Finally, here it comes the second and last part of this “66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy”. Click here to check out the first part, if you missed it.

Let’s buckle up and start this new adventure without further ado!

Map thanks to Wanderlog, a trip planner app

34. Corsini Gallery

Formerly known as Palazzo Riario, Palazzo Corsini is a 15th-century construction, restored in the 18th-century by the architect Ferdinando Fuga for Cardinal Neri Maria Corsini, that hosts the Corsini Gallery.

Sold to the Italian State in 1883 with the entire collection of artworks it contained, Palazzo Corsini became a national museum in 1895. The history of the Corsini Gallery has been intertwined with that of Palazzo Barberini since 1953, when this latter became the headquarters of the National Gallery of Ancient Art together with Palazzo Corsini. 

Over the years, the collection of Palazzo Corsini has increased thanks to acquisitions and donations such as the Torlonia and Monte di Pietà collection in 1892, the contribution of Henriette Hertz in 1915 and the purchase of the Chigi collection in 1918. The expansion of the collections made it essential to gain new exhibition spaces, and they did this in the areas of Palazzo Barberini.

Unlike the Barberini Gallery, which presents a chronological and representative configuration of the leading schools of painting from the 13th to the 18th century, the Corsini Gallery contains a gallery of historical images of its own.

The collections of the Corsini Gallery began in the 17th-century with Cardinal Neri Corsini, who brought together works belonging to the family, works gained directly by Pope Clement XII when he was still a cardinal besides the many gifts received by the family. This impressive gallery houses 14th-18th century paintings, with a prevalence of 16th-century authors, ancient and modern sculptures, bronze statues, and 18th-century furniture. The Roman, Neapolitan, and Bolognese schools of the 17th century are also represented here, with essential groups of Bamboccianti and landscape architects. Inside, you can admire works by Beato Angelico, Caravaggio, Rubens, Murillo, Luca Giordano, among many others.

The Corsini Gallery is the only gallery of Roman images belonging to the 18th-century, and that has survived intact and is the central nucleus of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.

Admission fee: 12€/ 13.6$ p.p.

35. Villa Doria Pamphilj

Villa Pamphili is Rome’s largest and most famous park, measuring 450 acres (187 hectares).

The exquisite triangular-shaped gardens were erected for the Pamphili family in the 17th century atop the Janiculum, the hill dedicated to the deity Janus.

Alessandro Algardi and Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi created and designed the Villa, named after the noble Pamphilj family, in the 16th and 17th centuries to reflect the wealth and influence of this aristocratic family.

The central part of the villa, which was known as the old villa (Villa Vecchia), was already been there before 1630. The Pamphili family lived in the villa until the 18th century. In 1760, Girolamo Pamphili died without having a male heir. As a result, Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico gave the right of the properties to Prince Giovanni Andrea IV Doria. The prince’s claim over his right to use the family name, which had given him the title to have the vast estates of the Pamphili, was based upon his marriage with Anna Pamphili. The villa was then known as Villa Doria Pamphili.

Today, it is a public park with a tranquil atmosphere and hidden jewels, like the old villa and its gardens, a small lake with turtles, playgrounds, sculptures, and fountains.

The Italian state bought the Villa in the 1970s and opened it to the public.

Free entrance to the park. To see the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, there is an admission fee of 14€/ 15.8$ p.p.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Villa Doria Pamphilj by Burkhard Mücke
Rome - Villa Doria Pamphilj by Burkhard Mücke

36. Via Piccolomini

Via Piccolomini is a street near the Janiculum hill that provides a spectacular view of Rome, particularly of the dome of St Peter.

The street’s name may not reveal much to most people, but be prepared to be amazed as it conceals an architectural secret that creates a unique and evocative optical impact. 

Take the road leading to St Peter and you will notice an odd phenomenon: as you get closer to the Dome, it will appear smaller and smaller. That’s right: instead of getting bigger as you draw closer, the Dome shrinks as you cross Via Piccolomini.

Magic? Not at all. It’s only an optical illusion: the road has a sequence of buildings on both sides, which frame the dome, making it stand out from afar. The attention is drawn to the St Peter’s dome, which towers over Via Piccolomini and is a striking monument in both appearance and height. But, as you move closer to the lookout, what happens? After going through the buildings, you can see just the sky of Rome around the Dome. This change of perspective confuses the human eye by creating this illusion.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Via Piccolomini
Rome - Via Piccolomini

37. Church of Our Lady of Peace

In the middle of the homonymous square, they built the Church of Our Lady of Peace in 1482 on land where there was a chapel that was dedicated to St Andrew of Acquaricariis. They erected it precisely in that place, intending to preserve the memory of a miraculous event. According to legend, in 1480 a drunk man threw a stone against an image of the Virgin Mary located under the porch. The Virgin Mary started bleeding.

Pope Sixtus IV was so shocked by the event and took a very special vow. If the Pazzi conspiracy, in which he had a series of ties, had not dragged into a war, as many were worried, he would have built a church of important dimensions on that land, in homage to the cult of the Madonna. Two years later, the church was built and given a new name, Our Lady of Peace (Santa Maria della Pace), to commemorate the end of the war among the Papal State, Venice, and the Reign of Naples.

Moving on a century further, they carried several renovations out. Specifically, various changes were made, such as the volume of the church, but also the tribune and the main altar. An investment that was entirely financed by the Rivaldi family, who, thanks to these substantial financial aids, could secure a large sepulchral crypt located right at the foot of the altar.

The entrance doors are the original ones, dating back to the 15th century. At the end of the central nave, on top of the main altar, you can still see the famous image of the Virgin with the Child.

The church houses impressive masterpieces, but the most interesting is for sure the famous Chigi Chapel, Raphael’s work. 

Next to the church, you can find Bramante’s cloister, one of the prime points of Renaissance architecture in Rome, designed by Donato Bramante.

It is the central element of what was originally a monastery complex, which was also included in the Church of Our Lady of Peace. Bramante’s design reflects typical Renaissance concepts, like harmony and equilibrium, with its elegant geometric lines and perfectly proportioned spaces. Renaissance ideals, which aimed at a rebirth of classical Greek and Roman aesthetics, are visible in Chiostro’s architecture with its stark, well-proportioned forms and its sober, understated approach to decorative elements.

Free admission.

38. Church of St. Louis of the French

The small Church of St. Louis of the French, between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, is a genuine jewel of Baroque art, renowned for containing important artworks such as Caravaggio’s three absolute masterpieces.

Built in 1518 to welcome Rome’s growing French community, which had only a modest chapel and a hospital dedicated to Saint Louis next to Sant’Andrea della Valle by the end of the 15th century, it has been a national cult destination for all French people in Rome since 1589.

Starting with the statues of Charlemagne, St Louis, Saint Clotilde, and St. John of Valois on the facade, the church is an exaltation of France through the representation of its saints and the most important historical characters.

The monument of Pauline de Beaumont, created by his lover, François-René de Chateaubriand, and the tomb of Cardinal François Joachim de Bernis, Ambassador of King Louis XV and Louis XVI, are among the noteworthy tombs.

