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The past seems more recent in Rome. The one-time self-styled capital of the world is still defined by its ancient stones and their accompanying ghosts. Rome’s baroque splendours and over-the-top ornamentation are balanced by the unshakeable weight of history to give the city an unmatched substance and an operatic sense of glamour. Whether you are walking Roman roads, worshipping at the shrines of the Renaissance, spending euro millions in fashion palaces or sipping aperitivi on pretty piazzas, it is a city that wears its past proudly on its flaking sleeve. The openness of its stones to the weather, the traffic fumes and the tourists brings the ancient world to the door of every café, pizzeria and cheese shop.

Rome was founded on the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, which, with the Roman Forum between them, make up the heart of the city’s ancient remains. Rome’s antique core, bounded by the Colosseum to the east, the Circus Maximus to the south and the Imperial Fora to the north, was the centre of the empire, where its emperors erected their great monuments of state. Some of the best finds from the Roman Forum are held in the wonderful Capitoline Museums on piazza Campidoglio.

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Since Roman times the focus of the city has moved north to the centro storico. The area between via del Corso and the river is tightly packed with many of the city’s essential sights: the well-preserved Roman Pantheon; the Baroque fountains of piazza Navona; the market and cafés of Campo di Fiori, and the shops of the via del Corso. Just beyond the historic centre, don’t miss the gardens and excellent gallery at the Villa Borghese, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the extravagant Trevi Fountain.

Across the Tevere river, the awesome hulk of St Peter’s Basilica is the focal point of the Vatican City, a separate state within the city. Home to the Pope, its huge museums incorporate two of the great works of Western culture: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms. To the south, Trastevere is a pretty area of cobbled streets filled with bars and restaurants.

Recently, Rome has shaken off its conservative image and increasingly rivals Milan for stylishness. But while the city’s bars and restaurants become slowly hip, the city’s inward-looking traditions mean that local identities are proudly retained. There is a sense that Rome is a city beginning to look to the future, while, of course, still living with the past.

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