Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, or Altare della Patria (Victor Emmanuel Monument, or Altar of the Nation).
The huge white mass of the “Vittoriano” is an inescapable landmark—Romans say you can avoid its image only if you’re actually standing on it. Built to honor the unification of Italy and the nation’s first king, Victor Emmanuel II, it also shelters the eternal flame at the tomb of Italy’s Unknown Soldier killed during World War I. You can’t avoid the Monumento, so enjoy neo-imperial grandiosity at its most bombastic. The views from the top are some of Rome’s most panoramic.
The most amusing house in all of Italy, this folly was designed in 1591 by noted painter Federico Zuccaro to form a monster’s face. Typical of the outré Mannerist style of the period, the eyes are the house’s windows; the entrance portal is through the monster’s mouth. Zuccaro (1540–1609)—whose frescoes adorn many Roman churches, including Trinità del Monti just up the block—sank all of his money into his new home, dying in debt before his curious memorial, as it turned out to be, was completed. Today, it is the property of the Biblioteca Hertziana, Rome’s prestigious fine-arts library; at press time, it has been sheathed for a long-term renovation project. Leading up to the quaint Piazza Trinità del Monti, Via Gregoriana is a real charmer and has long been one of Rome’s most elegant addresses, home to such residents as French 19th-century painter Ingres and famed couturier Valentino’s first couture salon.
Rome’s grandest family built itself Rome’s grandest palazzo in the 18th century—it’s so immense, it faces Piazza Santi Apostoli on one side and the Quirinal Hill on the other (a little bridge over Via della Pilotta links the palace with the gardens on the hill). While still home to some Colonna patricians, the palace also holds the family picture gallery, open to the public one day a week. The galleria is itself a setting of aristocratic grandeur. At one end looms the ancient red marble column (colonna in Italian), which is the family’s emblem; above the vast room is the spectacular ceiling fresco of the Battle of Lepanto painted by Giovanni Coli and Filippo Gherardi. At 11:45, there’s a guided tour in English (included in your entrance fee). In 2013 the gallery opened a new wing, including its tapestry room, to the public.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
Along with the Palazzo Colonna and the Galleria Borghese, this spectacular family palace provides the best glimpse of aristocratic Rome. Here, the main attractions are the legendary Old Master paintings, including treasures by Velázquez and Caravaggio, the splendor of the main galleries, and a unique suite of private family apartments.
Housed in four wings that line the palace’s courtyard, the picture gallery contains 550 paintings, including three by Caravaggio—a young St. John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, and the breathtaking Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Off the eyepopping Galleria degli Specchi (Gallery of Mirrors)—a smaller version of the one at Versailles—are the famous Velázquez Pope Innocent X, considered by some historians to be the greatest portrait ever painted, and the Bernini bust of the same Pamphilj pope. The audio guide by Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, the current heir (born in England, he was adopted by the late Principessa Orietta), provides an intimate family history well worth listening to.
Rome’s largest Jesuit church, this 17th-century landmark harbors some of the most city’s magnificent trompe-l’oeil. To get the full effect of the marvelous illusionistic ceiling by priest-artist Andrea Pozzo, stand on the small disk set into the floor of the nave. The heavenly vision above you, seemingly extending upward almost indefinitely, represents the Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits and is part of Pozzo’s cycle of works in this church exalting the early history of the Jesuit Order, whose founder was the reformer Ignatius of Loyola. Scattered around the nave are several awe-inspiring altars; their soaring columns, gold-on-gold decoration, and gilded statues make these the last word in splendor. The church is often host to concerts of sacred music performed by choirs from all over the world. Look for posters at the church doors for more information.
The Spanish Steps
That icon of postcard Rome, the Spanish Steps (often called simply la scalinata—”the staircase”—by Italians) and the Piazza di Spagna from which they ascend both get their names from the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican on the piazza. In an allusion to the church, the staircase is divided by three landings (beautifully banked with azaleas from mid-April to mid-May). For centuries, the scalinata and its neighborhood have welcomed tourists, dukes, and writers in search of inspiration—among them Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Byron, along with today’s enthusiastic hordes.
Alive with rushing waters commanded by an imperious Oceanus, the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) earned full-fledged iconic status in 1954 when it starred in 20th-Century Fox’s Three Coins in the Fountain. From the very start, however, the Trevi has been all about theatrical effects. An aquatic marvel in a city filled with them, the fountain’s unique drama is largely due to the site: its vast basin is squeezed into the tight meeting of three little streets (the “tre vie,” which may give the fountain its name) with cascades emerging as if from the wall of Palazzo Poli.
TIP: Everyone knows the famous legend that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you will ensure a return trip to the Eternal City. But not everyone knows how to do it the right way: You must toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, with your back to the fountain. One coin means you’ll return to Rome; two, you’ll return and fall in love; three, you’ll return, find love, and marry.