The Seven Hills of Rome – To the modern visitor, the Seven Hills of Rome can be rather difficult to identify. In the first place, generations of buildings constructed on top of each other and the construction of tall buildings in the valleys have tended to make the hills less pronounced than they originally were. Secondly, there are clearly more than seven hills – in Roman days many of these were outside the city boundaries.
The seven hills were first occupied by small settlements and not recognised as a city for some time. Rome came into being as these settlements acted together to drain the marshy valleys between them and turn them into markets and fora. The Roman Forum used to be a swamp.
The Palatine Hill looms over the Circus Maximus and is accessed near the Colosseum. Legend has it that this was occupied by Romulus when he fell out with his brother, Remus, who occupied the Aventine Hill on the other side of the Circus. Also clearly recognisable as hills are the Caelian, to the southeast of Circus Maximus and the Capitoline, which overlooks the Forum and hosts Rome’s city hall, as well as the Capitoline Museums. East and northeast of the Roman Forum are the Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal hills. These are less easy to distinguish as separate hills these days and from a distance look like one.
The red line on the map indicates the Servian Wall, its construction is credited to the Roman King Servius Tullius in the Sixth Century BC, but archaeological evidence places its construction during the Fourth Century BC. Small bits of this wall can still be seen, particularly close to Termini railway station and on the Aventine hill. As Rome expanded new walls were required to protect the larger area. These were built in the Third Century AD by the Emperor Aurelian. Lengthy sections of this wall remain all around the outskirts of Rome’s centre. Much is in very good condition.
Among other hills of Rome, not included in the seven, are those overlooking the Vatican; the Janiculum, overlooking Trastevere, which provides excellent views of Rome; the Pincio on the edge of the Borghese Gardens, which gives good views of piazza del Popolo and the Vatican, and Monte Mario, with its famous Zodiaco (a panoramic viewpoint), to the north.
If you are in Rome for the art there are several world-class museums in the city. The natural starting point is a visit to the area of Villa Borghese in Campo Marzio, where there is a cluster of art museums. Galleria Borghese houses a previously private art collection of the Borghese family, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia is home of the world’s largest Etruscan art collection, and theGalleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna houses many Italian masterpieces as well as a few pieces by artists such as Cézanne, Modigliani, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh. The Capitoline Museumsin the Colosseo district opens their doors to the city’s most important collection of antique Roman and Greek art and sculptures. Visit the Galleria d’Arte Antica, housed in the Barberini palace in the Modern center, for Italian Renaissance and Baroque art.
A visit to Rome is not complete without a trip to the Vatican Museums. You’ll need to go to the museums if you want to see the Sistine Chapel, but there is an enormous collection. You cannot miss any part of it, such as the tapestries, the maps and the rooms painted by Rafael as they are en route to the Sistine Chapel but there is much, much more to explore, including a stunning Egyptian collection and the Pinacoteca, which includes a “Portrait of St. Jerome” by Leonardo da Vinci and paintings by Giotto, Perugino, Raphael, Veronese and Caravaggio, to name just a few. Not to mention the countless, ancient statues…
Rome’s National Museum at the Baths of Diocletian in the Modern Center has a vast archaeological collection as does the national museum at Palazzo Altemps, close to piazza Navona. Further afield, the Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of the Roman Civilisation), in the EUR, is most famous for an enormous model of Imperial Rome but it is also home to an extensive display of plaster casts, models and reconstructions of statues and Roman stonework.
If you have plenty of time there is absolutely no shortage of other museums covering a wide variety of interests. Examples include the Museum of the Walls (see Rome/South), the Musical Instrument Museum and a museum devoted to the liberation of Rome from the German occupation in the Second World War (Rome/Esquilino-San Giovanni).
Check museum opening hours before heading there. Government museums are invariably closed on Mondays, so that is a good day for other activities. The Rome municipality itself operates some 17 museums and attractions. These are free to European Union citizens under 18 and over 65. Web sites for other museums are listed on the relevant District pages.
