On Rome’s hills, countless wonders underfoot

Anne Calcagno

THE WASHINGTON POSTRome is where I grew up, and with each return, I stroll her parks with nostalgic ardour, inhaling the heady scent of the bay laurels that famously wreathed emperors and poets. Ancient Rome was never indifferent to nature’s lure, and neither is modern Rome – the wonder is that so few visitors savour the city’s green spaces. For any traveller who has questioned what to do during Rome’s midday closures or longs for respite and reflection, why not sit on a shaded bench and stretch those legs?

Each of Rome’s seven original hills features major tourist sites and, within walking distance, hidden oases of shade, respite and unexpected viewpoints.


Ascending Michelangelo’s Cordonata ramp to Piazza del Campidoglio is an unforgettable experience, despite the selfie-snapping mobs. While the Capitoline Museums beckon art lovers, many visitors come for the grand overlook onto the Imperial Forum. Whatever the draw, the thronged capitol of Rome’s municipal government conceals peaceful retreats.

The Palatine

Visitors inside the Imperial Forum typically hike the Palatine for the Farnese Gardens promontory’s splendid view onto the Forum and Capitoline Hill. I cherish this overlook, too, but I always approach the Forum from behind, choosing the entrance midway down Via San Gregorio, to experience the Palatine’s paths of untrammeled greenery.

The back of the Colosseum seen from Rome’s Esquiline Hill. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST


When tour groups swarm down Via dei Fori Imperiali toward the Colosseum, I diverge. Just 10 minutes up Via Claudia awaits an otherworldly escape from the gladiatorial mobs: Villa Celimontana. About 27 acres of grassy slopes and palm and umbrella pine enclaves welcome sunbathers, joggers and joyous children.


Michelangelo’s statue of Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli and the important basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore draw visitors to the base of the Esquiline. This largest of the hills ascends straight behind the Colosseum. Once the ground of wealthy Maecenas, it captivated the likes of Augustus, Horace and Virgil.


Trajan’s triumphal column and ancient marketplace bathe in direct sunlight, which quickly becomes exhausting. But a five-minute climb up Via Panisperna brings reprieve in the delightful if minute Villa Aldobrandini, accessed from a gate on Via Mazzarino.


The ever boisterous Trevi Fountain burbles at foot of the Quirinal. Enterprising folk climb up forking alleys to reach the high square outside Palazzo Quirinale, Italy’s presidential residence. A short walk further up Via del Quirinale are the Churches of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and St Andrea al Quirinale.


Long lines stream outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin, ready to test their luck by sticking a hand into the Bocca della Verita. From here, the Aventine inclines up, overlooking the Circus Maximus.