Although most visitors to Rome are immediately drawn to the major sights, the city’s 3000-year history means that there is always more just waiting to be discovered. A simple stroll through any part of town will find you stumbling upon pieces of the past at every turn, and the themes of history, culture and food are often interwoven as you dig deeper into the secrets of the city.
Eating Italy offers tours through the neighborhoods of Testaccio and Trastevere, both of which boast some of Rome’s most fascinating hidden treasures which we think just cannot be ignored. As we like to say, it is “more than just a food tour!”
So here are 5 non-food related facts that you will learn on your Rome tour:
1. There is an ancient pyramid in Rome
An imposing pyramid stands majestically at a traffic junction in the Testaccio neighborhood. It was built in the 1st century BC as the tomb of Roman politician Caius Cestius, and remains one of the best-preserved monuments of that period. The recent restoration project to clean the pyramid unveiled a bright, white marble exterior, which often causes visitors to mistake it for a more modern construction.
2. Rome is an “archeological lasagna”
The Eternal City has been built up in layers over the centuries due to the fact that the street level began to rise in the middle ages, after the city was abandoned following the fall of the Empire in Rome. This has created a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new, as the newer structures re-utilized ancient materials and foundations. An excellent example of this is the Spirito di Vino restaurant in Trastevere, which is housed in a former synagogue and boasts a spectacular wine cellar dating from 80 BC.
3. The famous Romantic poets Keats and Shelley are buried in Testaccio
The beautiful Non-Catholic Cemetery is the final resting place of English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, both of whom died in Italy in the 1820s. This quiet, leafy oasis is beautifully maintained and provides the perfect escape from the more chaotic areas of Rome. It is also home to the tombs of American beat poet Gregory Corso and Italian Marxist politician Antonio Gramsci.
4. There is fresh drinking water on almost every corner of the city
Known as nasoni (big noses) because of their distinctive curved tap, these public drinking fountains have been quenching the thirst of Romans and visitors since 1874. Used as a way to prevent the water in the pipes from stagnating, as well as to provide a pressure release through the water system, there are currently 2,500 nasoni providing fresh, cool water throughout the city of Rome. Although the smart choice is to bring your own bottle, the true Roman way of drinking from the nasone is to block the water with your finger, forcing it through the smaller hole at the top.
5. An ancient dumpsite stands in the center of Testaccio
Although it appears to be just a tree-topped hill, Monte Testaccio is in fact an artificial mountain formed by millions of broken fragments (in Latin testae) of the terracotta pots, or amphorae, which were used to transport food and goods around the Empire in ancient times. In Rome, the large port area, the Emporium, was located by the Tiber River, close to Testaccio and, as these pots were cheaper to make than to clean and re-use, they were usually broken and thrown away at their final destination. Covering an area of 220,000 square feet and standing 115 feet tall, the ancient “dumpsite” was formed between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD.