The 3rd-century Aurelian walls are still largely intact and served as the defence of the city for 1,600 years until Italian Unification was achieved in 1870. After that, the walls were pierced in several places so that traffic could bypass the old gates and the modern city quickly sprawled far and wide in every direction. Although it’s undeniable that Rome’s most dazzling sights are contained within the walls, venturing outside them can have spectacular rewards. Ancient roads and even an entire ancient town, as well as some of Rome’s oldest churches, the mystical catacombs, and even Benito Mussolini’s pretentious contributions to modern architecture are all must-sees if you can draw yourself away from the city centre.

The Aurelian Wall

This ancient wall was begun by Emperor Aurelian (AD 270–75) and completed by his successor Probus (AD 276–82). It stretches 18 km (11 miles) around the city, with 18 gates and 381 towers, enclosing all seven of Rome’s hills. In the 4th century, Emperor Maxentius raised it to almost twice its original height. To this day, most of the wall survives.

Sunday is the best day to visit the Appia Antica when it is closed to cars

  1. Ostia Antica

    Ancient Rome’s trading heart has a wealth of fascinating ruins that evoke the city’s earliest days .

  2. San Paolo fuori le Mura

    Rome’s second largest church has had a history of violent ups and downs. It was built by Constantine in the 4th century, over the spot where St Paul was buried, and for about 400 years it was the largest church in Europe, until it was sacked by the Saracens in 846. It was rebuilt and fortified, but its position outside the walls left it mostly ignored until the mid-11th century, when it underwent a renewal. Then came the 1823 fire, which led to the reworking we see today.

    • Via Ostiense 184

    • Metro Basilica S Paolo

    • Open 7am–7pm daily

    • Free

    Apse mosaic, Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura

    Façade, San Paolo fuori le Mura
  3. EUR

    Built by Mussolini as a showcase to the world of the ideal Fascist metropolis, the EUR (l’Esposizione Universale di Roma) is disturbing to many visitors. The critic Robert Hughes described the so-called Square Colosseum as “the most frightening building in the world”, yet the aesthetic inspired many postwar architects. Aside from the hard-edged architecture, there’s a park with a lake, and a visit to the Museo della Civiltà Romana is instructive.

    • Metro EUR Palasport and EUR Fermi

    Square Colosseum, EUR
  4. Via Appia Antica

    “The Queen of Roads” was completed in 312 BC by Appius Claudius, also the architect of Rome’s first aqueduct. The most pastoral part begins at the circular Tomb of Cecilia Metella, which was made into a fortification in the Middle Ages. Starting here, you’ll see more tombs and fragments of tombs, as well as grazing sheep and the private gates to fabulous modern-day villas. As you walk along, look to the east to see the arches of an ancient aqueduct marching towards the city .

    • Buses 118, 218

    Via Appia Antica
  5. Catacombs of Domitilla

    This is the largest catacomb network in Rome. Many of the tombs from the 1st and 2nd centuries have no Christian connection; burial of this sort was practised by several religious sects. The chambers have frescoes of both Classical and Christian scenes, including one of the earliest images of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

    • Via delle Sette Chiese 282

    • Buses 118, 218, 660, 760

    • Open Feb–Dec: 9am–noon, 2–5pm Wed–Mon (until 5:30pm in summer)

    • Adm €6.00

  6. Montemartini Art Centre

    Rome’s very first power station has been transformed into a remarkable showcase for Greek and Roman statues – parts of the Musei Capitolini collection that, until now, were kept in storage. The effect is extraordinary, playing the monolithic might of modern technology off against the noble, human vulnerability of these ancient masterpieces.

    • Via Ostiense 106

    • Metro Piramide, Garbatella

    • Open 9am–7pm Tue–Sun

    • Adm

    • DA

  7. Catacombs of San Sebastiano

    Underground cemeteries outside the city walls were created in accordance with laws at the time, not a response to suppression (it was thought ghosts of the dead could interfere with the living). However, the remains of saints Peter and Paul may have been moved here, further away from the centre, during one of the city’s periods of persecution. There are also several 4th-century mausoleums, some with exquisite frescoes.

    • Via Appia Antica 136

    • Buses 118, 218

    • Open mid-Dec–mid-Nov: 9am–noon, 2–5pm Mon–Sat (until 5:30pm in summer)

    • Adm

  8. Catacombs of San Callisto

    Rome’s first official Christian cemetery, on four levels, features some rooms decorated with stucco and frescoes, and special crypts to early popes and saints that you can also visit. The rooms and connecting passageways were hewn out of relatively soft volcanic tufa. The niches, called loculi, were designed to hold two or three bodies.

    • Via Appia Antica 110

    • Buses 118, 218

    • Open Mar–28 Jan: 9am–noon, 2– 5pm Thu–Tue (until 5:30pm in summer)

    • Adm

  9. Foro Italico and Stadio dei Marmi

    Originally called the Foro Mussolini, the name was understandably changed in the late 1940s, even though the 16-m (55-ft) obelisk still shouts out “Mussolini Dux” (“Mussolini the Leader”). In imitation of every mad Roman emperor, there was even supposed to have been a 75-m (250-ft) statue of Il Duce posing as Hercules. The sculptures of the Stadio dei Marmi, 60 colossal nude young Fascist athletes, are worth a look.

    • Viale del Foro Italico

    • Bus 280

  10. Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura and Santa Costanza

    These 4th-century gems are located in the same Early Christian complex. Both are decorated with sublime mosaic work, the former depicting the martyred St Agnes as she appeared in a vision eight days after her death. The ambulatory around the circular Santa Costanza has truly delightful, richly detailed scenes of an ancient Roman grape harvest.

    • Via Nomentana 349

    • Buses 36, 60, 62, 84, 90

    • Open 7:30am–noon Mon–Sat, 4–7:30pm Tue–Sun

    • Free

    • DA

    Santa Costanza
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