Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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The Castelli Romani: Rome's Hill Towns

On our way to the Castelli Romani, you may choose to stop at one of the many exceptional archeological sites along the Via Appia (the Baths of Caracalla, Cecilia Metella's tomb, the Park of the Aqueducts, the Villa of the Quintili, etc.).

The nearest town, Castel Gandolfo, is about an hour away from Rome. Renown for the Papal Palace where the Pontiff traditionally retires in the summer, the small town affords an incredible view of Lake Albano.

Lake Albano gets its name from a larger town just down the road, Albano. Wealthy ancient Romans loved the Castelli area for its cool summers and abundant water. The Emperor Domitian was no different and therefore built a palace called "Albano" (literally "near Alba Longa" in Latin), which gave the hill town its name. A little under two centuries later, the Emperor Septimius Severus stationed the Second Parthian Legion here and Albanum underwent radical changes. From this era, a huge water tank and catacombs have survived.

The towns of Nemi and Genzano overlook another lake in immediate vicinity, the Lago di Nemi. Nemi's lake and the surrounding area are famous for fragoline, small wild strawberries (which can also be cultivated in hothouses). Nemi's lake tantalized archeologists: throughout the centuries, locals told stories about giant, elaborately decorated phantasm ships. Occasionally fishermen dragged pieces of semi-precious metal or marble to the lake's surface, corroborating the legends that circulated. After lengthy research and investigation, two ancient Roman ships were identified. To resurrect them from their watery tomb, Lake Albano was partially drained in the early 1900s. The nearly intact boat dated to the Emperor Caligula's era and were sumptuously inlaid with marble, gems, and precious metal. They were also fit out with incredible plumbing and luxurious baths, making them the celebrity yachts of almost 2000 years ago. They were displayed in a museum, which was built for the occasion. Tragically, however, the museum (together with its contents) caught fire at the end of World War II. Some say that retreating German troops burned the museum as a form of retaliation; others state that local criminals set fire to it tocash in on the ruined metal, which could be sold at high prices at the end of the war. Whatever the case, some of the ancient material was salvage and, after years of restoration, the museum has been reopened to the public.

Visitors interested in hiking should consider the Via Triumphalis. Huge sections of this ancient Roman road are intact and lead to the top of an extinct volcano called Monte Cavo, once known as Mons Latiaris (where the members of the ancient Latin league met for religious and political events). Following the entire road from the beginning is an hour-long stroll. There are also easy-to-reach access points, which shorten the walk to 15 / 20 minutes. At the top of the hill, a panorama opens over the two lakes of the Castelli Romani (Lake Nemi and Albano). On clear days or with the right conditions, the Mediterranean Sea sparkles in the distance.

 

 For the culinarily curious, food and wine abound. Several vintners offer wine-tastings on their property. (Nothing like sipping a glass of Malvasia under a wisteria bower or in an ex-convent from the 1600s!) The town Frascati is famous for its panini di porchetta (a type of ham sandwich), which begs for a local glass of white wine and should sate the most carnivorous member of any group! Meanwhile different chefs have decided to leave the bustle and hassle of Rome, transfer to the calmer Castelli area, and concentrate on quality cooking with local or regional ingredients and recipes. Discover the hedonistic joys of the Castelli!

 

Comments: it is best to plan on a full-day (i.e. about eight hours).

Special permission is required to access the archeological areas (monumental water tank and catacombs) in Albano. Please see "the costs" section for more information regarding reservation fees for special entrances.

The ticket to access the catacombs or water tank is euro 5 for adults and euro 3 for kids.

Different vintners have different fees for wine-tastings. Generally speaking, a short visit, several glasses of wine and local specialties (such as bruschetta or other finger food) is euro 20 a person. For more information, please inquire!