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A Medieval Walking Tour
Text from the National Geographic Traveler: Italy guidebook
by Tim Jepson    Photograph by Bill Grove
Photo: Colosseum in Rome, Italy
 Rome's great Colosseum, now in ruins, once seated 45,000 people.

From Piazza Colonna, this walk explores some of Rome's more enchanting back streets, wending through artisans' quarters and the old Ghetto before crossing the Tiber River to finish in the atmospheric district of Trastevere.

*Bolded names and numbers in the text below correspond with our map of this tour.

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Start at Piazza Colonna (1), named after the Colonna di Marco Aurelio, a relief-covered column raised in the second century to celebrate the military triumphs of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Beyond it stands Bernini's Palazzo di Montecitorio (1650), now the lower house of the Italian parliament. Then walk west on Via Uffici di Vicario past the venerable Caffè Giolitti at No. 40, aiming for Sant'Agostino, a Renaissance church off Via della Scrofa known for paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael. More canvases by the former hang in San Luigi dei Francesi (2) to the south, from whence you should walk east on Via Giustiniani to visit the Pantheon (3) and Santa Maria sopra Minerva (4).

From the Piazza della Rotonda next to the Pantheon, walk west to Corso del Rinascimento by way of Piazza Sant'Eustachio. On the way, note the Palazzo della Sapienza, whose courtyard contains the entrance to Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza (1602-1660), an eccentric-looking church—the twisting tower is modeled on a bee's sting—designed by Francesco Borromini. Cross the Corso and enter Piazza Navona (5), leaving the square midway down its western side on Via di Tor Millina. The Bar della Pace at the end of this street is an attractive spot to break for coffee.

Bear right (north) toward Via dei Coronari, a street known for its antique shops. Follow it west until Via del Panico, where you should turn left and twist through the back streets to the Chiesa Nuova (6), a church celebrated for paintings by Rubens and a baroque fresco cycle by Pietro da Cortona. Cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in front of the church and continue straight before turning left on Via del Pellegrino and then almost immediately right onto Via dei Cappellari. Lined with dusty furniture workshops, the latter presents a picturesque view of old Rome.

Follow the street to
Campo de' Fiori (7) and then turn right into Piazza Farnese. Take Via di Monserrato from this square's southern corner past the Palazzo Spada (Piazza Capo di Ferro, tel +39 [0]6 686 1158, closed Mon.), known for its decorated facade, a modest art gallery, and Borromini's trompe l'oeil colonnade (a pillar-lined corridor cleverly made to look longer than it is). 

Turn left on Via Arco del Monte and then right on Via Giubbonari. Cross Via Arenula and follow Via dei Falegnami into the pretty web of streets that once made up Rome's Jewish Ghetto. In Piazza Mattei, a short distance farther down the street, is one of the city's most charming fountains, the Fontana delle Tartarughe (1581), named after Bernini's quaint bronze tartarughe (tortoise).

Turn right out of the piazza heading south and then left on Via del Portico d'Ottavia, a street named after the Roman ruins at its eastern end, once the portico (entrance) to a vast library and temple complex. Follow the street as it bends right, passing Rome's main synagogue and the circular bulwarks of the
Teatro di Marcello (8), a first-century B.C. amphitheater later covered by medieval houses. Cross the riverside street, the Lungotevere, and take the Ponte Fabricio ahead to the Isola Tiberina (9), an island largely given over to a hospital dating from 1538. Stroll the island's walkways and drop into the church of San Bartolomeo, built in the 11th century over a pagan temple to Aesculapius, god of the healing arts.

Cross the Ponte Cestio to the district known as Trastevere (literally "over the Tiber"). Traditionally a blue-collar enclave, this is a colorful area known for its restaurants and nightlife, though the trendier bars and clubs are increasingly shifting farther south to a more downbeat area around Testaccio. Beyond the Lungotevere, walk south on Via Anicia from Piazza in Piscinula, to look at the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, known for its ninth-century mosaic, and then double back to pick up Via della Lungaretta. Follow this to Santa Maria in
Trastevere (10), another fine mosaic-laden church set in a lovely square at the heart of Trastevere.

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