30+ Ancient Roman Ruins & Archaeological Sites In Rome

If you’re a history buff, you’ll definitely want to check out my guide to 30 must-see Roman ruins, archaeological sites, and historic landmarks in Rome, Italy. These attractions are some of the best ways to experience the city’s rich history.

Rome is a city filled with magnificent ancient sites and can be overwhelming to navigate. Essentially, the city itself is a sprawling outdoor museum that transports you to a bygone era at every turn.

With so many incredible ruins to explore, you’ll want to plan your visit carefully to make the most of your time.

View of Rome from Castlel Sant'Angelo
view of Rome from Castle Sant’Angelo

Many of these Roman ruins tell great stories: Roman armies vanquishing foes, heros cementing legacies, and dedications to gods to seek their protection.

If you listen closely, you can hear Julius Caesar and his cohorts speechifying, promenading, and leading victory parades through the Roman Forum.

READ: History of the Rise and Fall of Ancient Rome

2,000 years ago, Rome was synonymous with “civilization.” You were either civilized or you were a barbarian to be defeated.

Pinterest pin for guide to Roman ruins in Rome
Pinterest pin for guide to Roman ruins in Rome

To attest to their then-civilized nature, ancient Romans left a raft of fascinating ancient buildings, temples, forums, and sculptures.

Some are hulking ruins. Others are well preserved and offer a secret peak into Rome’s tumultuous past and controversial rulers.

Let’s tour the 31 most interesting ruins in Rome that should be on your Italy bucket list.

the Octagonal Room of Domus Aurea with its niches and oculus
the Octagonal Room of Domus Aurea with its niches and oculus

Roman Ruins And Archeological Sites In Rome Italy

Here are my picks for the 30+ must visit Roman ruins in Rome.

1. Domus Aurea: Nero’s Underground Golden House

Nero’s Golden House was once the grandest building on earth.

It’s not your typical Roman tourist site, and is an often overlooked hidden gem in Rome. Domus Aurea is an excavation in progress, one of Rome’s best Roman ruins and archaeological sites.

Built by Emperor Nero between 64-68 AD in the heart of imperial Rome, the sprawling property covered up to 300 acres. The facade and walls were adorned with frescos, gold leaf, glass mosaics, pearls, and marble. In natural light, it had a golden hue.

READ: History of the Roman Emperors

But little of this wealth survived Nero’s rule. As Nero’s extravagance and tyranny spun out of control, rivals condemned both his reign and his emblematic palace.

frescos in Domus Aurea
frescos in Domus Aurea

For a decade after his death, the palace was looted, destroyed, and filled in with brick. But the vivid frescos by the artist Famulus couldn’t be pried off the walls.

At the end of the 15th century, the Domus Aurea was discovered by accident when a young man fell into a crevice. To his surprise, he found himself surrounded by paintings.

At first, the palace ruins were thought to be caves or grottos. Artists like Michelangelo and Raphael flocked to see the ancient frescos.

In the 18th century, proper excavation of the Golden House began. Now, you can visit (with a hard hat) on the weekends. The crown jewel is the Octagonal Room, which represented a revolution in architectural style and technique. Here’s my compete guide to Domus Aurea.

Thanks to YouTube, you can also take a virtual tour of the ruins of Domus Aurea, still an excavation in progress, and see how it would’ve looked looked almost 2,000 years ago in ancient Rome.

Click here to book a guided tour of Domus Aurea. Click here to book the virtual reality experience.

area with entrance to Domus Transitoria
area with entrance to Nero’s Domus Transitoria

2. Domus Transitoria, Nero’s First Palace

Before there was Domus Aurea, there was Domus Transitoria. Nero’s first palace was built between 60 and 64 BC. The palace had a short life. It was destroyed in the great fire of Rome in 64 BC.

Like Domus Aurea, Domus Transitoria was a massive and lavishly decorated palace, connecting the Palatine Hill and Esquiline Hill. It was dubbed the Transit House.

According to Seutonius, Domus Transitoria was characterized by all the pomp, gold, and luxury one typically associates with grandiose Neronian architecture.

marble floors from Nero's Domus Transitoria
marble floors from Nero’s Domus Transitoria

Domus Transitoria was just opened in April 2019. You enter and descend a staircase to inspect the site underground.

Virtual reality headsets bring the dank place to life, allowing visitors to see vignettes of the palace in its former glory.

You can take this YouTube virtual tour to see the ruins and a glimpse of what the palace looked like in ancient Rome.

the Pantheon and the Fountain of the Pantheon with an Egyptian obelisk
the Pantheon

3. Pantheon: Rome’s Most Perfect “Ruin”

Without a doubt, the Pantheon is the best preserved building from ancient Rome.

You’d don’t have to wrinkle your brow or struggle to conceptualize anything, as with many ruins. It’s all before you.

The Pantheon was a temple dedicated to all of the gods. It was originally built by Augustus’ right hand man, Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC.

The pediment still proclaims that “Marcus Agrippa, three times consul made this.” But Agrippa’s version was destroyed by fire.

