The Caelian Hill, one of the top places in Rome, might not draw the crowds that some other city’s hills do but it, certainly, has its charm. A short walk from the Colosseum or the Circo Massimo, the Celio as Italians call it offers refreshing shade and tranquillity.
In times of Imperial Rome, the Caelian Hill was the place to live for the rich citizens. Archaeologists discovered fragments of gardens and opulent villas adorned by elaborate mosaics and frescoes. The notorious emperor Nero constructed a large temple on the hill, which arches remain visible. Centuries later, in the 1500s, the Caelian hill became fashionable again and some local noble families built lavish residences with vineyards in the area. However, the western slopes of the Celio have seen very little development since medieval times.
Among the Celio’s attractions there are some of the top places in Rome. The most famous archaeological site in the area is the Baths of Caracalla, one of the largest and best-preserved ancient thermal complexes. Built by Emperor Caracalla in 217, the baths ran for about 300 years and could fit over 1,600 bathers at a time. You need a lot of imagination to picture the luxurious complex today, however, a document survived to our days that describes enormous marble columns, marble floors, mosaics, painted stuccoes, hundreds of colossal statues, art galleries and elegant gardens that bathers enjoyed.
There is a number of beautiful churches on the Celio: basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo, San Gregorio Magno, 11th century San Tommaso in Formis. The ancient church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo that has been destroyed and rebuilt many times has beautiful frescoes inside. Underneath the church remains of ancient houses were discovered which today represent some of the best-preserved Roman era residential buildings complete with original frescoes.
A large part of the hill is covered by the gardens of Villa Celimontana, one the best parks in Rome with a historic 16th century villa. During summer evenings classical and jazz music festivals attract big crowds but during the day there is always space for a quiet romantic picnic al fresco.
Photos via Flickr by: Edgar Jiménez, Jon Kneller.