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Rome top

In the first century BC, the Roman historian Livy wrote: ďnot without reason did gods and men choose this site for Rome. The healthy hills...a river adapted for trade...the sea not too distant...all allow Rome to be the greatest city in the world.Ē

Indeed Rome rose to great heights, and its sights can absorb the traveler for weeks. But outside the city, down the long straight roads the Romans built to all corners of the globe, there lies much more to explore. From the olive trees on the Sabine hills...to the great Roman villas...and medieval towns...the environs of Rome are a place for easy day trips...some solitude and escape from the summer heat. The Romans called the countryside around Rome Campagna.

Whether wandering through the ruins of Romeís ancient seaport or listening to the musical fountains at a villa, getting outside the city and away from the crowds helps the past truly come to life.

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For an easy-to-navigate web guide to Rome, visit europeforvisitors.com. The official Roman Tourism site is www.romaturismo.com.

 

Appian Way top

All roads lead out of Rome. The master engineers built many major arteries leaving the city.

You can still get a feel for these great roads on the old Appian Way, the Roman road toward to Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt. Strolling here under the cypress trees in the Appian Way Park, just outside the city limits, time slips away.

An edict in ancient Rome forbade the burial of the dead within the city limits. Families built tombs, catacombs and basilicas along the route; some parts of the road still have their original Roman stones.

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The park organizes guided tours, by bicycle or on foot, in English and Spanish. You'll find the details at www.parcoappiaantica.org.

 

Leaving Rome top

What those Roman engineers did not build is the crazy ring road that nowadays encircles Rome. It can be a congested nightmare, so try to avoid rush hour on your way in and out of the city.

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Need to get out of Rome? You'll find the transportation run-down at www.enjoyrome.com. For an on-line map with great tools for zooming and positioning, go to www10.mappy.com.

 

Hadrian's Villa top

Outside of Rome, along all of the great Roman roads, emperors and nobility built villas in the countryside. Villa Adriana or Hadrianís Villa, is a great estate built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 118 AD in Tivoli on the east side of Rome, just about an hour by car or bus.

Statesman, general, architect, Greek scholar, painter and sculptor, Hadrian was a learned and accomplished man and considered one of the best rulers of Rome. Among other things, he is known for re-building the Pantheon back in Rome in a revolutionary way, and designing this magnificent villa, a major work of Western art.

Hadrian preferred to escape here rather than stay in Rome, partially because the Roman senate disliked him. A number of his enemies were assassinated shortly after he was named emperor and although he denied any part in it, the senate never trusted him.

The villa covers 200 acres of libraries, baths, gardens, theatres and pools.

The Maritime theatre, named for the circular shape of the building, actually served as a retreat for the emperor. Hadrian designed a miniature villa on an island where he could dine and sleep. Bridges to the island were removed at night to keep him safe from harm.

Hadrian traveled extensively and at the villa he recreated some of the wonders he saw.

Hadrian called this pool the Canopus and modeled it on a canal that led to Alexandria in Egypt. He threw lavish banquets here at nighttime, though he himself rarely socialized with his guests.

Few of the ornate mosaics and statues that once adorned the villa remain. Most were stolen or destroyed long ago.

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For great reading on Emperor Hadrian, check out The Memoirs of Hadrian by M. Yourcenar. If you want to know more about visiting the villa, check out this great site for the city of Tivoli. If it's the Roman Empire you're interested in, www.roman-empire.net's your place.

 

Castel Gandolfo top

Another city escape takes us south for a refreshing change of pace.

Picturesque towns perched on volcanic craters, sparkling lakes and a taste of the refreshing local wine Ė this easy day trip south of Rome follows the route of the Via Appia to the Colli Albani or Alban Hills.

Since the 17th centuries, Popes have come to the Alban town, Castel Gandolfo to escape the summer heat. The town overlooks a volcanic crater, Lake Albano.

The Papal Palace cannot be visited, but you can follow the popes lead and relax in this tiny lakeside town. Scholars believe that an ancient town here called Alba Longa, pre-dated Rome. In fact Romeís founders may have come from this spot.

The unique little store Arte e Vino couples antiques with the local wine and itís an intoxicating way to shop!

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To download a local map of Castel Gandolfo (pdf format), go to www.areagroupeditore.it. You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print.

 

The Town of Nemi top

The smallest and most charming of the Alban hill towns is little Nemi on the slopes of Lake Nemi. Known throughout the region for its plump strawberries, Nemi attracted the ancients as well. The cruel emperor Caligula built enormous pleasure barges decorated with marble and statues that floated on Lake Nemi. In the 1930ís Mussolini had the lake drained and found the two thousand year old barges. Incredibly, the Nazis burned them on their retreat in World War II.

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A small museum in town contains 1/5 scale models of the barges plus a few of the original recovered artifacts. The website www.afloat.com.au details the archeological history of the two vessels, however, the big news in Nemi is the on-going Lake Nemi Roman Ship Reconstruction Project.

