The Aventine Hill is the southernmost of Rome’s seven hills. It is a peaceful residential area that seems a world away from the bustle of other areas of Rome.
I began my exploration at Terme Caracalla, located just to the south of the Circus Maximus on the Caelian Hill. The enormous ruins housed a public bath from the time it was completed in AD 217 during the reign of Emperor Caracalla until a Goth invasion some 300 years later. The entrance fee is 6 euros, and there are audio and video guides available to rent. For this visit, I decided just to stroll through the grounds and just soak in the atmosphere of these impressive remains. The walking path through the Terme leads you through the remains of the pools, gymnasiums, and hot and cold rooms. I felt dwarfed standing amid the towering ruins of the Terme. I can’t even imagine what it must have looked like to walk through this impressive complex when it was fully operational.
From the Terme, I followed Viale Aventino to Viale della Piramide Cestia where I arrived at the Museo della Via Ostiense. This museum, located in the Porto San Paolo is tiny, but completely free of charge. It has some interesting artifacts, but the most interesting thing about it is that it was part of the Aurelian Walls, and you can climb to the top to walk between the two towers. As often seems to happen in my explorations, I was the only visitor inside the museum.
Just a block away is the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma – the Non-Catholic Cemetery. Follow Via Marmorata to Via Caio Cestio and you will arrive at the gates. There is no entrance fee, but visitors are asked to leave a small donation. I walked around this fascinating cemetery, which has great views of the Pyramid of Cestia.
I continued down Via Marmorata until I reached the Lungotevere Aventino, where I realized that I wanted to be up on the hill overlooking the valley I found myself in. My mistake ended up being a rather fortuitous one, as I needed to take the Clivo di Rocca Savella to reach the Giardino degli Aranci – my next destination. This small pedestrian side street is lovely, and has some great views from the top of the garden steps.
After I took in the views from the garden, where I heard the cannon being fired from the Gianicolo Hill for the very first time, I set off toward the Rose Garden. Of course, I inadvertently headed in the opposite direction. This too proved a fortunate mistake. I decided to stop in the Basilica di Santa Sabina all’Aventino, rather than just rushing by. The interior is grand in its simplicity. It is not ornate and gilded like so many of the churches in Rome, but it is clean, light, airy – and enormous.
From there, I continued up the street and noticed that there were several people queuing randomly in the middle of a small piazza. My curiosity piqued, I realized I’d stumbled upon the Knights of Malta Keyhole. The line was short, so I joined it. There are many tourist attractions I find over-rated, and not really worth seeing. Surprisingly, this wasn’t one of them. The tiny view was magical. It is a perfectly aligned vista of St Peter’s that reflects the illusion I had noticed all along the hill, that the view of the steeple appears closer when viewed from a distance. Well worth the lovely hike up the Aventine to view.
Following my turn at the keyhole, I walked the opposite direction down Via di Santa Sabina until I reached the Roseto di Roma Capitale – the Rose Garden, which was closed when I arrived. Rather than return by bus, I decided to walk back to Piazza del Popolo from here. Taking Via del Circo Massimo I turned down Via dell’Ara Massima di Ercole to Via di San Teodoro. I turned down a small side street to visit San Giorgio in Velabro, which stands near the Arch of Janus. According to the historical marker outside the church, this area was once a marsh, famed for being the spot where a basket containing Romulus and Remus was found. Continuing past the Foro Romano, I continued up Via Monte Tarpeo to Via del Campidoglio. Cutting through the Piazza del Campidoglio, I decided I had enough time to climb the steep stairs next door to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. It is another beautiful church, with spectacular views of the piazza below, and the city further afield.
Finally, I reached Via del Corso and took that to Piazza del Popolo where I caught the tram home. In all, I walked over 10 miles, and covered the Caelian, Aventine, Palatine, and Capitoline hills – four of the seven. Not a bad day’s hike!