Rome

Best Places to See in the Aventine Hill, in Rome

June 26, 2014
Enrico Catani

Rising up from the bank of the Tiber River, the Aventine Hill is the southernmost of Rome’s legendary seven hills, just a short walk up from the Circus Maximus. During the Republic era, the Aventine Hill has been the district of the plebeians, but under the Empire many upper-class residences and places of worship where built here. According to mythology, this hill is strictly connected to Rome’s foundation legend, as it is said that Remus, one of the divinely fathered twins, chose this area to found the city.  
 
Today, this charming hill remains a peaceful oasis, despite being right in the heart of the bustling centre of Rome. A perfect place for a nice stroll, with terrific views of the surrounding landscape, the Aventine Hill is also filled with some of Rome’s most interesting, ancient treasures.
 
Here is a list, made by ItalyXP, of the attractions you cannot miss if you visit the Aventine Hill!

Basilica of Saint Sabina

This ancient Dominican church stands atop the Aventine Hill, providing breathtaking views of Rome. Its foundations were laid in the 5th century, during the rule of Pope Celestine I, where previously lay the residence of Sabina, a Roman matron that was later declared a Christian Saint.
 
The Basilica of Saint Sabina is widely considered the oldest Christian church in Rome, and it is impressive to see how the structure has maintained its original architectural style.
 
Impressive things to note inside the Basilica of Saint Sabina are the intricate marble-inlay wall decorations and the impressive nave of 24 Corinthian columns.
Although few of its mosaics survive, the original dedication in Latin from the 5th century remains, as do the elaborate wooden doors, which depict 18 carved panels illustrating biblical events, including one of the earliest Crucifixion scenes in existence. 

Temple of Portunus (Fortuna Virilis)

Dating back to the 1st century BC, this temple was dedicated to Portunus, god of keys, doors and livestock. It is considered one of the best preserved buildings of the Republic era, whose architecture can give us a glimpse of the magnificence of Ancient Rome.
 
The Temple of Portunus, unlike other monuments dating from the same period, has managed to avoid destruction because in the 872AD has been converted to a church dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt and used as such during the Middle Ages.
 
This imposing building, which has undergone several restorations over the centuries, was the religious centre of the Forum Boarium, one of the most important commercial areas in antiquity.

Aventine Hill highlights

Temple of Hercules Victor

Mistakenly long considered as a Temple of Vesta because of its circular shape, similar to the building of that name in the Roman Forum, this ancient temple is now correctly identified as a temple dedicated to Hercules Victor, the demigod of victory (“Victor” meaning “winner”).
 
Built in the 2nd century BC, this temple consists of a circular chamber surrounded by twenty Corinthian columns, amazingly preserved. It is located in the heart of the Forum Boarium, a few steps from its rectangular neighbor, the Temple of Portunus (n° 2 on this list).
 
The Temple of Hercules Victor is surrounded by a lovely, little park that offers a graceful addition to the Aventine Hill’s landscape, but also an ideal stop for a short refreshing break after a long walk through the streets of Rome.

Aventine Hill highlights

Baths of Caracalla

Built between 212 and 216AD by Emperor Caracalla, this bathing complex could accommodate 1,600 bathers at a time. It is considered one of the biggest set of ruins in the centre of Rome, yet one of the least-visited attractions.
 
This 28-acre complex was meant to promote the Emperor’s propaganda, as he allowed Romans from every social class to enter this magnificent thermae (facilities for bathing) and enjoy some relaxing time in lavish activities. This improved dramatically the public’s opinion of Caracalla.
 
Despite its name, the Baths of Caracalla didn’t consist just in swimming pools and baths: the complex also boasted exercise rooms, libraries, shops, eateries, and gardens. Today, only the shell of this once-great complex remains, but it can still help us to have a better understanding of the ancient Rome’s opulence.
 
Also, in the summer months, open-air operas and ballets are held in the Baths of Caracalla: a unique opportunity to enjoy great artistic performances immersed in a magic atmosphere.

Orange Garden

Also known as “Parco Savelli”, this splendid park charmingly sits behind the Basilica of Santa Sabina (n° 1 on this list), offering one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city. Legend says that Spanish Saint Dominic planted the first orange tree in Rome here, and named it accordingly. 
 
Built in 1932 by architect Raffaele de Vico, the Orange Garden is (obviously) full of bitter orange trees, where you will find a nice resting spot in the shade. The park holds several statues, ancient ruins and an outstanding fountain that greets the visitors with its scowling face.
 
The walkway leads to an idyllic terrace, which has always been a renowned spot to admire the sunset, among both tourists and locals. And although it’s not quite as famous as the panorama from “Il Pincio” at the top of the Villa Borghese, the Orange Garden is definitely more intimate: the perfect choice for a romantic evening!
 
Recently, this splendid place became famous for its appearance in a famous scene of "The Great Beauty" by Paolo Sorrentino, Golden Globes winner in 2014. Also, other main attractions of the Aventine Hill were used as location for this movie, and it's possible to visit them all through an exclusive movie-locations tour that will make you breathe the mysterious atmosphere of Sorrentino's mastepiece.

Mouth of Truth

Inside the portico of the ancient Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin lies the “Bocca della Verità”, which in English means the Mouth of Truth, a massive marble disk that depicts the face of Oceanus, god of all the water, with an open mouth, wide eyes and a flowing mane of hair.
 
This 1300 kg sculpture has attracted the curiosity of tourists from all over the world. The reason for its fame lies in a gruesome legend dating back to the Middle Ages: people believed that the mouth of the marble face would close if anyone put his hand in it and told a lie.
Also, the Mouth of Truth has become famous for its appearance in the 1953 film "Roman Holiday", when it is used by Audrey Hepburn's and Gregory Peck's characters to tell the truth after initially not being truthful with each other.
 
Today, plenty of visitors line up in front of the Basilica, ready to bravely stick their hand in the mouth, hoping for the best!

Aventine Hill highlights

The Keyhole in the Knights of Malta square

Walking up the Aventine Hill from the Circus Maximus on Via di Santa Sabina, at the end of the road you will find yourself in the Knights of Malta square (in Italian, “Piazza dei Cavelieri di Malta”). Here, depending on the time, you might find queues of tourist awaiting their turn to peek through the keyhole in a large green wooden door.
 
The square is named after the Knights of Malta, one of the last remaining orders from the Crusades, who owns the property on the other side of the green door. So, when you are looking through the Keyhole you are standing on the independent territory of the Order, looking out across Rome.

Aventine Hill highlights

Most tourists don’t know exactly what to expect when they first look through the Keyhole… And the surprise is breathtaking: a perfect view of the Saint Peter's Basilica in the distance which is inside Vatican City!
 
This amazing view through the Keyhole was designed in 1765 by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a famous Italian architect. Take a look and don't be ashamed to wait in line again for another peek! 

Other ways to visit the Aventine Hill!

Although not that vast, the Aventine Hill holds lot of places of interest. Walking around by foot is always a great choice to enjoy the surrounding attractions in complete freedom. But if you want to make sure you do not miss anything, moving around from a sight to another in an elegant and stylish way, you might also enjoy an amazing tour aboard a vintage FIAT500 or, in alternative, a fun-filled tour aboard a Vespa, true icon of the "Made in Italy".

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