Rione Monti is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome. You will find this charming neighborhood of the Eternal City sandwiched between Rome Termini station and the Colosseum – which means you really have no excuse not to visit.
Scattered around Rione Monti you will find a wealth of interesting sites and beautiful churches. The area is pleasant to explore on a walk through its narrow cobbled alleys. It’s a nice place to relax sipping an aperitivo drink in one of the lovely squares or enjoying a good amatriciana in one of the many local eateries. In fact, the area is also packed with lovely small independent boutiques perfect for shopaholics!
Curious to find out more? Continue reading as I unveil the history of Rione Monti and share an itinerary that will help you explore this fascinating district.
You should also read my post The Most Charming Neighborhoods Of Rome.
The History Of Rione Monti Neighborhood, Rome
The Rione Monti of today is far from its past, but there’s still much of this historic district’s original identity that remains. This is Rome’s first Rione, and it has a long and winding past. Originally located on the slopes of Rome’s Esquiline, Viminal, and parts of the Quirinal and Caelian Hills, Monti literally translates to “mountains”. Today, the district’s coat of arms still shows three humps of mountains.
This hilly landscape has helped to shape the history of Monti. In ancient Rome, the higher part of the district was the location of noble homes centered around the Vicus Patricius, now known as Via Urbana.
The lower slopes of the mountains were much less desirable. Water from the largest and oldest sewage pipe in Rome, the Cloaca Maxima, collected here and made the area marshy. Much of the water collected around the Via dell’Argiletum, which was often a claggy mess of clay and mud due to the rainwater running off of the surrounding hills.
This part of Monti was named Suburra – a dirty slum that was home to plebeians. Here is where the urban underclass of Rome lived and worked in an area that was known as a pleasure district due to the number of brothels and seedy inns. In fact, Subuura means “disreputable place”. It’s possibly surprising to learn then that Julius Caesar himself lived in the Suburra until he was elected pontifex maximus in 63 BC.
The Forum of Caesar was built further down the hill in 46 BC, followed by the Forum of Augustus in 2 BC. These forums were, however, separated from the crowded neighborhood by a large wall.
The slum-like conditions of Monti meant that fire was a constant risk; the wall allowed the forums to be protected from such fires. The same gabina stone wall exists to this day, held up by its own sheer weight for over 2,000 years.
Moving on to the Middle Ages, things had changed somewhat for Monti. The aqueducts which once fed much of the area had been badly damaged and repairs were too difficult to carry out. Ironically, the district which suffered from too much water in the past was now suffering from a lack of a reliable water source.
Residents began to resettle elsewhere in the city, many of them to the Campo Marzo located further downstream of the Tiber, the place where many Romans got their drinking water.
With a thinning population and a location far from the Vatican, Monti was now made up of small vegetable farms and vineyards. There were, however, people that remained in the district, with many still living in the area due to the proximity of San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore, both popular sites for pilgrims.
From the 1600s onwards, the population of Monti started to grow again, thanks to urban development and new roads built by Pope Sixtus V. This is when Rione Monti began to develop an identity all of its own. The people from Monti became known as Monticiani and a distinct local dialect arose, one that was different from other areas of Rome.
A long-standing rivalry with Trastevere also reared its head (one which often led to physical altercations), a reflection of Monti’s strong identity and its standing as an integral part of the makeup of Rome’s own identity.
Towards the end of the 1800s, as with other areas of Rome, Monti underwent a period of urban development. Rome was inaugurated as the capital of the newly formed Italian state and the district was to get a new look.
During Italy’s Fascist period, much of the lower part of the area was completely demolished to make way for the archaeological remains of the Imperial Forums and to build the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
Today, Monti is an up and coming tourist destination in Rome. While most tourists arrive in the city and head straight to tick off the famous sights like the Forum and the Colosseum, the rest of Monti gets left off of the itinerary.
However, there’s plenty to see in this old residential neighborhood, with themes of the Suburra that once excited here, the strong dividing walls and the worn-down cobbled streets.
Like a village within the city, Monti has become known as a bohemian enclave in recent years, home to well-heeled inhabitants and gentrified streets. There’s still a touch of alternative charm to the area, however, with a selection of historic sights, cool cafe culture of street eats to try.
An Easy Itinerary Around Rione Monti, Rome
Monti neighborhood is the place to go to discover a different side to Rome away from the tick list of tourist sights – though even here, some places are becoming increasingly more popular. There’s something for everyone in this centuries-old neighborhood, from interesting historic walks, to trendy boutiques and some gourmet food trucks, too.
You could really spend days discovering Monti, but the itinerary I have put together for you should take you around the best sights in just a day.
You can follow the map here.
Your starting point will be the Domus Aurea, which can only be visited on guided tours that last about one hour and must be booked in advance. After that, you can explore the rest of the Rione Monti independently.
