One of the famous seven hills of Rome, the Aventine Hill is one of the most pleasant places to visit in Rome that is still relatively unknown to international tourists – though certainly a popular hangout place for locals. Here, you will find a selection of very interesting landmarks which include two gardens, a few viewpoints and two beautiful churches.
If you want to add a truly unique place in your Rome itinerary, consider going to this beautiful hill! In this post I will tell you everything you need to know about it, and share some useful information for your visit.
Make sure to read my post The Seven Hills Of Rome.
Why Visit The Aventine Hill?
The Aventine Hill (Aventino, in Italian) is one of Rome’s most beautiful locations. As one of Rome’s seven hills, it is steeped in history, but today it is more than just an open-air museum. It’s a relatively quiet residential area, with leafy streets to wander around and intriguing churches to discover, making it the perfect antidote to the bustling historic center of the city.
The History Of The Aventine Hill, Rome
Situated within the Rione of Ripa, the Aventine Hill is located just in front of the Palatine Hill, and is the southernmost of Rome’s seven hills. It consists of not just one but two peaks: Aventinus Major and Aventinus Minor.
The hill has been a significant area in the city since the days of Rome’s founding, and throughout its history since then. The name is thought to trace its origins to the legendary King Aventinus, one of the mythical kings of Alba Longa – a city thought by Roman tradition to fill a gap between the legendary arrival of the Trojan Aeneas and the founding of Rome.
As a result, the hill is drenched in Roman mythology. It makes an appearance in the poet Virgil’s epic Aeneid, for one thing; in the poem, the slopes of the hill are home to a cave where the fire-breathing monster Cacus lives. Cacus was killed by Hercules for stealing cattle.
The Aventine Hill also appears in Rome’s founding myth. The twins Romulus and Remus debate on which hill the city should be founded. Remus sets up camp on Aventine Hill, while Romulus prefers the Palatine Hill.
According to Roman tradition, the Aventine Hill was not actually part of the original city of Rome, and instead lay outside its original sacred boundaries. The Aventine Hill was later included inside the city walls; this is thought to have been the decision of either the sixth Roman king Servius Tullius, or the fourth, Ancus Marcius.
Because of its location outside of the sacred boundaries of the city, the Aventine Hill was something of a springboard for outside peoples and their religions before arriving in Rome itself. This status also meant that it was associated with plebs (normal citizens of Rome) and Latin tribes other than Romans.
The walls were rebuilt and extended after the Gauls (from present-day France) overran the city of Rome in 391 BC. After this time, the Aventine Hill was included inside the walls and therefore within the boundaries of the city.
Now part of the city, the hill’s image changed. Rather than a place of outsiders or foreigners, it became a place for aristocratic residences and abodes of the nobility (sort of like ancient gentrification). Notable figures such as Trajan and Hadrian lived on Aventine Hill before their respective rules as Roman Emperors.
The aristocratic neighborhood of Aventine Hill is thought to have developed further after the Sack of Rome by the Visigoths under Alaric I in 410 AD. With (almost) everything destroyed, poorer residents moved their homes to the south of the city, while the nobility moved in. Even in modern times, the wealthy status of the Aventine Hill continues.
Even though it’s close to the center of Rome, it has the feel of a suburb yet still packs a punch in terms of historic sites and intriguing places to visit.
The Main Attractions On The Aventine Hill, Rome
The Orange Garden
Probably the most famous of all the sites on the Aventine Hill is the Orange Garden, or Il Giardino degli Aranci in Italian. Drawing visitors from far and wide, this romantic destination is one of the most popular landmarks to visit on the hill. This place is actually officially called the Parco Savello.
The modern layout of the park was designed by Raffaele De Vico in 1932, allowing for the public to enjoy sweeping views from a belvedere (that’s a “viewpoint” in Italian). From the viewpoint itself you can see a vast swathe of Rome’s skyline, including St. Peter’s Basilica among others.
The name of the park comes from the bitter orange trees that grow in the area. However it’s not just an orange grove. The park was actually built on the land of the Savelli family’s 12th-century castle, which in turn was built over the 10th-century fortress (constructed by the Crescenti family).
The castle later became a monastery. It is believed that oranges were first grown here by Saint Dominic, who brought an orange tree all the way from Spain and planted it in the garden. Another legend goes that Saint Catherine of Siena picked oranges from the tree and gave them to Pope Urban VI.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Rome’s Orange Garden.