In 120 AD, the Pantheon was rebuilt by Hadrian. The well traveled emperor, a true Grecophile, reimagined it as an oversized Greek temple.

It has 40 foot tall Corinthian granite columns from Egypt, a pediment, and portico. It was considered a masterpiece of engineering and mathematical precision.

The Pantheon’s most emblematic feature is its perfect unsupported spherical dome. At the time, it was a major architectural breakthrough. The dome became the model for Michelangelo’s dome for St. Peter’s Basilica and for Brunelleschi’s dome for Florence Cathedral.

The dome is made of lightweight concrete, a Roman invention. The concrete gets increasingly thinner as the height of the dome increased.

The coffered ceiling also reduced the weight without compromising the dome’s structural integrity. At the top is the oculus, or eye, which is the Pantheon’s only source of natural light.

aerial view of Pantheon dome
aerial view of Pantheon dome

After the fall of Rome, the Pantheon became a Christian church, which helped save it from looting at first. But eventually the interior, marble, and gold were all looted in the 7th century, although the marble floor is recreated.

The Pantheon is filled with tombs of important Romans, including the artist Raphael.

You can take a 360 tour of the Pantheon here. And here’s a fantastic video from Smarthistory with shots of the Pantheon and an explanation of its importance.

Here’s my complete guide To the Pantheon. Click here to book a guided tour of the Pantheon.

ruins of the Baths of Diocletian
ruins of the Baths of Diocletian

4. Baths of Diocletian: Largest Baths in Ancient Rome

Rome took its baths seriously. They were places to swim, bathe, and socialize. The Baths of Diocletian were built by Emperor Maximian to honor his co-Emperor Diocletian.

Constructed between 298-306, the Baths of Diocletian were Rome’s largest bath complex. They were meant to surpass the Baths of Caracalla and could accommodate 3,000 citizens.

Ironically, Diocletian never saw the baths. Diocletian was a colorful man with a big ego, who thought he was a living god. Having successfully divided the empire to make it easier to manage, he governed in the east or camped out in his swishy palace in Split Croatia.

The baths were built using the typical bath design of Roman times — with a frigidarium (cold), tepidarium (warm) and caldarium (hot), large bathing chambers, and gymnasiums.

Baths of Diocletian

There were smaller rooms for private bathing, changing, and meetings. On the ruins of the frigidarium, Michelangelo was commissioned to build a church, the Basilica of Santa Maria deli Angeli e dei Martiri.

Today, the Baths of Diocletian are part of the National Roman Museum. The baths aren’t particularly conveniently located. They’re in northeast Rome near the Termini station. The upside is that you can experience ancient ruins without the crowds.

Here’s a good YouTube video guide of the site. You can also explore the baths in Google Art & Culture.

Click here to book a skip the line ticket and guided tour for the baths.

view over the Roman Forum from Capitoline Hill
view over the Roman Forum from Capitoline Hill

5. Roman Forum: the Epicenter of Ancient Rome

I advise having a guided tour for the Roman Forum. It’s vast and there’s not much signage. It will be difficult to divine what you’re looking at without a guide to decipher the lovely rubble.

The forum is a rectangular valley running from Arch of Titus to the Capitoline Hill. The main road is the Via Sacre.

The forum was the beating heart of Rome, the seat of power, and its central showpiece. It was a grandiose district consisting of white temples, grand basilicas, and vibrant public spaces.

The Forum was the scene of political upheavals, funerals, and triumphant parades. Before the Colosseum was built, it even hosted gladiatorial battles.

ruins of the Temple of Julius Caesar
ruins of the Temple of Julius Caesar

Stroll by the Basilica of Constantine, the Temple and House of the Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Basilica of Constantine, and the 3 columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

You’ll also find the ruins of the Temple of Caesar. It was built by Augustus after Caesar’s assassination. Inside, in a small apse area, is a mound of stone and dirt covered with coins and flowers. This is the altar holding Caesar’s ashes and marks his grave.

You can take a virtual tour of the forum on Google Arts & Culture, with almost 300 different items to eyeball. You can also take a 360 tour on 360 Cities or a virtual walking tour with Pro Walks.

Most tickets include entry to the all the imperial ruins — Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. There are plenty tour options you can choose from.

Roman Forum

They all vary slightly in duration and what you see. So pick one that best suits your sightseeing agenda.

I’ve done the fourth and seventh one on this list and loved both tours. 

the Colosseum with a view of the underground basement, the hypogeum
view of the underground basement, the hypogeum

6. Colosseum: Into the Gladiators’ Lair

Formally named the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum has stood in Rome for almost 2,000 years. It’s the most instantly recognizable monument from the classical world.

Despite the ravages of time, the Colosseum is an incredibly well-preserved piece of Rome’s fascinating history.

Emperor Vespasian began constructing the Colosseum in 72 AD. It was finished by his son Titus in 80 AD. Domitian subsequently added the hypogeum, or basement.