The Keats-Shelley House is recommended for fans of second-wave British Romantic poets (Keats, Shelley, Byron etc). This is the house in which John Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25 in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. It is located at piazza di Spagna, 26, right next to the Spanish Steps.
Just walking around – Much of the attraction of Rome is in just wandering around the old city. You can quickly escape from the major tourist routes and feel as if you are in a small medieval village, not a capital city. If you can do so while watching for uneven cobblestones, keep looking upwards. There are some amazing roof gardens and all sorts of sculptures, paintings and religious icons attached to exterior walls. Look through 2nd and 3rd floor windows to see some oak-beamed ceilings in the old houses. Look through the archway entrances of larger Palazzos to see incredible courtyards, complete with sculptures, fountains and gardens. Take a stroll in the area between piazza Navona and the Tiber river in Old Rome where artisans continue to ply their trade from small shops. Also in Old Rome, take a 1km stroll down via Giulia, which is lined with many old palaces. Film enthusiasts will want to visit via Veneto (via Vittorio Veneto) in the Modern Center, scene for much of Fellini’sLa Dolce Vita.
The piazze – The narrow streets of the historical centre frequently broaden out into small or large squares (piazze), which may have one or more churches and a fountain or two. Apart from piazza Navonaand piazza della Rotonda (in front of the Pantheon), take in the nearby piazza della Minerva, with its unique elephant statue by Bernini and piazza Colonna with the column of Marcus Aurelius and palazzo Chigi, seat of the Italian Government; right next to it, there’s the piazza di Monte Citorio with the homonymous palace, seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. On the other side of corso Vittorio Emanuele II are piazza Farnese, with the palace of the same name (now the French Embassy), two interesting fountains and the flower sellers at Campo de’ Fiori – scene of the city’s executions in the old days. All of these squares are a short distance from each other in Old Rome. The enormous piazza del Popolo in the North Center, which provided an imposing entrance to the city when it represented the northern boundary of Rome, is well worth a visit. A short walk back towards the centre brings you to piazza di Spagna at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Yet another fascinating fountain here. The area was much used as backdrop for the 1953 film “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
On the other side of the river is, of course, the magnificent St. Peter’s square at the Vatican. Further south, in Trastevere, is piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere – a great place to watch the world go by, either from one of the restaurants or bars that line two sides of the square or, if that is too expensive, from the steps of the central fountain. The square attracts many street entertainers.
Moving back to the Modern Center you have to see the Trevi Fountain, surely a part of everyone’s Roman holiday. Visitors are always amazed that such a big and famous fountain is tucked away in a small piazza in the middle of side streets. Take extra-special care of your possessions here. Further up the via del Tritone you will come to piazza Barberini, now a busy roundabout, but the lovely Bernini fountain is not to be missed.
Viewpoints – One of the best views is at the top of the Vittoriano. This can be reached by climbing to the mid level terraces of the building and then paying €7 to ride the lift up to the very top of the building. This gives breathtaking views over the entirety of Rome with informative diagrams to help you understand just what it is that you can see. Views of the city can also come from climbing the many hills, either the original “seven hills” of Rome, or others that surround them. The two most popular views of Rome are from the Janiculum hill overlooking Trastevere and the Pincio at the edge of the Borghese Gardens. The former, best reached by car, has sweeping views of the centre of Rome, as long as the city council remembers to prune the trees on the hillside in front of the viewpoint. Cross over the piazza for an excellent view of the dome of St Peter’s. The Vatican is the main sight from the Pincio (Metro line A, “Flaminio – Piazza del Popolo” stop, and then a good climb). Less popular, but just as nice, is the orange grove at the Parco Savello on the Aventine Hill.
Holidays and Events
- Anniversary of the Founding of Rome (21 April) – Since 1922, the city of Rome celebrates its founding. A national holiday between 1924 and 1945, the celebration is now limited to the city itself; during this day, admission to some of the municipal museums is free while historical parades, reenactments and other events take place.
The Roman Empire • Locations & Activities