5 Neighborhoods to Explore Outside of Rome’s Historic Center
While we love Rome’s historic center, the city is so much more than Piazza Navona or Vatican City. We surveyed our docents to get their insider takes on what areas of Rome are worth spreading your wings for and exploring during your next visit.
Where to Explore Outside of Rome’s Center?
1. EUR (Liz Brewster)
EUR was conceived when Benito Mussolini decided to showcase fascist modernism with the 1942 Universal Exhibition. The exhibition was aborted after the outbreak of World War II, but the neighborhood grew up in southern Rome around the monumental axis of via Cristoforo Colombo, which starts at the white marble Marconi obelisk, and finishes at the stepped cascades of a huge artificial lake.
After office hours is the perfect time to walk the quiet center. The silent, vast piazzas surrounding stark monumental buildings form metaphysical landscapes that seem like you’re stepping into a Giorgio De Chirico painting. A great place to cycle through the surrounding green parks dotted with sculptures, canoe and kayak in the lake, or stroll the local shopping streets. Alternatively, if you would like to get to grips with the history of Italy’s fascist past you may be interested in our Mussolini’s Imperial Ambitions walking tour.
2. Pigneto (Agnes Crawford)
Beyond the Aurelian walls, sandwiched between via Casilina and Prenestina, Pigneto is an area that developed in the 1920s as ad hoc housing for railway workers and was later featured in a number of Neo-Realist films. It has been the site for many street artists in recent years and is best visited either in the morning when the market is working, or in the evening when bars and restaurants are open.
On Monday – Saturday mornings, the vegetable market on the pedestrian stretch of via del Pigneto is the hub of the neighborhood. For some people watching, enjoy a relaxing meal at Rosti, which hosts outdoor seating in this converted workshop turned restaurant.
3. Monteverde (Tom Rankin)
Rising above Trastevere to the west, the Monteverde neighborhood is no longer just the green hill its name implies but rather a vibrant, relatively affluent residential neighborhood. Your first impression is formed by the grand vistas across Rome from the Janiculum Hill, well worth the climb, and the great Fontanone built by Paul V Borghese at the dawn of the 17th century (visible in the opening sequences to Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza).
The area is blessed with great public parks enjoyed by Romans and visitors to the city. Villa Doria Pamphilj is where the noble family retreated from the city from the 17th century until the 1970’s when it was opened as a public park. When you’ve walked (or biked) enough, visit ViVi Bistrot, near the gate at Piazza Bel Respiro.
4. Garbatella (Emily Knight & Andrew Kranis)
Built in the 1920’s and 30’s to house railway and dock workers, Garbatella was inspired by the utopian Garden Cities concept of Ebenezer Howard. Throughout the area you’ll see a distinctive architectural style known as Barochetto due to its Baroque flourishes and decorative motifs. When the Fascist government came in, the number and density of buildings started to rise. Nevertheless, the community spirit remained and to this day the lush greenery is very much a feature of this lesser-visited part of Rome.
The neighborhood is home to the Teatro Palladium, once a cinema and now a thriving theatre and arts space. As our docent Andrew Kranis told us, right around the corner you’ll find Bar Foschi where Pier Paolo Pasolini sat for hours working on his novels and screenplays.
5. San Giovanni (Jose de Peralta)
Giving this neighborhood its name, San Giovanni in Laterano was the first Christian Basilica ever built in Rome, which makes a visit almost as important as climbing St. Peter’s Dome. Some of the unique relics of San Giovanni include the actual doors of Julius Caesar’s Senate in the Roman Forum, transferred here by the architect Borromini when he vamped up the 4th century mother church in the 1600’s, and a lovely fresco fragment by Giotto dating back to 1300. The piazza outside the church boasts Rome’s tallest and oldest Egyptian obelisk. You can discover more about the significance of the Basilica to the Catholic faith on our First Church, the Lateran and Early Christianity walking tour, and then ponder your visit with an espresso or glass of Lazio red wine at either Caffe L’800, with outdoor seating, or the Circolo degli Artisti, featuring live local musicians in its garden area in the evenings.
Bonus: Catacombs (Katarzyna Parys and Prof. Erik Thaddeus Walters)
The two little-known catacombs, Santa Priscilla and Santa Agnese are among the best preserved, representative and fascinating catacombs in Rome, far from the madding crowd. The catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria, created in a Roman sand quarry in the late 2nd century expanded to a depth of 3 levels and had 13 km of galleries with about 40 thousand burial niches. Many walls and ceilings are beautifully painted with early Christian Biblical scenes. Here we find the oldest known paintings representing Saint Mary.
The Santa Agnese (Saint Agnes) catacomb is smaller, but interesting because of the architectural elements sculpted in the tufa rock. The monumental complex consists also of a beautiful 7th century church, the ruins of an enormous 4th century cemetery basilica and the mausoleum of Constantina, known as Santa Costanza church, with great 4th century mosaics, where you can often crash a wedding ceremony, especially on Saturday and Sunday.
Unbeknownst to many historians of Roman Antiquity, the Catacombs of Saint Agnes reveal much more than what lies hidden beneath the surface, including the smallest but best-preserved intact inhumation burial site in Rome (the human bones you see are real!). This walk unveils four major themes for better understanding the ancient Mediterranean world and its connection with our own: the transition from “pagan” Rome to “Christian” Rome; the sociological situations that condition any human person’s “choices”; Michelangelo’s “third” model for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica; and the Flemish Enlightenment’s obsession with the site. The site’s Mausoleum of Constance is Rome’s best-preserved structure after the Pantheon. Truth is stranger than fiction.