Coming to Rome and seeing only the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums is like going to New York City and visiting only the Empire State Building and the MoMA.
With well over two thousand years of art and history to sift through, the intelligent traveler would do well to seek out her lesser known treasures, and make time for the unexpected–and of course snacking.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
It is one of Rome’s national museums and among other treasures, home to a marvelous selection of interior wall paintings taken from inside the ancient imperial palace and noble Roman homes that once covered the Palatine Hill. Don’t miss the frescoed summer room of Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus Caesar, it’s covered with lush renderings of trees, flowers, and birdlife.
Largo di Villa Peretti 1
What do you do with your dead when you have to make a hasty move? Why decorate of course! The Capuchin monks used the bones of their deceased brethren to create intricate floral patterns and Baroque motifs on the walls and ceilings of a series of small chapels. Shocking to be sure, but even the Marquis de Sade said seeing the crypt was worth the trip.
Via Vittorio Veneto 27
San Luigi dei Francesi
They say great artists are close to madness, and few demonstrate this as vividly as the Baroque painter Caravaggio, who fled Rome after being accused of murder. Famed as much for his evocative paintings of saints and sinners as for his turbulent character, the Contarelli Chapel inside San Luigi dei Francesi is home to three of his exceptional masterworks, The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.
Piazza di San Luigi de’ Francesi
Open daily: 10:00-12:30 and from 3:00-6:45
Favored by locals and tourists alike, the 100+ stalls of this recently renovated market is a sprawling wonderland of fresh fruits, vegetables, cured meats, homemade cheese, gourmet delicacies, and unique gift options. Pop in to have lunch and sample local fare such as savory roasted pork sandwiches or earthy mushroom pasta, and pick up a few nibbles to take home such as cold pressed olive oil and dried porcini mushrooms.
Entrances at via Franklin, via Zabaglia, via Galvani and via Volta
Open: Monday-Saturday 6:00 – 15:00
Though it’s officially called Parco Savello, the locals fittingly refer to this tranquil urban oasis as the Garden of oranges. Perched on top of the Aventine Hill, the park provides visitors with marvelous views of the city’s domed rooftops and marble faced monuments. Just beyond the walled park is the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina, and a charming fountain designed by Giacomo Della Porta.
Piazza Pietro d'Illiria
Open daily from 7:00-sunset
An easy day trip from Rome, Ostia Antica’s exceptional ruins vividly transport visitors to the height of ancient Rome’s flourishing empire. Once a wealthy harbor city with a thriving population of 50,000-100,000 inhabitants, the site boasts some of the best-preserved ancient structures around, including a theater, bright frescos, and intricate mosaics from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. If you won’t make it to Pompeii, make a point to get here.
Hours vary depending on season. During peak season open 8:30-6:15 from the last Sunday in March through August 31st.
Santa Maria in Trastevere
The beautiful church of Santa Maria in Trastevere presides over a charming piazza with the same namesake, and is one of the oldest churches in Rome. Originally built in 3rd century, much of the visible church dates to the middle ages including the mosaic on the façade and the bell tower. Inside the wide columns that line the nave were recycled from ancient Roman temples and the high alter is covered with some of the most intricate and beautiful mosaics you’ll find anywhere in the city.
Open daily 7:30-9:00
Even if you must shuffle your schedule, or get up earlier than usual, make time for this tiny treasure as few places so elegantly show 2,000 years of Rome’s complex history. The visible church dates from the middle ages and sparkles with gilded mosaics in high alter and a Cosmati floor. Descend one level to the earlier 4th century church, and visit the XXX frescos depicting early Christian saints. Head down yet another floor to the original ground level of the 1st and 2nd centuries and explore what was once a pair of noble Roman homes, a narrow street, and a Mithraeum, an ancient religious meeting place of a once prominent Roman pagan cult.
Open daily from 9:00-12:30 and from 3:30-6:30 (closes at 6:00 October through March)
Aqua Paola and the Tempietto
Nestled on the Gianicolo Hill, this marvelous baroque fountain boasts one of the best views of the city. Towering high above the action of the city, it’s no surprise that this picturesque monuments is a favorite backdrop for filmmakers, brides, and tourists who don’t mind a bit of a stroll. Tourists who come during daylight would be wise to pop around the corner and see Bramante’s absolutely perfect Tempietto at the church of San Pietro in Montorio.
Fountain can be visited anytime, but the Tempietto can be seen inside San Pietro in Montorio daily 8:30-12:00 and 3:00-4:00
Built by Mussolini during the 1930’s, the Eur neighborhood was intended to represent the future of Italy, which appears startlingly Fascist. One is immediately struck by the arches, columns, and domes hark back to the ancient city, only the lines are straight, the angles are at 90 degrees, and the statuary is stiff and rather unsexy. However, recent interest in the architectural achievements of the neighborhood has brought in new tenants such as the headquarters of fashion house Fendi, bright cafes, and some of the best shopping in the city.
Take metro B to Eur Fermi to arrive near some of the major buildings of interest and shopping destinations.
Spotter Travel tip: Don’t forget that Rome is not only history. It is also a dynamic city that is changing every day. Visit the new trendy neighborhoods and feel the modern life of the city.