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Welcome to the Rome city guide, as we walk you through the sounds to listen out for when visiting Rome, the capital of Italy and one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. From the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain, the city is packed with iconic sights – but what are its characteristic sounds?

Rome city guide

1. Inside the Vatican and St. Peter’s

Rome is, of course, dominated by its role as the centre of the Catholic church, and in St. Peter’s and the Vatican boasts its two most important spaces. Both are essential tourist attractions, and are also interesting sonic spaces.

In St. Peter’s, listen out for the colossal reverbs as the sound of thousands of visitors bounces around inside its vast interior, moving from the close-in sounds of the people next to you, to the far-out sounds of the overall soundscape.

Inside the Sistine Chapel, of course its visual beauty is the most arresting thing by far, but there’s an interesting sonic phenomenon too – attendants frequently call for silence as people file in and out of the space, which means the sound levels slowly creep up from zero to a crescendo of susurration, before the next “silenzio” is intoned.

2. The musicians of Rome

As one of the world’s foremost tourist destinations and one of its cultural cradles, you’d expect music to play an important role in Rome, and indeed the old city is – more than the vast majority of European cities – riddled with musicians and buskers at all times of the day.

From our sound archives, enjoy the sound of “Nessun Dorma” being performed by an opera singer outside the Pantheon, and the sound of a classical music string quartet entertaining restaurant patrons in Piazza della Maddalena.

3. Rome’s fountains

Without any doubt, Rome boasts some of the world’s finest – and most famous – fountains, so the gushing or trickling from the city’s water features is a keynote sound of the city. Here you can listen to the truly iconic Trevi Fountain, or rather to the sound of thousands of tourists crowding around it: it’s a truly chaotic space that contrasts with the pure beauty of what everyone is there to see. Contrast that with the almost-as-famous but much more spacious Piazza Navona and you can hear the difference:

4. Inside the Pantheon

Visually stunning and a crucial part of Rome’s story, the Pantheon is a sight like no other – but due to its unique design it also offers an interesting soundscape. The huge, high ceiling open to the heavens and the perfectly symmetrical shape of the building sends the sounds of voices and footsteps high up above and bounces them around in a fascinating way – much less of a confusing miasma than other similar spaces such as cathedrals, and more like a concentrated focus of voices:

Bonus sound: Festa della Repubblica

You can only hear this once every year on 2 June, when Italy celebrates its national day all over the country, but the grand military parade held in Rome is unique to the capital. Squads of military personnel of every type and from all over the country parade past Piazza Venezia, many singing songs and playing music, as you can hear here:

You can listen to all of our sounds from Rome – and their recomposed counterparts – on our interactive Rome sound map: