Travel Tips

Discovering Rome on a private tour

Fri 16 Dec 2016

Every visitor to the Eternal City is blown away by the beauty of the sights, from the amazing collections of the Vatican Museums to the stunning views from the Palatine Hill. But while seeing Rome is easy, understanding Rome can be more of a challenge. With such a rich and complex history, Rome requires more than a brisk walk through the centro storico to be truly understood and appreciated.

On one of our private tours of Rome you’ll get to see a mixture of famous sights and hidden gems, while learning all about the history of Rome with one of our expert guides (usually an art historian or archaeologist). Exploring Rome with a personal guide gives you a much more in-depth experience, allowing you to discover parts of the city you might otherwise have missed, while hearing fascinating stories involving some of the most famous names in history, from popes to artists.

When you join one of our private tours in Rome you’ll explore imperial palaces, catacombs and basilicas. Here are just a few of the highlights you can look forward to seeing for yourself:

1. Laocoon and His Sons in the Vatican Museums

The Laocoon group is deservedly one of the most famous statues not just in the Vatican Museums, but in the entire world. This Roman statue was unearthed in a vineyard on the Esquiline Hill, and immediately caused a sensation, as it was recognised as the masterpiece that had been praised by Pliny. According to Pliny, the statue was originally displayed in the palace of the emperor Titus. It was moved to the Vatican after its rediscovery in the 16th century, and, apart from a sojourn in the Louvre in the early 18th century, it has remained in the Vatican Museums ever since.

The statue depicts the Trojan priest Laocoon with his two young sons, being attacked by sea serpents. It has been described as the “prototypical icon of human agony”, capturing a moment of intense physical and emotional suffering. The three figures struggle to escape from the snakes, with straining muscles and faces contorted by pain.

Michelangelo witnessed the excavation of Laocoon, and the statue clearly had an influence on his own aesthetic style, as you can see from some of the bodies in the Sistine Chapel, or his evocative slave sculptures. Laocoon is a remarkable work of art in itself, but it is also important for its long-lasting influence on other artists, as you will discover on your Vatican private tour.

You can see Laocoon, along with other masterpieces in the Vatican Museums, on our One Day in Rome tour: Essential Experience.

2. The Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hill is the place where Roman history began. Legend has it that the twins Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf in a cave on the Palatine Hill. Romulus, of course, grew up to become the founder of Rome, and ever since, the Palatine has played an important role in the daily life and legends of the city.

Our Private Colosseum Tour: VIP Experience also includes a visit to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in the historic city centre. This was the place where the rich and famous lived, in luxurious villas with spectacular views of the city. Even today, the views from the Palatine are some of the most beautiful in Rome. You can see the sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum in its entirety, as well as the Colosseum.

On your private tour you’ll get to see the impressive ruins of the imperial palaces, including the vast Stadium of Domitian, as well as the foundations of an 8th century BC hut, which was venerated by the Romans as the home of Romulus.

3. The mithraeum of San Clemente

Explore the streets near the Colosseum and you’ll find the Basilica of San Clemente, one of the most fascinating churches in Rome. It sits on top of an underground labyrinth, which includes the subterranean remains of some earlier churches, and even a Roman pagan temple. Your guide will lead you through the winding tunnels of San Clemente to discover this mysterious temple, known as a mithraeum.

Our Underground Rome tour includes a visit San Clemente, and is the perfect opportunity to learn all about mithraism, a religion that once rivalled Christianity. Worship took place in secret, usually in underground temples, and there were several levels of initiation. A marble altar in the depths of San Clemente represents the key myth of mithraism - the hero Mithras killing the bull, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. This atmospheric little temple is one of Rome’s best-kept secrets, offering an insight into an ancient religion that remains shrouded in mystery.

4. The Pantheon

One of the most impressive monuments in Rome is undoubtedly the Pantheon, which is even more magnificent at night. Once the crowds have dispersed, visit this ancient temple with a private guide, and discover its rich and varied history. Originally completed during the reign of Hadrian in the second century AD, the Pantheon mainly owes its survival to its various transformations. Unlike other Roman pagan temples, which were destroyed over the centuries - often gradually, when they were looted for building materials - the Pantheon was saved by its conversion into a church in the 7th century.

The Pantheon is imposing from the outside, but entering this historic building on an evening tour of Rome is another experience altogether. It is still used for Christian worship today, and the solemn, sacred atmosphere adds another dimension, making a visit to the Pantheon even more profound. You’ll also admire the famous ceiling - an incredible feat of engineering - and discover how the Pantheon was designed to have an awe-inspiring effect on all who entered, through its ingenious use of space.

The Pantheon is one of the highlights of our Stroll of the Artists private tour, which also includes the Trevi Fountain.

5. The frescoes of Villa Farnesina

The Villa Farnesina in Trastevere was the private home of the Renaissance banker, Agostino Chigi, who was once one of the wealthiest men in Rome. He could therefore afford to indulge in his passion for art, and he hired some of the greatest artists of the age to decorate the rooms of his elegant villa. Some of the most celebrated works in the Villa Farnesina are the frescoes by Raphael, which you can see on an exclusive private tour with a knowledgeable guide. Your guide, an expert in art history, will show you famous frescoes such as Cupid and Psyche and The Triumph of Galatea, helping you to appreciate their immense beauty in a historical context.

On your Villa Farnesina tour you’ll learn about the colourful life not only of Raphael, but also of the extravagant Chigi and his lover, the celebrity courtesan Imperia. The nymph Galatea bears a striking resemblance to Imperia, and she may have been Raphael’s model, before her untimely and mysterious death.

~by Alexandra Turney~

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