You could easily make the argument that all of Trastevere is a hidden gem. Rome, the capital of Italy, has been one of the world’s major cities for more than 2000 years, and the ancient Roman ruins, Baroque churches, and sun-soaked piazzas of the Eternal City attract millions of tourists every year. And yet, relatively few of them make the journey across the Tiber River to explore this lively neighborhood.
The historic center of Rome remains a beautiful place, but there’s no denying that it is overrun by tourists, especially during the summer season. Crossing the river to Trastevere allows you to experience Rome the way it used to be before it became a center of mass international tourism.
Trastevere is a wonderful district full of narrow winding streets, hidden churches, glimpses of ancient history, and excellent food and nightlife. It allows you to experience a more authentic side of the Italian capital without straying far from the major attractions. Plus, Trastevere has plenty of attractions of its own for those willing to dig a little – almost literally.
Drop off your unneeded bags at a Trastevere luggage storage and immerse yourself in the unparalleled atmosphere of this beautiful neighborhood. Make some of these lesser-known attractions your goal, and along the way, you’ll get a much better understanding of what makes Trastevere so special.
Basilica di Santa Maria
This is one of the major landmarks of Trastevere, so maybe not a hidden gem as far as this neighborhood is concerned. However, despite being one of the oldest churches in Rome – which is saying a lot in this truly ancient city – Santa Maria in Trastevere gets nowhere near the number of visitors of the famous churches in the historic center or the Vatican.
That can be a blessing. It means you can have a much richer experience of the tranquility and beauty of this ancient place without having to navigate crowds. Just be aware that this is still a working church and the spiritual heart of this neighborhood, so you’ll need to plan your visit around church service times.
The church dates back to the third century, an era when Christianity was still being persecuted in the Roman Empire. However, the beautiful paintings of the façade and the belltower, some of the most famous beaches of the church, are more recent, dating back to the 12th century.
Either way, this is a wonderful place to explore, and the square outside the church is one of the liveliest and most interesting in the neighborhood. Spend some time enjoying this area, and you’ll be sampling the very heart of Trastevere.
As firmly on the beaten path of international tourism as Rome is, part of the appeal of a city like this is that there is always something new to discover. Even if you have to go underground to find it.
That’s as true in Trastevere as it is in the rest of the city. And just a short walk from the Basilica di Santa Maria and its popular square, you’ll find this lesser-known church that provides an unforgettable experience of the layers of history that make Rome what it is.
On the left side of the church, you’ll find the sacristy, and through there, the stairs down into the basement. Five meters below street level, you’ll find an older version of this church that dates back to the early fourth century.
The remains of the brightly colored paintings on the walls make this a stunningly atmospheric place to visit, and it’s so little-known that you may well have the place to yourself. It’s often said that the city of Rome is like a vast open-air museum, and when you encounter hidden gems like this, it’s difficult not to agree.
Santa Maria della Scala pharmacy
Located in an ancient monastery, this is indisputably one of the hidden gems of Trastevere. Operated by monks since the 16th century, this may be the oldest pharmacy in Europe. And it’s easily one of the most beautiful. Once known as the pharmacy to the popes, this collection of ancient herbal medicines now functions as a museum of healthcare.
You can only visit the pharmacy by contacting the monastery ahead of time or booking a specialist tour. However, it’s worth it to learn more about the medicines that were employed to cure the ailments of Roman nobility and popes for hundreds of years. Plus, it’s always fun to go somewhere that most people have never heard of and see something completely new.
This beautiful church is one of the least visited in Rome. Partly, that’s because its unassuming façade hides the artistic treasures inside so well. Partly, it’s because it’s often overshadowed by Santa Maria in Trastevere.
So why is this church worth a visit? Well, first of all, it’s the final resting place of Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music, so if you’re struggling to master a particular chord on the guitar, this might be the place to seek some divine intervention. Secondly, it’s a richly-decorated masterpiece where you can admire the incredible detail of the Baroque art inside.
Thirdly, this is another church in Trastevere that conceals layers of history. The crypt contains the remains of the saint and also of the ninth-century church that was built directly on the house she is reported to have lived in. Below the crypt, there is indeed a Roman house, but you may need special permission to visit this hidden place.
Trastevere is a wonderful place to just wander and soak up the atmosphere while avoiding some of the tourist crowds you’ll get in Rome’s historic center. But if you need a focus for your wanderings, track down some of these hidden gems and take yourself on a tour through history in one of Rome’s most enchanting neighborhoods.
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