If the Navona quarter doesn’t enchant you, nothing in Rome will. Flowered balconies, brilliantly colored palazzi, Bernini’s best fountain, friendly sidewalk caffé, priceless Caravaggio altarpieces, and the city’s most baroque squares all make Navona into the crown jewel of the city’s historic center.

This is not where Roma began (that’s the Capitoline Hill), but it’s where all the centuries come together most beautifully. As you wander from the ethereal interior of the ancient Pantheon to explore the Raphaels at Santa Maria della Pace and then discover the gold-on-gold splendor of Il Gesu, you’ll quickly learn that this part of Rome supersaturates the senses.

Today, the district’s tiny streets brim over with parliamentarians doing deals over plates of saltimbocca, fashionistas shopping for shoes, and tourists from every part of the world. Everywhere, caffè, restaurants, and artisan shops line the twisted streets and the lopsided piazze, even as elegant ladies living in apartments upstairs lean out French windows for a breath of air. It’s crowded here, and often noisy, but every moment in the centro is a slice of Roman life, and you’d be perfectly justified in just strolling the streets and taking it all in.

But it would be a crime to miss out on the cultural treasures this neighborhood holds. The baroque, Rome’s finest artistic moment, was born and raised here, in Bernini’s marvelous statuary, in Caravaggio’s almost unbearably realistic paintings, in the frippery and froth of its best and most beautiful churches. Piazza Navona is the most theatrical piazza in town, its pedestrian-only oval focused on three of Bernini’s fountains, including the sensational Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). It’s flanked by some of the city’s most elegant buildings, first among them Borromini’s church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, a masterpiece of the baroque. Just one street over, the church of San Luigi dei Francesi showcases three of Caravaggio’s greatest paintings. The churches of Il Gesu’, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, and Santa Maria della Pace are each treasures in their own way: Il Gesu’ grand and imposing, Sant’Ivo eccentric and whimsical, and Santa Maria jewel-like and theatrical.

In Piazza Navona the baroque rules. However, just across the road is the Pantheon, ancient Rome’s best-preserved temple, which escaped destruction due to its consecration in 608 AD as a Christian church, which it still is today. Its dome was until the last century the largest ever built, anywhere; its architectural balance and harmony are at least partly responsible for inspiring and informing the Renaissance. But not all the area’s treasures are of the artistic nature: Campo de’ Fiori, the famous market piazza, is a must-see in the morning, when farm and fish stalls bring the square to life with shouting, shopping, and smells. In the evening until past midnight, outdoor bars and restaurants transform this humble square into a hot spot. For Romans Navona is their downtown—a largely residential area that stretches eastward of the Tiber over to the main Corso avenue. While this district is referred to by the locals by a number of names—most notably Campo Marzio, Parione, and Regola—we choose the most popular moniker to refer to the northern half of the district set around Piazza Navona. The southern half is called Campo, referring to its charming hub, the Campo de’ Fiori. Occupying the horn of land that pushes the Tiber westward toward the Vatican, the entire area has been an integral part of the city since ancient times. Rome’s first emperor and prime scenographer Augustus got things started by transforming the Campo Marzio’s military exercise ground into an alternative city-center to the Forum. During the Renaissance the area’s proximity to both the Vatican and Lateran palaces drew many of Rome’s richest people to settle here and greatest artists to work here. Today, when a busker sings a melancholy song about his bella città, chances are he’s moved to music by the winding alleys and gentle light of Vecchia Roma—a nickname meaning “Old Rome” bestowed by residents on this achingly beautiful district.