 

La Posta Vecchia top

Just as Roman emperors retreated to countryside villas, so too can the modern visitor.

My personal country villa is located on the Tyrrhenian sea, about 20 miles from Rome. La Posta Vecchia used to belong to a 17th century prince, then a 20th century oil tycoon, and now, itís a first class hotel and a retreat fit for an emperor.

La Posta Vecchia makes a nice base for exploring the region—or a lovely evening retreat when exploring Rome by day. When you stay at La Posta Vecchia, you are a guest in the home of one of the richest men in the world.

Oil billionaire, Jean Paul Getty, renovated the property, intent on finding seclusion and peace.

In the process of restoring the building, Getty uncovered ruins of two ancient roman villas from the 2nd century BC. Those finds are now on display in the hotelís private museum.

The restaurant alone is worth a visit. The Parisian trained chef sculpts incredible works of art like this variation on a mozzarella and tomato salad. And for dessert fresh papaya and cannolli stuffed with cream. Oh my!

La Posta Vecchia is an exclusive experience Ė part luxury hotel, part museum, part private home.

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You can exlpore this exceptional hotel on-line at www.lapostavecchia.com.

 

Ostia Antica top

Just south of Rome and an easy trip from the hotel or a subway ride from the city, lies the ancient seaport, Ostia Antica, Romeís Pompei. The well preserved ruins and stunning details offer an almost uncanny experience of everyday city life in ancient times.

For 800 years, Ostia served as Romeís seaport—it began as a military post and developed into a huge commercial center. Hadrian built or renovated much of the town in the 2nd century AD.

Ostia thrived—the streets bustled with sailors and merchants, senators and slaves. Warehouses, temples, public baths and bars lined the busy streets. Between sixty to eighty thousand people inhabited this vibrant seaport.

In the center of town, a theatre seating 3000 people held plays and spectacles. The actors wore masks to play a variety of characters in different states of mind.

Behind the theatre, the Piazzale delle Corporazione was Ostiaís mall where the trading companies set up shop. The black and white mosaics on the floor depict the ships, their cargo—everything from vases to animals for the games—and sometimes where the goods came from.

Ostiaís ruins contain a number of private dwellings, some quite lavish.

A dinner guest invited to this fine home, would wait on a bench outside to be received.

Once inside, he passed through this courtyard, decorated with a large fountain. Just through the courtyard, a sumptuously decorated dining room awaited, with mosaics made from stone imported from Africa.

Public life in Ostia centered around the shops, the forum and the public baths. No private home had running water and everyone, including the slaves, made use of one of the 18 public baths in town.

At the fishmongerís shop, Ostians shopped for seafood—one can still see the marble slab where the fish was prepared. And on the way out, note the grooves that the swinging door made, so many centuries ago.

A favorite Ostian hangout was the Thermopolium, a bar that served hot drinks. On the wall, a sign advertises some of the menu choices.

The joy of Ostia is the chance to wander the streets of a once vibrant city and feel a connection across the centuries.

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To view a three-dimensional model of Ostia, as well as discover more historical and archeological details, visit www.ostia-antica.org. For a virtual tour of Ostia, check out the Italian site www.ostiaantica.net.

 

Sperlonga top

While you might not associate beaches with Rome, a long day trip or pleasant overnight excursion takes in the lovely west coast of Italy. Iím in search of a quiet beach resort tinged with antiquity.

The seaside town of Sperlonga, located about 60 miles south of Rome, ranks as the most beautiful beach town near the city. Set high on a cliff to ward off invaders, the town is named for a nearby grotto. Sperlonga evokes a Greek isle town with its white washed houses, tiny winding streets and occasional views to the sea.

The clean beaches encompass both private beaches where you must pay during the summer season, and public facilities.

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For a gallery of sites in Sperlonga, go to www.comune.sperlonga.lt.it. If you'd like to take a peek at the beach right now, check out this webcam. For an interesting article on the town, see What's New In Italy.

 

Grotto of Tiberius top

About a half mile south of town, the archeological site, the Grotto of Tiberius was once served as an outdoor dining room for the 1st century Roman Emperor Tiberius.

The grounds hold a small villa, the emperorís retreat from Rome and a grotto by the sea. Inside the grotto, once decorated with huge sculptures, the emperor and guests dined on an artificial island. The meal was served on little boats that floated to the table.

An adjacent museum displays some of the villaís marvelous statues. In 1957 when the sculptures were discovered, the residents of Sperlonga erected road blocks to keep the artwork from leaving town: this exquisite little museum is the fruit of their labor. Several colossal sculptures once filled the interior of the grotto. The most significant captures Odysseus blinding the monster Cyclops. Monks destroyed the original statue and scholars spent years constructing a replica based on 7000 pieces of the original.

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If Emperor Tiberius piques your interest, read up at www.roman-empire.net.

 

Sabine Hills top

North of Rome, you can sample Italyís finest olive oil, wander through medieval towns and delight in a villa filled with fountains.

