Piazza Venezia is best visited when also taking in the Colosseum and Roman Forum, as it is nearby at the end of Via dei Fori Imperiali, and the first impression is quite remarkable.
The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (often shortened to Altare della Patria) is to your immediate left as you enter the square. The white marble monument honors the man credited with the unification of Italy in the mid-19th century. Its vast, ostentatious design required an entire area of medieval Rome be demolished to make way for it. Plenty of Romans dislike the monument, but it’s difficult to ignore the accomplished work of the Italian sculptors commissioned to work on it, including Leonardo Bistolfi and Angelo Zanelli.
Behind the enormous equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel lies the ever-fascinating Museo Centrale del Risorgimento Italiano, which illuminates Italy’s unification, along with other decisive moments in its history. A glass elevator takes you to a viewing platform, which offers spectacular views of the ancient remains to the southeast. Entry to the museo is free on the first Tuesday of the month.
From the top of the Altare della Patria, try to tune out the buzz of traffic and admire the piazza. The Palazzo Venezia takes up much of the left-hand side of the square and was established in the mid-15th century by Cardinal Pietro Barbo, who later became pope. Some centuries further down the line, Mussolini took over the palace as his headquarters and used the balcony to address his public. But today, it is home to the Museo del Palazzo di Venezia, which has a range of exhibits that includes fine religious paintings from the 14th century, a collection of ancient German wooden statues and a room of paintings on canvas, including Francesco Solimena’s Wedding at Cana and Donato Creti’s Dance of the Nymphs.
There are two smaller palaces, too — the Palazzo Generali and the Palazzo Bonaparte (named after the French emperor’s mother) — so you’ll probably want to have your espresso on the go.
Piazza Venezia is in central Rome. Bus stops and the Metro train station Colosseo are all nearby.