Finally, above the entrance door in the choir, there is a priceless organ made by Joseph Merklin in 1881 and equipped with three manuals of 56 notes and 30 pedals with Barker pneumatic transmission: a true gem.

However, as previously said, this church is known for its Contarelli chapel, which houses Caravaggio’s famed breath-taking triptych of the Martyrdom of St Matthew, the Calling of St Matthew, and St Matthew and the Angel. This is indeed a must-see!  

Free admission.

39. Palazzo Altemps

Palazzo Altemps, formerly a 16th-century noble palace with an extensive collection of ancient sculptures, is now one of the National Roman Museum’s sites dedicated to the history of art collecting. 

Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, a nephew of Pope Pius IV, bought it from Girolamo Riario, Lord of Imola, another nephew of the Pope, in 1568. The Cardinal built his own home in the palazzo, which he adorned with pictorial decorations, a wonderful collection of antiques, and his priceless library of rare books.

The Vatican bought the palace in the 19th century before selling it to the Italian state in 1982. It has been part of the national Roman museum circuit since 1997.

Palazzo Altemps houses an important collection of Greek and Roman sculpture that belonged to several families of the Roman nobility between the 16th and 17th centuries. They display the pieces in lovely halls with frescoes on the walls and ceilings.

It also displays a major collection of Egyptian art, as well as collections that belonged to the Mattei and Del Drago families.

Perhaps one of the most outstanding features of the museum is the 17-century Church of St Aniceto, a tiny and lovely church within the building.

Admission fee: 8€/ 9$ p.p.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Palazzo Altemps by Lalupa
Rome - Palazzo Altemps by Lalupa

40. The “twin” Churches in Piazza del Popolo

The Santa Maria dei Miracoli Church and the Santa Maria in Montesanto Church, popularly known as the Twin Churches (“Chiese Gemelle”), are on the south side of Piazza di Popolo. 

Despite their moniker, if one examines both edifices closely and compares them technically, one will see some minor variances. We can see most prominently these in the bell towers’ and domes’ designs. The dome of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is octagonal, while the dome of Santa Maria in Montesanto is dodecagonal. Despite this, when viewed from the centre of the square, the two structures appear to be precisely equal.

Carlo Rainaldi built these churches as part of a larger project for a majestic passage on Via del Corso, the city’s major thoroughfare. Both churches were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, and Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi funded both. Gastaldi’s crest can be found in either of the twin churches as a tribute.

The Santa Maria in Montesanto was the first to be built, beginning in 1662 and ending in 1675. Carmelite monks occupied the same-named church on the Via del Babuino, which is very close to this church. As a result, they gave the church the name Montesanto (Holy Mountain), which corresponds to Israel’s Mt. Carmel.

Carlo Fontana eventually completed the church after Bernini took over the design and construction. During the 18th century, they constructed the bell tower at a later date.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli (Our Lady of Miracles) was built after that, between 1675 and 1681. Antonio Raggi, a student of Bernini’s, created the interior decorations. A copy of the image of the Virgin Mary, which is said to have heard the pleas of a lady whose son had fallen into the Tiber in 1325 and saved him, may be found on the high altar. After that miracle occurred, the church was named and dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God.

Free admission.

Rome - The twin churches in Piazza del Popolo by Jakub Hałun
Rome - The twin churches in Piazza del Popolo by Jakub Hałun

41. Museum of the Souls of Purgatory

The little Museum of the Souls of Purgatory (Museo Anime del Purgatorio) is next to the sacristy of the neo-Gothic church of the Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, sometimes known as the “little Milan Cathedral.”

Following the events of November 15, 1897, when a mysterious fire broke out in the chapel of the Rosary, the French missionary Victor Jouet devised a unique collection. The priest and many believers saw a sorrowful face in the flames after the picture on the altar was spared from the fire. With the intercession, the fire left behind an image of a human face, enigmatically engraved on the wall and with a more calm look. It is now on display in the museum as a photographic replica.

Father Jouet travelled over Europe in quest of evidence of the afterlife and communication between the living and the dead, gathering amazing handprints, original or photographed papers, signs and manifestations of all types. They later reorganized the collection. It now comprises various documents and strange relics of the afterlife, as the church authorities deemed the evidence of validity for much of the other material uncovered insufficient.

Cloths, fabrics, cassocks, skullcaps, breviaries, nightgowns, and wooden tablets, which are zealously preserved in showcases, chronicle the deceased’s apparitions in the presence of family members and religious, as evidenced by their “handprints of fire.” These detailed testimonies, each with their own story, are primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries and urge prayers and masses of intercession. An example from 1879 involves a Belgian woman’s concern for her son’s dissolute life; the continual maternal proof of an afterlife persuaded the man to the point of founding a new religious order.

Free admission.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Museum of the Souls of Purgatory by saralessandrini.it
Rome - Museum of the Souls of Purgatory by saralessandrini.it

42. Church of Our Lady in the Little Valley

Church of Our Lady in the Little Valley (Santa Maria in Vallicella), one of the most beautiful baroque churches of the capital, is also known as New Church (Chiesa Nuova) and it is deeply tied to the figure of St Philip Neri.

In 1551, St Philip Neri founded the Confraternity of Pilgrims and Convalescents to offer help and help to the many pilgrims who came to Rome. As a sign of recognition, Pope Gregory XIII gave him this church, whose name came from the presence of a small valley. Since 1557, thanks to a St Philip Neri initiative, the church was therefore completely reconstructed, thus assuming the name of New Church.

Fausto Rughesi envisioned the Baroque façade.

Borromini designed the church’s interior, which is a true Baroque delight: gold, stuccoes, frescoes, and paintings fill the surrounding space in a lavish yet elegant style. From the massive columns to the oval murals encircled by stucco angels and dazzling capitals, they embellished every nook in an almost obsessive and manic manner.

We can find the beautiful frescoes by Pietro da Cortona in the main nave, the ceiling, the dome, and the apse. A tableau illustrating St. Philip Neri’s purported vision can be found on the wall of the central vault. According to legend, the Madonna appeared to Philip in 1576 as he was being used to support unstable rubble while the New Church was being erected. As a result, the vision was a strong proof of Madonna’s protection of the Saint’s goals and activities.

The “Madonna della Vallicella”, a famous painting by Rubens, is positioned above the high altar. The angels venerating the Virgin Mary with the child are depicted in the huge painting, which was incorporated into an altarpiece. The miraculous image is revealed via a mechanical mechanism for major holidays, such as St. Philip Neri’s feast day on May 26.

Two paintings on slate slabs, also by Rubens, adorn the lateral walls of the presbytery, depicting Saint Gregory the Great, Papias, and Maurus (on the left wall) and Saints Flavia Domitilla, Nereus, and Achilles (on the right wall) (on the right wall). Federico Borromeo, the bishop of Milan, was the patron of this magnificent graphic cycle.

Free admission.

