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The Hidden Treasures of Rome

By Laura Blake

Posted: 1st July 2014 14:38

The Sistine Chapel, Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum – the most popular landmarks of Rome are the reason why most tourists visit this city in the first place.  Every day, thousands of visitors descend on these attractions and queue restlessly for hours for the chance to snap the perfect photo, but Rome is so much more than these few beloved landmarks.  Now, we’re not suggesting you turn your nose up at most popular tourist itineraries (because that would be nothing short of sacrilege) but you should also take the time to duck out of the queues and explore your surroundings.  After you’ve posed outside the Colosseum and basked in the glory of the Pantheon, leave the crowds behind and meander down every winding back alley and peer behind every magnificent façade.  You’ll soon uncover a wealth of hidden treasures and some of Rome’s best kept secrets. 

Architectural Wonders

St. Peter’s Basilica can receive up to 20,000 visitors a day.  Ok, so that’s to be expected, but it’s also not exactly hard to find equally exquisite churches that have mercifully escaped the clutches of tourists.  The San Paolo Fuori le Mura is one of the city’s four ancient basilicas and yet, on any given weekday, you may well be the only visitor, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to explore to your heart’s content.  Consecrated in the 4th Century, this church boasts a breathtaking triumphal arch, a beautiful frescoed ceiling and the supposed tomb of St.  Paul.  If you can’t bear the thought of leaving Rome without seeing St. Peter’s, however, simply climb Aventino Hill in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta and peer through the keyhole in the gate of the Priorate of the Knights of Malta.  A perfect – and free – view of St. Peter’s resplendent dome awaits.

From the top of the highest hill to the depths of Rome– under the paved city streets lies a fascinating experience that is quite literally hidden from view.  In places, the Underground City of Rome lies up to 30 metres below surface level, so to see Rome from just above is to miss out on a wealth of architecture.  A twisting maze of tunnels, streets and catacombs have revealed remnants of Ancient Rome – the Basilica of San Clemente and the Crypta Balbi offer insight to daily life and religious traditions, whilst a warren of rooms beneath the Colosseum have unearthed the skulls of tigers, bears and other animals killed for sport. 

Food

After a busy morning tracking down the awesome architectural highlights of Rome, you may well be in need of refreshment.  And in Rome, that means a delicious and tongue tingling serving of gelato.  Gelato parlours are everywhere, but resist the temptation to dive into the first one you see and instead track down Gelateria del Teatro.  Hidden down a narrow, dead-end street just beyond Piazza Navona, this gelataria is run by a couple of elderly yet brazen ice-cream connoisseurs.  Nowhere else in Rome will you find such exotic flavours that utilise the freshest of seasonal ingredients, and if you time your trip just right, you may just be offered a taste of the freshest batch straight out of the machine.  This tiny parlour is easy to miss, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for the faded ice cream cone-shaped sign that stands haphazardly outside.  Be warned though – one scoop and you’ll never go back to Ben & Jerry’s again. 

If a scoop (or two or three) of gelato hasn’t sated your sweet tooth, then the next destination on your itinerary is Cioccolata e Vino.  This wine bar is popular with the locals, and aside from delicious local wines, it is also known for selling, somewhat bizarrely, books.  But that isn’t the real reason for Cioccolata e Vino’s popularity.  No, what the patrons clamouring for a place in the queue are after is a chocolate shot.  That’s right.  Melted chocolate served in individual shot glasses.  Or, as we prefer to call them, little shots of heaven.  They offer a large menu of flavoured shots (most of them featuring liquor) that are then topped with whipped cream.  Make sure you get a table, because let’s face it, you’re not going anywhere for a while. 

Museums and Galleries

If you’re in need of a culture fix but have already braved the Vatican Museum and the Galleria Borghese, don’t despair – you only need to head a little way out of the city centre to find a museum not beset by crowds.  San Lorenzo might not be the prettiest or most fashionable district, but it’s home to one of Rome’s best museums – the Museuo Nazionale Romano.  Located close to the Termini Train Station, this 19th Century Neo-Renaissance palace houses one of the world’s most important collections of Classical art, and is well worth the trip to the gritty district, especially as Michelangelo’s Santa Maria degli Angeli Church is practically next door. 

But are you – dare you admit it – tired of faded frescoes and one armed statues? Did you leave the Sistine Chapel thinking that perhaps Raphael was just showing off? Then maybe you need to seek out a few of Rome’s ‘alternative’ museums.  The Pasta Museum provides a quirky insight to Italy’s favourite dish, but the macabre amongst you might instead enjoy a trip to The Museum of the Souls of Purgatory.  Creepy, right? Located in an eerie room off the Chisesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio Church, it houses artefacts that supposedly offer proof that purgatory exists – bibles, tables and items of clothing adorned with the scorched handprints of souls trapped in the endless depths of limbo.  If you have a strong stomach, the Museo Criminologico, housed in a former prison, offers a disgustingly fascinating insight to how criminals were once ‘dealt with’.  Using life sized models, it graphically illustrates just how painful torture could be… this is definitely one museum to visit before lunch.

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