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Accessible Rome - Ancient Lives

Mary Murphy-Hanson

Accessible Rome: Getting around Rome in a wheelchair, for the disabled traveler. Read Wheelchair Travel for some basic information.

Ruins exist throughout Rome. My advice to the wheelchair traveler is take a crack at any ruin. Do not assume that ancient ruins are inaccessible. You never know just how far you can go.

The Colosseum (Colosseo)

I recommend taking a taxi to the Colosseum (Colosseo). The street traffic in front of this vast amphitheater is fast and vicious. On Sundays this road is closed to traffic and becomes a wonderful pedestrian way with Italians riding bikes, pushing strollers and strolling along the center of the road. Sunday is a good day to visit the Colosseum and Forum.

Built about 100 AD how accessible can the Colosseum be? Well it turns out it is amazingly accessible. The entrance to the Colosseum has a curb. Hopefully you can do one step in your wheelchair.

You enter the Colosseum on the ground floor and can access the main floor of the arena easily including the board walks across the arena. It is possible to travel nearly the entire perimeter of the first floor except for the book store. Near the ticket booth you will find an elevator that takes you to the upper level of the Colosseum. Again a nearly complete circumference can be done.

Arch of Constantine

Outside the Colosseum (to the south-west) is the Arch of Constantine. The only wheelchair access to the Arch of Constantine is from the south side of the Arch coming up the Via di San Gregorio. From the Colosseum travel around the east side of the Colosseum, staying on the sidewalk and heading south to Via Celio Vibenna. Proceed west on Via Celio Vibenna about one block until you get to Via San Gregorio. Then turn back north on Via San Gregorio and after about 100 yards you are at the Arch of Constantine (one curb step).

The more direct route from the Colosseum to the Arch of Constantine (heading due south west) is impassible in a wheelchair due to the large ancient Roman stones and the three to six inch gaps between the stones. The photo below is taken from the South side of the arch facing north toward the Colosseum.  As you can see this area has smoother pavement and San Pietro stone.

Accessible Restrooms

  • None. The only things that aren't accessible are the restrooms in the Colosseum (three steps).

Mary at the Arch of Constantine, in front of the Colosseum.

Mary at the Arch of Constantine, in front of the Colosseum.

Nero's Golden House (Domus Aureus)

Although Domus Aureus was re-discovered during Napoleon's time, it has been closed for several decades due to water seepage and the instability of the ruins. The ruins have been shored up and water seepage is minimal (but you can still see damp spots on the floor and walls).

You can walk/wheel to Domus Aureus from the Colosseum. From the main entrance, facing out to the street, turn right and take the sidewalk that goes along the Colosseum along Via dei Fori Imperiali. At the eastern edge of the Colosseum, you cross the road that goes behind the Colosseum, then cross Via dei Fori Imperiali. From there you take a small road right up to Domus Aureus.

Domus Aureus has two steps at the entrance, but is moderately navigable for the wheelchair traveler. The problem is that the surface inside the ruins is fairly rough, so you may need someone strong to push you.

The Domus Aureus is fairly bare with the majority of the decorations, sculpture and the wall murals in various Roman and Italian museums. There is one small lovely armless torso. The premier attraction is the pentagonal room. The Domus Aureus faced the same constraints as modern day building projects. Time and money, and Nero was running out of both fast. For her, it is more likely that the pentagonal room was a lucky accident of two or three palaces being joined together, than that it was actually an integral part of the design.

Accessible Restrooms

  • None, that I remember. This might have changed.

<< map to be added >>

Roman Forum (Foro Romano)

There are at least two entrances to the Forum: one from Via dei Fori Imperiali and the other from the Capitoline Museum. You can look down into the forum from behind the Capitoline Museum. There is no longer an entrance fee to visit the Forum, but there is an entrance fee for the Palantine Hill nearby.

Enter from Via dei Fori Imperiali

As you leave the Colosseum travel to the west along Via dei Fori Imperiali. There is a cutaway curb at one spot in the sidewalk that takes you along the front of Forum. Usually there is a bus parked in front of the cutaway but if you point out that he is blocking the way he will move. About one block down on the wall in front of Forum you will notice several maps illustrating the expansion of the Roman Empire. You will find the entrance to the Forum here.

Across the Via Dei Fori Imperiali from the Forum entrance is the visitors center for the Roman Forum (accessible, but check the opening hours because it is not always open).

