Listed on the “Seven wonders of the world” and considered the true icon of Rome, the Colosseum is one of the biggest draws for tourists in the whole city. Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, this incredible structure, built in 80 AD, still dominates the landscape of the modern city along with the nearby Roman Forum.
A tour of the Colosseum is almost a prerequisite for anyone visiting Rome for the first time, but most visitors ignore that there are other historical treasures hidden in the surrounding area.
To help you discover this part of Rome, ItalyXP has come up with a list of the Top 5 (+1) lesser-known attractions near the Colosseum, all reachable within 15 minutes on foot from it.
So, prepare to mark those places on your map and let the exploration begin!
Right in front of the entrance to the Imperial Forum, following Via Cavour and taking the first alley to the left (Via Tor de’ Conti), you will discover an enchanting square that tourists generally miss: Piazza del Grillo, named in honor of the del Grillo Family.
The square is dominated by the Palazzo del Grillo, a 17th-century beautiful palace that includes the homonymous tower. From here, you can take the Salita del Grillo, a picturesque alley surrounded by ancient buildings. Through this uphill walk, you will have a terrific view of the Trajan's Market, a large complex of ruins that includes storehouses, markets and offices where the Ancient Romans used to gather to conduct their business.
At the top of the Salita del Grillo is the Largo Angelicum, stands the imposing Militia Tower, which is the entrance to the Trajan's Markets.
This short but worth-doing itinerary will show you the architectural transformation of the city, from the Roman to the Medieval, as you can admire monuments from different eras fit together in a glorious harmony. Another element that contributes to the eternal magic of Rome…
The Mamertine Prison (in Italian, Carcere Mamertino), is located in the oldest part of Rome, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, adjacent to the Imperial Forum.
Originally, it was created as a cistern, and it presumably became a prison around 640-616 BC. At the time, the structure was intended mainly to death-row inmates, who were lowered through a hole into a deeper dungeon, condemned to live their last days in complete darkness.
In 100 BC, a new chamber was built above the old one, and here were incarcerated (and often executed) those who were considered Rome’s most important enemies.
Christian legend says that theapostles Peter and Paul were imprisoned here. According to the myth, they managed to create a spring in his cell, allowing him to perform baptisms on his cellmates and guards. It is also said that entering the jail, Peter slipped and banged his head, leaving a mark on the wall, still visible today!
The dungeon is accessed through a snaky passage and offers a glimpse of the horrors experienced by prisoners in Ancient Rome.
Despite being very close to the Colosseum and the Basilica of Saint Clemente (n°4 on this list), this monastery complex is one of the lesser-known attractions in Rome!
Its name, Santi Quattro Coronati (in English “Four Holy Crowned Ones”), comes from its dedication to four anonymous soldiers who refused to execute a group of Christians, and were then martyred by Emperor Diocletian. Built in the 4th century, the basilica was destroyed by the Normans in 1084 and rebuilt by Pope Pasquale II, more fortified but at half size of the original.
The most important work of art of the basilica is the Chapel of St. Sylvester, accessible through a small door on the left of the structure. Ring the bell and a discreet nun will appear to let you in: the intimate, magnificent chapel displays an incredibly well-preserved cycle of medieval frescoes commemorating the life of Saint Sylvester.
Particularly interesting is also the Romanesque cloister. To reach it, ring a bell on the left wall of the basilica and wait for another Augustinian nun to let you in: here is a lovely garden, gently enclosed in a symmetrical portico of arches and columns. A spiritual space that exudes silence and tranquility…
It's not all that often that you get to admire such an historic treasure in Rome, undisturbed by hordes of visitors. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Despite being located between the Colosseum and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, this Roman minor basilica is one of the lesser-visited places in Rome.
The Basilica of Saint Clemente is structured on three floors of different eras: the lowest level is a complex underground set of rooms connected to a 1st-century mithraeum, which is a part of a sanctuary of the mystery cult of Mithras.
Above this floor, it was built the first Christian church during the 4th century AD. After being heavily damaged by the Normans in 1084, the structure has been renovated in baroque style, as witnessed by the medieval frescoes.
On the first floor is the current basilica, whose interior is embellished by the frescoes on the ceiling and by the splendid apse mosaics. Visiting the Basilica of Saint Clemente means retracing 20 centuries of history: an eXPerience we definitely recommend!
Commonly named Santo Stefano Rotondo, this 5th century church is the National church in Rome of Hungary, dedicated to Saint Stephen the first King of Hungary.
The basilica distinguishes itself from all the other religious buildings in Rome for its circular design and the timbered ceiling. The façade opens on a delightful garden surrounded by Roman walls, while the interior is structured in a round nave with four chapels forming a cross, and 22 imposing, marble columns that create fascinating plays of light and shadow.
But apart from its unique design, the Basilica of Saint Stephen is also famous for its gruesome frescoes of late Renaissance, portraying 34 scenes of tortures of the Christians during their martyrdom. Each painting has a caption explaining the scene and providing the name of the emperor who ordered the execution, as well as a quotation from the Bible.
A walk along the frescoes, despite their macabre style, represents an exciting journey through the past. Also, the surrounding area on the Celian Hill is absolutely stunning and offers breath-taking views over the area: it is well worth the walk up the hill!
A few minutes’ walk from the Colosseum, along Via Claudia and the picturesque Via di San Paolo della Croce, you can reach a place of particular interest where you can visit a buried complex of ancient Roman houses, dating from the 1st through the 4th century AD.
The Roman houses, discovered in 1887, is located on the Celian Hill, under the 5th century Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the foundations of which cut through parts of the buildings.
The complex consists of more than 20 rooms, with quite distinct architectural structures, from 5 separate dwellings spread over few underground levels. Most of the rooms are richly frescoed with paintings from the 3rd to the 12th centuries. Those frescoes are of inestimable importance, because they have helped historians understand how the Roman houses and shops were decorated of the period.
A visit here will give you a unique glimpse of how ancient Romans used to live. But rather than explore the complex on your own, we suggest arranging guided tour, which would be more informative and will allow you to visit restricted sights, such as private baths and tenement houses.