43. Campo de’ Fiori

The Campo de’ Fiori (“Field of Flowers”) is one of the city’s main squares, bustling both during the day with its folkloristic flower, fruit, and vegetable market (held every morning from Monday to Saturday since 1869) and at night with its diverse selection of restaurants, cocktail bars, and terraces. 

There are two primary hypotheses concerning its name. Some say it comes from the fact that it was formerly a flower field in the Middle Ages (it was only in 1456 that Pope Callistus III wanted it to be paved). Others claim that the square’s name comes from the Latin “Campus Florae”, or Field of Flora, a woman loved by general Pompey, who built his theatre near the market.

It became a very popular area of the city, frequented by the most notable historical individuals, thanks to the magnificent buildings around the square, such as Palazzo Orsini. Its popularity attracted additional enterprises to the neighbourhood, which opened workshops, inns, and bars, making this one of the city’s most profitable districts. They held twice a horse market a week in Campo de’ Fiori.

In this square, public executions took place, which is now marked by the majestic statue of friar Giordano Bruno in the centre. For his revolutionary beliefs about the universe, the Italian philosopher was burned at the stake by the Church in 1600 for heresy. In 1889, a monument was erected in his honour on the exact spot where he died, facing the Vatican in an admonition gesture (they considered him a martyr for the freedom of thought). – A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE –  (“For Bruno – the century he predicted – here where the fire was burning”) reads the inscription on the base.

It might be a coincidence, but Campo de Fiori is the only historic square in Rome without a church.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Campo de Fiori by rome.us
Rome - Campo de Fiori by rome.us

44. Spada Gallery

The Palazzo Spada-Capodiferro, one of the most outstanding Roman Renaissance palaces and the seat of the Italian State Council, houses the Spada Gallery. The palace’s splendid inner courtyard is adorned with Olympian gods and goddesses and legendary scenes, and they adorn its façade with a series of Mannerist-style stucco sculptures depicting Roman heroes and emperors.

The Gallery is one of the most prominent international museums of Baroque painting, as well as a great example of 17th-century Roman noble families collecting.

Masterworks by Guido Reni and Guercino, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, Titian, Parmigianino, and Jan Brueghel the Elder, as well as a remarkable collection of the main European Caravaggesque artists, such as Valentin de Boulogne, Trophime Bigot, Pieter van Laer, and Hendrick van Somer, can be found in four richly decorated rooms.

The highlight of the visit is indeed the Secret Garden (Giardino Segreto), where architect Francesco Borromini built in 1653, for Cardinal Bernardino Spada, the Colonnata, or Perspective Gallery, an illusionistic masterpiece of Roman baroque. It comprises a 9m/29ft long gallery that appears to be 40m/131ft long thanks to an architectural trick that generates a large visual optical illusion. The floor rises and the height falls as the room’s walls narrow, making the small sculpture (60cm/24in) at the gallery’s far end appear larger.

Admission fee: 5€/ 5.7$ p.p

45. Palazzo Venezia

Palazzo Venezia (also known as Palazzo Balbo) was built in the 15th century as a house for Venetian Cardinal Pietro Barbo, who eventually became Pope under the name of Paul II. It then became the papal palace and later the Republic of Venice’s Embassy until 1797, hence its name.

It served as the home of the Austrian-Hungarian diplomatic representation in 1797, but it was gained by the Italian state in 1916 and transformed into a prominent national museum of medieval and Renaissance art. During the Fascist era, they converted it into Mussolini’s headquarters. The museum reopened to the public after the Second World War.

The museum primarily houses the possessions of Pope Paul II (Pietro Barbo), the building’s initial occupant. There are other pieces from Castel Sant’Angelo, the Collegio Romano museum, and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.

From Renaissance paintings to polychromatic wood sculptures, tapestries, furniture, porcelain, pottery, bronzes, marbles, weaponry, armour, and terracotta sculptures, the palace has it all.

Admission fee: 12€/ 13.6$ p.p

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Palazzo Venezia by Gobbler
Rome - Palazzo Venezia by Gobbler

46. Sciarra Gallery

They constructed Sciarra Gallery between 1885 and 1888, during a period of rapid expansion in Rome following its designation as the capital of a united Italy in 1870.

Architect Giulio De Angelis designed the glass-domed tower as a trendy shopping mall to connect many portions of Prince Maffeo Barberini-Colonna di Sciarra’s property. Although the structure no longer serves its original purpose, visitors can still admire Giuseppe Cellini’s beautiful Art Nouveau frescoes that encircle the internal courtyard. Its beautiful frescoes and vibrant colours are a refreshing departure from the city’s pale, faded ancient Roman ruins.

Colourful frescoes depicting women and men encircled by exquisite, curling flower motifs cover every inch of the four-story walls enclosing the space. The exquisite artwork should glorify the figure of women according to the canons of the period and the many female qualities, therefore the women are the major focus. They depict scenes of normal bourgeois life and portray many models of feminine characteristics such as “The Modest”, “The Sober”, “The Strong”, “The Humble”, “The Prudent”, “The Patient”, “The Benign”, “The Lady”, “The Faithful”, “The Lovable”, “The Merciful”, “The Fair”.

Rome - Sciarra Gallery by Alejandro
Rome - Sciarra Gallery by Alejandro

47. St Ignatius of Loyola Church

As the inscription on the facade recalls, St Ignatius of Loyola Church (Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola) was erected on a design by Jesuit mathematician Orazio Grassi, based on the designs of Carlo Maderno and others, and at the expense of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, Gregorio XV’s nephew.

The interior, in the shape of a Latin cross, has three chapels on each side intercommunicating with each other. The polychromy of the marble, the stuccoes, the pictorial decoration and the richness of the altars give the whole a sumptuous sumptuousness. The decorations on the ceiling of the grandiose vault of the nave are by Andrea Pozzo, brother of the Jesuit Order, and represent “The Rise of Saint Ignatius into Paradise”. He could create an optical illusion that gives the impression of infinite space.

There were intentions to create a magnificent dome when the church was first built. However, those plans fell through when the money ran out in 1642, and Andrea Pozzo instead painted an incredible copy of a dome. His masterwork, created between 1685 and 1694, continues to fool the eye even now. Fire destroyed the original painting, completed in 1685; in 1823, Francesco Manno carefully recreated it using drawings and studies left by the Pozzo.

The Monument to Pope Gregory XV, a late-18th-century work in the room to the right of the apse, and the massive Statue of St. Ignatius, a work by Camillo Rusconi dated 1728 in the room to the left of the apse, are both worth seeing.

Free admission.

48. Palazzo Valentini

Palazzo Valentini, built in 1585 and seat of the Province of Rome since 1873, is a 16th-century building that holds the archaeological remains of ancient Roman homes (Domus Romane) uncovered beneath it and that are now on permanent display since 2010.

Belonging to wealthy and powerful families of Imperial Rome, these patrician houses feature mosaics, wall decorations, polychrome floors, paving blocks, and other remains, further enhanced by virtual reconstructions, graphics and videos. Walls, rooms, peristyles, kitchens, baths, furnishings, and decorations have all been brought back to life using innovative technology.

