Hidden Gems in Rome

Rome, Italy is home to some of the most amazing sites, such as the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica (ok, technically that’s in Vatican City, but you get it), Spanish Steps, Colosseum, Roman Forum…just to name a few.

This beautiful city receives millions of tourists every year and most of them will adventure to the main attractions, such as those listed above. Very few, however, will see these three hidden gems in Rome.

Keyhole View of St. Peter’s Basilica

Keyhole vatican

By: Atlas Obscura

Il Buco Della Serratura

Rome’s semi-secret peephole vista is also a former Crusader stronghold. 

A NONDESCRIPT GREEN DOOR AT the end of a cul-de-sac features a stunningly well-framed, if comically tiny, view consisting of two nation-states and one country, with the dome of St. Peter’s perfectly situated in the center.

The doorway leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, the legendary crusader knights and religious order. Although the property has been in their hands for centuries, the site has seen many occupants. It originally held a fortified palace belonging to Alberico II, the ruler of Rome from 932-954, then became a Benedictine monastery before passing first into the hands of the Knights Templar in the 1100s, then finally to their brothers in arms, the Knights of Malta, in the 1400s.  As it holds extraterritorial status, it is not technically “Italy” within the walls.

The elegant building seen today is a small church known as Santa Maria del Priorato. It is the 18th-century handiwork of the famous architect and engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi, also known for his romantic etchings depicting the city and for his dark and enigmatic series of imaginary prisons (Carceri d’Invenzione). The church’s architectural motifs evoke ships and the sea, inspired by the longstanding tradition of comparing the Aventine Hill to a ship. The design also incorporates many esoteric and Masonic symbols. Piranesi was buried at the Priory after his death in 1778. The estate also houses the Embassy of the Order of Malta to Italy.

The keyhole vista lines up perfectly with the garden, centered on the Vatican in the distance. No one seems to be able to say with certainty whether this was a beautifully planned peepshow—or just a lucky coincidence. 

Know Before You Go

At the intersection of via di S. Sabina and via di Porta Lavernale on the Aventine hill. The gardens themselves can be viewed by appointment only. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Optical Illusion of St. Peter’s Basilica

From Via Niccolò Piccolomini you can experience a unique view of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a view that cannot truly be caught on camera, so although you might not be able to Instagram it, it is definitely something worth seeking out.

Illusion St. Peter's

The unique thing about this street is that is the further away from St Peter’s you get, the bigger it seems to become and the closer you get the smaller it appears to become.

This amazing view is from a residential street on the hill to the south-West of the Vatican, near Villa Doria Pamphili. You can do this while walking, but if you do have a car the illusion is even more interesting as you turn around to watch the Dome grow while you drive further away (PASSENGERS ONLY! DO NOT TRY TO VIEW IT WHILE DRIVING!!!). If you don’t have a car, you might be able to get a taxi to help you out.

It’s about 15 minutes’ walk from Baldo delgi Ubaldi Metro station (Linea A) or the same from San Pietro train station, up a steep hill overlooking the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

The street is named for Niccolò Piccolomini, who was made archbishop of Benevento in 1464 by Pope Pius II, but died a mere three years later. 

Pyramid of Caius Cestius in Rome

Hidden Gems in Rome

Like the Egyptian pyramids, this one was also built as a tomb–fitting, as today it borders the Non-Catholic Cemetery.… Though to be fair, it’s a bit arguable how hidden it is, given that you find it by hopping off the metro at the Piramide stop!

The Pyramid of Cestius is not only one of the best examples of ancient Egyptian culture’s influence on the Roman Empire but it is also one of the best-preserved buildings from the Imperial Period in general. It was built around 2000 years ago as a mausoleum for the magistrate and priest Caius Cestius and his family. It also played an important part in protecting the city from marauding tribes since it was incorporated into the Aurealian walls as a bastion when Rome grew. This rare gem was recently renovated and opened to the public in 2016, so it is well worth a visit. 

When you are ready to visit Rome or other parts of Italy, be sure to seek out some of the more hidden gems and local cafes (bars) and restaurants so you can truly experience the Italian life.

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