Immediately north of Piazza Venezia is the real heart of Rome – the centro storico or historic centre, which makes up most of the triangular knob of land that bulges into a bend in the Tiber. This area, known in ancient Roman times as the Campus Martius, was outside the city centre, a low-lying area that was mostly given over to barracks and sporting arenas, together with several temples, including the Pantheon. Later it became the heart of the Renaissance city, and nowadays it’s the part of the town that is densest in interest, an unruly knot of narrow streets and alleys that holds some of the best of Rome’s classical and Baroque heritage and its most vivacious street- and nightlife. It’s here that most people find the Rome they’ve been looking for – a city of crumbling piazzas, Renaissance churches and fountains, blind alleys and streets humming with scooters and foot-traffic. Whichever direction you wander in there’s something to see; indeed it’s part of the appeal of the centre of Rome that even the most aimless ambling leads you past some breathlessly beautiful and historic spots.
Just south of the centro storico proper, Campo de’ Fiori and the Ghetto are Rome’s old centre part two, a similar neighbourhood of cramped, wanderable streets opening out into small squares flanked by churches. However, it’s less monumental and more of a working quarter, as evidenced by its main focus, Campo de’ Fiori, whose fruit and veg stalls are a marked contrast to the pavement artists of Piazza Navona. Close by are the dark alleys of the old Jewish Ghetto, and the busy traffic junction of Largo di Torre Argentina.