Have you ever been to Rome? If you haven’t you definitely should (and you better read this article), but if you have, it is most likely that you are already thinking that a city with more than 9 million visitors per year and a story which spans more than two and a half thousand years cannot keep hidden treasures. Fair enough, but I am afraid that you, my friend, are completely wrong.
Although it is absolutely true that we all have each one of the arches of the Colosseum, the columns of St. Peter’s Basilica and the stones in the Roman Forum etched in our memory, there are still some spots and feelings to discover in the “Eternal City”. Famous movies such as “Angels & Demons” or “Mission: Impossible III” and not so famous (but better movies instead) as Eurotrip and The Talented Mr. Ripley have already brought a broad-brushed picture of the Italian capital to our retinas. Nonetheless, in order to truly understand what Rome historically represents and to capture the ethereal culture that the city exhales, there are “5 hidden gems” that you should experience before it is too late.
Please note that this list is based on the author’s knowledge of the city as an expat and his own personal preferences. Whether you agree with the gems detailed below or not is not relevant, as the “5 hidden gems” will still be pillars of the Italian culture and flagships of the city. That being said, enjoy!
Ponte, Rione V
This historical district of the city lies surrounded by the Tiber River in the North and West and the famous Piazza Navona in the East. Its name, Italian for bridge, is a clear reference to the Ponte Sant’Angelo, as their history is closely related. Back in time, this bridge was the only way for pilgrims to cross from the city to the tomb of the Apostle Peter and due to this traffic of people, a lot of businesses such as taverns (everybody fancies a drink every now and then), shops and inns started to flourish in an area that ended up being a district.
Today, this district still emanates the most classical and traditional Italian essences, with picturesque buildings and cobblestone streets. If you want to experience the real Rome, you should not miss a late afternoon walk by Via Giulia, Via dei Banchi Vecchi and Via dei Coronari, getting lost in its tiny alleys to finally, if you find your way out, enjoy a drink in Piazza del Fico.
Rome’s sunset is one of the things that tourists really want to experience, as the city might not have a huge skyline but the view of the sun over the countless domes is priceless. Places like the Pincio at Villa Borghese or the Gianicolo Park are always crowded with tourists waiting for the sun to go down, but as always, there are other “not-so-crowded-and-even-better” options.
On top of the famous Campidoglio, in between Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum, an amazing hidden viewpoint awaits. The Caffarelli Terrace offers an “off the beaten path” view straight into the heart of the city, with the astonishing dome of the Pantheon in the North, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Northwest and the Theatre of Marcellus in the West. For all of you photography lovers this terrace is a must with an added-value, you can take out your cameras to shoot Rome’s sunset while having a cold Spritz (famous Italian cocktail). I am pretty sure you will come back. (Photo)
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe
There is no best way to get to know a culture than by “eating it” and that is exactly why Tonnarelli cacio e pepe play such an important role in the Roman culture.
Although the country currently known as Italy did not unite until the 19th century, its cuisine, one of the most famous and attractive in the world, can claim traceable roots as far back as the 4th century BC. And the traditional pasta has accompanied its cuisine for most of this long time, with pasta’s first (written) reference dating back to 1154. It is true that pasta is all over Italy, but this particular recipe is so close to Rome as Romans are, being the greatest exponent of what is commonly known as the “Roman traditional poor cuisine”.
As in any other typical dish there is an ancient and mystical story behind that feeds the myth. The Tonnarelli cacio e pepe have their origin in the ancient shepherds of the Lazio province in which Rome is located that, unable to carry and preserve nutritive supplies while away for long periods, decided to take only long-life food. Thus, dry pasta, aged sheep’s cheese (named Pecorino Romano) and pepe (Italian for pepper) became a tradition.
Nowadays this dish is still one of the most well-known and demanded recipes in Rome, so make sure you don’t leave the city without giving it a try.
Il buco di Roma
This place has many names, “The Aventino Keyhole”, “The secret keyhole in Rome” or, as Italians call it, “The hole of Rome”, and a lot of legend surrounds it. For obvious reasons I cannot explain more, you will have to go and check it out (it is actually easy to find, just go here and search for a door with a queue of people waiting to look through the keyhole).
What I can indeed tell you is that the door in question leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, the legendary crusader knights and religious order. Nowadays it is home for the Ambassador of the Knights of Malta to Italy and the Holy See and for all devoted of the church of Santa Maria del Priorato, as this church stands there too. But it has had many occupants, from a fortified palace to a Benedictine monastery.
As a side note for history geeks, given the status of this ancient Military Order, Rome technically gathers three nations within its territory: Italy, the Vatican and the Knights of Malta.
Fontana di Trevi
We will both agree that the Trevi Fountain is a wonder in all senses, although it might not be a hidden gem… Let’s call it a not-so-hidden gem. However, it could probably be the most imposing monument in the city.
It took 30 years to complete the fountain but they were not in vain. Built in 1762, this 26 meters tall and 49 meters wide fountain celebrates the incredible power of water and impersonates the largest and most iconic fountain of the over 2,000 erected in Rome and, probably, of the world. And it shows its best side at night.
As you may imagine, this spot is fiercely packed by tourists armed with selfie-sticks so they can photograph themselves close to the marble fountain. Nonetheless, if you want to avoid crowds and enjoy the details and sound of the fountain, I would recommend you to visit it around 4 am. I know it may sound weird but you would be surprised at how beautiful it is when lighted up at night.
Anyways, I know you would love to, but try not to repeat the famous scene of “La Dolce Vita”, as swimming in the Trevi Fountain is, unfortunately, strictly forbidden.