An Alternative Guide to Rome
As the capital of Italy and former cradle of the Roman Empire, Roma is the exquisite embodiment of La Dolce Vita and a proud culmination of thousands of years of history. No other city has had such a profound impact on Western Civilization.
Rome is home to over 3 million people and UNESCO World Heritage landmarks at every turn. To walk the city blind, sans guidebook, is to stumble on glorious magnum opuses like Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, monuments of Capitoline Hill and Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Beneath the star attractions however, beats the heart of a feisty, urbane metropolis. Amid a flurry of Piaggios, piazzas and lively espresso bars, Rome is a triumphant destination. Here are some alternatives to consider on your next visit.
The Catacombs of Rome
More than three dozen ancient burial sites proliferate under the streets of Rome. From the spectacular Vatican Grotto and Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica to the papal tombs of Callixtus, another world lurks deep below the city. Other catacombs of note include the Jewish burial sites of Vigna Randanini and Villa Torlonia and the impressive Catacombs of Domitilla, with over 15 km of caves and channels.
MACRO Future and Testaccio
The most recent annex to the superb municipal Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MACRO) envelops a former industrial slaughterhouse in the newly-hip ‘hood of Testaccio. A paragon of urban redevelopment, the sleek MACRO refurb job is as avant-garde as the art inside. Testaccio is also home to some of the best restaurants and hotels in Rome and main drag Via di Monte Testaccio is where club heads gather until the wee hours.
Escape to Villa Borghese
While the overall aesthetic of Villa Borghese gardens whispers country English manor, the brilliant park is decidedly Roman. The 80-hectare site contains some of the best museums in the city, from the gorgeous Galleria Borghese to the National Museum of Modern Art, complete with works by Mondrian, Picasso, Braque and Pollock. Additionally, the Villa Borghese contains a peripheral gem in the fabulous 16th century Villa Medici, home of the French Academy in Rome. From the Villa, visitors can easily descend the iconic Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (Spanish Steps) and amble down fashionable Via Condotti.
The grand ensemble of monuments in Rome can detract from some of the most character-rich enclaves in the city. Take Trastevere for instance. The former medieval district is a veritable village within the capital and a premier hub of restaurants, student bars and nightclubs. Landmarks like the Church of Santa Maria, Church of Saint Cecilia and Villa Farnesina make Trastevere worthwhile. The linchpin attraction however is the massive weekly flea market held from Porta Portese to Viale di Trastevere.
A Short Trip to Tivoli
The ancient must-see town of Tivoli is a short 30 km ride from Rome. The trip is a bona fide time warp to a bygone, erstwhile era, with magnificent architecture intact and clear views of the bucolic campagna romana. Two key UNESCO World Heritage Sites draw the lion’s share of attention. The first is the Roman archaeological complex of Villa Adriana. The site covers a square kilometre and is still under excavation. The second UNESCO inscription in Tivoli is elegant Villa d’Este, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. The nonpareil palace gardens and fountains draw scores of Rome city-dwellers in the hot summer months.