In its glory days, the Colosseum was a vivid white with painted trim and frescoed hallways. There were monumental statues of the Greek and Roman gods in the arches of the middle two stories. The top story had a retractable canvas awning to shade spectators.

the Colosseum in Rome
view of the seats and arena floor in the Colosseum in Rome
view of the seats and arena floor

The Colosseum hosted the popular “games,” a form of ancient theater re-creating far flung lands and mythological themes for the masses. There were many variations.

The spectacles pitted men against men, men against beasts, and beasts against beasts. There was a menagerie of beasts — lions, giraffes, crocodiles, dogs, rhinos, elephants, etc.

The best way to visit the Colosseum, and go behind the scenes, is on an Underground Colosseum Tour. You’ll visit parts not accessed by the standard tickets, like the hypogeum and third ring.

You can tour the Colosseum on Google Arts & Culture, where there are over 200 photos. You can take a virtual walking tour of the Colosseum on its official website. Or take a 360 virtual tour on Air Pano.

Here’s my complete guide to the Colosseum, with must know tips for visiting. You can book guided tour of the Colosseum or a tour that also includes the underground gladiator area of the Colosseum.

the ruins of the Theater of Marcellus
the ruins of the Theater of Marcellus

7. Theater Of Marcellus: A Romantic Facade

Located in the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood of Rome, the Theater of Marcellus is easily overlooked by most tourists. But I walked past it everyday on the way home to my Air Bnb in Trastevere on my last visit.

The monument isn’t far from the gigantic white Monument of Victor Emanuel. And it looks like a mini-Colosseum.

The Theater of Marcellus is truly ancient. Julius Caesar launched construction and his heir Augustus inaugurated it in 12 BC. It could seat 20,0000. As you walk around it, you’ll see both Doric and Ionic columns. There are ruins piled up all around it.

Unfortunately, you can only admire the exterior and walk along the amphitheater edge. In the 4th century BC, the theater started to crumble. Thereafter, it was used as a stone quarry and repurposed, like so much else, for other buildings in Rome. In the summer, there are sometimes concerts outside.

Today, the Theater of Marcellus is a building that’s half private and half public. If you look at the photo, you’ll see luxury apartments lining the top.

Augustus' Mausoleum, buried under debris, it looked like hill
Augustus’ Mausoleum

8. Augustus’ Mausoleum: Family Tomb of Julio-Claudian Dynasty

Augustus’ Mausoleum is the family tomb of Rome’s first emperor. As mentioned above, Augustus ruled between 63 BC and 14 AD and was the great nephew and heir of Julius Caesar.

His mausoleum was built around 28 BC after the Battle of Actium. It was inspired by the mausoleum of Alexander the Great in Egypt.

The mausoleum was a burial place for Augustus, his wife Livia, and the other Julio-Claudian emperors. Not much has survived from its former grandeur and it’s original appearance is unknown. The mausoleum is closed to the public.

Though it was in ruinous condition, a 6.5 million euro restoration began in 2016 and was is only partially complete as of the summer of 2023. 50% of the structure is long gone — pillaged and destroyed.

The renovated monument opened to the public in March 2021 with a 3D experience, much like Domus Aurea. Hopefully, excavations will be fully complete in the summer of 2024.

Click here to book a skip the line ticket. Here’s a YouTube video of Rome’s mayor showing off the restored mausoleum.

ruins of Ostia Antica
ruins of Ostia Antica

9. Ostia Antica: an Alternative to Pompeii

Founded in 4th century BC, Ostia Antica is an ancient harbor town about 40 minutes outside Rome. It’s a pretty adorable town too, with warm orange stone buildings.

In ancient Rome, Ostia served as a naval base. Later, it became important commercially. This was where food and grain supplies arrived to feed Roman citizens.

There are some impressive preserved ruins. It’s similar to Pompeii — the excavation of an entire ancient city.

mosaics in the Baths of Neptune at Ostia Antica
mosaics in the Baths of Neptune at Ostia Antica

You get to wander around the ancient town at will.

Along the way, you’ll see a necropolis, an amphitheater, ancient temples and gates, the Baths of Neptune, statues, mosaic floors, and the forum. Mosaics were used to inform illiterate Romans about the purpose of a given building — tavern, baths, brothel, etc.

Click here to book a guided walking tour. You can also book a half day guided tour from Rome.

You can explore Ostia Antica virtually on Google Arts & Culture.

towering brick ruins of the Baths of Caracalla
towering brick ruins of the Baths of Caracalla

10. Baths of Caracalla, Termi di Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla are another must visit Roman ruin in Rome. The baths were inaugurated by Emperor Caracalla in 216. The massive complex is one of Rome’s best preserved ancient sites.

Construction began in 206 AD, under the direction of Emperor Septimius Severus. His son, Caracalla, finished it 10 years later, after killing his brothers to seize sole power.

The baths could accommodate 1600 people. The original brick walls are still standing, a towering shell. They were once covered in stucco and marble. But that was long ago carried off by looters.

The sculptures and mosaics from the Baths of Caracalla have been moved to museums. The famous Belvedere Torso is now in the Vatican Museums.