Visitors can see the remains of a monumental public or sacred building in the underground area opposite Trajan’s Column: a large concrete platform, walls made of large blocks of travertine and tuff, remains of colossal columns made of single grey Egyptian granite blocks, the largest ever found in ancient Rome, bricked rooms with vaulted ceilings, all dating from the early years of the emperor Hadrian, according to stamps on the bricks. This area also has an exhibition depicting how Trajan’s Column’s construction site looked. The buildings, particularly the massive Ulpian basilica, which stood exactly next to the column, are recreated using a functional model. A simulation brings the two nearby structures, possibly libraries, to life.

Finally, a virtual reconstruction of the column allows you to have a close look at the bas-reliefs and the story they tell about Trajan’s military campaign in Dacia, which is now Romania. This was a memorable event that culminated with King Decebalus’s death and the emperor’s triumph. A one-of-a-kind and magnificent example of how new technology is used to improve the artistic heritage of antiquity, which has been revived via careful and laborious restoration.

Admission fee: 12€/ 13.6$ p.p.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Palazzo Valentini by Kaga tau
Rome - Palazzo Valentini by Kaga tau

49. Jewish Ghetto and Museum

The Jewish ghetto of Rome, one of the most beautiful hidden treasures of the city, delimited by the Tiber river on one side and by Venice Square on the other, is not only a cultural and religious experience, because of the Synagogue and the Jewish museum, but also a culinary one, thanks to the many typical restaurants scattered throughout the ghetto. 

They consider it to be the oldest in the western world, as Pope Paul IV ordered its construction in 1555, revoking all the rights that have been granted to the Roman Jews. 

Originally, the quartier only had two points of access. Everyday life for Jewish people was very hard, and they were subjected to a series of requirements and restrictions, such as the obligation to live within the ghetto and to always carry a distinctive sign of belonging to the Jewish community, prohibition to carry out any kind of trade except those related with rags and clothing or to own real estate. Jews people did as best they could with the hand they were dealt, becoming shrewd clothing merchants and skilled business owners in loans.

Over the years, the ghetto expanded its territorial boundaries until the “liberation” of 1849, when, following the proclamation of the Italian Republic, segregation was abolished. In 1870 Jews people were put on the same footing as Italian citizens and over the years they demolished the old streets and buildings to make way for the construction of new buildings and three new streets: Via del Portico d’Ottavia, Via Catalana and Via del Tempio. 

At the dawn of October 16, 1943, though, the Nazis surrounded the neighbourhood and captured over 1,000 Jews people by force from their homes. Two days later the prisoners were loaded onto a train bound for Auschwitz: of the 1,023 deportees, only 16 survived the extermination.

Visitors to the Ghetto today will notice cobblestone-sized brass memorials listing the names, dates of birth, deportation and death in the Nazi extermination camps of some of its inhabitants. They installed the plaques on the pavement outside the homes of the Holocaust victims.

The Jewish Ghetto’s main features include the two-store Great Synagogue, whose long centre basement houses the Jewish Museum, the 2nd century BC Ottavia’s Portico d’Ottavia ruins, the Marcello Theatre, known also as the “Jewish Colosseum” or the “little Colosseum”, and the Bernini’s Turtle.

The Jewish Museum is in the Great Synagogue. Opened underneath the Great Synagogue in 1960, it displays silverware and textiles, parchments and marble carvings from the collections of the Jewish Community of Rome. It tells the history of the Jews and the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. Admission fee is 10 €/ 11.3$ p.p. 

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - The Great Synagogue - Jewish Museum by Stephen Rees
Rome - The Great Synagogue - Jewish Museum by Stephen Rees

50. Turtle Fountain in the Jewish Ghetto

The Bernini’s Turtle fountain is a little jewel in the ghetto. They built it towards the end of the 16th century for a challenge. Legend has it that Duke Mattei, who owned the palace overlooking the square, ordered the erection of this beautiful fountain in a single day in front of the windows of his beloved’s father to prove that he was an important man. Another version of the legend claims that he had the fountain built in one day to impress the father of a beautiful girl he fell in love with. Some sources say that he agreed with the devil for that. Once the man granted the hand of his daughter to him, the duke had the window bricked up (which still appears to be bricked up) to prevent others from enjoying the view over the fountain.

They also know the fountain as the Dolphin Fountain, as it once had dolphins where the turtles now sit. They were removed because of low water pressure, and they added the turtles to make the fountain seem complete. Originally built as a drinking fountain, they sourced the water from the Acqua Vergine, one of Rome’s first aqueducts.

Rome - Turtles Fountain by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
Rome - Turtles Fountain by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

51. Tiber Island

Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina), formerly known in Latin as “Insula Inter Duos Pontes” (“Island Between Two Bridges”), is a boat-shaped island rich in history that is connected to the city by two old Roman bridges. It is 270 m/ 886 ft in length and 67 m/ 220 ft in width.

This site, like every other in Rome, has a long and rich history, and even its formation is veiled in mystery. According to legend, during an uprising against the despised dictator Tarquinio il Superbo in the year 500 BC, the people tossed sheaves of wheat into the river, which had been stolen from Tarquinio’s estate. They formed the island as a result. The island, according to archaeological findings, is far older than that. Despite this, researchers discovered petrified wheat seeds during recent excavations beneath the riverbed.

Over the century, they also discovered that its boat shape is not purely fortuitous, since the Romans substantially changed its natural formation in the first century BC. They altered the form of the island using a construction technique known as “opus quadratum”, which comprises walls and other architectural elements made of rectangular bricks, and added a travertine embankment around the island forming the shape of a Roman vessel, with a bow and stern at each end. A symbolic mast, comprising an obelisk dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of medicine, was also built in the centre of the island to complete such an ambitious “cosmetic treatment.”

They had adored Aesculapius on the island since the 3rd century BC when, to end a terrible plague that was striking Rome, the Senate built a temple in honour of Aesculapius on Tiber Island, because of its isolation from the rest of the city. 

The Temple of Aesculapius is no longer standing. In honour of the martyr Adalbert of Prague, a basilica, today known as St Bartholomew, was built over the ruins of the temple.

Around 1500, after nearly 16 centuries of “distinguished service,” the obelisk dedicated to Aesculapius was demolished and divided into three portions preserved in three different museums in Naples, Paris, and Monaco.

Shortly after that, Romans built a marble fluted column to replace the obelisk, which has a strange story to tell. For its very special purpose, the column was dubbed “the Column of Infamy” (“la Colonna Infame”): every year, during Easter celebrations, church authorities would write the names of criminals and outlaws who did not receive holy communion or take part in mass on the column. They thought their actions to be irreconcilable with the Christian spirit. For those involved, it was a major embarrassment.

Around 1850, a passing chariot collided with the column, destroying it. It’s unclear whether they did this on purpose. The public did not receive the piece well. Pope Gregory IX commissioned sculptor Ignazio Jacometti to create a new monument, which you can see today. On the top of the current column is a cross. Giacometti carved into the base St Bartholomew, St Francis of Assisi, St Paolino of Nola, and St John of God.