Mary at the Roman Forum

The Roman Forum (Foro Romano) is at the bottom of a very steeply pitched hill. The hill is asphalt but at the bottom you come out onto the Via Sacra, the main drag in Forum. The large stones that are the building blocks of the Via Sacra are too widely spaced to allow a wheelchair to navigate easily. The wheelchair traveler can make small darting forays into the periphery of Forum.

In September of 2004, I found that I could navigate the Forum with a mobility scooter, provided I was willing to do extreme scootering.

Enter from the Capitoline Museum

From the top of this road you have a good view down into the Forum. The road allows you in as far as the back of the Arch of Septimius Severus (this is a downhill road). As you go down the road you pass the church Santi Luca e Martina which does have a ramp into the church but the actual dungeon is inaccessible for the wheelchair traveler.

Accessible Restrooms

  • None. The restrooms are behind the gift shop at the Via Dei Fori Imperiali entrance, but there are two steps into the restroom and the stalls are not accessible.

Trajan's Market

Trajan's Market is not accessible, but you can see part of it from the street.

Continuing on along Via Dei Fori Imperiali from the Forum entrance, then crossing the road and going along Via Alessandrina (mostly on sidewalk), you come to Trajan's Market (Foro di Traiano or Mercati Trajani). This wonderfully restored ruin has ancient Roman streets and the small shops that would have existed in Ancient Rome. It is a great history lesson as you can see the layers of Rome built upon the Roman Empire and ending with the modern Benetton store.

Unfortunately the entire Trajan's Market is inaccessible, except the entrance hall. There was discussion about installing an elevator as this has become a large open air art space.

Baths of Diocletian

This small Roman museum is dedicated to cryptography. Here they define cryptography as anything associated with the language and the various ways it was preserved. From the M AGRIPPA etc. on top of the Pantheon to papyrus and skins. From tomb stones (another interpretation of the word crypt) to street signs.

Located about a half block from the main train station (Termini), it's an easy (if somewhat terrifying) passage from Termini to the entrance. The Baths of Diocletian are 100% accessible. The entrance to the Baths has a gravel pathway for pedestrians (tough push), but there is also a paved driveway, so you can use driveway and gain access to the museum. The courtyard, also accessible, has a colonade that has a complete set of the busts of the various Ceasars as well as the wonderful "whack a bull" sculptures. The restroom is located along the colonade (one step).

This unique museum has examples of painted statuary. What few people realize is all those ancient white stone marble statues throughout Italy - they were painted. Red lips, blue eyes, black hair, pink skin, different colored robes. My modern eye found it garish. The central courtyard of the Baths of Diocletian contains several Mithraic sculptures. Mithraism was a religion that swept Rome shortly pre-Constantine. They worshipped bulls.

Central courtyard of the Baths of Diocletian.

Central courtyard of the Baths of Diocletian

Accessible Restrooms

  • On the way to the Baths of Diocletian, across the street from train station, is a small, very dirty and unattractive park. There used to be an accessible bathroom there but the elevator is out of order. The restrooms at train station are accessible. The are located at the left side of the tracks as you face the tracks, down by the tourist information office. There's a 50 centissimi charge, but the bathrooms are immaculate.

Baths of Caracalla

The most famous ancient baths in Rome are the Baths of Caracalla. These are among the most accessible of the ancient Roman ruins. Too bad they are so far from most of the other sites. However to get a feeling for the massive scale of ancient Roman buildings, this is a worthwhile place to visit.

Take a taxi to the top of the hill by the ticket booth, otherwise this hill is a monster. As you travel toward Caracalla, about a block away is a Piazza Septtembre 11th in memory of the World Trade Center victims. Not particularly attractive, it is essentially a parking lot.

Imagine these huge walls at the Baths covered in colored marble or other stone. Until recently the Italian opera staged open air performances in the summer at the baths of Caracalla. You can enter the performance space and the acoustics are such that a whisper can be heard all the way across the room. This picture can give you a small idea of the scale and size of these ruins. There is a lovely park by the baths and you can picnic here.

The Baths of Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla

Accessible Restrooms

  • There is a nice, accessible bathroom in the Baths of Caracalla.


Slow Travel Photos - Accessible Rome: Photo essay to go with these pages.

Mary Hanson is a wheelchair traveler with four months experience navigating Rome in a wheelchair. When she isn't visiting her heart in Rome, she resides in Phoenix with her husband Tom and her mutt Beau-dog.

© Mary Murphy-Hanson, 2005

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