(Photo by Edgar Jimenez)
Caption: Rome is so much more than its ancient ruins!
Seven Treasures of Rome You Never Knew Existed
The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica… heck, everything in Vatican City! Yeah, I’ve seen them too, and they make any trip to Rome (and Vatican City, for that matter) worthwhile. These world-renowned tourist attractions don’t draw millions of people each year for nothing; the Colosseum itself is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After a few days of fighting the crowds and vying for elbow room, though, you might be thinking that it’s time to go home. Don’t do it! You’ve seen all of the treasures of Rome that you knew existed. Now, take the time to visit seven treasures of Rome you never knew existed.
Treasure #1: Aventine Keyhole: You already know that Vatican City is a separate sovereign city-state located within Rome. What you might not know is that there is also the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, making Italy’s capital home to people of three separate countries. One of the most unique and interesting treasures in Rome is literally looking through a keyhole. Leave the hustle and bustle of Rome and head over to Giardino degli Aranci, a tiny and peaceful park on Rome’s Aventine Hill; you will see the Knights of Malta monastery. Approach the front door and peep through its keyhole. What’s on the other side? A beautiful view of St. Peter Basilica’s dome, the Villa del Priorato di Malta gardens, and the Roman cityscape. You’re looking at three countries through one keyhole!
Treasure #2: Il Facchino: You might not know this, but Rome actually sits on a vast network of volcanic springs. Il Facchino on Via del Corso is unique in its appearance and its source of water. I’m sure you’ve guessed by now; the water is fresh from the underground springs and said to be some of the best water on the planet. The fountain itself is one of the “talking statues” of Rome, ancient works that satirically represented public life. Although not confirmed, it is said that Il Facchino was sculpted by Michelangelo in 1580, and it was the last of the talking statues sculpted. What you’ll see is a capped peasant holding a barrel of water for sale. It represents the period of drought when the Roman aqueducts were in disrepair.
Treasure #3: Fontanella in Villa Borghese: If you’re thinking, “Why another fountain, Theresa?” bear with me. You’ll probably visit the Villa Borghese while in Rome anyway; it is one of the major attractions, and you definitely should see it, so take a couple of hours to trek off the beaten path and enjoy the other fountain in Rome said to have the finest water on earth. In fact, “experts” say this tap pours out refreshing aqua second to none. To get to the “fontanella,” as the Italians call it, head past the Viale Aranciera toward the lake as you’re wandering through the glorious Villa Borghese gardens. Before you rent a paddle-boat to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing time on the water, look to your left. You’ll see a water spout in stone from where you can draw and drink this legendary water.
Treasure #4: Cimitero Protestante: In English, this means the “Protestant Cemetery.” Officially, this sacred ground is called the “Cimitero Acattolico,” and many Romans also call it the “Cimitero degli Inglesi,” which means the “Englishmen’s cemetery.” Why is this burial place referred to as the Englishmen’s cemetery? Because many notable Englishmen are buried there, of course! Head toward Rome’s Porta San Paolo and view an Egyptian-style pyramid built in 30 B.C. Then, enter the peaceful, sacred grounds to pay homage to the final resting place of notable Englishmen such as poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. It might seem odd to visit a cemetery, but you’ll enjoy the peaceful tranquility of this Roman treasure.
Treasure #5: Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano: Yes, the “San Giovanni” is a basilica, and believe me, Rome has a ton of them! But what makes this basilica a unique treasure and why it has made my list is that it holds the distinction of being the first – yep, numero uno – Christian basilica built in the entire world. This means that it was the first papal seat, well up until the 15th century, when they got all crazy and started building more basilicas, and it was dedicated clear back in 324 A.D. This baby is old… and beautiful! Many say San Giovanni resembles St. Peter’s Basilica; I say it inspired it! After all, it came first. Some notable things to look at while inside San Giovanni are the papal cathedral, its glorious embellished ceiling, and its 14th-century Gothic-styled baldacchino, or the covering over the papal altar.
Treasure #6: Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio: Yes, another church… but hang in there! As there was a method to my madness with the fountains, there is a method to my madness here. Besides, most of the amazing unheard-of treasures in Roma are basilicas and churches because everybody ignores them over St. Peter’s! This amazing structure, which you can simply call the Sant’Ignazio Church, really is something to see. It is a Baroque-period structure built somewhere between 1626 and 1650. What makes it so special are its ceiling frescoes. You might be thinking, “Theresa! We’ve seen a ton of ceiling frescoes!” Ah! But have you seen ones that actually appear in 3-D? I’m not kidding! Embellishments make the frescoes look as if they’re popping out at you.
Treasure #7: Santa Maria della Pace: Yes, another church… but no, not really! It’s not necessarily the church I want you to see, although if it is open, you should definitely go inside. Actually, there are two special areas at Santa Maria della Pace that make this our seventh treasure. First, the Bramante cloister, the square outdoor space on the complex, is considered to be, and I quote, “one of the most perfect architectural spaces in the world.” It is so perfect that it is said that Michelangelo sat there for inspiration. Another inspiring spot is a second-floor lounge where you can enjoy a cup of espresso or even a cocktail and look through a Santa Maria della Pace window that gives you a bird’s-eye view inside the church and a perfect picture of another Renaissance great, Raphael’s, fresco.
These are just seven treasures of Rome that you never knew existed. There’s more, much more! Yes, you do need to see the popular Roman treasures. They are breathtaking and an amazing testimony to a very powerful and influential ancient civilization. That said, when it’s time to trek off the beaten path and enjoy some lesser-crowded areas in the city, don’t you fret. There are still plenty of treasures to see there, too! So pack your bags and plan on spending as much time in Rome as you possibly can!