The Farnese family pillfered and excavated the baths. The Farnese Bull and the Farnese Hercules are in Naple’s Archaeological Museum. Two fountain shaped bathtubs are now in the Piazza Farnese in Rome.

the frigidarium (cold pools) in the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla
the frigidarium (cold pools) in the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla

The large rooms at each end of the structure were used for exercise. In between was a long pool flanked with changing rooms and decorated with mosaics.

You can still see the black and white floor mosaics. To keep cool in the summer, the Romans played games in the pool on tables.

Tourist can even visit the underground tunnels of the bath complex, where slaves kept the baths going. You can also don virtual reality googles.

Here’s my complete guide to the Baths of Caracalla. You can book a small group or private tour of the baths. You can also book a tour that includes both the baths and the Circus Maximus. You can also visit the baths with the Roma Pass

Every summer since 2014, the Baths of Caracalla are the backdrop for open air night at the opera performances. You can read about it and see shots virtually on Google Arts & Culture. You can also take a 4D tour of the Baths of Caracalla on Rome’s Coop Culture website.

ruins of the House of Augustus
ruins of the House of Augustus

11. House of Augustus, Palatine Hill

For nearly 2,000 years, the House of Augustus on Palatine Hill lay hidden. Archaeologists only discovered the ancient home in the 1960s.

The House of Augustus marked the transformation of Palatine Hill from a residential area into an imperial seat.

The House of Augustus is located on the most sacred area of the Palatine Hill, near the symbols of Roman power.

It was built near the Temple of Apollo (which Augustus could access by ramp from his peristyle) and on top of the sacred Cave of Lupercal, where the She Wolf of Rome nursed the twins Romulus and Remus.

Comprising two levels, the House of Augustus served as Augustus’ primary residence during his reign. It was arranged around two courtyards, linked by an open promenade. Emperor Domitian, a more megalomaniacal sort, demolished much of it when he built his massive palace.

ruins of the House of Augustus on Palantine Hill
ruins of the House of Augustus on Palantine Hill
wall frescos in the lower cubiculum of Domus Augustana, with a theatrical inspiration
wall frescos in the lower cubiculum of Domus Augustana

The western end of the house held the domestic rooms. The eastern end held the public reception rooms. By far the most elegant room is the Emperor’s Study, where Augustus burned the midnight oil.

Protected behind glass, the walls are beautifully decorated with stylized winged obelisks, gryphons, and floral elements. The colors are bold — green, black, green, and yellow.

The House of Augustus is most celebrated for its lavish red Pompeian frescoes. They’re the best preserved frescos from ancient Rome, superior even to those in Pompeii. They’re the real reason you should visit the House of Augustus.

Most of the frescos are executed in the Second Pompeian Style, called the “Architectural Style.” It began in Pompeii, became the fashion, and was then adopted by Augustus.

the painted ceiling of the Ramp Room, designed to look like a coffered ceiling
the painted ceiling of the Ramp Room

The style emphasized architectural features and illusionistic compositions. Artists used columns, faux marble blocks, and stoas to frame fantastic images. The use of vanishing points made the walls seem three dimensional.

You can only visit Domus Augustana with a special ticket and a reservation. It’s not included in the standard ticket giving you access to Palantine Hill.

Access is via small groups of 20 on a 75 minute guided tour, with specific time slots on certain days. There are informative audiovisual and laser displays.

Click here to pre-book a guided tour of the House of Augustus. Here’s a YouTube video on the House of Augustus and the House of Livia (discussed below). Here’s my complete guide to the House of Augustus.

House of Livia, Palantine Hill
House of Livia, Palantine Hill

12. House of Livia, Palatine Hill

If you book a special ticket to see the House of Augustus, you’ll also see the House of Livia. Livia was Augustus’ third wife.

When Augustus fell in love with the beautiful young woman, they both divorced their respective spouses to marry. Livia’s son from her first marriage, Tiberius, became Augustus’ heir and the second emperor of Rome.

First excavated in 1839, Livia’s House was attributed to her when her honorific name was found stamped on a lead pipe. Built in the first century BC, Livia’s house was actually a bit larger and grander than her husband’s house.

The best preserved section is the atrium and three adjoining rooms. The central room (the tablinum) was the most richly decorated. Known as the Room of Polyphemus, it had mythological frescos showing Mercury kidnapping the nymph Io.

garden fresco from the House of Livia
garden fresco from the House of Livia

In the dining room, there was a stunning garden fresco that made the walls almost disappear. The fresco has flowering trees, blossoms, and flying birds in all varieties of nature.

The colors are delicate in faded purple, blue, yellow, and white.

The original of this fresco was moved to the Palazzo Massimo all Terme, one of Rome’s best museums. A replica is now in the House of Livia on Palatine Hill.

Here’s Smarthistory’s video about the magnificent garden fresco.

Domitian's Palace on Palantine Hill
Domitian’s Palace on Palatine Hill

13. Domitian’s Palace, Palatine Hill

Domitian’s Palace is a Roman ruin that was built circa 81 AD by Emperor Domitian. He hired master architect Rabirius to create a massive imperial palace.

