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As good as new: Rome’s recent renovations

Due to a series of recent renovations and facelifts, the Eternal City has a glut of ‘new’ ancient sites — places restored to their former glory or open to the public for the first time in millennia

As good as new: Rome’s recent renovations
Pyramid of Cestius in Rome. Image: Nico Avelardi

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Roman Forum
The ruins known as the Roman Forum were split in two when Mussolini built the Via dei Fori Imperiali road on top of it in the 1930s. Now they’re reunited by a tunnel under the road — open every first Sunday of the month. Go from the main Roman Forum, through ‘Caesar’s Forum’, behind the Curia (Senate House), past medieval buildings and into Trajan’s Forum, ending at Trajan’s Column in Piazza Venezia.

Trevi Fountain
In 2012, this baroque masterpiece, in the city’s Trevi district, was in crisis, with parts having crumbled away during a cold snap. Today, after fashion house Fendi stepped in to fund a £1.7m, 17-month renovation, Rome’s most iconic fountain is back to its La Dolce Vita best, gleaming by day, glamorously floodlit by night. Never has throwing your coin into the water (to guarantee a return visit) looked so good.

Pyramid of Cestius
Found outside the ancient city walls, this marble homage to an Egyptian pyramid was built in 12 BC to house the remains of Caius Cestius. Until 2016, the only way to see it was via the gardens of the Non-Catholic Cemetery. Now, tours access its central vault. Tours in Italian €7.50 (£6.65). For the English version, you’ll need to book a group tour from €40 (£35) but bring your own guide. 

If the last time you saw the Colosseum it was tobacco-brown and wreathed in scaffolding, you’re in for a surprise. After a 33-month deep clean that finished in 2016, it glows pink in the sun. Nearly 2,000 years’ of dirt has been blasted off the facade, revealing doric and ionic columns that were barely visible, and new discoveries, like a bas-relief gladiator and medieval frescoes. Entry €12 (£10.50).

Circus Maximus
Rome’s first and largest stadium dates back to the sixth century BC. Rebuilt by Emperor Trajan as a 250,000-seater in the first century, most of the 2,000ft-long structure has been buried for centuries. Today, though, the southern end has been excavated, revealing ancient betting shops, taverns, urinals and parts of the triumphal arch that once stood at the entrance. €5 (£4.50).

Carcer Tullianum
Located on the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum, the Carcer Tullianum was once a jail. It’s said to be where Saints Peter and Paul were incarcerated before their execution — legend has it a spring appeared here to St Peter, allowing him to baptise fellow prisoners. The building reopened in 2016 with a museum and a self-guided tour with tablets. €10 (£9).

Baths of Diocletian
Among the ruins of the Roman baths that once stood here are elements redesigned by Michelangelo, including a church and a cloister. The vast complex is part of the National Roman Museum, which was renovated in 2014. Its Aula Ottagona (‘Octagonal Hall’) is open on the second and fourth Saturday and Sunday of the month, from 10am-12pm, €11 (£9.75). 

Spanish Steps and Keats-Shelley House
No sooner had the Spanish Steps finished their year-long facelift, courtesy of Bulgari (all 136 cleaned and relevelled, lighting restored, guards installed) than the Keats-Shelley House, at their foot, put up scaffolding. Having restored a mosaic floor, a private level and two balconies overlooking the steps, it’s all over, and the Piazza di Spagna is back to its glam best.

Domus Aurea
Emperor Nero’s legendary ‘Golden House’ — which, it’s said, he burned Rome to the ground to clear space for — is finally open after 1,900-odd years (it briefly opened for the 2000 Great Jubilee). Hard-hat tours of the site led by archaeologists fund ongoing excavations, with new rooms regularly being added to the tour as they’re uncovered. There’s ingenious use of 3D technology, too. €16 (£14).

Published in the Rome 2018 guide, distributed with the April 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)