Caput mundi, the most famous art city in the world and the cradle of Roman civilization that was a foundation of all of western civilization. In its nearly three thousand years of history it has been the capital of the ancient world as well as Christianity. To get to know Rome, a lifetime is not enough, but with some guidance you can start to understand why so many have grown to love it over the millenia. The city combines ancient and modern history, with sprinklings of all the eras in between: the first Paleochristian churches, the most exuberant Baroque, the private collections in the ancient noble palaces and the Rationalist architectural structures of the fascist era flavor the city.
Over the years, Emperors, Popes and noble families have tried their hand to make Rome magnificent and grandiose. Walking through the ancient ruins of the Forums, the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill and the splendid basilicas, such as St. Peter and St. John, will be like leafing through a book of art history. La Dolce Vita, La Grande Bellezza and Roman Holiday are just some of the famous films of international cinema that celebrated the beauty of the capital. Having a coffee in the most beautiful squares in the world, mingling with the Romans, sipping a prosecco in the afternoon and tasting an authentic carbonara will be an unforgettable experience for you. From Rome you can start to discover the Lazio region and the other cities of art that have established close economic and cultural relationships with Rome.
The Other Cities of Art
This town, just an hour outside of Rome, preserves in its historical center an intact medieval setting, surrounded by fortified walls. In the 13th century the Pope fled here to escape tumult and mistrust in Rome. The city offers good cuisine, traditions and famous spas for an essential cultural experience but also a relaxing break from the bustling capital.
In the south-east area, it is worth visiting the important spa area of Tivoli, which was a famous holiday resort in the times of the Roman Emperors for the beneficial properties of its sulphurous waters. Here Emperor Hadrian left us the splendid Villa Adriana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which he himself designed and built. In fact, Hadrian was a skilled architect and dedicated himself during his reign in the 1st century AD, to the renovation of numerous monuments including the Pantheon and his own funeral monument, the Mole Adriana (today Castel Sant’Angelo). Another villa deserves a visit, this time from the Renaissance: Villa d’Este, a jewel decorated with magnificent fountains, water features, gardens and caves, surrounded by a mosaic of flowers and precious plants.
This little city, connected to Rome by the ancient salt trading route, via Salaria, whose origins date back to the Iron Age (2nd Millennium – 1st Millennium BC) and whose historical memory is linked once again to the Popes who took refuge there, is the capital of Sabina, a rural territory famous for the highest quality olive oil.
In the South of Lazio, is a city with prehistoric origins, in whose province the popes once again took refuge in during the stormy history of the Roman papacy, as evidenced by the Palaces of Anagni and the haunted Castles, such as the Castle di Fumone. A territory where ancient events are re-enacted during the summer to revive an atmosphere of times past.
In the area of Latina, you can find the whimsical Oasis of Ninfa, a protected natural area rich in historic architecture. The structures date to the Roman period, then owned by the papacy and later by important noble families. In the first decades of the last century it became a well-kept private garden, then a natural monument, considered by the New York Times the most beautiful in the world.
Nature and Landscapes
Parks, Reserves and Protected Areas
Lazio is a region with a large biodiversity enclosed in a not particularly vast territory: just think that a few kilometers from Rome are the lakes of Bracciano and Bolsena or the snow-capped peaks of Terminillo, the highest peak of the Reatini Mountains. The Circeo National Park on the Lazio coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes the uninhabited Island of Zannone. There you can find an invigorating hike along a path built by Benedictine monks to the remains of a 13th century convent and then continues to the top of Monte Pellegrino with views of the Italian coast. Throughout Lazio you can find such a diversity of natural beauty spliced with reminders of the ancient humans who walked in the same paths. It is truly like no other place.
Coasts, Islands and Roman Ruins
Out on the coast you can find the popular beach cities. At Santa Severa you can visit and even spend the night in a beachfront castle, which once guarded the population from invading ships. Fregene with its various nightclubs is where the Romans go to party on the beach. On a hot summer night you can enjoy a drink as the sun sets over the sea and then party until it rises in the morning.
Going further south along the Mediterranian coast, you arrive at Ostia, the most important port of ancient Rome and a beautifully preserved archaeological site. Continuing south, you will find Anzio, the ancient residence of Emperor Nero and Neptune. This village has a long history linked to important Roman noble families and still contains the beauty that came with their wealth. In nearby Nettuno is the Sicily–Rome American Cemetery and Memorial dedicated to the many soldiers fallen who helped liberate the island of Sicily in the Second World War. Further on you find Parco Nazionale del Circeo, a diverse park whose namesake mountain appears to rise out of the marsh land below like an island. Finally, Gaeta and Sperlonga, towns of Roman origins bathed by clear waters that proudly wave the BLUE FLAG indicating the cleanest seas of Italy. A short boat trip away are the splendid islands of Pontine, Ponza and Ventotene, characteristic pearls of the Tyrrhenian Sea where the Romans usually spend the weekend relaxing, enjoying good food and sailing among hidden bays.
