seat of the entire Roman empire which encompassed all of Europe, a big chunk of the Middle East and the United Kingdom and then some. It was HUGE and Rome was the center of it all.
Everywhere you look in Rome are ancient ruins dating from different times and civilizations in the past.
Sweeping your eyes from one side to another at any raised point in Rome presents a dizzying array of structures each with its own history, people and civilization.
Any of these magnificent structures generally has a tour associated with it. You can learn so much history here in a few days. And the history itself is standing right in front of you.
6) Lastly and bestly, The Italians!
I know I promised you five great reasons but I am including my favorite one as a bonus reason.
The Italians I have met in my travels have been the most amazingly wonderful people.
But what would we expect from the descendants of the greatest ancient empire in the world?
Go and visit them. Visit their cities and revel in their art. There is a reason that the great artists wound up in Italy. And Rome is where it all begins.
Start planning your trip to Rome. Contact us. We have some of the most radical travel pros standing by and we can craft a perfect vacation for you.
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Piazza Navona, one of the largest public spaces in Rome and a favorite gathering-place for visitors and local Romans alike.
It is the home of several famous fountains including (my favorite) Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers, built between 1647 and 1651. The fountain glorifies the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.
This particular fountain is featured in Dan Brown’s 2000 thriller Angels and Demons, where it is highlighted as the fourth Altar of Science.
But to me, the most fascinating part of Piazza Navona is what cannot be readily seen, unless you know exactly where to look. Hidden below the surface of the piazza are the remains of an enormous stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 spectators. It was even larger in area than the Colosseum!
In 86 AD (right after Emperor Titus completed the Colosseum in 80 AD), Emperor Domitian built a new stadium to provide a venue for competitive athletics. It was patterned after similar Greek stadiums and used brick and concrete for the first time in its construction.
The stadium was built in the area shown under the red circled “1” on this map of ancient Rome:
The ancient Romans went to the Stadium to watch the agones (games) when it was known as the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). This name was gradually corrupted into in avone, then to navone, and eventually to navona, the current name of the piazza.
The Stadium was eventually abandoned in the 4th century. In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV relocated the city market to the stadium area and built over the seating area of the old stadium, keeping its original shape and transforming the arena into the present-day Piazza Navona.
You can still see the remains of one of the main entrances of the Stadium of Domitian at the northwestern end of Piazza Navona. Discreetly tucked away behind a building is an archway of the Stadium set back below street level:
It turns out this is part of a newly-excavated area that you can now visit. In 2014 the restoration of the archaeological area of the Stadium—now a Unesco World Heritage site— finally opened to the public. The entrance to the associated museum is just past this archway. Here you can descend below street level and walk amongst the remains of the great Stadium built in 86 AD.
You can even see stamps from the original builders on the masonry!
The museum has much information on the history of the stadium and has some models of its original design.
You really get a sense of the layers of Rome as you look back up at the present street level from the Stadium:
You can also see a diagram of historical ground surface levels showing the surface of the stadium about 3.5 meters below the current level of the cobblestone pavement of Piazza Navona:
Be sure to visit the Stadio di Domiziano Museum the next time you’re in Rome!