Our very own Albert Prieto picks his top five must-see archaeological sites in Rome:
- Basilica of San Clemente Steps away from the Colosseum and St. John Lateran lies the High Medieval basilica of San Clemente. After having your fill of the extraordinary gilded mosaic in the apse, the marble elements in the nave, and the intricately carved Cosmatesque floor, you can purchase a ticket (5 Euros) to descend under the church to explore the preceding version, which was built around AD 400 and buried around 1100 after being declared too unstable to save. But the surprises don’t end there: another staircase takes you down one level further, into a series of Roman structures constructed in the 1st-3rd centuries AD; one of these structures housed a mithraeum, a shrine dedicated to the mysterious cult of the god Mithras, which was very popular in Imperial Rome.
- Palazzo Valentini Just off Piazza Venezia and next to Trajan’s Column, in the heart of downtown Rome, stands this massive Renaissance palace, home to the Province of Rome. Recent excavations inthe basement have revealed sumptuous Imperial Roman homes, which have been transformed into a stunning modern museum complete with glass floors and a sophisticated multimedia tour (available in English, 11.50 Euros with reservation).
- Baths of Diocletian Sandwiched between Termini station and the bustling Via Nazionale is the last of the great Imperial Roman bath complexes, constructed under the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian in AD 298-305 in a busy residential area. Walk around the semicircular theater space (exedra) preserved and enhanced in the modern Piazza della Repubblica (be sure to go down into the Repubblica metro station and have a peek at the preserved bits of the foundation and a Roman road, behind the glass panes), visit the circular corner structures (the church of San Bernardo and a parking garage on Via del Viminale), do a circuit of the central bath block (Viale E. De Nicola, Via L. Einaudi, Via G. Romita, Via Cernaia), and go inside the church of St. Mary of the Angels, designed by Michelangelo using the soaring, fully preserved vaulted space of the frigidarium (cold pool) with its massive pink Egyptian granite columns (be sure to go through the sacristy into the back, to admire the theatrical façade of the natatio, or open-air swimming pool).
- Via Latina tombs Off the Via Appia Nuova, reachable via metro (A/red line, Arco di Travertino station), is a tranquil and beautiful little park along a section of the ancient Via Latina, a road leading tothe Latin country south and east of Rome. The road is lined with tombs dating fromthe1st through the 3rd century AD, two of which preserve their subterranean burial chambers, richly decorated in stucco and fresco—a feast for the eyes (8.00 Euros with reservation, restricted opening).
- Aqueducts in the Aqueduct Park Reachable via metro (A/red line, Lucio Sestio, Giulio Agricola, and Subaugusta stations), this is one of Rome’s most beautiful parks, full of trees, joggers, playful dogs, canoodling couples, and the staggering mass of Roman aqueducts. In the heart of the park is the Renaissance aqueduct Aqua Felice, built over the path of three Roman aqueducts (a section of which is visible near the south end of Via Lemonia). Just beyond it, to the southwest, the ancient Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus aqueducts stride majestically towards the city on high stone arches that inspired generations of Romantic painters and poets. ~AP