Following the island’s “healing” theme, in 1584, the devotees of St. John of God built a hospital in the western area of the island. The building is presently a public hospital that is jointly run by the city government and the Catholic Church. Its name, “Fatebenefratelli,” which means “do well or do good, brothers,” appears to be derived from a singsong chant that the hospital’s friar-doctors would recite as they walked through the streets. During the reconstruction of a portion of the hospital’s basement, archaeologists discovered statues and relics of ancient shrines.

On the island, you can also admire an image of the Madonna of the Lamp dated circa 1250. It owes its name to the fact that, during one of the many river floods, the image was submerged in water, but a lamp nearby remained lit until, finally, the river came back within its banks.

Also, inside the Chapel of the Sacrament, you’ll find a curious piece of war paraphernalia. A French cannonball fired through the church’s walls and into the chapel during the siege of Rome, in 1849, within the context of the Italian Wars of Independence. The people inside the church at the time were miraculously unharmed. 

The two bridges connecting the island to the city are called the Cestius Bridge and the Fabricius Bridge (called also the Bridge of the Jews for its proximity to the Jewish Ghetto).

The Cestius Bridge was originally built in 46 BC by a senator, Lucio Sestio. Only a few original elements have survived, most of which are reclaimed materials that have been used for successive repairs throughout the ages. The most recent refurbishment took place in 1892.

The Fabricius Bridge, originally built in 62 BC by Lucio Fabricio, who held high office in the Roman administration, is considered to be one of the most ancient bridges in Rome. 

Partially restored in the 17th century, it features two monuments with four heads each. Legend has it that four heads belonged to the four architects hired by Pope Sixtus V to partially restore it. Guilty of not having been able to agree on how to carry out the project as a punishment. When they finished their job, the Vatican sentenced them to death by beheading on this very site. To pay tribute to their work (but clearly to serve as a powerful warning to the population) the Pope ordered a small monument be built, which now sits on top of the bridge, featuring four heads. As previously said, though, there are two of them on the bridge, for eight heads, which may cast doubt on the legend. The macabre incident is most likely related to the pontiff’s reputation as a “head-chopper” for his tough stance on crime repression.

The other bridge visible on the island is Garibaldi Bridge, but it’s only linked to one far end of the island because of its central supporting pillar. It’s a mid-19th-century structure that was entirely refurbished in the 1950s. It honours Giuseppe Garibaldi, a patriot and key military figure during Italy’s unification.

The island is also known for the ruins of a legendary bridge, Ponte Emilio, also known as “Broken Bridge” by the Romans: it was Rome’s first stone bridge, which was restored and repaired several times due to damage caused by the turbulent Tiber, but the river eventually got the better of it, leaving only a few surviving remains that can be seen today.

Rome - Tiber Island by alexdecarvallho
Rome - Tiber Island by alexdecarvallho

52. Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian

The small basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, which sits quietly to the side of the Roman Forum, was built in 527 on top of a previous structure dating back to the forum’s existence.

Sts. Cosmas and Damian were medical brothers who used their skills to heal others, expecting nothing in return. Someone reputedly martyred them in northern Syria during the Diocletian persecutions in the 4th century. They carried their relics to Cyr a few years later, before being brought to Rome under Pope St. Gregory the Great’s pontificate.

The lovely mosaics from the 1st century AD have been restored and survived up to the present day.

They refurbished the interior several times until the Baroque period, and then again in 1602 upon the recovery of the brother saints’ relics.

Free admission.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Basilica of SS. Cosma and Damiano by turismoroma.it
Rome - Basilica of SS. Cosma and Damiano by turismoroma.it

53. Orange Garden

The Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci), officially named Parco Savello, is one of the most beautiful parks in Rome.

Perched on top of the Aventine Hill, it is an idyllic public garden with pretty orange trees and a stunning 180-degree view over Rome’s skyline and St Peter’s dome, framed by the branches of beautiful pine trees.

The name Savello comes from that of the Savelli Family who built a stronghold in this site between 1285 and 1287, which can still be seen on the right side of the park.

After serving as the orchard of the Dominican Order of the church of Santa Sabina, which is still standing nearby, architect Raffaele de Vico transformed it into a public park and a viewpoint that rivalled the beauty and majesty of the Pincian and Janicolum terraces in 1932.

A strange 16th-century fountain in the appearance of a grumpy face spitting water into a big stone tub may be found near the entrance. After a period of disgrace during which the fountain’s sections were destroyed and split, architect Munoz resurrected it in 1936, reuniting the two halves and moving the fountain to its permanent location, where we can today appreciate it.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Orange Garden by Stijn Nieuwendijk
Rome - Orange Garden by Stijn Nieuwendijk

54. Rose Garden

The Rose Garden is home to around 1,100 varieties of botanical, ancient and modern roses from all over the world, some of which date back to 40 million years ago. 

Unique in the world for its spectacular position, lying on the slopes of the Aventine, in front of the remains of the Palatine, just above the Circus Maximus, it is small and offers magnificent views of the city.

This location has been dedicated to flowers since the 3rd century BC. In the Annales, Tacitus mentions a temple devoted to the goddess Flora, whose spring rituals, known as “floralia,” took place in the Circus Maximus.

It was renamed the Garden of the Jews in 1645, and the Community’s little cemetery was annexed. The area remained uncultivated from 1934, when the Jewish cemetery was moved to Verano, until 1950, when it became the site of the new municipal rose garden.

The ancient one, which stood atop Oppian Hill, had been destroyed during World War II. A stele was placed at the entrance to the garden in memory of the previous destination, and the paths that divide the flower beds in the collection area took on the shape of the menorah, the seven-branched candlestick that is a symbol of Judaism, as a thank you to the Jewish community for allowing the rose garden to be recreated in a sacred place.

Each year, it is open from late April until mid-June, and occasionally for a couple of weeks in October.

Free admission.

Rome - Rose Garden by turismoroma.it
Rome - Rose Garden by turismoroma.it

55. Talking statues of Rome

Since the 16th century, the so-called “talking statues” (“statue parlanti”), or the Congregation of Wits, have been spread throughout Rome. They are a group of six statues famous for being the means through which people used to criticize or make sarcastic remarks about the Pope and the authorities.

Romans became accustomed to affixing anti-corruption and anti-arrogance slogans on these six sculptures, which became so well-known in the city that they were given personal names: Pasquino, Marforio, Madama Lucrezia, Abate Luigi, Il Facchino, and Il Babuino.

Many Popes attempted to halt this practice by moving statues or protecting them 24 hours a day, but in vain.

Academics, intellectuals, or members of Roman noble families who contrasted the papal hierarchy and conveyed their dissent through these popular instruments had to be the spokespersons for public discontent, as most of the Roman working class was illiterate.

55.1 Pasquino

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, Pasquino became the most famous of the six “talking statues” of Rome. 

“Pasquino” is most likely derived from the name of a barber, blacksmith, tailor, or cobbler whose business they discovered near the statue. Other popular legends claim Pasquino was the owner of a restaurant in Piazza di Parione (now known as Piazza di Pasquino, where the Pasquino statue has stood since 1501) or a teacher whose students mocked him by affixing papers with messages around his neck after noticing some similarities with the statue.