Start your exploration of Rione Monti with one of the most impressive (and still relatively unknown) sites of ancient Rome. The Domus Aurea – Nero’s Golden House – used to be a palace built by Emperor Nero after the great fire of 64 AD destroyed much of the city.
It was a truly lavish residence, with marble, gold, mosaics and frescoes – so much so that Nero’s successors pretty much buried it and order the construction of buildings over it. As it was protected from air and sunlight, by the time it was rediscovered by pure chance in the 15th century the building appeared to be incredibly well preserved.
Much of the Domus Aurea has yet to be excavated, but a guided tour will help you imagine how magnificent it once looked.
Check out my post A Guide To Visiting The Domus Aurea, Rome.
San Clemente Basilica
There are many churches to visit in Rome, but San Clemente Basilica is definitely one of my favorite. Located in Rione Monti right on the Caelian Hill, the church dates back to early Christian times, back when Christians were still persecuted in the Roman Empire.
There are many layers to this church, and the main construction you’ll se dates back to the 12th century. You can however pay a small fee to access the excavations and check out the basilica that dates back to the 4th century, and one of the best preserved mithraeum temples in Rome.
Santo Stefano Rotondo Church
This incredibly beautiful church located on the Caelian Hill is the oldest circular church in Rome, and dates back to the 5th century. The church was built in honor of both the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen, and the first king of Hungary, Stephen I (975-1038), who favored the conversion of Hungary to Christianity.
While you will love the shape of this church, your attention will be captured by the vivid frescoes – representing martyrdom and the suffering of Christian before the religion was officially adopted in the Roman Empire.
You should also read my post A Guide To The Caelian Hill, Rome: 11 Best Places To Visit.
On the way from the Caelian Hill to San Pietro in Vincoli Church, before you turn to find the Salita dei Borgia, make sure to stop for a quick photo in Via degli Annibaldi. The road in and of itself is really nothing special, but it offers some of the best views of the Colosseum in town!
Salita dei Borgia
This is one of my favorite corners in Rione Monti! I discovered it almost accidentally as I made my way to San Pietro in Vincoli Church. It’s literally a long staircase that connects Via Leonina and Via degli Zingari: you will go under a beautiful arch located under a building almost entirely covered by lush ivy.
San Pietro in Vincoli
Art lovers and history buffs alike should not pass up the chance to pay a visit to this church. Translating to St Peter in Chains, San Pietro in Vincoli was built on the site of an older religious building between 432–440. The church was originally erected to house relics, specifically the chains that bound Saint Peter during his imprisonment in Jerusalem.
The wife of Emperor Valentinian III, Empress Eudoxia was said to be gifted the relic from her mother. The chains are kept securely below the church’s main altar in a reliquary.
The basilica itself was consecrated by Pope Sixtus III in 439 and over the years has undergone numerous transformations and restorations. In 1475, a front portico said to be the work of Baccio Pontelli was added and Giuliano da Sangallo created the cloister between 1493–1503.
Inside the church, visitors can admire the antique Doric columns, the nave with an 18th-century coffered ceiling, and a 1706 fresco by Giovanni Battista Parodi of the Miracle of the Chains. The most famous of all of the decorations in the basilica is Michelangelo’s Moses statue.
Completed by the great artist in 1515, the piece was meant to be part of a much larger funerary moment for Pope Julius II. The iconic depiction of Moses interestingly sees the biblical figure with horns.
For more information, read my post A Guide To Visiting San Pietro In Vincoli Church.
Most tourists in Rome visit only the part of the Roman Forum that is just adjacent to the Colosseum, but the Trajan Forum, which you can easily see from Via dei Fori Imperiali, is actually impressive and while it is connected to the rest of the site and even the Palatine Hill, it gets a fraction of the tourist crowds. Most guided tours never make it that far, indeed.
You can opt to admire the ruins from the inside, but if you care to walk in, the gate is right by Trajan’s Column and in front of the Domus Romane of Palazzo Valentini and you can get tickets at the door (and there hardly ever is any line).
If you decide to go inside, make sure to also check out the museum where you can learn about the Emperor Trajan, the wars he conducted and how he ruled over the Roman Empire.
Via Urbana and its surrounding alleys
This street in the middle of Rione Monti is one of the most lively in the area.
Leading from Cavour metro station on Piazza della Suburra, the street heads uphill in the direction of Termini Station. Take some time out of your day to explore the area, the street itself might be short but there’s a multitude of smaller streets and cute corners around the area that are just waiting to be discovered.
