My country´s capital famously boasts some of the world´s most legendary and inspiring tourist attractions, such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, and Vatican City. But Rome is also overflowing with millennia worth of riches that get less attention from visitors intent on their “bucket lists”, and exploring these places off the usual tourist track can give you a deeper, more authentic, and more serene experience of the Eternal City – and by the way, avoid the crowds at the usual suspects. Here are just a handful of notable examples (there are dozens if not hundreds more):
Appian Way/Catacombs of St. Callixtus
The Via Appia was one of ancient Rome´s most important roads, beginning construction in 312 BCE, and you can tread its pine-tree-lined cobblestones with an easy Metro ride (Piramide stop) south of the Colosseum and Forum and such. It´s a lot less crowded than most other ancient Roman sites, and as a bonus you can visit the Catacumbe di San Callisto, and at times somewhat creepy underground crypt complex founded in the 3rd century by the deacon who would become Pope Callixtus I, and the burial place of 16 early Roman Catholic pontiffs and some 50 “martyrs”, including a saint or two.
The southernmost of the fabled seven hills of Rome (Metro station also Piramide), it makes a for a tranquil escape from the hustle-bustle of much of the rest of the city, and is also home to a number of other beautiful attractions, including the beautiful Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Garden) as well as several churches (including the city´s oldest basilica, Santa Sabina, finished in 432) and Roman temples. One especially cool feature is the “Aventine Keyhole” in a nondescript door at the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, which yields a perfectly framed view of St. Peter’s Basilica through beautifully manicured gardens. There are also some good places to eat and stay.
Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Diocletian are Rome´s largest and best known public bath house, but the Terme di Caracalla, a short stroll south of the Colosseum and Forum, are its second largest - also quite impressive and rather less crowded, thought to have been built around 216 CE and in use for a bit over 300 years, the complex covers 25 hectares (62 acres) and includes various hot, warm, and cold rooms as well as saunas, a pair of gymnasiums, and a number of pools including a large swimming pool. There´s also a very cool basement space which served as a temple for worshipping Mithra, an ancient Persian deity popular with soldiers and the lower classes. These days it´s also used as a venue for opera and other musical performances.
Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano
Also a short walk from the Colosseum, in the Monti neighbourhood, this church is a hidden gem for its stunning mosaics and amazing layers of history in three tiers. There´s the current basilica, built around 1100; another basilica from the 4th century; and a third tier dating back to ancient Rome: a house where Christians worshipped clandestinely in the 1st century and another temple (as under the Baths of Caracalla) to the cult of the Persian god Mithra. There are fascinating frescoes and details throughout – quite a remarkable package!
Another short stroll from the Colosseum, beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, completed in 1631, the six-room Cripta dei Frati Cappuccini is adorned with the bones of some 3,700 Capuchin monks arranged in intricate designs. The idea is not to be gratuitously macabre but as a reminder of human mortality, and bony Catholic crypts and chapels known as ossuaries can be found elsewhere, too – especially in the rest of Europe.
There are plenty of museums in Rome displaying classical art, but this one –housed in a 111-year-old former power plant in the Ostiense neighbourhood, a bit south of the Colosseum/Forum area (Metro stops Garbatella or Piramide) – gives it a bit of a (postmodern?) twist. Here you´ll find a collection of statues, sarcophagi, and mosaics from ancient Rome´s republican period displayed against a backdrop of hulking industrial machinery. How´s that for cool visuals for your Instagram?
It´s not one of the famed seven hills because it´s across the Tiber River, rising above Trastevere and therefore outside the boundaries of the ancient city. But the Gianicolo is Rome´s second highest, at 90 metres (295 feet), so it´s worth a bit of a climb up to the Piazzale Garibaldi (with its statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the most famous hero of Italy´s 19th-century unification) and surrounding parklike setting for some of the most sweeping panoramic views over Rome; it´s especially a treat around sunset – or alternatively, you could arrange to be there around noon for the ceremonial cannon firing. Other things to take in up here, by the way, include the monumental, early-17th-century Acqua Paola Fountain; the church of San Pietro in Montorio (1500, built on the spot thought at the time to be the site of the crucifixion of St. Peter); the early 16th-century Renaissance Tempietto del Bramante in the church courtyard; and several other monuments relating to the unification of Italy.
Park of the Aqueducts
Finally, if you´re really into the ancient Roman thing, it may be worth venturing down to the southeast of the city (Metro line A, Giulio Agricola stop) to another stretch of the Appian Way where you´ll find the Parco degli Acquedotti, a 240ha (593-ac.) spread centred around a half dozen of the aqueducts - dating as far back as 144 BCE - which once supplied Rome with its water. There´s also an aqueduct from the Middle Ages, as well as several other mostly medieval buildings and structures, the remains of an ancient Roman villa, and a section of the ancient Via Latina. It´s a peaceful and eye-opening experience indeed.