Over time, these messages developed into placards or posters bearing harsh satirical remarks, primarily directed against popes who were living life to the hilt while the Roman people struggled. These letters became known as “pasquinate” after Pasquino’s surname.

The statue is a remnant of a former Hellenic-style piece from the 3rd century. Its face and limbs are damaged and it may represent Menelaus, a character of the epic poem the Iliad.

Pasquino remained silent until 1938, when he resurfaced amid the preparations for Hitler’s visit to Rome to highlight and criticize the government’s use of cardboard panels to block Hitler’s view of the Roman suburbs and their poverty.

Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Pasquino by Girolamus
Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Pasquino by Girolamus

55.2 Marforio

Marforio (or Marphurius) is the second most important statue with whom Pasquino had conversations: usually, one of them would question social and political issues, and the other would respond appropriately with a caustic remark.

The statue, a massive marble sculpture from the Roman Empire, depicts a bearded figure lying on his side, maybe Triton or someone associated with water, such as Neptune or the personification of the Tiber River. The name comes from the “Martis Forum,” where the statue was originally erected in front of the Mamertine prison. Though there are other ideas about the origin of the name, such as an inscription on the statue that says “mare in foro” that is no longer visible, or another that claims Marforio is the name of a noble family who owned land near the Mamertine jail, where the monument stayed until 1588.

There is also a tub beneath the statue that was once used as a drinking trough. We can find it on Capitoline hill, in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museums.

Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Marforio by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro
Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Marforio by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

55.3 Madama Lucrezia

Madama Lucrezia is the sole statue of a woman in the “Congregation of the Wits.” It is a Roman-era marble half-bust placed in the Piazza of the same name, on the corner of the Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria) and St. Mark’s Basilica.

We don’t know who this statue represents, but it’s most likely the Egyptian goddess Isis or one of her priestesses, as the bow on her chest is reminiscent of that culture. The name Lucrezia comes from Alfonso V of Aragon’s mistress, who was exiled from Naples and forced to live in Rome. During the Roman Republic, in 1799, the statue fell from its pedestal and fractured into eight pieces, prompting a Roman citizen to write on the back of the statue, “I can’t look at this anymore,” a reference to the government in power.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Talking Statues of Rome - Madame Lucrezia by Fiore Silvestro Barbato
Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Madame Lucrezia by Fiore Silvestro Barbato

55.4 Abate Luigi

Abate Luigi (Abbot Luigi) is a statue of an orator or magistrate dressed in senatorial robes. Because of, by popular imagination, the monument’s resemblance to the abbot of the adjacent Church of the Sudarium, who was supposed to look a lot like the statue, and named Luigi, they gave the statue this name.

Because the statue was outside, when it was transported to Palazzo Caffarelli-Vidoni in 1888, its head had to be replaced with another. Around 1970, this replacement head was taken and replaced with a cast of the copy kept at the “Museo di Roma in Trastevere.”

You may find him in Piazza Vidoni, near Piazza Navona.

Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Abate Luigi by romeprivateguides.com
Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Abate Luigi by romeprivateguides.com

55.5 Il Facchino

The youngest of the speaking Statues, Il Facchino (The Porter), symbolizes an “acquarolo” (a term from Roman dialect for a guy who sells water) who has nearly lost his face while pouring water from his barrel into the fountain.

The fountain is supplied by the Aqua Virgo, whose name refers to the term by which “acquaroli” were known until the 20th-century “facchino” men who, until the 16th century, filled their barrels with water from the Tiber River or Trevi Fountain at night and then sold it on the street before the aqueduct reopened.

It was built on behalf of the “Acquaroli Association” by sculptor Jacopo Del Conte and is presently placed on the corner of Via Lata and Via del Corso, one of Rome’s most famous streets.

Fun fact: the face of this statue is in poor condition, which has sparked debate. Some believe someone intentionally harmed the figure because they mistakenly thought it to represent Martin Luther. Although the shape of his hat is like that of Martin Luther, there appears to be no rational explanation for why he would have been depicted with a little barrel, which is why this claim has remained mostly unproven.

Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Il Facchino by Carlomorino
Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Il Facchino by Carlomorino

55.6 Il Babuino

Il Babuino (The Baboon) depicts a grotesquely dressed satyr embellishing a tub fountain. The statue was so hideous and misshapen that it resembled a baboon, which became so well known that it influenced the Roman people’s imagination, resulting in the street’s name being changed from via Paolina to via del Babuino.

It was erected in honour of Pope Pio V, who, in 1571, enabled a few ounces of water from the new Aqua Virgo, one of the eleven Roman aqueducts that served old Rome, to reach the noble Grandi’s palace, which the statue still stands in front of. To preserve the fountain from vandalism, they installed an iron grating around it in 2007.

Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Il Babuino by Livioandronico2013
Rome - Talking Statues of Rome - Il Babuino by Livioandronico2013

56. Appian Way Park

The Appian Way Park (Parco dell’Appia Antica) is an extensive park (about 3400 hectares/8401 acres) in the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way), a popular old Roman road that dates back to 312 BC, in Rome’s southeast.

The area is noted for its extensive collection of ancient artefacts, ruins, and archaeological remains. Aside from the breathtaking surroundings, the park also offers the opportunity to witness a variety of animals. According to reports, the wild area is home to approximately 78 different species. Snakes, lizards, mice, rabbits, frogs, turtles, salamanders, and foxes are among the species that can be found in the wild. You can also find a variety of fish and shellfish in the area.

Free admission.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - The Appian Way Park by Lalupa
Rome - The Appian Way Park by Lalupa

57. Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella

The Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella is one of the archaeological remnants that can be found in the Appian Way Park. It is a huge tomb created for Cecilia Metella, a noblewoman who was the daughter of a Roman consul and belonged to a powerful and affluent family that held both key political and military roles. Marcus Licinius Crassus, her husband, made a name for himself by defeating Spartacus’ slave insurrection in 60 BC and forging the first triumvirate with Caesar and Pompey.

It features a structure similar to Emperor Augustus’ mausoleum: the original monument was a circular edifice on a square foundation, which can still be seen today. The travertine construction already had the same battlements that were eventually constructed higher in the Middle Ages.

They incorporated the tomb into the Castrum Caetani (a medieval fortress controlled by the noble Caetani family or Cajetani) around 1303, becoming the “Maschio”, the fortification’s main tower. They completely covered the burial chamber with travertine blocks and had a diameter of around 30 meters and a height of about 39 meters (including the battlements). Given that it was named “monumentum peczutum” meaning “pointy monument” in the eleventh century, they hypothesized that the Tomb of Cecilia Metella ended in a tiny dome.

A “dromos” (an open-air tunnel of various lengths cut into the earth or carved into the rock) in the base itself leads to the burial chamber, which is accessible again today. Unfortunately, all the original furniture was destroyed.

