This remarkable building of white Brescian marble has several names – Il Vittoriano, Victor Emmanuel II Monument, Altare della Patria as well as some not so complimentary nicknames – “Wedding Cake”, “the Dentures” and “Typewriter”. Many Romans loathe the structure and it is widely held to be the epitome of self-important, insensitive architecture.
Construction of the monument was started in 1895 and it was inaugurated in 1911. It was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, the first king of a unified Italy. The king is depicted here on a large gilt bronze equestrian statue. The statue which took 20 years to complete was created by the sculptor Enrico Chiaradia.
The edifice contains the Museum of the Risorgimento, the events that led up to the unification in 1861. The building also provides the setting for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is identified by the eternal flame, which has two soldiers guarding it.
The Vittoriano is centred on the unification of Italy and is therefore considered one of Italy’s national symbols. Every year it hosts important national celebrations such as Liberation Day and Republic Day.
The monument occupies a site between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill, the symbolic centre of ancient Rome. Piazza Venezia is a busy traffic-filled square and is well served by a number of bus routes. Directly opposite the monument is the Via del Corso, now Rome’s busiest shopping street. This runs from Piazza Venezia all the way to Piazza del Popolo. It’s within easy walking distance of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum which is where the nearest Metro stop is located.
Il Vittoriano Roof Terrace
You can visit the roof of the monument by a glass lift at the rear of the monument. The entrance is via the cafe. There is a small charge for using the lift but this is worth every cent as the views from the top are quite stunning.
From the terrace, you can pick out most of the popular sights in Rome. There are excellent views of the Roman Forum which is next to the monument. Rather unkindly perhaps, some people say it offers the best views in Rome because you can’t see the monument!
Santa Maria in Ara Coeli
The picturesque Santa Maria in Ara Coeli (Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven) church sits right behind the monument. The monument was built almost right up against this old church. This is definitely worth a visit if only to see the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli. This is a jewel-encrusted, wooden statue of the baby Jesus which is believed to resurrect the dead. This famous object was made out of olive wood during the fifteenth century.
The church is reached by climbing the 124 marble steps of the Aracoeli staircase next to the Vittoriano. This was finished in 1348, to thank the Virgin Mary for the end of the Black Death in Rome.
Other things to do in Rome
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