Top 10 Alternative Sights In Rome

Monday, December 15, 2008


Seen the Vatican? Done the Coliseum? Walked the . . . well you get it. From decorative crypts to Jetsons-like malls, here are the top 10 lesser-known sights around Rome you’re unlikely to find in any travel guide.

By Sarah Parker

1. The Hot Air Balloon in Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese may be one of Rome’s most popular destinations during the warm summer months for locals, but not many visitors know about the giant hot air balloon located here. One of the largest in the world, this offbeat attraction allows you and 29 of your closest friends to rise 150 meters into the sky for some of the best views you can get of Rome, short of walking several thousand steps to the top of a cathedral.

2. The Capuchin Crypt

Located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto, this morbid attraction, perhaps best suited for Halloween time, consists of bones from over 4,000 French monks who are said to have fled their home country for the safety of Rome during the French Revolution, and whose bones can now be found decorating the walls of the church’s many chapels in intricate patterns such as crosses, flowers, arches, and other happy shapes. Wondering what time it is? Check out the large clock on the wall composed of vertebrae, foot, and finger bones.

3. Municipal Rose Gardens

Spread out over a compact 2 1/2 acres, Rome’s Municipal Rose Garden (Roseto Comunale di Roma) contains over 1,000 varieties of roses from over 20 different countries, including the green-petaled Chinensis Virdiflora and the foul-smelling Rosa Foetida. Open only during May and June, a trip to the Rose Gardens is an appropriate end to a day spent within the carnage and brutality at the nearby Coliseum.

4. Scala Santa and San Giovanni Basilica

Located across the street from each other, the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano) and the Holy Stairs (Scala Santa) are some of the most famous locations for Christian pilgrims. The amazingly ornate Basilica is the cathedral for Rome’s bishop, and has seen many reincarnations since its days in the 1st century when it was a mansion (now located 5 1/2 meters below its nave). Brought over from Jerusalem in the 4th century, the Scala Santa are a series of 28 marble steps that are believed to be those steps walked by Jesus on his way to see Pontius Pilate. Today you can watch devotees ascend the stairs on their knees while you sit back enjoying a cool Limoncello.

5. MACRO Rome (Contemporary Art Museum of Rome)

Once the site of a large industrial complex, MACRO (Museum of Contemporary Art Rome) sticks out in a city where it’s hard to find a museum containing works less than a millennium old. MACRO contains works from Italian artists from the 1960’s on, or what is considered in Rome as “recently.”

6. The Keyhole of the Priorato di Malta

One of Rome’s oddest attractions, if you stoop down to look through the keyhole of the Priorato di Malta located in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, you’ll get a perfectly framed view of the dome of San Pietro, an effect apparently planned by the architect of the surrounding building. Perfect for a romantic evening of two or for that out-of-town visitor that really loves keyholes.

7. Porta di Roma Shopping Center

Rome’s newest and one of Europe’s largest, the Porta di Roma is a 150,000-square-meter mall consisting of 220 shops along with various restaurants, four tennis courts, two football pitches, and an indoor gym with a swimming pool. Tired from all that walking around you’ve been doing in the Ancient City? You’re in luck. The mall contains a series of moving sidewalks, escalators, and upholstered seating to aid your weary feet.

8. Trattoria Remo

Found in Piazza San Maria Liberatrice, Remo is almost as well known for their long lines as they are for their their giant thin-crust pizzas. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 spots for pizza in Rome (which is saying alot ), you can also pick up some authentic cooking supplies like rice and mozzarella-filled breadcrumb coating at this local institution.

9. Ristorante-Caffe’ Lo Zodiaco

This quaint cafe on Viale del Parco Mellini offers breathtaking views of historic Rome from high above. One of the lesser-known by tourists, this cafe is especially romantic at night when the meals are served by candlelight beneath gigantic windows framing the city nightscape. Note: if your girlfriend is heading here with a Roman “friend” you may be in store for some trouble.

10. Villa d’Este

Visiting Rome makes it apparent that no one lived better throughout the years here than the members of the Church. Villa d’Este is a testament to the power and grandeur even a Cardinal can bring to a building project when he shows a little interest. Built in the 16th-century by order of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, this palatial estate boasts some of the most beautiful gardens in Europe and serves as one of the finest models of Renaissance culture


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