It was so grand that one poet remarked that it “made Jupiter jealous.” It was the residence of Rome’s emperors for three centuries.

Unlike previous emperors, Domitian wasn’t interested in public architecture. A megalomaniac, he viewed himself as “lord and god” and wanted the public to know it.

The palace contained many large spaces, including a basilica, receptions rooms, an audience hall, a stadium, a sunken garden, peristyle courts, and baths.

The part of the palace above the Circus Maximus was added by Emperor Severus. The Circus Maximus was a long oblong course for chariot racing. If the gladiator show at the Colosseum was sold out, the citizens would come here for entertainment.

Inside, the palace was decorated with reflective surfaces, probably white marble or selenium. A paranoid Domitian wanted to be able to spot any potential enemies and see what people were up to.

Each public room had apses, where Domitian could sit on a throne and be worshipped.

the Arch of Constantine in Rome
the Arch of Constantine

14. Arch of Constantine: Symbol of Christianity

The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch dedicated to Emperor Constantine the Great. It represents a seismic shift in history, when the western world became Christian.

Until 312 AD, Rome was a pagan empire. But a small, obscure, and previously persecuted sect was becoming more popular, Christian monotheists.

In 312, Emperor Constantine saw a vision of a cross in the sky. The next day, he defeated his rival Maxentius, becoming sole emperor. His first task as an agent of change was to legalize christianity.

The Arch of Constantine is on the Via Triumphalis in Rome, between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It’s approximately 21 meters high and 25 meters wide.

It’s decorated mostly with recycled carvings from other buildings and from different times. Because of this, some art historians have criticized the arch as poor craftsmanship.

But Constantine deliberately wanted reliefs from other great eras. To unscore this point, there are statutes of the great emperors on the arch, putting Constantine in good company. As a usurper himself, it was important to also be a symbol of reverence.

You can take a 360 tour of the Arch of Constantine here.

the inner arch of the Arch of Titus, which marks the entrance to the Roman Forum
the inner arch of the Arch of Titus, the entrance to the Roman Forum

15. Arch of Titus

This intricate triumphal arch marks the entry into the Roman Forum. Emperor Domtian built it to celebrate his brother Emperor Titus’ destruction of Jerusalem in 71 AD.

The reliefs inside feature scenes of the Roman troops sacking Jerusalem, soldiers carrying bodies and taking items from the Temple in Jerusalem, and the first depiction of a menorah. The arch was intended to exalt the mythological status of the Flavian dynasty.

It was a terrible monument for Jews. In antiquity, Jews refused to walk under the arch because of it subject matter.

You would think the monument was anti-Semitic. But at the time, it was just business as usual — Rome putting down a rebellion, which was more about taxes than religious differences.

You can take a 360 virtual tour of the Arch of Titus.

the Castle Sant' Angelo near the Vatican, also known as Hadrian's Mausoleum
the Castle Sant’Angelo, also known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum

16. Castle Sant’Angelo: Fortress Museum

Castle Sant’Angelo is also known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum. Hadrian built it on the banks of the Tiber River in 139. It’s a magnificently preserved ruin from Ancient Rome.

Hadrian also erected the Bridge of Angels, which connected central Rome to his mausoleum. The bridge is now lined with 10 angels, designed by Bernini and commissioned by Pope Clement IX. Each statue holds an object of Christ’s passion.

READ: Guide To the Bernini Trail in Rome

The cylindrical castle was richly decorated. Originally, it was faced with travertine marble, pilasters, and bronze. By the 5th century, the mausoleum was converted into a miltary fortress.

It was renamed Castle Sant’Angelo in the 5th century. Legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared above the castle, sheathed his sword, and magically put an end to the plague.

frescos in Castle Sant' Angelo
frescos in Castle Sant’Angelo

In the 14th century, Castle Sant’Angelo was turned into a papal residence. A covered corridor connected it to St. Peter’s Basilica. Popes fled there during sieges.

In the 15th century, at the direction of the notorious Borgia pope, Alessandro VI, the castle became battle ready. He also installed sumptuous papal apartments decorated with frescos by Pinturicchio, who also decorated the Borgia Rooms in the Vatican Museums.

In 1536, a marble and bronze statue of Archangel Micheal was perched on top. There are gorgeous 360 views of Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica from the Terrace of the Angel. The museum also has a bar/coffee shop with splendid views.

You can take a virtual 360 tour of the Castle Sant’ Angelo here or check out this BBC documentary on the famous Roman monument.

Here’s my complete guide to the Castle Sant’Angelo, which is almost one of Rome’s hidden gems since so few venture inside.

In high season, you may want to book a skip the line ticket. Click here to book a guided tour with fast track access.

the Mouth of Truth -- sculpture, drain cover, or fountain decoration?
the Mouth of Truth — sculpture, drain cover, or fountain decoration?