Hills and Lakes
Just a few kilometers outside Rome, you find the area of the Castelli Romani, small towns set like diamonds in a green and varied territory, placed on hills where even during the summer heat there is a cool breeze that comes from the woods that surround them. In the Castelli Romani you will find ancient palaces, splendid villas and two lakes of volcanic origin: the lake of Albano overlooked by Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence, and the tranquil lake of Nemi, where Roman ships have been found.
History and Culture
Archeological Sites at the Tuscan Border
Starting in the north near the Tuscan border, you can find medieval towns perched atop hills, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and wild forests. At the beautiful Lake Bolsena, the largest volcanic lake in Europe, you can cruise around its perimeter taking in various views and stop in at a shoreside village for shopping or a bar. This area contains some of the best archaeological sites for understanding the mysterious Etruscan people, who inhabited the area before the time of Caesar. Ceri is built on top of an Etruscan necropolis, but is now home to a colony of artists, who create, display and sell their works throughout the village. There is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Civita Di Bagnoregio, which is accessible only by a footpath, from which you feel like you are looking down at the world from a cloud.
Abbeys and Monasteries
On the inland side of Lazio, we enter the cultural landscape of the Benedictine settlements, important for the economic revival of medieval Italy and still thriving as centers of the Christian monastic tradition. The Monastery of Santa Scolastica in Subiaco is where Saint Benedict first established his hermitage in a cave and formed his spiritual insights in the 6th century. The Abbey of Montecassino in Cassino is where the saint spent his final years. It is an impressive building on top of a mountain, destroyed in WWII, but since restored. In the region of Sabina you find the beautiful Abbey of Santa Maria di Farfa, one of the most important medieval monuments in all of Europe, sponsored by Charlemagne and where he often stayed while in Italy. Today you will find a quaint hamlet full of artisans preserving traditional craftwork skills.
Castles and Fortifications
Scattered throughout the region are numerous castles built as strongholds to defend the cities. You can admire the Castle of Rocca Alfina in Acquapendente in the north of Lazio. An imposing medieval construction with majestic towers which can be seen for kilometers as you approach. The Odescalchi Castle of Bracciano, is one of the best examples of renaissance military architecture in Italy. It has been the location for many movies and even hosted the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The castle houses a museum with a rich collection of art from the middle ages. A short trip from Rome in Ostia Antica, you find the Castle of Giulio II °, a small and beautiful castle surrounded by a moat. It also served as an office for collecting taxes on goods that arrived at the port of Ostia, until around 1423 when the Tiber river changed course. An interesting guided tour is available most mornings. There are too many castles to mention in this guide, but throughout your tour you will see them from the road; some open to the public, some occupied by noble families, some abandoned and waiting for restoration. Lazio is one of the best regions in the world to see these relics of time.
Museums and Collections
Some of the greatest museums in Lazio (and the world) are found in Rome. Among the largest and most famous, there are the Vatican Museums containing some of the most important works to western civilization, the Capitoline Museums that tell the story of Rome since its origins, the Borghese Gallery with its exquisite Rafaels, and Palazzo Barberini and Villa Farnesina with their magnificent private collections of masterpieces by the best Italian artists. Off the beaten path you find small but no less interesting museums. In fact, almost every village of size houses a museum where you can discover your own little masterpieces and learn the amazing history of the region. On our tour of Lazio you will see some of the greatest works known to man, but also make memories of historic relics that almost no one has ever appreciated the way you will.
The Flavors of Lazio
The territory, so diverse, offers a gastronomic adventure that gratifies the palate with intense aromas, accompanied by excellent DOC wines. The Roman lamb, Abbacchio, a typical meat of Lazio cuisine, tender and tasty, comes from natural pastures, farms cared for by the traditional Lazio pastoralism that is often handed down from father to son. Pasta is another of the pillars on which typical Roman cuisine is based. Cooked al dente, it satisfies all palates with the most typical Amatriciana or Cacio e Pepe sauces. Then we have the potato gnocchi or fettuccine (with flour and eggs) handmade and cooked fresh. Chicken, as well as fish, lends itself to innumerable tasty combinations, in which the excellent extra virgin olive oil, abundantly produced all over Lazio, plays an important role.
Wine reflects the variety of the Lazio region: the vineyards famous for the production of DOC wines in the Castelli Romani area cover most of the regional production. The production of wine in Lazio has ancient origins. Since Etruscan times the dedication to this inevitable complement of food and even the cheapest table wine in the tiniest country restaurants will amaze you with their rich flavors which come from the surrounding fields.