Rome is a walker’s city. It’s small enough to traverse on foot and full of picturesque streets, courtyards hiding behind arched doorways, and special views that you just won’t find from the deck of an open air bus.
When it comes to sweeping views of the city, the two best places to go are Il Pincio on the northern edge of the Villa Borghese park near via Veneto and Gianicolo, or the Janiculum hill, south of the Tiber river from the city center and behind the Trastevere neighborhood. Both are wonderful vantage points and are considered late additions to the famous seven hills – which today seem more like bumps – making up the nine hills of Rome.
The walk down from the top of Gianicolo into Trastevere is one of my favourite vistas in Rome. The old city is spread out like a postcard below and the light – Rome’s warm terracotta veil – dances off the rooftops and the earthly colours of the city’s buildings. One can pick out the epic but rather flat looking dome of the Pantheon, the matching cupole of the churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto that dominate Piazza del Popolo and to the right the statues of saints on the roof of San Giovanni, which seem to hover in the distant air.
Many a traveller to Rome has decided to walk up and over the Janiculum hill, which is named after the Roman god Janus or Giano, who had two faces to see both the past and the future (the month of January is named after him). This wonderful panorama is possible by walking from the Vatican and Piazza San Pietro up towards Via della Mura Aureliane or Via delle Fornaci. The opening of a new public park that links Via delle Fornaci and the upper reaches of the Via della Mura Aurelie – the Aurelian Walls – makes the first part of the walk as pleasant as the second. It’s especially great for families as there is a play area in the park and can make a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
From Piazza San Pietro, standing with your back to the Basilica, exit the piazza to your right. Once through Bernini’s grand colonade walk straight ahead and use the underpass to walk under Porta Cavallaggeri to Via delle Fornaci. Head up Via delle Fornaci, named for the fornaci or furnaces where the bricks were made for the construction of San Pietro, and you’ll find various local bars, a bakery and little grocery stores.
Keep to the left of the street and once well up and just past the level of the Carrefour supermarket – if you want a snack or picnic lunch I recommend stopping at one of the smaller stores (a couple of which are listed at the end of the article) – where you will see a large green gate.
To the left of the gate is a smaller one which is the entrance to a new public park–good news for locals and tourists alike–as in the past the only option at this point was to continue walking straight up Via delle Fornaci where the final section is without a footpath. The park is maintained by a group from the local area and is called Belvedere Fornaci, Belvedere meaning beautiful lookout in Italian.
Go through the small gate and walk up the pathway, don’t be put off by the steps, they are only in the first part.
This area was until recently private property that was opened up in a deal between the city council and a developer when a garage was built. There is a childrens’ play area – but note that there are no bathrooms or water fountains.
Continue past the play area, the pomegranate trees that bear their jeweled fruit every autumn, and up towards the gate that leads out of the park onto Via della Mura Aurelaine: these are some of the original Roman city walls built by the Emperor Aureliano between 270 and 275 to protect Rome from eventual invaders.
From the highest point of the park turn around and admire the view of the cupola of San Pietro, a view I never tire of, ever changing during the different moments of the day and seasons of the year.
Once out of the park turn up the Via della Mura Aurelie and in 5 minutes you will be at Porta San Pancrazio (foto below) at the top of Gianicolo. Here, go through the arch and down the hill along Via Garibaldi into Trastevere – passing the famous Fontanone which is a fabulous vantage point. You can also turn onto Passeggiata del Gianicolo – left just in front of the arch – and stroll along the ridge of Gianicolo admiring the statue of Garibaldi and taking in the panorama from the piazza.
If you turn 180° behind the arch of Porta San Pancrazio you will find the entrance to Villa Pamphilli, one of Rome’s largest and loveliest parks.
Simple suggestions for the walk up Via delle Fornaci:
Camedda 1970 Salumeria & Enoteca – Via delle Fornaci 46; wine bar, simple lunches
Matada Caffé – Via Santa Maria delle Fornaci 12B; coffee, cool drinks, sandwiches
Bar Pasticceria Zagarella – Via delle Fornaci 95; coffee and breakfast pastries and Neopolitan sweet specialties
Frutteria – Via delle Fornaci 60; fresh fruit, take away coffee and basic groceries (right hand side of the street)
Panificio – Via delle Fornaci 99B; simple neighborhood bakery with fresh pizza by the slice
Interested in walking tours of the city with a food & wine slant? Visit our Rome Tours page!
Alice Adams, cook, food writer and stylist, moved to Rome in 2005 to learn more about regional Italian culinary traditions; the stories behind the food in each part of Italy that give local food its legitimacy and cultural importance. Alice loves sharing the Roman food experience with visitors; piecing together seasonal produce, local agricultural traditions and historical reasons behind the food. She has a degree in Art History and her eyes are always open to Rome’s beauty as she walks the cobbled streets in search of the city’s best.
She writes about food, vintage hunting and old ways on her blog rusticaRETRO