By Sally Raven
When in Rome, many tourists are dazzled by iconic landmarks such as the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain — and who can blame them? These awe-inspiring landmarks have long since made up the history of the Eternal City. But behind the famous monuments and breathtaking architecture, some of the real relics of Rome are hidden away, off the beaten track. For those who want to sample a different side to Rome, here are just a few things that the guidebooks may have missed out. Look out for them as you explore Italy’s stunning and diverse capital.
Rome is known for it’s high culture and designer boutiques but for something a little different, why not visit one of it’s bustling flea markets? Porta Portese market in Trastevere runs every Sunday morning from dawn until the afternoon and is a great place to pick up a one-off bargain for your euros. Selling jewelry, technology, clothing, artwork and all manner of other treasures and trinkets, this flea market has something for everyone and is usually packed with punters waiting to haggle. The Piazza Navona open air market is also another great street market where you can often find street performers, musicians and fortune tellers creating a wonderful carnival-like atmosphere in the heart of the city.
Rome is famed for its diversity and you don’t get much more diverse that the Testaccio district off the Via de Monte. It is best known as a popular area for the city’s alternative nightlife scene with a row of bars and nightclubs built into the side of a hill and one even boasting a series of underground caves that double up as a dancing area. But just down the road from here is something entirely different – the famous Protestant Cemetery (or The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners to quote its official title). This burial ground was originally built for non-local Catholics and is a green and tranquil space nestled within this primarily urban area. It is the final resting place of many notable writers, artists and other influential figures including Keats and Shelley and Oscar Wilde once proclaimed it as ‘the holiest place in Rome.’
THE SECRET KEYHOLE
Close to Circo Massimo is the Aventine Hill in Via di Santa Sabina – a quiet area made up of orange groves, villas, old monasteries and other ancient religious orders. At the top of this hill is a building whose unmarked gates boast a very special keyhole. For if you bend down and peer through you will be greeted by the sight of the the infamous dome of St Peter’s Basillica in the distance with the manicured gardens of this building framing it perfectly. It is a memorable vantage point and probably one of the most breathtaking views that you’ll see in Rome.
THE BEST GELATO
When in Rome, tourists will be treated to some of the most mouthwatering cuisine in the world and it would be rude not to try some authentic Italian gelato. But with thousands of parlours lining the streets of Rome, how do you know which ones to pick? Like many things in Rome, the finest establishments are sometimes off the beaten track and this is no truer than for the San Crispino parlour on Via della Panetteria. This humble, side street parlor has won awards for producing the best gelato in Rome and even featured in the famous book Eat, Pray, Love. Another fine gelato merchant is just beyond Piazza Navona – Gelateria del Teatro. Again it can be tricky to find, famed only by it’s hand painted ice-cream cone sign. But the journey is worth it as they use only the finest ingredients to create their outstanding flavors that alternate with the seasons.
THE DOLLY HOSPITAL
For something that you don’t see everyday, head down the cobbled alley off the Piazza del Popolo. Here you’ll find an initially chilling shop window, where the broken faces, heads and limbs of dolls are pressed up against the glass. The shop owner is Federico Squatrito and his business is bringing these dolls back to life in within his intriguing yet tiny workspace. A true craftsman, he also works on broken vases, figurines and other Roman artifacts. Not something you might expect to see on the bustling streets of Rome but definitely worth a visit for those who have an interest in toys and antiques.