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10 Off-the-Beaten Path Places in Rome

6. The Chapel of Sancta Sanctorum

Sancta Sanctorum -- 10 off the beaten path places to visit in Rome

Photo credit: Allie Caulfield via Flickr Creative Commons License

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

Casina delle civette -- 10 off the beaten path places to see in Rome

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

Ostia Antica -- off the beaten path places to visit in Rome

Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr Creative Commons License

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

Frascati -- 10 off the beaten path places to see in Rome

Photo credit: Cucombrelibre via Flickr Creative Commons

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

10 off the beaten path places to visit in Rome -- Gallery of Modern Art

Photo credit: Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr Creative Commons License

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.

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10 Off the beaten path places in Rome -- from the Appian Way to the Capuchin Crypt, here is a round up of what ELSE to see in Rome!

Featured photo credit: Frank Kovalchek via Flickr Creative Commons License

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9 Comments on “10 Off-the-Beaten Path Places in Rome

  1. I love this! There is so much to see and do in Rome, so it’s great to have some ideas for lesser-known sights. I have spent time in Florence and always prefer the off-the-beaten-path ideas there, too. Pinning for a future trip. 🙂

    Last year, my husband and I went on our second trip to Rome, and there are a few new experiences I have that I’d like to add to this list. I wouldn’t say my picks are “off the beaten path” as they are squarely in the heart of Rome, but they are slightly obscure, so I thought I’d share.

    San Pietro in Vincoli: Translated to St. Peter in Chains, this small and tucked away church’s alter contains the chains that once were used to imprison St. Peter. Also, there’s a statue of Moses with horns coming out his head that was sculpted by Michelangelo. Apparently, the horns were due to a misinterpretation of an earlier translation of the Bible, which I found pretty interesting.

    Largo di Torre Argentina: Basically, a square of ruins right in the heart of the city. In recent years, it has actually become a cat sanctuary, and it’s really entertaining to stare into the ruins and see how many cats you can spot. My husband and I have lovingly dubbed it “Cat Ruins.” It’s kind of weird and funny and would probably be a good place to take kids.

    Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini: This is a newer attraction that did not even make the cut in my 2014 Rome travel book. I actually found out about it on TripAdvisor, and we were so glad we went. Basically, you walk on a glass floor above the ruins of a wealthy family’s home that was recently uncovered, and using lasers and other technology, you can learn about the features of the homes and what it probably looked like back then. It was really unique, and the technology was really impressive. Plus, it’s 45 minutes in air conditioning, so it’s a nice break from the Roman heat.

    Thanks for your great list! We’ll have to visit some of the ones we haven’t tried if we ever go back again!

      Thank you Amanda for these great suggestions!! They sound fascinating. I’ve heard of the cat ruins and my daughter would love it as she loved counting and naming the cats she saw in Italy. We also got to go to a home of a friend of the family that has the ruins of an ancient Roman general’s home in his basement and it has been preserved as a museum. That was such a special experience. What I love about Rome is how layered it is and how there are hidden secrets around every corner. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Rome’s always a great place to “recharge” one’s spiritual batteries. Plus the place is just stunning everywhere you go.

    I agree, enjoy your trip!!

    I really enjoyed this. I spent a semester in Rome back in college and fell in love with the city. You brought back some great memories and showed me a couple places I haven’t made it to yet. Ostia Antica is truly amazing and a must do. Especially if you aren’t making it down to Pompei as well. Thanks for sharing.

      Thanks Megan, that is so great to hear!

    What a marvellous list here of random places in Rome most have never heard of. There are bound to be a few more to add as well. In fairness as long as I’m guaranteed a decent beer and pizza after a day of sightseeing, I’m happy to see any of these places in Rome. Safe travels. Jonny

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