Rome doesn't want for famous residents—from artists to politicians, many notables have called the city home. But, arguably, none changed its course more than Julius Caesar, the shrewd military leader and politician who greatly expanded the Roman Empire and eventually become its self-appointed dictator, paving the way for the imperial system.
To tour Caesar's Rome requires imagination. Many of the iconic structures that comes to mind when one thinks of Rome—The Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla—hadn't been built when Caesar ruled, and many of the important features of his daily life have long since been buried beneath the growing city. But the archaeological hints that remain transport visitors into the footsteps of one of history's most heralded and controversial figures.
Julius Caesar was born in Rome, on either the 12 or 13 of July in 100 B.C. Through a combination of political savvy, charisma and backhanded dealings, he quickly rose to power, becoming dictator of Rome in 49 B.C. after emerging victorious from a civil war. As dictator he instituted a number of reforms, from expanding who could be considered a Roman citizen to changing the Roman calendar, but his brief reign came to a bloody end when he was stabbed by a group of Roman senators in Pompey's Theater on March 15, 44 B.C.
Caesar died the most powerful man in an empire, but he wasn't always afforded a life of luxury. He was born into an poor noble family in the Roman slums of Subura, and returned to live there as a young man. Monti is the Roman neighborhood which now occupies the area where Subura once stood, located between the Via Cavour and Via Nazionale, east of the Roman Forum. Nowadays, the neighborhood houses intimate eateries, but when Caesar lived there, it was Rome's red-light district.
Via Appia Antica
All roads might lead to Rome, but it wasn't always that way. The Via Appia Antica, the "Queen of Roads," was built in 312 BC, and by 191 BC, extended all the way to the port of Brindisi, almost 310 miles southeast of Rome on the Adriatic Sea. The Via Appia Antica became Rome's most important road—and perhaps the most important road in the world—opening Rome up to the East.
By the time Julius Caesar was ascending to power, the road had been worn down. Sensing the importance of the road to Rome and its people, he became the curator of the Appian Way in 66 BC, and borrowed a significant amount of state funds to ensure its restoration. The move gained him political support, which proved crucial in advancing his political career.
To explore the road (and the three catacombs that are open to the public that line it), take the metro out to the Appia Antica stop and head to the Appia Antica Regional Park Information Point. Here, you can buy a map of the park and rent bikes. The park also runs tours, but those must be booked two weeks in advance.
If you think that Trastevere's charming streets and buildings look downright Medieval, that's because they are: this neighborhood, located across the river from Rome's bustling center, is an incredibly well-preserved glimpse into medieval Rome. But it's got more than Medieval history—it dates back to antiquity, and Julius Caesar once called the neighborhood his second home.
According to historian Stacy Schiff, Caesar's country estate included a colonnaded court, a mile-long, lushly planted garden, and an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures. Caesar mainly lived in the center of the city, near the Forum, with his third wife, Calpurnia. But it is here in his villa Horti Caesaris, that he is believed to have entertained Cleopatra when she was in Rome in 46 B.C.. Though it's impossible to pinpoint exactly where the villa once stood, one can gaze across the Tiber toward the center of Rome as the Egyptian queen once did with her son, and Caesar's love-child, Caesarion.
Wandering the streets of Trastevere transports one back through several periods of Roman history. Visit the 12th-century Basilica di Santa Maria or check out the Villa Farnesina, a Renaissance-era villa with frescoes by artsits like Raphael.
To get to Trastevere, you can either walk from the city center (you can cross the river via the stone footbridge Ponte Sisto) or talk public transportation (tram number 8 to Viale Trastevere).
Before Rome became one of the ancient world's most famous Republics, it was ruled by Etruscan kings who built their seat of power in the marshlands between three Roman hills. By constructing a sewer to drain the marshlands, they gained valuable land between the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline hills. In 509 BC, when Rome became a Republic, this area became the seat of political power, containing the buildings and temples which were the focal point of Roman political life—an area then, and today, known as the Roman Forum.
Caesar, being an intregal member of Roman political life, would have spent a great deal of his time in and around the Forum. After he rose to power, he even began to change the landscape of the Forum itself by planning and constructing several new buildings and monuments. One such building was the Basilica Julia, the construction of which began in 54 BC. Caesar reorganized the Roman Forum to make way for this massive and ornate basilica, dedicated in his honor, tearing down the Forum's exisiting basilica (the Basilica Sempronia, built in 169 B.C.). The building was destroyed twice in a fire, once in 8 B.C. and again in 283 A.D. Both times, the basilica was rebuilt, only to be sacked completely during the fall of Rome. The building's ruins are still visible, however, and the floorplan of the basilica can be easily identified.
You can explore the Roman Forum by purchasing a ticket, which will also grant you access to the neighboring Colosseum and Palatine Hill. Tickets are €12 (about $17). The sites are open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Audio tours, as well as guided tours, are offered in a variety of languages. For booking information, call +39 (0)6 39 96 77 00 or go online.
Theater of Marcellus
When Caesar defeated his rival, Pompey, in Rome's civil war, he set out to build a theater that would dwarf the Pompey Theater, which Pompey had built in 55 BC. So Caesar cleared land space for another theater to be built. He never saw the structure completed, however, as he was murdered only a few years into the project. The theater was completed in 13 BC, and it fulfilled Caesar's hope—it became the largest theater in the Roman Empire. Today, ruins of the theater can be seen on the Via del Teatro di Marcello.
Largo de Torre Argentina
Caesar's death is nearly as legendary as his life. After defeating Pompey and appointing himself Rome's dictator, he continued to consolidate his personal power, angering Romans who felt him a threat to the Republic. When, in 44 B.C., Caesar declared himself dictator for life, factions in the Senate turned against him, deciding that the only way to preserve the Republic was to assassinate Caesar.
As legend has it, Caesar ignored several omens that might have helped him avoid his assassination, including a plea from his wife to remain home on the day of his murder. Ignoring these omens, he went to the Senate, where a group of men, including his friend Brutus, waited for him. In Pompey's Theater, on March 15 44 B.C., the conspirators stabbed Caesar to death.
Pompey's Theater is long gone (ruins have been incorporated into other structures, making it impossible to truly discern which is which) but the busy square Largo de Torre Argentina stands where the theater once was. It wasn't until recently, in 2012, that archaeologists found definitive physical proof, in the form of a concrete structure, that Pompey's Theater did indeed once stand in the square.
To visit the Torre Argentina, head to Rome's Centro Storico (also home to the Pantheon and Campo de' Fiori). The physical remains of ruins inside of the square are off-limits, but can be seen from the square's outskirts.