A Brief History of Italy: Ancient Sites of the ‘Bel Paese’

In case you were wondering, ‘Bel Paese’ means ‘beautiful country’ in Italian, and in our opinion, it’s the best nickname for its country of origin. Whether vineyards or volcanoes; temples or towers; castles or caves – no matter what your interests are, everyone can appreciate Italy’s rare and unique brand of beauty. Adding the fact that Italy also has consistently warm weather, a rich historical and cultural heritage, and incredible natural endowment, it’s hardly surprising so many people – young and old – choose to go on holiday here. But it’s the history that really grabs a visitor’s attention: the perfectly preserved ruins, those awesome arenas, countless charming cities that time forgot – the list goes on and on. Check out our brief history of Italy’s most extraordinary ancient sites and discover more than you ever imagined about the past of Europe’s famous boot-shaped beauty queen.

Villa Poppaea

As one of the most fascinating ancient sites in all Italy, Villa Poppaea is wondrous to behold. Right at the very heart of the Pompeii story, it’s believed to have been the main residence of Emperor Nero’s second wife – Poppaea Sabina – when she wasn’t in Rome. Following the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the villa lay dormant until its rediscovery in the 18th century. But no one could’ve ever predicted just how well preserved everything would be; the ash from the volcano shielded the villa’s many artworks and frescoes so that today they appear almost freshly painted! Enjoying the ample physical space and high level of decoration present within Villa Poppaea is now easier than ever in the company of Travelsphere. 

The Sassi

Offering a true-to-life window into the cultural history of Italian communities, the Sassi are guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Carefully carved into the hillsides, these cave-dwellings go back to as early as 7,000 BC, with people living in them right up until the 1950s! The Sassi are frequently described as one of Europe’s most unique landscapes. Because of their resemblance to ancient sites in and around Jerusalem, they’ve featured in many Christian-themed films, including The Passion of the Christ and Ben-Hur, as well as appearing in the 2017 Wonder Woman movie as a location for the Amazons’ city Themyscira. While holidaying with Travelsphere, you’ll be able to see the Sassi up close and personal and really get a feel for ancient Italy. If that doesn’t sound exciting, we don’t know what does!

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Agrigento

Imposing and impressive, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was founded to commemorate the Battle of Himera (480 BC) – in which the Greek cities of Akragas (Agrigento) and Syracuse defeated the Carthaginians under Hamilcar. Rising proudly alongside several other major Greek temples in the Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples), it’s the size of a football pitch and currently holds the title of the largest Doric structure ever built. Its columns included 38 giant human figures, one of which lies in repose on the site to this very day. With Travelsphere, you can look forward to local guides sharing their wealth of knowledge about the site with you, which will only enhance your experience visiting the whole vast Valley of Temples.

Sibyl’s Cave in Cuma

As Virgil’s many-mouthed gateway to the underworld, the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl is steeped in history. Home to one of the most famous prophetesses of ancient legend, this tunnel complex near Naples is where (allegedly) destinies were decided and gods and monsters appeased (or sometimes not!). Magical, mystical and magnificent? Absolutely! This is the place to be if you feel like getting in touch with your spiritual side – and it’s Travelsphere’s privilege to make that happen. Whatever your beliefs, you should savour your trip to the Cumaean Sibyl’s cave and its bewitching ambience.

Villa Romana del Casale

Located about three kilometres from the town of Piazza Armerina in Sicily, Villa Romana del Casale is the ideal stop for art lovers. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, excavations here have revealed one of the richest, largest, and most varied collections of Roman mosaics anywhere in the world. Covering some 3,500 square metres, the ornate opus sectile floors are almost unique in their excellent state of preservation; the landslide and floods that buried them also provided protection from the throes of time. The works of masters such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo may be more widely known, but at Travelsphere we feel that it’s about time the anonymous art of antiquity took its place in the spotlight!

Carrara

Ever wondered where the ancient Romans got all the marble to build their magnificent cities? One such place was Carrara, whose shimmering stone is still used in sculpture today! On your guided holiday with Travelsphere, you’ll not only visit the city’s spectacular quarry, but you’ll also get the chance to see marble being expertly worked and polished at a local shop. After this, it’s on to the Civic Museum of Marble, which houses a collection of awe-inspiring artefacts as well as machines used in marble processing. How marbleous (sorry; we couldn’t help ourselves).

The Ruins of Pompeii

Just about everyone knows what happened in Pompeii; the city’s tragic tale has been recounted again and again in music, cinema, painting – even an episode of Doctor Who. And that’s only scratching the surface!

Now, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii rises like a phoenix from its own ashes, ready to be explored by the modern traveller. From atria to amphitheatres; baths to body casts, there are plenty of pastimes on offer for the avid adventurer. As you wander Pompeii’s stone-strewn streets, you’ll see what life was really like in the age when Vesuvius was just a mountain – the word ‘volcano’ wasn’t even coined until it exploded! Let Travelsphere take you back to a time when the great god Vulcan was calm, and Pompeii was a place of prosperity the likes of which the world had never seen before – or since.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is a captivating sight, there’s no getting around the fact – but then again, what do you expect from one of the New7Wonders of the World? Commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian, it was completed by his son Titus eight years later, with Domitian making further improvements during his reign – the Colosseum is sometimes called the Amphitheatrum Flavium (Flavian Amphitheatre) after the emperors who oversaw its construction. Between 50 and 80,000 spectators could sit in the Colosseum of Ancient Rome, with the average audience being around 65,000. Used for gladiatorial contests as well as public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous conflicts, and dramas based on Classical mythology, it was an integral part of life in the Eternal City. And now it’s an integral part of your Italian touring holiday with Travelsphere. When in Rome and all that!


If you’re a history buff, culture vulture, dilettante, or wide-eyed wanderer, you should make Italy your go-to holiday destination; there’re more amazing ancient sites than you’d ever believe – it really is the perfect place to make some incredible memories!

Feeling inspired? Visit Italy on a guided holiday with Travelsphere

Let us take you there

  1. Pompeii, Paestum & Herculaneum

    The Amalfi Coast and Mount Vesuvius offer stunning backdrops as you explore a trio of exceptional archaeological sites.

    • Travelsphere Private Chauffeur Service
    • Return flights
    • 7 nights half-board in a 4-star hotel and 15 meals

    8 days from
    £1,099.00
  2. Grand Tour of Italy

    This amazing journey of discovery will introduce you to so many of Italy's iconic highlights, including the amazing cities of Venice, Florence and Rome. 

    • Travelsphere Private Chauffeur Service
    • Return flights
    • 14 nights in 4-star hotels and 23 meals

    15 days from
    £2,249.00
  3. Puglia & Basilicata

    These two spectacular regions abound with unique sights including traditional Trulli houses and Sassi cave dwellings.

    • Travelsphere Private Chauffeur Service
    • Return flights
    • 7 nights half-board in a 4-star hotel and 15 meals

    8 days from
    £1,299.00
  4. The Italian Riviera, Portofino & the Cinque Terre

    Revel in the glamour and scenic highlights of the Italian Riviera as you explore by road, rail and boat.

    • Travelsphere Private Chauffeur Service
    • Return flights
    • 7 nights half-board in a 4-star hotel and 15 meals

    8 days from
    £1,399.00