Sometimes when you go to a city, you want to see all the “important” sites, but sometimes you want to get off-the-beaten path and discover something new. On our recent visit to Rome, we were able to get away from the main sites and enjoyed peeking through keyhole of the Knights of Malta, getting sweeping views of the city at the Garibaldi overlook, and walking on the ancient cobblestones along Appian Way. To get some advice on off the beaten path places in Rome that tourists don’t know about, I asked my friends at Overome for their advice and they put together this great list.
10 Off the Beaten Path Places in Rome
Here are 10 suggestions to discover Rome in an unusual, unknown and mysterious, but still fascinating and marvellous way.
1. The Church of the SS. Quattro Coronati
It isn’t easy to visit a Romanesque church in Rome, but you can. You’ll need to enter the gate of a fortified building which is overshadowed by a stark tower, then pass through two internal courtyards (that host the Augustinian nunnery), and finally you discover the Basilica of the SS Quattro Coronati. It is beautiful, with a nave and two aisles, and a matroneum. The floor is a cosmatesque mosaic. There is a quiet cloister closed by a loggia with a paired small columns and a little chapel.
According to one tradition, the saints the church is consecrated to were four Roman Imperial police officers; according to another tale they were four stonecutters; in both cases they were martyred. Sometimes the two traditions meld together: the stonecutters refused to cut the marble for a pagan statue, the police officers refused to arrest them.
If you ask the nuns, they will let you enter the Oratory of San Silvestro, a wonderful place with an extraordinary series of thirteenth- century frescoes on the walls that describe Constantine’s conversion and the story of Pope Sylvester.
2. Appian Way
The first paved road of the Roman Empire, has been known as the Appian Way since 312 B.C. because it was built by a famous Roman nobleman, Appius Claudius.
It has been named Regina Viarium (the queen of ways) since the ancient times as it was the first great consular road that branched off from Rome, and because of the sepulchral monuments that used to stand on its sides. An epithet that has always been confirmed, even when the road tumbled down. The beauty and majesty of its frame together with the landscape intersperses with picturesque villages and Roman ruins. Visiting the entire path would require days, indeed, but in a sunny day you could rent a bike and go through all the Roman way. It would be an unforgettable experience.
3. The Sacred Heart of the Suffrage
A Gothic cathedral in Rome is a peculiar thing and you can find one at the Church of the Sacred Heart of the Suffrage in Prati, on the Lungotevere Prati. It was built between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth-century. The peculiarity of this little Gothic treasure, completely admirable also by the other side of the Tiber, is not just the fact that it is a wonderful miniature of the Milan Cathedral, but that it hosts one of the most unique museums of the Capital.
It gathers together proof of deceased soul existence, therefore a proper museum of the other world. Books, fabrics and images, on which prints of Purgatory souls are impressed, have been collected since father Victor Jouet, the founder of this church, discovered the effigy of a suffering face on a fire spot. This happened after a fire that burned up in the chapel consecrated to Our Lady of the Rosary in 1897. Jounet thought this was the sign of a Purgatory soul who was trying to get through, so he decided, on Pope Pius X’ s approval, to collect relics of the other world and to expose them publicly, as a proof of another life existence.
Today, the little museum displays books and any kind of objects, each of them with its own amazing story.
4. The Cripta of the Cappuccini
If you are not highly emotional, we also recommend to visit the Cripta of the Cappuccini in Via Veneto, almost at Piazza Barberini. Next to the Our Lady of the Conception Church there is a visitable crypt, decorated with the bones of more than four thousand monks dead between the sixteenth and the end of the nineteenth century. The bones were collected from the mass graves. The crypt is made of several chapels crossed by a corridor that houses the mummified corpses of monks dressed with their habits. It is a macabre path full of decorations made-up by religious men bones that shape roses, stars, garlands and chandeliers. (Check out the Catacombs and Crypts at Night tour!)
