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Roman Itineraries: Vatican, Trastevere and Gianicolo

history of rome, places of rome


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Today we take you on one of the routes of the”classic” Rome tours, that you can easily do on foot. We will start from the Vatican and then explore the Trastevere district, to end our walk with the magnificent views of Rome that can be enjoyed from the Gianicolo. Let’s segment our walk in few key stops.

First stop
Those arriving from Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo or even from the Lungotevere going south cannot fail to encounter along the sides of the Tiber river the characteristic shape of Castel Sant’Angelo, an ancient mausoleum originally dedicated to the emperor Hadrian. The monumental mausoleum, with the end of he Western Roman Empire, gradually transformed into a fortified point north of Rome, until it became the castle we still see today.

Among the various curiosities that the castle preserves is the statue of the archangel Michael which stands on top of the ancient Mausoleum of Hadrian, and which gave the castle its new name. Curiosity: during the Napoleonic campaigns, when Rome became the second capital of the French Empire, the archangel Michael was dressed as a Jacobin, complete with a red hat and French tricolor.

Second stop
Leaving Castel Sant Angelo behind us we can see on the left the famous Passetto di Borgo, a long wall with an elevated corridor that allowed the pope to reach Castel Sant Angelo from the Vatican, where the pope would have been more protected and safe in case of wars or riots in the city. The road that develops in front of you, Via della Conciliazione, is one of the “modern roads” of Rome; where today you see this great straight line, until the end of the 1800s you would have found a neighborhood, made up of palaces, churches, squares and fountains. This neighborhood was completely destroyed during the Fascist period to celebrate the pacification between the Italian state and the church though the signing of the Lateran Pacts.

Continuing towards the Basilica of Saint Peter you will notice many modern buildings with different flags of the world; all these buildings were always built during the Fascist period in the Rationalist style, a style that wanted to evoke the order of the classicism of ancient Rome but with modern materials. All these buildings today are embassies to the Vatican, even if they fall within the Italian territory. In fact, in Rome it is possible to find two embassies for each state, one dealing diplomatically with the Italian state, the other interacting with the Vatican City state.

Third stop 
Once in Saint Peter Square you can see the Basilica of Saint Peter, one of the 4 papal basilicas. Few people know that this basilica is so large that it could “hypothetically” contain many other churches of the Christian-Catholic community built in different parts of the world. A great work that characterizes this square is the colonnade, which also represents the territorial border between the Italian state and that of Vatican City. This colossal colonnade was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and ideally recalls an embrace not only to the Catholic community entering this square but to all the men and women who have lost their faith or who have yet to know the word of God.

Another feature of this square is the obelisk, the second largest obelisk in Rome after that of San Giovanni in Laterano, and the only obelisk that has come down to us intact and not broken into various pieces. The reason for this oddity lies in the fact that for a long time on the top of this monolith there was a bronze ball where it was believed that the ashes of Caesar were contained, so all the armies that attacked Rome during the barbarian invasions spared what they believed the tomb of the Roman general. 

The last curiosity to report in this square is in the building that is on the right looking at St. Peter’s Basilica, Palazzo Vaticano, where the pope usually resides and receives the Heads of State of other nations, but above all from where every Sunday he faces the second window (starting from right to left) located on the top floor of the building, to give his Sunday blessing on the occasion of the Angelus.

Fourth stop

Leaving St. Peter’s Basilica, on our right we head towards the Lungotevere exiting from Porta di Santo Spirito, which was one of the access gates to the Vatican city. Leaving the door behind us, we will walk by the Santo Spirito Hospital and then take the walk towards the Gianicolo, which together with the Vatican is part of the outer hills of Rome.

If you arrive on the terrace of the Gianicolo before 12:00, in addition to enjoying one of the best viewpoints in Rome, you can hear the famous cannonade that marks the second part of the city every day at noon, and that today still is used to synchronize the bell towers of the various churches in the city.

Coming down from the Gianicolo you will encounter another famous monument, the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. This fountain, also known to the Romans as “er fontanone der Gianicolo“, has often been used in important films set in Rome, one of the most important, also winner of an Oscar with Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza.

Fifth stop 
Leaving the Gianicolo and walking down the hill towards Trastevere we meet along our way the Renaissance church of San Pietro in Montorio, famous above all because during the fighting of the second Roman Republic it was used as a hospital and, due to the many deaths among the wounded in battle, it gained the popular new name San Pietro in mortorio. Attached to this church it is possible to find another Renaissance work connected to a great artist of this period who was also the first architect of the Basilica of San Pietro, the Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio, famous above all because for a long time the construction of this temple was attributed to the place where St. Peter, the first pontiff of the Church of Rome, was crucified. The work also inspired Bramante for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, which was to develop on a central plan; the idea was to start from this small temple above all for the shape of its dome, and to develop everything in a much more monumental way.

Sixth step 
Walking down towards Via Garibaldi you will find yourself immersed in yje neighbourhood of  Trastevere, one of the most characteristic districts of Rome, perhaps one of the few that preserves alleys and winding streets in the “spider’s web” characteristic of the medieval period which exploited pre-existing ancient elements by building a new district above them. Arriving in the main square of the Trastevere district we cannot fail to be attracted by the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere which, among the various wonders inside including mosaics and icons of different artistic seasons, also preserves monumental columns of remembrance coming from the Baths of Caracalla, the second largest thermal plant in ancient Rome, materials chosen to make us perceive how ancient Rome still lives today within the four walls of a church, but also in the streets of a neighborhood.

From Trastevere you can continue your walk towards the Tiberina Island, the Jewish Ghetto and the Campidoglio, or towards the Foro Boario, Circo Massimo and Aventino, or towards Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto. But these are other paths that we will talk about soon. Follow our blog and our social spaces on Facebook and Instagram not to miss our tips on how to best discover the Eternal City.

Do you prefer to have a tour guide to help you discover other anecdotes about the places, characters and events of Rome? Follow me on my Jewish Ghetto, Tiberina Island and Trastevere guided tour, the St. Peter and Vatican Museums tour, the one dedicated to the Churches and Basilicas of Rome or one of the many other guided tours in and around Rome.