Top 5 Hidden Gems of Rome, From a Classical Studies Major

Now, I love the Colosseum, but there is more to Rome than this building. The world-famous Colosseum, better known to us Classicists as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is basically an icon for ancient history. But, about half a mile away from the Colosseum is the smaller ancient site of Trajan’s Market, which most tourists aren’t even aware of and just pass by. Trajan’s Market has equal grandeur and the history here is just as rich. Keep reading to learn more about some of the most amazing little-known historical sites of Rome!

Ara Pacis Augustae
Lungotevere in Augusta

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The Ara Pacis, or the Altar of Peace, is a special monument of Rome enclosed in a modern building. Sounds odd, I know, but if you pass the Ara Pacis Augustae Museum, you will understand what I mean. The imposing Altar, all in marble and built around 9 B.C, is safely tucked away inside a bright white and glass-walled building. It is relatively small as museums go, housing only the Ara Pacis on the ground floor, and then an underground level with an accumulated collection of more Roman artifacts. It is neat and interesting, but what prevails is the Altar itself.

Magnificent and very well-preserved despite being found broken in hundreds of pieces, it is fully formed after having been pieced back together. You will see the most iconic images of Rome, like Romulus and Remus with the She-Wolf, and even the first Emperor of Rome, Augustus, is shown on the side reliefs of the Altar. It is iconic in Roman history, yet few people know it today. It is my personal favorite monument, and glorious to learn about.

Trajan’s Market
Via Quattro Novembre, 94

 rome, Hidden Gems of Rome, jcu classic studies major, discovering rome, study abroad in rome, trajans marketEmperors wished to leave their mark on Rome, and during their time in leadership, it was custom to build. The Emperor Trajan was no exception. Today, his marketplace is just a shell of the grand structure which once stood, but you can still walk through it. Tourists walk by this structure often, but few understand what they are seeing or go inside. Walking toward the Colosseum from the Vittoriano (i.e. Wedding Cake) down Via dei Fori Imperiali, you know that open space to the left with semi-circular ruins? That’s Trajan’s Market.

Once attached to the Forum, the Market presented a unique addition to Roman life: essentially, an Ancient shopping mall. The museum holds many of the treasures found during excavation, and it also has rotating modern exhibits alongside its ancient ones. Just last year, it housed a fashion exhibit, sporting elegant dresses alongside Corinthian marble columns.

It is a huge site to visit, and the museum offers audio tours which are extremely helpful and interesting to really help you get a sense of the achievements built by Trajan.

Ostia Antica
Vai dei Romagnoli, 717, Ostia

rome, Hidden Gems of Rome, jcu classic studies major, discovering rome, study abroad in rome, ostia anticaThis is a special find. For those of you who wish to see ruins, very similar to Pompeii without the destruction and the price tag, Ostia Antica is the place to visit. This very well-preserved town which was once Rome’s main port is only 30 minutes by train from the center of Rome. The train is €1.50 (just use a standard bus/metro ticket) and you follow the line down to Ostia Antica, hop off, and walk for five minutes to reach the site.

The town itself hosts a full theater, Ancient houses, beautiful marble and mosaics, and all other aspects of town life. It is huge. Once home to over 100,000 inhabitants, it is not short on history. Most amazingly: you are able to walk through it all. Few spots of the ruins are cut off to the public. Enjoy wandering through the homes and ducking underneath doorways and arches to investigate further.

It is quite special, and definitely worth adding to the Must Do List. I promise you will not be disappointed!

Orto Botanico
Palazzo Corsini, Largo Cristina di Svezia, 24

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This one is very close to JCU! Just past the Guarini Campus, en route to Gianicolo Residence, sits the Orto Botanico. Not an obvious choice of Ancient locations, but it is rife with history. The spot itself was once the place of Septimus Severus’ baths, but is now 30 acres of park space.
Lush and wonderful greenery in the heart of the city seems a little odd, and it is! Walking through the gardens, it is hard to remember you are just 1 minute away from the campus. The gardens are also home to plants from all over the world, and a particular favorite is the small bamboo wood. Picking up the pace and hiking up Gianicolo Hill, which it resides alongside, then breaching the top of the gardens, you are presented with an awesome view. Here, you are given an almost 360-degree panorama of Rome’s rooftops. On a clear day, the view pushes out past the city lines and into the suburbs. It is quite extraordinary.

Balbi Crypt
Via delle Botteghe Oscure, 31

crypta balbi, ara pacis, rome, Hidden Gems of Rome, jcu classic studies major, discovering rome, study abroad in romeRight next to Largo Argentina is Balbi Crypt. Yes, underground you go! Even better, under the modern streets of Rome! The Balbi Crypt is partly the ancient ruins of a theater, and also houses many artifacts within the museum. Jam-packed with findings, you can explore the smaller parts of history here, from jewelry to amphoras. There are some wonderful finds here that are well looked after and beautifully presented.

Stepping deep down into the foundations of Rome is pretty special. The tunnels take you under the main road and show off the ruins well. It’s a very cool spot to really see how Rome builds on itself and how the street level has risen over the years.

These are just a few ideas of places in Rome you may not have thought to visit. Rome has so much more to offer, too – keep an eye out for future posts with more “insider tips” to Classical Rome.

Last tip: take your student ID and you can get discounts on most museums and sites you visit! Enjoy!


Bethany Anne Miller

Classical Studies Major

Class of 2019

Shrewsbury, England

Student Spotlight