An Insider's Guide to Secret Rome
01 April 2016
Rome is one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in the world, but try to get close to its major attractions and you’ll meet hundreds of others who share the same belief. Avoid the crowds at the Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica and the Spanish Steps and discover the city’s lesser known, but equally charming, sights. From covert art collections to ancient underground tombs, here’s our guide to secret Rome.
Tucked away in Rome’s suburban Trastevere district is a secret art collection housed in a beautiful 16th century villa. From the outside, Villa Farnesina looks like a typical noble manor, but inside it’s decorated with frescoes by some of Italy’s most revered artists. Arguably the most exciting murals are those by Renaissance artist Raphael, alongside other works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Visitors can explore the masterpieces during a guided tour every day except Sunday, with the exception of every second Sunday when the villa remains open.
The leafy burial place of Romantic poets such as Shelley and Keats, the Non-Catholic Cemetery is a haven of peace and serenity, and one of our favourite spots to experience secret Rome. As well as being a resting place for the city’s non-Catholics, the beautiful space is home to the only pyramid in Rome, which towers over the graves of famous artists, writers and scholars.
Pass through the monastery of the Benedictines of Priscilla on Via Salaria and you’ll discover the underground Catacombs of Priscilla. A fascinating lesson in history and religion, the tombs are decorated with beautiful murals dating back to the third century. Make your way through narrow tunnels and discover a maze of tombs and chambers such as the notable Greek Chapel, which has an archway covered in colourful paintings narrating stories from early Christianity.
While most guidebooks will send visitors to grand churches such as St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon, lesser-known places of worship, such as San Pietro in Montorio, are equally captivating. The church is dedicated to St Peter, and is said to have been built on the spot where he was crucified. Inside, the walls are adorned with artworks by prominent 16th and 17th century artists, while outside in the courtyard rests the beautiful Tempietto chapel, which was built by Italian architect Bramante.
Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas
On Via Appia near Via Latina lies a collective tomb named Colombario di Pomponio Hylas. The structure dates back to the early first century but was only discovered in the 1800s and remains well preserved. Accessible via a steep original staircase, the underground chamber is full of small niches displaying funeral urns containing the ashes of ancient Roman citizens. It’s a fascinating and rare insight into life in ancient Rome, shedding light on its strong beliefs about death and the afterlife.
Oratorio del Gonfalone (or Oratory of the Banner) is an ancient prayer room that’s considered one of Rome’s most impressive 16th century spaces. Located just off Via Giulia, the oratory is still in use to this day and is worth visiting for the striking, colourful murals of Christ that cover every inch of its walls. Guided tours are available on weekdays.
Bring a day of sightseeing to a close at Hotel de Russie’s Secret Garden, a green oasis in the city where visitors can enjoy an al fresco dinner and refreshments.
Image credits: Non-Catholic Cemetery © misterbike/iStock, San Pietro in Montorio © romrodinka/iStock and marcovarro/iStock, Villa Farnesina © Flickr/Charlie Dave and Flickr/Silke Baron.