5. Saint Mary above Minerva
The church of Saint Mary above Minerva is a rare sample of Gothic style in a city dominated by Baroque architecture. It is full of beautiful works of art inside and for this reason it is definitely worth a visit. The second part of the basilica name is a fake. The ruins on which the church was built did not belong to Minerva Calcidica as it was thought for a long time. Starting from 1280 the church has been rebuilt and reshaped many times. In the seventeenth century, Carlo Maderno changed the original facade where from three gates open today: the middle one is considered to be a work by Caprino. The church inside has a nave and two aisles with a cross vault, a transept and two chapels to the sides of the presbytery. In the 7th right-hand chapel there are the Sepulchre of the bishops Giovanni de Coca and Benedetto Soranzo, works of the fifteenth century.
The most important work of art in this place of worship is the marvellous Christ Carrying the Cross by Michelangelo, an extremely elegant sculpture. Santa Cateriena da Siena and the great Dominican painter Beato Angelico are buried in the church.
6. The Chapel of Sancta Sanctorum
The building that encloses the next treasure stands at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and it preserves the precious chapel of the Popes, called Sancta Sanctorum. Here the image of the blessed Saviour is venerated. The Holy Stair, probably mostly well-known and inside the building as well, owes its name to the 28 steps that lead to the chapel. They are meant to be climbed on bended knee to venerate the Passion of Christ. According to an ancient Christian tradition, in 326 A.D. the Empress Saint Helena made the Stair carried from Jerusalem. The stair was climbed by Jesus many times on the day of his sentence of death.
But the chapel of Sancta Sanctorum has a story that will catch you. It is a splendid chapel in front of which the pilgrim, once reached the last step of the Holy Stair, can pray through the massive gate that protects it. According to Medieval historians, it used to be the most venerated sanctuary of Rome. It was the private oratory of the Popes up to Renaissance and it remains as a witness of a magnificent millennium of Roman papacy history.
What is most ancient and well-known in the chapel is the image of the Blessed Saviour also called Acheropìta (which means not painted by a human hand). It is a wooden image and it depicts the Saviour sitting on the throne with his right hand blessing and the Gospel scrolls in his left hand. Wherever it comes from, the story of the icon is linked with the several thousand years devotion of the Roman population: it is among the most venerable one that the fathers’ faith kept, and because it is a fundamental part of the story of the city .
7. The Casina delle Civette
The Casina delle Civette is surely an incomparable sample of Art Deco. Between 1910 and 1925, in the middle of the Art Deco period, a group of artists, such as Duilio Cambellotti, Paolo Paschetto, Umberto Botazzi, and Vittorio Grassi, reshaped the ancient chalet or Capanna Svizzera inside Villa Torlonia into the current Museum of the Art Deco glass wall (Museo della Vetrata Liberty). The artists, thanks to trials and several techniques, left space to their imagination covering the casina with countless doors and windows made with lead polychrome glass portraying birds, butterflies, but most of all owls (civette) and other nocturnal animals. Hence its name and magic look!
Surrounded by the green of Villa Torlonia, the Casina delle Civette seems like coming out of a fairy book due to its peculiar architecture. The former house of Prince Giovanni Torlonia is nowadays a unique Museum for its style. The house and the park architecture tell the story of the noble family who lived here more than 100 years.
8. Ostia Antica
The guided tour of Ostia Antica leads to a stretch of ruins, romantically surrounded by the green landscape. It has basically remained uncontaminated by human interventions except for simple excavation and restoration, since the late ancient times. For this reason, Ostia represents an extraordinary place to visit if you want to know about Ancient Rome social life, habits, buildings and professions. Nearer than Pompeii, better preserved, easily accessible and made in Rome’s own image.
You can walk through the ancient Roman harbour along the decumanus maximus that is the continuation of Via Ostiense from the Roman Gate (the Porta Romana) to the Porta Marina. Through this long road paved with large stones, and penetrating the side and parallel streets, you reach buildings of different historical phases. They were intended for different purposes and used to characterize the public and private life of a Roman community. The most typical private houses are the great apartment blocks built from the end of the I century A.D. (blocks of flats built around a courtyard, with shops at the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors designed for merchants and urban middle class). The warehouses (the horrea) were concentrated in the North section, along the ancient Tiber bed, since the Republican age.
