Secrets of Rome: 5 Lesser-Known Attractions of the Eternal City

Non-Catholic cemetery in Rome, Italy

This post is a guest post written by Hanna Johnson, who lives in Rome and loves Italian culture. Previously, Hanna lived in London for two years where she completed her degree in Business Management. Now she is mom of two and loves exploring new places and special events in Italy. If you want to connect with Hanna, you can follow her on Facebook.

I’ve lived in Rome for two years now, and this city never ceases to surprise me. But there is so much more than the traditional sites like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, The Vatican, The Sistine Chapel. Why yes, Piazza Navona is gorgeous and Fontana di Trevi is romantic, but you are sure to share these locations with 5,000 other tourists in the same hour. Rome is a huge tourist destination all year round, so make sure to book your flight beforehand. For example, if you are in Milan you can easily take a train to Rome or access the city from other destinations. It is really nice travelling by train in Italy instead of booking a direct flight.

Once in Rome, see the big sites but check out my personal recommendations for an off-the-beaten path vacation.

  1. Ostia Antica. No need to drive down past Naples to see Pompeii, because you have Ostia Antica just a half hour away from the center of Rome. This is the ancient port of the Roman Empire. For over 600 years this town was buzzing with action, regulating maritime trade for the entire Roman Empire. The main street, called the decumanus maximus, leads you to the ancient theatre. If you happen to go in the summer, check out ostianticateatro.it for a program of the plays and concerts going on in the summer months in the ancient theater. You can also check out the toilet block, the forum (which has very nice floor mosaics, and houses. Some of the homes even have the first floor still intact – that is some sturdy architecture! My favorite part of the town is the old bar/restaurant. The daily menu can still be found frescoed on the wall. Remember! On the first Sunday of every month, the entrance is free for everyone! Check the opening time.
  2. Sant’Ignazio. This fantastic Baroque church is famous for its ceiling frescoes. Thanks to a trick of the eye, many of the decorations give the illusion of being 3D! Make sure to check out the dome, and take a look for the “fix” the artists decided on before the donors pulled funding. You can find Sant’Ignazio in Via del Caravita number 8A, between Via del Corso and the Pantheon. Learn more about its history.
  3. The Protestant Cemetery. Did you know that Keats and Shelley are buried in Rome? Not only this, they are in the shadow of Rome’s only pyramid. This just helps to render the cemetery hopelessly romantic. I used to live in the Testaccio area and would come to the cemetery for my nature fix. It was built here because it is outside of the ancient walls, and non-catholics weren’t allowed to be buried in papal Rome. Even though it was technically legal to bury Protestants outside the walls, the funerals were often conducted at night. After 1953 the cemetery became known as the “Acatholic Cemetery,” because it is the final resting place of Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and even Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Communist Party of Italy.
  4. Bottega del Marmoraro. This adorable shop, actually a workshop, is found in Via Margutta 53. You can find all sorts of treasures inside Sandro Fiorentini’s collector’s kingdom. From Antiques to carvings to sculptures, you are sure to find the most unique gift for an original friend (or yourself!) He also does many engravings in Latin and Roman dialect. They are open from 9 till 13 and 15:30 till 18:30.
  5. Palazzo Incontro. While Rome’s most famous museums are fabulous, the lesser-known Palazzo Incontro deserves a visit. It is an old palace that was transformed into apartments and now used for various events. You can still see the old palace underneath, and the courtyard has been turned into a lovely bookshop and cafe. Check for the current exhibits online. You will find it in Via dei Prefetti number 22.

Question of the day: what is one of your favorite lesser known attractions in Rome?

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