Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, or Altare della Patria

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Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, or Altare della Patria

The huge white mass of the "Vittoriano" is an inescapable landmark—Romans say you can only avoid looking at it if you're actually standing on it. Some have likened it to a huge wedding cake; others, to an immense typewriter. Though not held in the highest esteem by present-day citizens, it was the source of great civic pride at the time of its construction at the turn of the 20th century. To create this elaborate marble monster and the vast piazza on which it stands, architects blithely destroyed many ancient and medieval buildings and altered the slope of the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill), which abuts it. Built to honor the unification of Italy and the nation's first king, Victor Emmanuel II, it also shelters the eternal flame at the tomb of Italy's Unknown Soldier killed during World War I. The flame is guarded day and night by sentinels, while inside the building there is the (rather dry) Institute of the History of the Risorgimento. You can't avoid the Monumento, so enjoy neo-imperial grandiosity at its most bombastic.

The views from the top are some of Rome's most panoramic. The only way up is by elevator (located to the right as you face the monument); stop at the museum entrances (to the left and right of the structure) to get a pamphlet identifying the sculpture groups on the monument itself and the landmarks you will be able to see once at the top. Opposite the monument, note the enclosed olive-green wooden veranda fronting the palace on the corner of Via del Plebiscito and Via del Corso. For the many years that she lived in Rome, Napoléon's mother had a fine view of the local goings-on from this spot. The monument also houses the Caffetteria Italia, which has great views and follows the same hours as the elevator.

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