Admission fee: 10€ /11.3$ p.p.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella by Sara Fioravanti
Rome - Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella by Sara Fioravanti

58. Catacombs of Domitilla

The catacombs of Domitilla, in the Appian Way, are one of Rome’s largest and oldest underground cemeteries, hidden deep under the bedrock of the Roman countryside. They developed between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and today provide a vibrant insight into the faraway world of antiquity.

The aristocratic Roman matron Flavia Domitilla, the granddaughter of Emperor Vespasian (founder of the Colosseum) and member of the strong Flavian dynasty, gave them their name. She became a Christian after being persuaded by her eunuch attendants, Nereus and Achilleus, and was martyred for her faith. Nonetheless, she was able to gift her land on the Via Ardeatina to the church as a place for Christians to be buried in peace, away from pagan eyes.

Unlike any other catacombs in Rome, the Catacombs of Domitilla have an underground basilica dedicated to the Holy Martyrs Nereus and Achilleus, along with Saint Petronilla, daughter of St. Peter, added in the 4th century. 

Layer upon layer of labyrinthine tunnels stacked from floor to ceiling with narrow niches, carved out of the soft tufa rock, contain an infinite supply of ancient Christian bones, grisly reminders of Rome’s role as the Imperial Roman world’s cradle of Christianity.

Small compartments, known as “cubicoli,” emerge from the maze to show the last resting places of wealthy families who can afford the privacy of private cemeteries. Strange symbols, like fish and anchors, are carved onto their tombs, hidden symbols that indicated Jesus Christ, the Christian faith’s messiah and saviour, to those who were started.

Antonio Bosio, renowned as the ‘Columbus of the Catacombs’ for his adventurous adventuring spirit, unearthed this secret realm in the 16th century.

While wandering through the catacombs, you may see a diverse landscape of ancient religious rituals depicted on the walls, where pagan and Christian images coexist.

You may find a pagan mural representing the old myth of Amor and Psyche collecting flowers accompanied by flying birds in one place, but go a few more steps and the scenes change before our eyes. As you enter the Christian section, you’ll find painted phoenixes, which represent the Resurrection, the new faith centrepiece. They have carved innumerable tombs with fish and anchors. Continue strolling and you’ll come to a lovely fresco depicting the twelve apostles, with Rome’s patron Saints Peter and Paul guarding the city’s Christian community. Petronilla, the apocryphal daughter of St. Peter, offers a dead lady to God in an unbeatable character reference at the gates of heaven in a nearby picture. 

Then you’ll come face to face with Diogenes, one man tasked with digging out the catacombs for the safe burial of his fellow Christians, in possibly the most poignant old fresco of them. Here he is, holding a pickaxe and a shovel, the equipment of his lowly trade, providing a stunningly vivid and personal glimpse into the human labour that went into the huge catacombs.

Admission fee: 8€/ 9.05$ p.p.

Rome - Catacombs of Domitilla by Dennis Jarvis
Rome - Catacombs of Domitilla by Dennis Jarvis

59. Catacombs of St Sebastian

Another archaeological site along the Appian Way is the Catacombs of San Sebastian.

San Sebastian’s martyred remains were buried at the site around 350, and they built a basilica over the grounds in the early 4th century at the behest of Emperor Constantine to honour the saint. That is why the church is one of Rome’s Seven Pilgrim Churches, and both the cathedral and the catacombs have attracted devout Christian pilgrims and curious visitors for centuries. They built the current baroque basilica in the 17th century to the wishes of Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the central nave of the Constantine building.

They also housed the arrow that purportedly pierced San Sebastian during his assassination in the church, as well as a set of marble footprints attributed to Jesus during his trip to Rome along the Via Appia.

The site of the Catacomb of San Sebastiano was once a deep depression that was used as a pozzolana quarry and was referred to as “ad catacumbas” (or “near the cavities”), a term that came to mean an underground cemetery.

The location was heavily exploited and developed beginning in the first century A.D. They repurposed the galleries that were formerly used to extract pozzolana to house both pagan and Christian tombs in the shape of loculi. They constructed several columbaria, as well as at least two residential buildings (the “great villa” and the “little villa”), both of which featured remarkable pictorial wall decorations.

The area of the quarries was covered over around the middle of the 2nd century to create three mausoleums above it (of Clodius Hermes, the Innocentiores, and the Axe) in which they buried Christians in the first half of the 3rd century. After the area was resurfaced, the “trichlia” was built: a pergola or trellis surrounded by a wall on which hundreds of graffiti have been deciphered with invocations to Peter and Paul, who were venerated here around the year 250 because visiting their tombs in the Vatican and on the Ostiense was impossible.

Admission fee: 8€/ 9.05$ p.p.

60. Baths of Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla, along the Appian Way, are one of Rome’s largest and most spectacular ancient thermae. The Baths of Caracalla were one of the finest and most impressive thermal complexes in ancient times, built between 212 and 216 under the direction of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, better known as Emperor Caracalla. In addition, together with the Colosseum, this was one of the largest structures in Roman times.

Even though just the brick walls and partially collapsed vaults survive today, the beauty of Caracalla’s Baths has been maintained.

When you consider the date of their construction, the baths are architectural marvels since they contained effective water supply systems, as well as heating and drainage systems. Besides the water, the slaves’ wood-fired ovens were used to heat the floors and walls of the baths.

The Baths of Caracalla were the most opulent baths ever created, covered in marble and embellished with priceless works of art.

Although the Baths of Diocletian eventually surpassed them in size, they could not match their magnificence.

They forced the baths to close in the year 537 because of the barbarian destruction of the city’s aqueducts, which supplied water to the city. The sculptures and expensive materials that adorned the baths were stolen, and an earthquake damaged the structure and destroyed half of it in the year 847.

Despite passing time and the lootings that the baths have endured, the ground floor of the structures and a substantial portion of the precinct’s majestic walls have survived.

It is possible to immerse oneself in the splendour of bygone eras by employing your imagination.

Admission fee: 8€/ 9.05$ p.p.

Rome - Baths of Caracalla by pcdazero
Rome - Baths of Caracalla by pcdazero

61. Roman houses of the Caelian Hill

The Caelian Hill’s Roman houses were once a row of tiny residences, shops, and storerooms dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Someone eventually combined them into a single home where the saints John and Paul lived. Despite their names, they were Roman soldiers, martyrs, and brothers, not famous apostles. They are claimed to have been slain here in 362 CE for refusing to recant their Christian faith. They buried the saints, perhaps among other martyrs, in the home.

The Church of St. John and Paul was eventually built on top of the house, and it became a pilgrimage site. The Roman houses were mostly ignored or used for storage during the Middle Ages. One room, however, was turned into a modest oratory.

The existence of the oratory and the Roman houses were eventually forgotten. When archaeologists were looking for the saints’ remains in 1887, they came across the dwellings. In 2002, the site became a museum.

They divide the museum into 20 rooms, each depicting a distinct epoch of the site’s history. You can reach the Roman houses after passing through the medieval oratory. Many of the rooms include Christian altars, showing that they used the building in the early 20th century. Even though the Roman houses were subsequently combined to form a single residence, you can still observe how they combined houses from various eras. The ruins of businesses and warehouses, as well as a portion of the street, may be seen.