17. Mouth of Truth: Roman Lie Detector

This sculpture is a Pavonazzzo marble mask called la Bocca della Verita, the Mouth of Truth. It has the ambiguous face of an unknown pagan god with an open maw. It’s located in the portico of Santa Maria Church.

Legend holds that, in medieval times, the carved mask was a device for determining whether a person was telling the truth.

Suspicious people were brought to the sculpture. They took an oath and put their hand inside the gaping mouth while being interrogated.

If the detainee was being truthful, the mouth wouldn’t moved and you could keep your hand. If you were lying, the mouth would slam shut and bite off the hand.

The legend became famous via Hollywood. In the 1953 film Roman Holiday, the Mouth of Truth was used as a storytelling device.

I’m not sure this sculpture is worth a trip in and of itself. It’s been theorized to be a possible drain cover or fountain decoration. And the line for testing your hand can be long.

the ruins of Trajan's Market
the ruins of Trajan’s Market

18. Trajan’s Market: World’s First Shopping Mall

Trajan’s Markets is a large complex of ruins that was part of Trajan’s Forum. This forum was the largest and most advanced of six imperial forums in Rome, as befitting Rome’s most popular and powerful emperor dubbed the “best leader.”

Trajan’s Market was built in the 2nd century AD by Trajan’s favorite architect, Apollodorus of Damascus. It’s affectionately called the world’s “first shopping mall.”

Trajan’s Market was a dense complex. It was once 6 stories with 150 shops and offices, set into the side of Quirinal Hill.

The structure is remarkable. It shows that Romans didn’t just build with columns and pediments. Powered by concrete, this urban structure was light filled, with windows and atriums.

Click here to book an entry ticket. You can also take an amazing virtual tour of Trajan’s Market from your couch.

the remains of the Basilica Ulpia and Trajan's Column in the ruins of Trajan's Forum
the ruins of Trajan’s Forum

19. Trajan’s Column: War Diary

Trajan’s Column was part of Trajan’s Forum. It’s probably the best preserved victory column in Rome, though it’s similar to the column for Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna. Built in 113 AD, the column was a tour de force of Roman propaganda art.

The column celebrated Trajan’s defeat over the Dacians. It depicts the campaigns he fought against them, the fortifications that were built, the Dacian themselves, and their weaponry.

The column consists of 22 layers, one yard each, spiraled around a 125 foot high column. The emperor’s ashes were buried in the foundation after his death.

You wouldn’t know it, but there’s a staircase inside that takes you up to the top. Atop the column, there’s a statue of St. Peter. During the Renaissance, it replaced a statue of Trajan.

Here’s a great video showing and explaining Trajan’s Forum.

Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome
Catacombs of Priscilla

20. Catacombs of Priscilla

Dating back almost 2,000 years, the Catacombs of Priscilla are a series of catacombs built by early Christians. Known as the “Queen of the Catacombs” since antiquity, the catacombs house the bones of early popes and many Christian martyrs.

The Catacombs of Priscilla are considered one of Rome’s most interesting underground sites, hidden away under Villa Ada Park.

After five years of conservation and restoration, the Priscilla Catacombs opened to the public in 2018. Lasers were used to clean the religious frescoes on the walls.

Click here to book a guided tour of the catacombs. A new function on Google Maps allows you to take a limited tour of the of the vast complex. You can also see the frescos on this Smarthistory video.

ruins of the Conopus in Hadrian's Villa Adriana
ruins of the Canopus in Hadrian’s Villa Adriana

21. Hadrian’s Villa: an Easy Day Trip From Rome

Built in 118-133 A.D, Hadrian’s Villa is an important archeological complex. It’s the largest and most spectacular villa of ancient Rome, three times the size of Pompeii. Hadrian’s Villa is an easy day trip from Rome, just 30 minute away.

It reflected the power and glory of ancient Rome and one of that world’s most important leaders, Emperor Hadrian. And it was designed by Hadrian himself, just like the Pantheon.

Hadrian’s Villa is a sprawling luxury palace. It was designed on a vast scale to reflect the power, elegance, and excess of the Roman Empire.

Though it’s called a “villa,” Hadrian’s Villa is more accurately a miniature Rome that covers nearly 300 acres. It’s dotted with 30 large structures — palaces, libraries, baths, living quarters, dining pavilions, and sculptural gardens.

statues lining the pool of the Canopus
statues lining the pool of the Canopus

Hadrian’s Villa was originally intended as a secret escape from the political complexities of a bustling Rome.

But Hadrian loved his villa so much that he moved in and used it as the seat of government in his last decade, much like Louis XIV governed France from Versailles.

Here’s a great Smarthistory virtual tour of Hadrian’s Villa. While you’re in Tivoli visiting Hadrian’s Villa, you should also visit the Renaissance era Villa d’Este.

Here’s my complete guide To Hadrian’s Villa. Click here to book a wonderful guided day tour from Rome.

Arch of Janus in the Forum Boarium
Arch of Janus in the Forum Boarium

22. Arch of Janus

The Arch of Janus is the only surviving four way marble arch in Rome. It’s close to the Mouth of Truth, if you’re visiting that. Built in the 4th century, the arch has four facades. It was supposedly built from pieces of other ruins.

