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The Palatine and other high points

The seven hills of Rome beckon the curious.

June 01, 2008|Susan Spano

I seldom see people on bicycles in Rome, probably because of the traffic and uneven pavement. Then, too, the Eternal City is full of hills, seven of which are famous.

-- Susan Spano

Aventine

Many Rome aficionados know this hill south of the Forum because of the moderately priced Hotel Aventino, www.aventinohotels.com, and its nearby sister hotels, the San Anselmo and the San Pio. They occupy 19th century villas in a lovely, quiet residential neighborhood that, for some, may be a little too far removed from the heart of the historic center.

But the Aventine has its own attractions, including a promenade on top that looks across the Tiber River to Trastevere, the early Christian Basilica of Santa Sabina and the Circus Maximus. It's within walking distance of the Porta Portese Sunday morning flea market in Trastevere and Testaccio, a neighborhood known for butcher shops and, more recently, nightclubs.

Caelian

The Caelian is the Aventine's neighbor, between the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla. As quiet as the Aventine and even more off the beaten track, it has the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, built on Roman ruins, the Villa Mattei, home of the Italian Geographic Society, and three beautiful chapels attached to the church of San Gregorio Magno.

Capitoline

In Rome, where it's called the Campidoglio, this hill is ground zero, the religious center of the ancient empire, a government enclave in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and now the seat of the city's mayor. Its views over the Forum are unparalleled, and the Capitoline's central square, created by Michelangelo, remains one of the greatest spaces in Rome, despite the looming presence of the Victor Emmanuel Monument.

On top is the Capitoline Museum, with its priceless collection of ancient art, including an Etruscan bronze statue of the mythological wolf that suckled Rome's founders, Romulus and Remus. Tucked on the Victor Emmanuel Monument side of the hill is the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento. Dedicated to the 19th century unification of Italy, it also has special exhibitions such as a Renoir show, which is there until June 29.

Esquiline

The Esquiline is the highest of Rome's seven hills, with four summits.

One of these, the Oppian Hill, overlooking the Colosseum from the north, is veined by the subterranean ruins of Nero's 300-room Golden House and crowned by the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, with Michelangelo's moving statue of Moses.

Another summit serves as a plinth for the huge Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, begun after the Council of Ephesus officially recognized Mary as the "mother of God" in AD 431.

However, legend has it that on Aug. 5, 352, the Virgin appeared to Pope Liberius in a dream, commanding him to build a church in a place marked by a miraculous snowfall. The next morning, there was snow in summer on the Esquiline.

Palatine

Near the low-lying Tiber River port area where Rome grew up, the Palatine was an enclave for the rich and powerful of the expanding Roman Empire. Augustus Caesar built a home there. Its ruins, including four exquisitely frescoed rooms, are open to Forum visitors, as is the whole garden-like summit of the Palatine.

Quirinale

This fine promontory in the center of Rome is topped by the Baroque Piazza and Palazzo del Quirinale, the official residence of the Italian president since 1948. The Via XX Settembre, leading to it from the northeast, has a fine collection of Baroque churches, including Francesco Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, as well as two pretty parks known mostly to locals.

A tunnel below the Quirinale takes traffic from busy Via Nazionale to the Spanish Steps area.

Viminale

Between the Esquiline and Quirinale, the Viminale, no tourist mecca, is the smallest of Rome's seven hills. It is topped by the Italian Ministry of the Interior, occupying a palazzo built around 1910.

But its southwestern flank leads to the old Roman area known as the Subura, a fine place for wandering and eating pizza.

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