• Roman Forum (Rome): Two thousand years ago, most of the known world was directly affected by decisions made in the Roman Forum. Today classicists and archaeologists wander among its ruins, conjuring up the glory that was Rome. What you'll see today is a pale, rubble-strewn version of the once-majestic site -- it's now surrounded by modern boulevards packed with whizzing cars.


  • Palatine Hill (Rome): According to legend, the Palatine Hill was the site where Romulus and Remus (the orphaned infant twins who survived by being suckled by a she-wolf) eventually founded the city. Although Il Palatino is one of the seven hills of ancient Rome, you'll find it hard to distinguish it as such because of the urban congestion rising all around. The site is enhanced by the Farnese Gardens (Orti Farnesiani), laid out in the 1500s on the site of Tiberius's palace.


  • The Colosseum (Rome): Rome boasts only a handful of other ancient monuments that survive in such well-preserved condition. A massive amphitheater set incongruously amid a maze of modern traffic, the Colosseum was once the setting for gladiator combat, lion-feeding frenzies, and public entertainment whose cruelty was a noted characteristic of the empire (just ask Russell Crowe). All three of the ancient world's classical styles (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) are represented, superimposed in tiers one above the other.


  • Hadrian's Villa (Villa Adriana; near Tivoli): Hadrian's Villa slumbered in rural obscurity until the 1500s, when Renaissance popes ordered its excavation. Only then was the scale of this enormous and beautiful villa from A.D. 134 appreciated. Its builder, Hadrian, who had visited almost every part of his empire, wanted to incorporate the wonders of the world into one building site -- and he succeeded.


  • Ostia Antica (near Rome): During the height of the Roman Empire, Ostia ("mouth" in Latin) was the harbor town set at the point where the Tiber flowed into the sea. As Rome declined, so did Ostia; by the early Middle Ages, the town had almost disappeared, its population decimated by malaria. In the early 1900s, archaeologists excavated the ruins of hundreds of buildings, many of which you can view.


  • Herculaneum (Campania): Legend says that Herculaneum was founded by Hercules. The historical facts tell us that it was buried under rivers of volcanic mud one fateful day in A.D. 79 after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Seeping into the cracks of virtually every building, the scalding mud preserved the timbers of hundreds of structures that would otherwise have rotted during the normal course of time. Devote at least 2 hours to seeing some of the best-preserved houses from the ancient world.


  • Pompeii (Campania): Once it was an opulent resort filled with 25,000 wealthy Romans. In A.D. 79, the eruption that devastated Herculaneum (above) buried Pompeii under at least 6m (20 ft.) of volcanic ash and pumice stone. Beginning around 1750, Charles of Bourbon ordered the systematic excavation of the ruins -- the treasures hauled out sparked a wave of interest in the classical era throughout northern Europe.


  • Paestum (Campania): Paestum was discovered by accident around 1750 when local bureaucrats tried to build a road across the heart of what had been a thriving ancient city. Paestum originated as a Greek colony around 600 B.C., fell to the Romans in 273 B.C., and declined into obscurity in the final days of the empire. Today amateur archaeologists can follow a well-marked walking tour through the excavations.


  • The Valley of the Temples (Sicily): Although most of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento lies in ruins, it is one of Europe's most beautiful classical sites, especially in February and March when the almond trees surrounding it burst into pink blossoms. One of the site's five temples dates from as early as 520 B.C.; another (never completed) ranks as one of the largest temples in the ancient world.
  • Segesta (Sicily): Even its site is impressive: a rocky outcropping surrounded on most sides by a jagged ravine. Built around 430 B.C. by the Greeks, Segesta's Doric colonnade is one of the most graceful in the ancient world. The site is stark and mysterious. The temple was probably destroyed by the Saracens (Muslim raiders) in the 11th century.
  • Selinunte (Sicily): The massive columns of Selinunte lie scattered on the ground, as if an earthquake had punished its builders, yet this is one of our favorite ancient ruins in Italy. Around 600 B.C., immigrants from Syracuse built Selinunte into an important trading port. The city was a bitter rival of neighboring Segesta (above) and was destroyed around 400 B.C. and then again in 250 B.C. by the Carthaginians. 
  • Villa Romana del Casale (Sicily): The Greeks famously left their mark in Sicily, but the Romans make a good showing in this late 3rd or early 4th century a.d. hunting lodge. Mosaics—some 3,535 sq. m (38,050 sq. ft.) in total—cover the floors, with scenes of sports, gods, goddesses, and even some ancient erotica.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.