The Garibaldi statue sits atop Janiculum Hill’s highest point and offers splendid views of the city. // © 2017 iStock
Feature image (above): Rome is home to more than 900 churches and 200 amphitheaters, with temples, domes and fountains scattered abundantly throughout. // © 2017 iStock
With its towering statues and historic monoliths, Rome is spoiled with photogenic vantage points. An aerial glance reveals the city’s seven ancient hills, each housing its own piece of history. And it is around these swollen centers that one can catch the same views that inspired emperors, architects and artists alike.
In order to understand Rome, one must enter its layered geography. After ambling through the crowded streets and saluting the city at ground level, there is ample sanctuary in higher elevation; there, travelers will discover sweeping views of a landscape that, though ever changing, retains its iconic marbleized foundations. To easily pinpoint the gems amidst Rome’s delightful chaos, follow this guide to five lookout points that cannot be missed.
Altare della Patria (in Piazza Venezia)
Situated on the northern side of Capitoline Hill, the most central and sacred of Rome’s seven hills, the imperious Altare della Patria (or “Il Vittoriano”) is Italy’s largest national monument. To call it the “wedding cake,” a nickname coined by foreigners to describe its stacked design, seems feeble considering its militant architecture. Though the monument was only recently built — it was completed in 1925 to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy — it recalls the grandeur of the Roman Empire with its columns and fountains.
Italian architect Giuseppe Sacconi was commissioned to create the structure with several instructions, including that there be a bronze equestrian statue of the king. The project aimed to represent Rome as the newly elected legitimate capital of Italy, though controversy followed the destruction of a large part of the Capitoline Hill needed for its foundation.
In order to access the monument’s panoramic terrace, which falls at the same height as the massive chariots, visitors must use the panoramic lifts. Prices are about $7 per adult and about $3.50 for kids and seniors.
Recommended Tour: On Get Your Guide’s Vittoriano Terrace and Capitoline Museum Small Group excursion, guests will tour the sites with a professional guide, who will speak in depth about the monument’s history. Other highlights include the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven, also on Capitoline Hill, as well as the archaeological museums in Piazza del Campidoglio. Prices start at $52 per person.
Janiculum Hill, also called Gianicolo, rises above the charming neighborhood of Trastevere. Though not one of the city’s founding hills — it lies west of the Tiber river, and thus outside the ancient city walls — it is modern Rome’s second tallest hill.
The road leading up to the panoramic vista is jeweled with several noteworthy landmarks. Film buffs may recognize the magisterial Fontana dell’Acqua Paola (known as Il Fontanone) on the southern side of the hill from the opening scene of Paolo Sorrentino’s “La Grande Bellezza.” Construction of the fountain started under the commission of Pope Paul V in the early 17th century to restore Emperor Trajan’s decaying aqueducts. Close by, guests will also find the ninth-century church of San Pietro in Montorio, home to Italian architect Donato Bramante’s Tempietto, the Renaissance masterpiece that preceded his famous reimagining of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Garibaldi monument sits atop the hill’s high point, surrounded by Rome’s signature landscape. To the east, there’s Trastevere and the ancient landmarks beyond the river; to the north, there’s Vatican City; and to the west, visitors can spot the verdant hills of Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome’s largest public park. For a quiet afternoon in the city, recline with a panino on the warm ledge, or admire the busts of war heroes nearby, sheltered beneath low-hanging trees.
Recommended Tour: On Walks of Italy’s Rome as A Local: Hidden Gems & Ancient Wonders tour, clients will explore the Janiculum hill in addition to the Roman Ghetto, Appian Way and Aqueduct Park and several other “secret sites.” Guests will travel in a luxury vehicle alongside a local expert guide. Prices for the 3.5-hour tour start at $63.73 per person.
Not deep beneath Monte Testaccio’s grassy hilltop, there is an overwhelming supply of ancient ceramic shards – about 580,000 cubic meters, to be exact.
This is because Testaccio once served as imperial Rome’s port city, where ships from Spain and North Africa imported ceramic containers of olive oil, some as tall as 5 feet. After the olive oil was distributed among the Roman population, these “amphorae” were crushed and meticulously terraced into the mound that remains today. From the street, you can observe these terra-cotta-colored rows; from the hilltop, you can even palpate fingerprints — fossils of the city’s ancient laborers — in certain shards.
From the hill’s peak, you can glimpse Aventine Hill, famous for its keyhole view of St. Peter’s Basilica. You might also see the Pyramid of Cestius, close to the Protestant Cemetery and Porta San Paolo.
To preserve the landmark’s fragile state, small groups are only admitted with the company of a guide.
Recommended Tour: On Get Your Guide’s three-hour walking tour of Testaccio, guests will visit Monte Testaccio and the Protestant Cemetery. Prices start at $227 for a group of two, and there is a maximum of eight people per group.
Palatine Hill is Rome’s center stage. Located centrally among the hills, it is also widely regarded as the site of the city’s origins.
The former home of several infamous emperors, the hill has seen the creation and destruction of various imperial palaces. It is from the word “palatine,” in fact, that the word “palace” is derived. Today, visitors can peruse the hill’s remaining artifacts, including the Palace of Septimius Severus, Palace of Domitian and Palatine Antiquarium Museum. Flanked by the city’s trademark sites — the Circus Maximus to the south, the Roman Forum to the north and the Colosseum to the east — the Palatine Hill is an unrivaled cultural pulse point.
From the Farnese Gardens, located on the hill’s northern side, visitors can experience a panoramic view of the Roman Forum, whose grid-like structure served as ancient Rome’s civic and political center.
Recommended Tour: On The Roman Guy’s Colosseum Dungeons, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill itinerary, guests spend 3.5 hours venturing through each site’s history (specifically from the first to fourth century), with two hours devoted to the Forum and Palatine Hill. Prices start at $99 per person, and there is a maximum of 12 people per group.
Like Gianicolo, the Pincian or Pincio Hill is not one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Somehow, though, it is just as quintessential, providing breathtaking views of the historic city center. A stroll down Via del Corso from Piazza Venezia will take clients directly to Piazza del Popolo. Pincio Terrace, located on the eastern side, is free to access. From the piazza, visitors will see a large marble facade. The stairs are located to the left, with signs directing to the terrace.
From this view, Rome appears as an intricate fortress. St. Peter’s Basilica beams above the trees, nodding to its high-reaching competitors — domes, chapels and churches. Behind the terrace, it’s possible to stroll in the footsteps of Gandhi, King Farouk of Egypt and composer Richard Strauss. Designed by Italian architect Giuseppe Valadier, the 19th-century neoclassical gardens feature manicured terraces and dense greenery.
At night, the piazza transforms into a living kaleidoscope. In the foreground, cars whirl around the ovular piazza, and beyond is a brilliant cityscape.
Recommended Tour: On Gartour Destination Company’s three-hour tour of the Galleria Borghese, Pincio Terrace and the Spanish Steps, guests will enjoy “skip-the-line” access to these closely located landmarks. Groups are limited to 14 people, with prices starting at about $63 per person.