The Rose Garden
Another lovely garden on the Aventine Hill is the Rose Garden or Roseto di Roma Capitale. As its Italian name suggests, it’s a public park that is filled with roses and paths to stroll along.
It’s only open for part of the year, from 21st April (Rome’s birthday) to 16th June, and is free of charge to visit. Home to around 1,100 varieties of rose, the Roseto Comunale first opened in 1931 and today spans 10,000 square meters divided into different sections, between an upper and lower garden.
You’ll find roses with different characteristics in different sections of the garden; some of the rose varieties are diplomatic gifts from abroad.
The rose connection is serious; every year in May the International Rose Trials take place in the lower garden. The yearly competition looks to select Rome’s most beautiful rose, with the award given in mid-May.
Check out my post The Nicest Gardens And Parks In Rome.
The Aventine Hill Keyhole
Another of the most famous sites of the Aventine Hill is much smaller than you’d imagine: it’s a keyhole. But not just any keyhole.
Near the Orange Garden – in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta – is the Church of Santa Maria del Priorato. This is owned by the ancient religious military order, the Knights of Malta, and is not open to the public. But that doesn’t stop a steady stream of visitors to peer through the keyhole of a door leading to their manicured gardens.
Look through the renowned peephole and you’ll have a secret view. Past the clipped hedges and along a pathway through the garden, in the distance you’ll have a perfectly framed picture of St Peter’s Basilica jutting into the blue sky.
Let me warn you – taking photos of that requires a lot of skills. Even with a semi-professional camera and some decent knowledge, all I have managed was the photo above. But it’s still worth the try, and the view for sure!!
Church of Sant’Anselmo
Also situated in Piazza Cavalieri di Malta is the religious complex of Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino. The only part of this that is open to the public is the Church of Sant’Anselmo, which was founded in 1888.
It may not be as ancient as other sites in the area, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. In fact, visit at the right time and you’ll be able to experience the Benedictine monks who live at the monastery performing a beautiful Gregorian chant.
This occurs at 7:15 pm on Sundays. It’s free to go, so make a beeline for the church, take a seat and soak up the peaceful ambience of the chanting monks.
The Church of Sant’Anselmo is also known for its garden, so if you’re not around on a Sunday it’s worth swinging by. Built towards the end of the 19th century by Francesco Vespignani, this peaceful green space can also be seen from down by the River Tiber when looking up at the Aventine Hill.
Basilica di Santa Sabina
At the other end of the scale age-wise is the much older Basilica di Santa Sabina. This is in fact the oldest basilica still in existence in Rome. It was built by Peter of Illyria, a priest from Dalmatia in around 422 AD.
The church was constructed upon the grounds of old Imperial houses possibly left ruined after the Sack of Rome by Alaric, one of which was said to be that of Saint Sabina – an early Christian martyr. Sabina, a Roman aristocrat, was executed on the orders of Emperor Vespasian (or Hadrian) around 126 AD after being converted to Christianity by her Syrian slave, Serapia.
By the 9th century, the church was part of a fortified area with a bell tower added in the 10th century. Renovations were undertaken by Renaissance architect Domenico Fontana in 1587, and later by Borromini in 1643.
Inside the church is a long central knave in the secular style of an ancient Roman basilica. It looks much like it would have done in the 5th century, making it a must-see for history buffs. The wooden door is believed to be the original door as installed in 430 AD. Eighteen of the church’s original wooden painted panels survive; these depict scenes from the Bible. The most notable of these is actually one of the earliest definitive depictions of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
There are also several other Roman remains, in particular a column that is thought to belong to the Temple of Juno that predates the church.
The Basilica of Santa Sabina is open every day, but closed for lunch between 12:30 and 3:30 pm. It’s free to enter.
Read my post The Most Beautiful Churches In Rome.
The Fountain of the Mask
Also known as the Fontana del Mascherone, you’ll find this fountain close to the entrance of the Orange Garden. This particularly strange-looking fountain is similar to others found around Rome, notably one situated just off Piazza Farnese.
This particular fountain uses a god-like face (the “mask”) to perpetually spout water out of its mouth. It was commissioned by Pope Sixtus V in 1589 and is the handiwork of Giacomo della Porta. The design features a large granite basin, taken from a pre-existing work, and a marble mask carved by a stone mason.
The fountain was taken apart, and by 1816 the basin was taken to the Quirinal Palace – where it still sits to this day – and the mask was finally placed on the Aventine Hill in 1936, above another granite basin. Water continues to tumble from the mask’s mouth and amuse passersby to this day.
Head over to my post The Prettiest Fountains In Rome.
Wander the attractive streets
The area of the Aventine Hill has been home to wealthy Romans for generations. Today it maintains an elegant atmosphere, with upscale residences and foreign embassies as well as cafes and restaurants tucked along its storied streets. One place you may want to stop off for a bite to eat is the fabulously old-world Ristorante Apuleius.
The neighborhood of the hill is primarily residential, so don’t expect to see hordes of tourists plodding along the streets. Mostly you’ll be strolling alongside local residents and a few visitors. It’s particularly pretty in spring and summer.
A Roman villa was recently discovered (2014) while converting an office block into a high-end residential complex in the Aventine area. This is thought to have been buried for about 2,000 years. Much of the contents from the villa are now housed in a dedicated museum: Archeological Box.
The excavations in the area unearthed an array of different finds, including structures that amazingly date back to the 8th century BC, with part of a defensive tower (dating to the 6th century BC) also discovered. Floor mosaics were uncovered, too – up to six layers, in fact, which show the changing fashions and tastes of the time.
The small museum now sits within the residential complex itself and showcases a selection of rooms that belong to the villa, as well as the mosaics and frescoes that were discovered here. Objects from everyday life in Rome – bowls, needles, kitchen equipment, among others – are also on display at the Archeological Box. Video projections further enhance the exhibition space to help show visitors what the villa would have been like.
It’s only possible to visit on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month. You have to book your visit in advance, which you can do via the website here.
Practical Info For Visiting The Aventine Hill
Best time to visit
Rome is crowded year round, but the Aventine Hill is a lesser known part of town and thankfully doesn’t get nearly as much of the crowds of tourists that are typical in Rome. With this in mind, if you are visiting Rome in the late spring or early summer and want a respite from the hordes of people you’ll find in other attractions, head to the Aventine Hill.
Unfortunately, as summer winds on it just gets too hot to wander around the area, no matter how leafy it can be. But as far as late spring is concerned, it’s a beautiful time of year! Not only is the weather pleasant, but this is when nature springs to life. The gardens – the Orange Garden, for example – are at their best. The Rose Garden only opens from 21st April onwards, anyway.
You can wander around the Aventine Hill at any time of day – just make sure to check the opening hours of the parks and churches in case you want to go in.
How to get there
There aren’t many public transport options located on the Aventine Hill itself, but it is possible to get there quite easily via the metro or tram, while the bus provides a pretty easy way of arriving, too.
The nearest metro stop is Circo Massimo, on metro line B. From there it’s about a 10 minute walk uphill to the neighborhood itself. If you want to take the tram, then you can catch tram line 3 or 8 and get off at Aventino/Albania. Again, it requires a little bit of a walk to actually get onto the hill itself.
For the bus, the options are fairly limited, with bus number 715 stopping at Terme Deciane/S. Prisca being the best option. This puts you more in the actual Aventine Hill neighborhood, with not a great deal of uphill walking required.
It’s not particularly easy to get up to this neighborhood without first being driven to a suitable location on top of the hill itself. I recommend taking a taxi to the sights.
Guided tours of the Aventine Hill
It’s easy to explore the Aventine Hill, and it’s a pleasant place to discover at your own pace. However a tour of the area would be a great insight not just into the local life as it is lived today, but also into the history of this upscale locale, too.
Other useful information
Here are some other useful things to know to plan your visit to the Aventine Hill.
Unless you’re visiting an embassy, you wont’t have to go through security at any point when exploring the Aventine Hill.
I recommend dressing comfortably for your visit – especially use good walking shoes. For religious buildings, you’ll need to make sure your shoulders and stomach are covered, and be wearing clothing that covers your knees, otherwise you won’t be allowed in. If you aren’t appropriately dressed, make sure you bring along a shawl or scarf to cover your shoulders.
Make sure to also bring your camera – this is one of the most charming neighborhoods in Rome, and offers some of the best photo locations in the city, so you will want to take photos! However, I would be careful when taking photos of some of the grand buildings around the Aventino neighborhood, as you may be inadvertently taking a picture of a foreign embassy, which generally is not advised.
Finally, it’s good to know there are a few public toilets scattered around the area. For example, there are toilets located at the Rose Garden.