They call Rome “The Eternal City.” All roads lead to Rome. When in Rome, do like the Romans. La Dolce Vita, shot mostly by Fellini in iconic Via Veneto Rome. And so on.
Italy’s bellwether metropolis, nerve centre and capital may have lost some economic lustre over the decades to EU stars like London, Paris, Brussels, Madrid and Amsterdam. For the average tourist, this is of minimal concern. Because when you step out of Colosseo station on Line B of the Rome Metro and stare at the city’s linchpin landmark in awe, you quickly understand. Rome is Eternal.
From the Sistine Chapel to Trevi Fountain, this 14,000-year-old Caput Mundi and al fresco UNESCO World Heritage Site incarnate unfurls gem after gem. Enough, certainly, to keep shutterbugs very busy. But to understand Rome you must acquaint yourself with the city’s Seven Hills.
The Seven Hills of Rome represent the physical heart of the city. The walls of the ancient capital were purposely erected outside the hills in order to provide a strategic advantage over invaders. Today the hills serve a more benign purpose. They are: Aventine Hill, Caelian Hill, Capitoline Hill, Esquiline Hill, Palatine Hill, Quirinal Hill and Viminal Hill.
The most southerly of Rome’s hills is a posh residential precinct of the city. There is much architectural beauty to explore here, such as cathedrals, parks, palaces and, notably, the Basilica of Santa Sabina and Rome Rose Garden.
Under the Republican era of Rome Caelian Hill was one of the most elegant districts of the city. Recent archaeological digs under the Baths of Caracalla have unearthed vestiges of opulent villas, flush with spectacular mural and mosaic work. The Caelian, significantly, is home to the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo and Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo. The large Villa Celimontana is probably the area’s most famous landmark, however.
The epic area between the Forum and the Campus Martius was a fortress in ancient Rome that was subsequently usurped by Medieval and Renaissance palaces. Michelangelo once lent his considerable expertise to re-design the area.
Esquiline was home to a king in the 6th century BC. The hill was a wealthy base for the aristocracy for a time and rises above the valley where the Colosseum was built.
Arguably the Roman hill with the most brand-name recognition, Palatine looks over the Forum and, as such, is de facto headquarters for the city’s UNESCO World Heritage status. Most notably, mythology has it that Palatine was home to the cave where Lupercal nursed Romulus and Remus. For archaeology students, Palatine Hill is akin to a Holy Grail of sorts.
Located in northeast Rome, Quirinal is home to the official residence of Italy’s Head of State. Quirinal Palace has housed thirty popes, four kings and eleven presidents and is the 6th largest palace in the world. In terms of area, it makes Washington D.C.’s White House look like a shed.
Diminutive Viminal Hill is small but has a beautiful palace that is home to the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior. The hill has been part of Rome since the 6th century BC.