Then the theatre, the Teatro Augusteo, still used for summer theatrical performances, behind which there is the Piazzale dellle Corporazioni. It is a big colonnaded square with a central temple, probably dedicated to Ceres, the Roman goddess of abundance and prosperity, and a series of spaces beyond the colonnade, aimed at welcoming the stations: that is to say the representative offices of merchants, sailors and other trades guilds. The symbols of the guilds are pictured on paved mosaics. Each profession found its representative building in Ostia: the Vigiles station, the Baths, the Basilica, the Curia on the Forum and the very many religious buildings. (Take a Private Tour to Ostia Antica!)
9. The Roman Castles
Don’t let the name deceive you. They are not like the ancient Scottish castles on the top of the foggy highlands. The Roman Castles are 13 well-known towns located on the more sinuous Halban Hills. As noblemen holiday resorts since the Empire times, they are still one of the most favoured destination of Roman people in scorching summer days.
Definitively do not miss Frascati, dominated by the sixteenth-century Villa Aldobrandini, with its Italian style gardens. The splendid facade stands out against the whole town. If you prefer a more Medieval style, we recommend the Greek Abbey of San Nilo, in the near Grottaferrata. The abbey was found in 1004 by monks who were coming from the Byzanthine Calabria.
But the Roman Castles are also famous for the towns that stand on volcanic lakes, like Castel Gandolfo (the summer residency of the Pope) which overlooks Lake Albano. When warm enough, it is worth a nice swimming, and relaxing in one of the many cafés that surrounds the lake.
Also don’t miss the cosy Nemi for its appealing green and blue landscape, but also for a taste of Roman history. This town overlooks the namesake lake, along which the Museo delle Navi Romane is located. It was built by Mussolini to house two ancient Roman ships found when the lake was partially drained, between 1927 and 1932.
Beyond the villas, the ancient ruins and the breath-taking landscapes, the Roman Castles are well-known for cookery and white wine produced in these areas. The peculiarity of these places is the “fraschette”, typical taverns mostly made from old cellars, where you can taste reasonably cheap wine, olives, cheese, porchetta and typical Roman dishes. Ariccia is definitively well-known for its fraschette. The roads and the small squares are crowded with outdoor tables in summer. But also other towns are worthy: Monte Porzio Catone, Montecompatri, Rocca Priora, Colonna, Rocca di Papa, Marino, Albano Laziale and Genzano… you are spoilt for choice!
10. The National Gallery of Modern Art
The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (GNAM) is the biggest collection of Italian contemporary art. Placed in Rome, nearby Villa Borghese and the Bioparco, it houses more than 4,400 paintings and sculptures and roughly 13,000 drawings and artists’ prints – mainly Italian – from the nineteenth and twentieth century.
In its 55 halls you can admire the collection masterpieces, about 1,100 works. It is the only national museum entirely dedicated to modern art: it is funny how in other foreign countries the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery is a pleasantly visited place whereas this beautiful gallery that recalls exciting moments of modern Italian art is almost entirely unheeded, just because it is slightly off-centre. A hall, completely dedicated to the avantgards houses Braque, Matisse and Mondrian works. Every 6 months, the Gallery displays really interesting, public exhibitions from Japanese art, to the pre-Raphaelites, to Calder.
- For more unique ways to explore Rome, consider a Early Entrance tour for the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, Crypts & Catacombs Tour, or a Rome Segway Tour.
- If you are looking for a family-friendly hotel, try the Grand Hotel de la Minerve, the Internazionale Domus, or the Aldrovandi Villa Borghese.
- Check out our sample itinerary for five days in Rome
- See some of my favorite restaurants in Rome
Do you have any hidden gems you have discovered in Rome?
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Featured photo credit: Frank Kovalchek via Flickr Creative Commons License
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