Rome’s Historic Center: the Campus Martius
Around 2500 years ago, Rome’s historic center was a field (i.e. campus in Latin) where ancient Roman soldiers trained and drilled. Their martial arts were consecrated to the war god, Mars, whose gave his name to the field (Campus Martius or Mars’ Field). As Rome expanded, however, Augustus and other emperors developed the area until it became a ritzy suburbia, full of spas, entertainment centers, and stores that sold luxury items. While the area has changed over the centuries, Italians still call this area Campo Marzio.
Our stroll takes us through a portion of the Campo Marzio where we’ll admire a variety of sights, ranging from 19 B.C. to the 1600s. We’ll discuss the Pantheon at length because it, perhaps more than any other ancient building, expresses Imperial Romans’ engineering ambitions. Instead, we’ll talk about public works and infrastructure, while admiring a fragment of ancient aqueduct, one of the few surviving examples in this neighboorhood. There is also Marcus Aurelius’ commemorative monument — a column sculpted with battle campaigns and Roman victories, a fine example of Imperial propaganda. And more!
The Renaissance Piazza Navona is a great opportunity to talk about historic layering: under it (and lending it its shape) is a Stadium, which the Roman Emperor Domitian ordered built for Olympic events. (It was inaugurated shortly after the Colosseum.) The two ends of the Piazza are adored with Renaissance fountains, both of which, in fine Italian style, took longer to finish than expected… The real attraction is Bernini’s Quattro Fiumi (or Four Rivers Fountain) which dominates the middle of the square. This Baroque wonder, whose mellifluous running water soothes the jangled nerves of tired tourists, perfectly expresses Bernini’s genius and superlative sense of humor.
We’ll spend time talking about the 1700s, as well, as we stroll down the Spanish Steps and linger at the Trevi Fountain. By the end of the visit, you’ll be able to take a little piece of Rome away with you in your heart.
There are no entrance fees during this visit – but there are some great places to stop for coffee!
Note: Kids tend to enjoy this visit because of its changing focus. Visitors who are interested in Rome’s underground attractions may want to consider adding the Vicus Caprarius to the itinerary.