One cute spot you should not miss is Piazza della Madonna ai Monti, where you can admire a 1588 fountain designed by Giacomo della Porta and the Churches of Madonna ai Monti and Saints Sergio and Bacco
The trendy hub around Via Urbana is where you’d find new businesses taking up space in charming old buildings and facades covered with plant life. It’s a good idea to plan to be here when you might need a bite to eat. There’s a plethora of rustic eateries and hip dining spots to try, too.
Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica
The Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica has been an important part of Rione Monti since it was built in the 5th century. The church is Papal basilica which means that it has been the destination for pilgrims over the centuries.
The history of the church is entwined with legends, but it is said that a wealthy man prayed to Mary and asked what he should do with his money. The prayer was answered and he decided to build the church.
The basilica is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome and is still an impressive structure. Much work was carried out and additions made throughout the years, including the 14th-century bell tower, which is the tallest in the whole of the city.
Step inside and you’ll discover a gleaming world that plays host to stunning artwork, including opulent 5th-century mosaics.
For more complete information, read my post A Guide To Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.
Santa Prassede Church
Not far from the impressive Church of Santa Maria Maggiore is another interesting church, Santa Prassede church.
Also known in English as the Basilica of Saint Praxedes, it is dedicated to Praxedes – a second-century saint who worked with her sister Pudentiana to care for Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. The sisters are said to have been killed for helping to bury early Christan martyrs.
Santa Prassede isn’t just another church in a city full of religious buildings. The mosaicked decorations inside mark Santa Prassede church out as one of the oldest churches in all of Rome.
There has been a church located on the site since the 5th century, but the current church was built under orders of Pope Hadrian I around 780 to house the remains of Saint Praxedes.
Like many other buildings in Rome, the church was actually constructed atop a 4th century Roman bath house that was privately owned by the family of the saints. Over the years, the basilica has undergone many changes and additions, including the relocation of remains of martyrs from Rome’s catacombs to the church by Pope Paschal I.
There are more claims to fame. In around 855, the then future king of England, Alfred the Great is said to have been moved by the church’s beauty during a pilgrimage to Rome with his father. The church has also inspired work by the poet Robert Browning.
You should also head over to my post The Most Beautiful Mosaics In Rome.
Practical Guide To Rione Monti, Rome
How to Get to Rione Monti
From Termini, Monti is just a 15 minute walk. It’s within easy reach from other parts of the historic center of Rome too. For the purpose of this itinerary, you should probably get the metro line B and get off at Colosseo, from where the Domus Aurea is within easy walking distance.
Where to stay in Rione Monti
Due to its location in the center of Rome and being in striking distance of a long list of top sights, Monti is a great place to stay. Basing yourself in this fashionable area will mean that you will be able to quickly get to all of the places on your Rome itinerary without wasting too much time traveling.
Even though Monti is so central, it still retains a comfortable local atmosphere, with stylish bars and welcoming cafes making you feel at home. Thankfully there’s also a choice of chic accommodation to choose from.
One option is the New Generation Hostel Rome Center, a budget-friendly property with a selection of different room sizes to opt for, from single to family-sized. There are even dorms for those looking to save some cash during their trip. Overall, it’s a clean and friendly place located just meters from Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.
Reflecting the quirky-cool of the area, Glance in Rome is a boutique boho hotel. Rooms range from private doubles to suites, each as beautifully decorated as the next. Think parquet floors, vintage wallpaper and statement furnishings.
If you want something with views of the Colosseum, stay at Residenza Maritti. While not all rooms come with a view, you can certainly take in the stunning panorama that spans to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Altar of the Fatherland from the terrace, a perfect place for an aperitivo.
You should also read my post The Best Hotels Near The Colosseum, Rome.
Where to eat in Rione Monti
Monti has no end of delicious places to eat. So much so that you’re never far from an eatery with a great menu. One classic option is Zia Rosetta. This tiny deli serves up a selection of fresh classic rosetta rolls filled with the best ingredients. It’s great for a quick bite on the go.
For a relaxed evening meal, make sure to check out La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali. The casual restaurant is situated inside a photogenic house, and the food is homely and delicious.
If you want a quick bite, head to Antico Forno for some of the best pizza al taglio and delicious street food.
I also love Fafiuché, a nice enoteca with a small menu serving delicious dishes of the Piedmont region, in case you need a break from the more traditional Roman cuisine.
Is Rione Monti Safe?
This really depends on the exact location in Monti. The streets nearer to the Colosseum – for example Via Tor de Conti, which runs parallel to Via Cavour – are generally very busy with tourists and often targeted by scams and pickpockets, so you should keep your eyes open and never leave your bag hanging off the back of your chair (or on the floor) in a cafe. Incidentally, this is the exact area where my bag was stolen!
Having said that, overall the Rione Monti neighborhood is safe and you should be fine.
Don’t forget to read my posts Is Rome Safe? and The Worst Scams And Pickpockets In Rome.