In its time, the ancient Roman Empire was the mightiest in the world. The Roman Empire has its roots in a small Italian town, beginning sometime around the eighth century B.C. But it wouldn’t stay small for long. It slowly expanded over the next several hundred years, taking in more territories until it had half the world in its grip, including most of modern-day Europe, Britain, western Asia, and northern Africa.
But like all empires, the Romans would eventually crumble into dust. The Roman reign came to an end by fifth century A.D., and while its war-torn history would eventually become the stuff of legend, many of its influences—such as the western alphabet and rampant Christianity—stuck around to form the backbone of many cultural traditions that still exist today.
And that’s not the only part of the Roman Empire that stuck around. Though the details are lost to history, many of the empire’s ancient landmarks remain, and they work great as tourist attractions for those interested in an up-close look at an ancient world.
The Roman Colosseum is one of the most recognizable ruins in the world, and for good reason. No other monument better reflects the grandeur and bloodstained history of the Roman Empire than the very amphitheater they used for public executions, chariot races, sporting events and animal fighting.
The Colosseum played host to lots of different events over the years, serving as both a public arena for high-profile events and a distraction for the lower classes. The ancient Romans were one of the first to realize that to prevent political unrest among the public, they needed entertainment to keep them occupied.
The Colosseum worked exceptionally well for this, with countless events held over its life. But what isn’t countless is the number of deaths that occurred behind its doors: Historians estimate that over 500,000 people died in the Colosseum over the years, making it one of the most notorious landmarks of ancient Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the world’s oldest Catholic shrines, located in Rome’s Vatican City. Originally built in 349 A.D. atop the tomb of St. Peter, the Basilica stood tall for over 1,000 years before it eventually fell into disrepair. To restore it to its former glory, Pope Julius II commanded that many of the great architects of the Roman Renaissance help in its rebuilding, with famous artists such as Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo all contributing to the structure.
After 120 years of work, the new Basilica was unveiled in 1626. Tourists today can enter the structure and view its incredible architecture for themselves, but make sure you’re dressed appropriately! St. Peter’s Basilica has a notorious dress code that bans visitors from having exposed knees or shoulders while in the building.
The Roman Forum
The ruins of the ancient Roman Forum are one of the most popular destinations in Rome. Thought to have been built sometime around 500 B.C., the Roman Forum was a large complex used for religious, political, and social activities. It was common for events of all kinds to be held in the Forum, including imperial addresses, public meetings, business dealings, commerce, and even criminal trials. It was so significant that it was considered the “heart” of Rome for thousands of years, with various emperors adding new temples, archways, and houses to accommodate the Forum’s growing role in Roman culture.
After the Roman Empire fell, the ruins were lost to time until they were rediscovered by archaeologist Carlo Fea in 1803. After a century-long process of excavation, the ruins of the Roman Forum were at last opened to the public and today serve as a prime tourism location to over 4.5 million visitors each year.
One of the best-preserved of the remaining Roman ruins, the Pantheon (not to be confused with the Greek Parthenon) is another must-see destination for tourists. The structure is a large granite temple adorned with massive columns, intricately-carved statues, and a unique interior aesthetic of concentric circles and abstract shapes. Guests are usually surprised at how intricate the interior design is—a true testament to the brilliance of ancient Roman architects.
The original purpose of the Pantheon isn’t known, though historians believe that it may have been used as a temple for religious ceremonies or possibly as a type of theater for public appearances by the emperor. It would later be “repurposed” as a church in 608 A.D., dedicated to St. Mary of the Martyrs. But for all intents and purposes, the modern Pantheon is primarily a tourist attraction used to bring in millions of guests each year.
The Remnants of Ancient Rome
It’s fair to say that we owe a lot to the ancient Romans. Their bloody history of conquest aside, their architects, artists, and engineers were responsible for many of the amazing landmarks and cultural discoveries that still hold sway in the modern world. They weren’t perfect as a culture, but there’s no denying that we can learn a lot from studying their history.