The Roman Via Salaria heads northeast to the Sabine Hills. Itís an ancient trade route and Iím on a shopping mission myself, to stock up on the regionís finest olive oil.

The olive trees in the Sabine Hills are some of the oldest and largest in Europe and the arid land and warm breezes enhance the flavor. Babylonian records mention the quality of olive oil from these hills as far back as 1700 BC. The ancients rubbed oil on their bodies after baths and when they felt unwell. In ancient Greece cutting down an olive tree was punished by death.

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Interested in recipes from this region? Explore away at
www.deliciousitaly.com.

 

Castelnuovo di Farfa top

The abbey of Farfa, an important religious center in medieval times, today houses an oleoteca, a store where you can sample the incredible variety of oil from this region.

Just down the road from the abbey, the little town Castelnouvo di Farfa lives and breathes olive oil. After wandering past rose hued buildings and down narrow streets, I came upon an innovative museum that tells the story of olive oil in a variety of ways. The museum displays ancient presses and tools, but most fun are tributes to the olive by contemporary artists, including a mesmerizing sculpture that creates music from drops of oil synchronized to a sensor that reads the texture of an olive tree.

A lonely and magical interpretation of the importance of the olive sits atop a hillside covered with the silvery trees. The curators enclosed and renovated this medieval church and when you enter, a soaring middle ages melody plays with contemporary lyrics dedicated to the olive tree.

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If you're interested in specialized or theme museums in Italy, visit www.museionline.it. From this website you can explore Italian museums by category or region.

 

La Mola Olive Oil Farmtop

All over the Sabine hills, small olive growers produce the regional olive oil.

One family owned farm, La Mola, belongs to Signora Anna Maria Billi, She and her daughters turn olives into liquid gold producing some of Italyís best oil. You can call ahead to visit her estate, buy the olive oil and (if you have a small group) even dine in La Molaís private restaurant.

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The estate's phone number is (0765) 36388 and the email address is lamola.billi@tiscalinet.it. Also, you'll find www.deliciousitaly.com to be a great resource on olive oil.

 

Festa Della Bruschetta top

Back in Castelnuovo, the residents celebrate their long love affair with olive oil in the festa della bruschetta. This Sabine version of the bruschetta is a piece of toasted bread rubbed with garlic, topped with salt and fresh olive oil.

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You'll find a calendar of the region's festivities at www.provincia.rieti.it. The site is in Italian, but months, after all, are months.

 

Viterbotop

The Via Cassia, named for a Roman consul in 171 BC, leads north of Rome to the medieval city of Viterbo. A detour to nearby Villa Lante takes in a riot of fantastic fountains.

Viterbo, the City of Popes: during the middle ages, Popes often fled here to escape Romeís political heat. In 1271 a conclave of cardinals spent months here trying to choose a new pope. The townspeople grew so frustrated with the delay, they cut down the cardinalsí food supply and tore the roof off the building where they were deliberating. A Pope was then promptly elected. The San Pellegrino Quarter in Viterbo is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval quarters in Italy. Many of the buildings are made of peperino, the local dark volcanic stone.

Ceramic arts go back centuries in Viterbo. At the S. Pelligrino Laboratorio díArte, artists work in an ancient style called zaffera, famous for its dark cobalt color. Some of the pottery is made of pepperino, the same stone as the city streets. In addition to shopping, visitors to this workshop can paint a medieval style ceramic piece, fire it in the oven or take courses in ceramic arts.

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Each June, the Viterbo Province celebrates a cherry festival.

 

Villa Lante top

Just outside of Viterbo, the enchanting gardens of 16th century Villa Lante dance with fanciful fountains. The property was owned by the Bishop of Viterbo. A series of different Cardinals lived here and added to the estate. The renaissance garden often played with automated water devices and incorporated themes of love, mysticism and the ancients. Water cascades, tumbles and swishes in the ingenious fountains. The water flows in a trough all the way down the terraced landscape, diverted now and again into the fountains or spouts.

There are many little nooks and crannies to be explored at the Villa Lante: a little grotto here, a tiny waterfall there. The Villa Lante affords yet another glimpse at one of Romeís elite countryside retreats.

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For some lovely pictures of the villa, check it out on-line. The website is a little different than most, but keep looking... more links reallly are on the page.

 



Interested in planning your vacation to Rome?
Start your trip at
Expedia.com/Italy

 

Links

The park organizes guided tours, by bicycle or on foot, in English and Spanish. You'll find the details at www.parcoappiaantica.org.

Need to get out of Rome? You'll find the transportation run-down at www.enjoyrome.com. For an on-line map with great tools for zooming and positioning, go to www10.mappy.com.

You can exlpore this exceptional hotel on-line at www.lapostavecchia.com.

If Emperor Tiberius piques your interest, read up at www.roman-empire.net.

If you're interested in specialized or theme museums in Italy, visit www.museionline.it. From this website you can explore Italian museums by category or region.