The houses are known for their frescoes. With pictures of gods, monsters, animals, and flowers, the images from the ancient era cover a wide spectrum of cultural and mythical notions. New frescoes continued to be added to the oratory until the 9th century, their Christian topics contrasted with the pagan motifs of the older frescoes.

Admission fee: 8€/ 9.05$ p.p.

62. Aventine Secret Keyhole

The Aventine Secret Keyhole is one of Rome’s most intriguing off-the-beaten-path attractions, and it has become a popular destination for those looking for unique experiences. It’s a keyhole, or an aperture in a door through which you can peep, as the name implies, but it’s a special one.

When you look at it closely, you’ll notice an unimpeded view of St Peter’s Dome, perfectly framed by the keyhole’s circular borders and the finely groomed hedges of a secret garden.

The Keyhole is in the door of an estate belonging to the Priory of Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic religious order of crusader knights that originated in Jerusalem in the 11th century, and hosting the Order of Malta. The estate also houses the Embassy of the Order of Malta to Italy. 

The door is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but expect a long line during the day, especially during the summer. Just after daybreak is one of the most wonderful times to peek through the keyhole.

Free admission.

66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy (part 2) - Aventine Secret Keyhole by northernbeachesrevieww.com

63. Porta Portese Flea Market

The Porta Portese Flea Market is Rome’s most famous and largest market, as well as Italy’s and Europe’s most popular “Sunday market.” There are songs and poems dedicated to it, and movies such as ‘Bicycle Thieves’ and ‘Sciuscià’ have been filmed here.

Founded during World War II as a new home for the Campo de Fiori illegal market, it now boasts over a thousand dealers.

Almost anything is available, including antique furniture and objects, flea market wares, lining, new and used clothing, vinyl and CDs, books and prints, historical newspapers, as well as Rome soccer team t-shirts and underwear, pet food and wool or cotton balls (depending on the season), watches and shoes, shells and jewellery, leather jackets and luggage, beads and toys. Just a few examples, but the list could go on and on.

It is in the charming Trastevere neighbourhood, and the market’s main gates, as well as the city’s defensive wall, were demolished in the 17th century.

It opens from 09.00 until 14.00 every Sunday.

64. Pyramid of Caius Cestius

They constructed the pyramid of Cestius during the time of Emperor Augustus, most likely between 18 and 12 BCE. All things Egyptian were fashionable in ancient Rome at the period, to the point that obelisks sprang up all over the city to beautify forums and circuses, such as the Lateranense and the Flaminio, the Circus Maximus, and squares.

It is a unique 36-meter (118-foot) tall monument constructed of white Carrara marble, erected as a mausoleum by the heirs of Caius Cestius Epulo, magistrate and priest, in only three hundred and thirty days, according to his will.

It was originally located outside of the city centre, surrounded by magnificent columns and two bronze figures (now housed in the Musei Capitolini), but they converted it into a bastion in the Wall of Aurelian in 270.

When a tunnel was built to the defence works in the 17th century, the funeral chamber was discovered. It turned out to be a collection of wall paintings in the Third Pompeian style. Pope Alexander VII, who is also honoured in an inscription ordered restorations.

The Pyramid of Cestius is too steep and pointed when compared to authentic Egyptian pyramids. This explains why paintings of ancient Egypt in the Middle Ages and Renaissance included excessively pointed monuments: the only site where European artists could see a pyramid was in Rome, and Cestius’ tomb lacked the proper proportions. They based the pyramids on the Pyramid of Cestius, according to a famous mosaic in San Marco in Venice depicting a scene from the Biblical account of Joseph in Egypt. The artist has done his best to make it look Egyptian, but they based them on the Pyramid of Cestius.

Regrettably, it is currently closed (as of December 2021).

Rome - Pyramid of Caius Cestius by Giorgio Rodano
Rome - Pyramid of Caius Cestius by Giorgio Rodano

65. Non-Catholic Cemetery

The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome has the highest concentration of famous and notable tombs in the world. To mention a few, it is the final resting place of poets Shelley and Keats, as well as many more painters, sculptors, and authors, as well as several scholars, diplomats, Goethe’s only son, and Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European Communism.

Although it contains the remains of numerous Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians, it is also known as the Protestant Cemetery. It is one of Europe’s oldest continuously utilized burial grounds, having been established in 1716.

They set it on a slope in the shadows of the Pyramid of Cestius and close to a piece of Rome’s ancient Aurelian Wall, and its towering cypress trees and rich flowers and foliage shelter a mixture of magnificent and diverse graves and monuments.

The little Cemetery was a pilgrimage spot during the 19th century and into the 20th century, revered by authors such as Oscar Wilde.

In 1910, the Mayor of Rome signed a formal agreement designating the Cemetery as culturally significant and thus entitled to special protection. They designated it as a Monumental National Interest Zone (Zona Monumentale d’Interesse Nazionale) in 1918.

Admission fee: 3€/ 3.4$ p.p.

66. Testaccio and Testaccio Market

Testaccio was one of the Roman Empire’s key commercial hubs, named for an artificial mountain made of amphorae (wine jars) going back to antiquity.

Over time, it became home to the city’s working-class, who moved there to support the slaughterhouses’ construction and operation.

Today, this working-class neighbourhood has become one of the city’s most popular gastronomy destinations, attracting travellers from all over the world with its distinctive offal-based cuisine.

The neighbourhood is a great place to go not only to learn about history but also to visit restaurants, pizzerias, a bustling covered market, and shops selling worldwide organic goods.

Life revolves around the neighbourhood’s main square and a new market that sells everything from food to flowers at reasonable prices. 

The market draws a wide range of people. You name it: couples, friends, and families. While it attracts some outsiders, most visitors are Italian. You can see locals shopping for fresh goods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Families sit down to a large lunch together. There are children roaming around. Friends getting together for coffee, wine, beer, and munchies. It’s an eclectic bunch, which adds to the intrigue.

Monday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the market is open, making it a great place to go for breakfast and lunch.

Conclusions

With this second and last part of “66 hidden gems to see in Rome, Italy” this article about non-touristy must-see spots to visit in the Italian capital comes to a close. I won’t deny that writing it made me feel nostalgic while also making me proud of how gorgeous my home country is. To be honest, I’d love to come back to Rome and see all 66 of these gems, some of which I did not know existed.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it and researching for it, and that it could be useful in planning your next trip to Rome (hopefully soon, COVID permitting!).

P. S. Subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss the next travel post!

Share this:

You might also enjoy:

2 Comments

  1. Ciao Alessia, grazie per queste informazioni. Anche se sono romana, molti posti non li conosco. Li visiteró appena tornerò a Roma. Bel lavoro, preciso e ben presentato. Brava!!!

    1. Grazie mille, Letizia! Sono contenta che da romana tu abbia trovato l’articolo interessante. Significa molto per me!

      Spero di “rivederti” presto da queste parti.

      Saluti,
      Alessia

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *