The grandeur of Rome can sometimes lend it a brash, bold, and chaotic demeanour. The myriad of noise, traffic and tourists can detract from its more subtle beauties, preventing you from forging a true connection to the Eternal City. One way to find a different meaning to Rome and develop a quieter, more emotional bond is to escape from the well-worn path and seek out some of her more overlooked, under-appreciated, treasures. Here are 7 lesser-known places to visit to help you to unlock the secrets of Rome:
Rome from the ground can be a complex web of streets and alleys, jarringly punctuated by churches and monuments, making it difficult to gain an overall picture of the city. Meandering up the winding roads of the Gianicolo, or Janiculum, will bring everything into focus as the panorama opens up before you. As you head up the hill, pass by the stunning Fountain of Acqua Paola and admire the perfect proportions of Bramante’s Tempietto at the church of San Pietro in Montorio before reaching Piazza Garibaldi, Rome’s most beautiful balcony. The jaw-dropping view stretches across the rooftops, domes and beyond, right to the foothills of the Apennine mountains. Time your visit either at dawn or sunset to see the city bathed in a perfect light and take a moment to soak up the wonders of the city laid out before your eyes.
2) Centrale Montemartini
Located south from the centre, in the gritty yet trendy Ostiense neighbourhood, the Centrale Montemartini is a former power station dating from the early 20th century. During the 1990s the space was used to temporarily house ancient statues and artefacts from the Capitoline Museums. The success of the exhibition led to the display being made permanent and it has now gained fame as one of Rome’s most surprising and innovative museums. Marble statuary and Roman mosaics are juxtaposed with industrial pipes and machinery to create an intriguingly contrasting space, harmonising the past and present. Despite its early success with locals, it remains under-visited by tourists so you will likely have the magical experience to yourself.
3) Palatine Hill
Part of the combo entry ticket into the Colosseum and Roman Forum, many visitors prioritise the latter two and skip the trek up the hill. However, the Palatine is where it all began, and it will transport you right back to the fatal skirmish between Romulus and Remus in 753 BC that took place on this very hillside and cemented the founding of the city. Rome and its extensive empire expanded outwards from the Palatine, and its importance was evident in the use of the site for the emperors’ decadent palaces (the word ‘palace’ is derived from ‘palatine’). Nowadays, the exertion to reach the top is rewarded with the spectacular ruins of these extravagant structures as well as a dizzying view over the Roman Forum.
4) Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome
Formed in the Testaccio district, right alongside the imposing Pyramid of Caius Cestius built in 18 BC, this tranquil, beautifully-maintained, cemetery has been the final resting place for foreigners and non-Catholics since 1784. A welcoming oasis of calm and quiet reflection, the cemetery houses the tombs of international artists and writers including English Romantic poets Keats and Shelley, painter Joseph Severn, American sculptor W.W. Story, beat poet Gregory Corso and, most recently, famed Italian author Andrea Camilleri who was buried here after his death in 2019.
5) San Clemente
A short walk beyond the Colosseum, the fascinating church of St Clement visually helps to understand the timeline of how Rome evolved, layer upon layer, thanks to its three levels which span 2000 years. The entrance is the present-day church which was constructed in the 12th century and boasts glittering original mosaics and inlaid marble flooring. Take the stairs down to find the second level, a previous basilica from the 4th century where faded frescoes, some of the oldest in Rome, depict the life of the saint. A further set of steps bring you down to the oldest level consisting of an ancient Roman alleyway and the 1st century home of a nobleman featuring rooms dedicated to the worship of the pagan cult of Mithras.
6) Villa Farnesina
To get up close and personal with Raphael, simply hop over the Tiber river to this little-known stately palace built in 1508 as a holiday house for wealthy papal banker Agostino Chigi. A lover of parties, pleasure and art, Chigi, as well as filling his residence with sublime artworks, also commissioned the young painter Raphael, for whom he was a principal patron, to decorate his walls. After being declared bankrupt and selling the artworks, Chigi’s palace was bought and renamed by the Farnese family, but the frescoes remained. While many of the works were designed by Raphael but executed by his students (he was said to be too busy dallying with a local girl from a nearby bakery), he was personally responsible for the fabulous Loggia di Galatea and several other works dotted throughout the delightful villa.
7) Villa Doria Pamphiji
One of the most surprising things about Rome is the number of large open green spaces in proximity to the centre. Villa Pamphili, with its 184 hectares, is the largest public park in town and its sprawling plots of forest, fields, fountains and landscaped gardens provide a bucolic escape from the hectic city. Originally the magnificent summer residence of Prince Camillo Pamphiji, it is still a popular spot among local Romans for picturesque dog walks, jogging, picnics and relaxing.
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