The Arch of Janus is built over an ancient drain to the Tiber River. It’s thought to have been a boundary marker, rather than a triumphal arch.

The Arch of Janus now stands in front of the Palazzo Rhinococros. In 2012, the building was purchased and restored by Fendi heiress, Alda Fendi. It’s the newest hotspot/art space in Rome, with cultural and residential spaces that opened in 2018.

A resin sculpture of an endangered white rhino now stands guard in the square, symbolizing the union of the old and the new. Inside the palazzo art gallery, there’s a Michelango sculpture, Crouching Boy, on loan.

ruins of the Forum of Augustus
ruins of the Forum of Augustus

23. Forum of Augustus

The Forum of Augustus is one of the Imperial Fora from Ancient Rome. This forum was built after a young Gaius Octavius defeated Brutus and Cassius in the Battle of Philippi. Octavius was avenging the murder of Julis Caesar.

Before the battle, Octavius vowed that, if he won, he would build a temple to Mars Ultor, which translates to the Avenger. After winning the battle, Octavius kept his promise.

He located his forum next to Caesar’s. At the center was the Temple of Mars Ultor. The long sides of the forum sported colonnades.

The once richly decorated Hall of the Colossus held a colossal statue of the Genius of Augustus. Remains of the statue are in the Museum of the Imperial Fora.

ruins of the Temple of Mars Ultor
ruins of the Temple of Mars Ultor

There is also the remains of the Great Wall toward the Suburra. The wall was intended to protect the forum from an overpopulated part of Rome subject to frequent fire. It’s one of the most impressive ruins in the Imperial Fora.

The Temple of Mars Ultor once held colossal statues of Mars and Venus, linking Augustus with the gods. Archaeologists think there may have been a third statue depicting a deified Julius Caesar.

In general, the forum functioned as a military, administrative, and political center. It was a gallery of statues and place to hold important ceremonies.

It was also a place for Senate deliberation. Military commanders would make sacrifices to Mars before going off to battle.

House of the Knights of Rhodes
House of the Knights of Rhodes

24. House of the Knights of Rhodes

The House of the Knights of Rhodes is perched right above the Forum of Augustus. It’s a little known hidden gem in Rome.

This impressive building, known as the House of the Knights of Rhodes, was built in the 13th century by the Knights of Rhodes. It’s been controlled by the Knights of Malta since 1946.

The building features a massive five-arched loggia, which was once used by the pope to receive blessings from the citizens while overlooking the city.

If you’re interested in visiting, note that the House of the Knights of Rhodes is only open to the public by reservation on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Inside, you’ll have the chance to see several interesting rooms, including the Hall of Honor, the Byzantine Hall, the Sala della Loggetta, and the Palatine Chapel, which is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the knights.

To catch a glimpse of the house from the outside, head to Via dei Fori Imperiali, which offers an excellent vantage point.

early Christian  mosaics in the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza
fresco in the dome of the Church of Santa Costanza

25. Church of Santa Costanza

This church is traditionally identified as the mausoleum of Constantina, the daughter of the Emperor Constantine. It was likely built by Constantine at the behest of his daughter.

But, after excavations in 1992, some historians speculate that the mausoleum may have been built 30 years later by Emperor Julian for his wife Helena. It officially became a church in the 13th century.

This 4th century mausoleum is considered a fine example of early Christian architecture. It is a circular brick rotunda covered by a dome with a vestibule porch.

early Christian mosaics of the Church of Santa Costanza
early Christian mosaics of the Church of Santa Costanza

Inside, 12 pairs of Corinthian columns are arranged in a ring. 12 clerestory windows that let light into the interior.

The mausoleum was once elaborately decorated. Originally, the cupola, vault, and niches were covered with early Christian mosaics.

You can still see some in the vault and several niches. They were restored in 1840.

Temple of Hercules in the Forum Boarium
Temple of Hercules in the Forum Boarium

26. Forum Boarium

The other Roman forums get all the love, and so they should. Whereas these famous forums are named for emperors, the Forum Boarium is named … for cattle.

The forum is a Roman ruin that was once the true commercial heart of Ancient Rome. It was the working man’s forum where the docks were located.

The most notable buildings on this forum are the Temple of Hercules (shown above) and the Temple of Portunus.

The Temple of Hercules is the oldest surviving marble building in Rome. Hercules, of course, was the legendary hero of superhuman strength. The Mouth of Truth was likely once located in this temple.

Portunus was the god of gateways, locks and livestock. He might not be the most glamorous god of the Roman pantheon. But he did his job well, granting good luck to the all important merchants.

Porta Asinaria, a gate in the Aurelian Walls
Porta Asinaria, a gate in the Aurelian Walls

27. Aurelian Walls

The Aurelian Walls in Rome are the biggest, but most neglected, ruins from Ancient Rome. 

The walls date from the 3rd century. They were 12 miles long and 26 feet high, with 14 gates and 380 watch towers. 

