I’ve been living in Rome for six and a half years now but I still enjoy walking around like a tourist, camera hanging from my neck, eyes wondering at new buildings, views, narrow streets or simply already known spots that I get to see from a new perspective. There’s nothing I enjoy more than discovering new streets, new connections between places I already know – and believe me it took me a lot to connect the dots; in the beginning Rome was for me a collection of squares, buildings and tourist spots with no apparent connection to one another except the underground or bus line that got me there. At some point, I decided I wanted to get to know the city better, so I just started walking and walking for hours, amazed at how close some places were to one another or at what was in between. I only started doing this after several trips in other countries where I always had one simple but fundamental rule: walk as much as you can and use as little public transport as possible. So I came back to Rome after nine months of traveling around and started my walk to discover. It helped a lot to have several friends and relatives visiting me – I wanted to make a good impression and show them unknown spots and views so I discovered a lot just by guiding them. That’s how I discovered the amazing places and gardens on the Aventine Hill, which is now one of my favorite places in Rome.
The Aventine Hill
The Aventine Hill is one of the famous seven hills on which ancient Rome was originally built and it is located south of the city center, right between the Circus Maximus and the Pyramid of Cestius. The hill belongs to the ward of Rome called Ripa and it overlooks the Tiber. As legend has it, the Aventine is the hill chosen by Remus as a viewpoint to look for the auspicious birds sent by the Gods as a sign to indicate where Rome should be built – Romulus had chosen the Palatine hill.
There are many ways to get there but what I like doing is an itinerary that starts from the Pyramid, and goes up through the quiet and residential area which starts right from Via Marmorata. After the Post Office there is a street that goes left and upwards and as soon as you make the turn you can feel the quietness of this green, peaceful neighborhood. The traffic noise fades in the distance as you start smelling new perfumes and hearing the birds twitter. It’s a really nice walk to our first attraction: The Keyhole.
Saint Peter’s through the Keyhole
After this short climb – it only takes about five minutes to get there – you arrive in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, to find yourself in front of a wall with this huge dark green arched door: the gate to the Priorate of the Knights of Malta. If you’re lucky enough there will be no queue. From my opinion, this place has way too few visitors considering the beauty of the view. Still, it allows me to impress my friends when they come to visit because nobody ever knows about it – I’ve even met residents who haven’t seen it. So you can approach the door and place your eye in front of the keyhole to gaze at one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen. I know it may sound weird – like, seriously a hole in a door can hold such a wonder? Well, for me it does. The trees inside the garden have been cut so they can provide a frame for the Basilica, so you can admire this long row of trees and at the end the famous Saint Peter’s dome. The most amazing thing is that the Villa, which belongs to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is an extraterritorial building so you’re basically standing on the independent territory of the SMOM, admiring a building that belongs to the Vatican, all of this while in Rome, Italy. When I read about it I thought Wow, that’s really worth a peek. Make sure to bring a good camera to have a nice memory of the view through the keyhole.
The Orange Garden
Walking north from the Keyhole you’ll find, on the left side, a stunning little garden with a beautiful terrace which gives an even more stunning view of Rome. The original name is Parco Savello but it is known as the Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci) because of the many orange trees growing all around. The garden has a really symmetrical arrangement, with a wide avenue in the center that leads directly to the viewpoint. The area is part of the small fortress that used to belong to the Savelli family and was built between 1285 and 1287 next to the Santa Sabina Church but the garden was built in 1932 by Raffaele de Vico who wanted to open this area to the public and add this new belvedere, one of the most beautiful ones I may add, which allows you to admire great part of the city center. Right in front of you as you walk along the main avenue you can see Saint Peter’s Basilica whereas from the terrace, looking right, you can see many famous buildings, one in all the Altare della Patria (or Vittoriano) standing out in its grandeur.
Rome Rose Garden
If you’re planning on visiting Rome in spring – and I really suggest doing that – this is a must, so you might as well add it to your to-do list right now. Just five minutes north of the Orange Garden, the Rose Garden is a public park established in 1931 and it guards 1100 varieties of roses. It’s usually open from the end of April until the end of June (you can find information on the opening dates on the official tourist website) and it offers a magnificent colorful view, just a few minutes from the Circus Maximus which you can also admire from the highest point of the garden. From 1645 till 1934 a Jewish cemetery used to be on this site, the reason why the design of the footpaths inside the garden looks like the Menorah, the Jewish nine-branched candelabrum used during the Hannukah holiday. Take a walk on these footpaths and get closer to smell the perfumes of the variety of roses – and don’t forget to take a romantic picture of the heart-shaped rosebush at the top of the garden.
You can do this whole itinerary in just a few hours so find a sunny day, put some comfortable shoes on and take your camera: I can assure you there’s nothing better than getting away from the crowded tourist spots for a quiet walk in these little pieces of nature right in the heart of Rome. Then you might as well walk all the way to the Colosseum, just minutes away from the Rose Garden.