The Aurelian Walls take their name from Emperor Aurelian, a warrior emperor who sought to protect Rome from barbarians when the empire teetered on collapse.

The emperors Arcadius and Honorius made further reinforcements. The two main gates were transformed into self sufficient fortresses. The height of the walls was increased to about 52 feet.

The walls survived the fall of Rome, though parts of the wall were later torn down during the Middle Ages. They continued to serve a defensive function, until they were breached in 1870. This marked the beginning of the unification of Italy.

Here’s my complete guide to the Aurelian Walls.

ruins of the Garden of Delights
frescos and ruins of the Garden of Delights

28. Caligula’s Garden Of Delights

Caligula was the fourth of the Caesarian emperors. He’s mostly known as a combustible lunatic and tyrannical ruler who married often and never forgot a slight.

During the four years he occupied the throne, Caligula had a favorite hideaway. It was an imperial garden called Hour Lamiani on Esquiline Hill.

The garden was essentially a wildlife park, filled with shrines, banqueting halls, orchards, and fountains. Exotic animals completed the tableaux. They were used for private circus games.

Archaeologists discovered the Roman ruins of the lavish garden complex under a 19th century apartment building during excavations in 2006-15.

In April 2021 the Nymphaeum Museum of Piazza Vittorio was opened. You can see highly decorative frescos, mosaics, ceramics, jewelry, pottery, and animal bones.

They paint a vivid picture of wealth and opulence of imperial Rome and the appetite for luxury of Caligula.

Pyramid of Cestius, must visit Roman ruin in Rome
the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome’s Testaccio district

29. Pyramid of Cestius

Rome was a little obelisk crazy in its heyday. Egypt was downright fashionable and astonished wealthy and Rome aimed to emulate its example.

In fact, Rome has more obelisks than the country of Egypt. 8 are Roman and 5 are Egyptian. They’re a symbol of what Rome once was — the cultural hub of the known world.

The Roman pyramid was most likely built between 18 and 12 B.C. during the reign of Augustus. The pyramid is 120 feet high and covered in white Carrera marble. 

You can tell it’s not the real deal. The pyramid is too steep and pointy, compared to the real Egyptian pyramids of Giza.

Cestius was built as a tomb for a wealthy Roman under the sway of all things Egyptian. The tomb was long ago ransacked.

The pyramid was excavated and restored in the 16th century. Many of the columns and sculptures that once surrounded it are in the Capitoline Museums.

You can visit the pyramid on a guided tour. If you want to visit solo, reservations must be made in advance.

Aca Pacis, the Altar of Peace
Aca Pacis, the Altar of Peace

30. Ara Pacis

Another Roman ruin to visit in Rome is the Ara Pacis monument. The Roman Senate commissioned this Altar of Peace in 13 BC to honor Emperor Augustus.

It’s a piece of Roman propaganda. Augustus had just defeated the barbarians. His victory marked the beginning of the Pax Romana, a 200 year golden age where arts and architecture flourished.

The altar was once part of a large complex. But the Ara Pacis Museum opened in 2006 and is dedicated to this single monument.

The museum is housed in a modern glass and steel pavilion designed by American architect Richard Meier. It’s light and airy.

The monument is adorned with imagery and wonderful relief carvings depicting the history of Rome and Augustus’ accomplishments. The message was clear. Rome was safe and stable under Augustus.

If you don’t want to pony up the rather outrageous entry fee, you can admire the ornate altar through the windows or take the museum’s virtual tour here.

But if you do want to go inside, click here to book a skip the line ticket for the museum.

Largo di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina

31. Largo di Torre Argentina

Largo di Torre Argentina is an archaeological site in the heart of Rome just minutes from Piazza Navona. Excavations have revealed the remains of four Republican-era Roman temples and part of the ancient Theatre of Pompey.

This is ancient stuff, dating from the 3rd century B.C. For history buffs, this is also the place where Julius Caesar was (most likely) assassinated in 44 BC.

Apart from its historical importance, Largo di Torre Argentina is also known for its association with cats. The square has become a sanctuary for stray cats. There is a designated area called the “Roman Cat Sanctuary.”

In the past, visitor could only gaze at the ruins from an observation platform at street level. But the ruins just opened to the public for the first time in June 2023. Now, you can go below and stroll along new walkways.

32. Domus Tiberiana

Another Roman ruin on Palatine Hill is Domus Tiberiana. It was the first official imperial palace in Rome.

The palace was built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD). Tiberius used as a residence before he became emperor. And it became the designated abode of the designated heir to the empire.

Until recently, it had barely been excavated as it was overlaid by the Farnese Gardens in the 16th century. In September 2023, it will reopen to the public after more than 40 years of restoration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the must visit ancient Roman ruins of Rome. You may enjoy these other Rome travel guides:

If you’d like to visit must see ruins and historic landmarks in Rome, pin it for later.

Pinterest pin for guide to Roman ruins
Pinterest pin for guide to Roman ruins in Rome

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