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Discover the secret beauty of Rome, exploring some of the most atmospheric parts of the city with engaging guides. This unusual walk includes the Aventine Hill, the Protestant Cemetery and Tiber Island.
Go off the beaten path on this exclusive private tour of Rome, to explore the peaceful heart of the Eternal City, and learn about 3,000 years of history. Away from the crowds and the traffic, you’ll discover quiet corners of Rome that are rich in history and beauty. On this relaxing stroll through Rome you’ll discover the peace and quiet of the Protestant Cemetery, a shady spot filled with cypresses and umbrella pines, where some of the most famous poets and artists are buried. From there you’ll climb the Aventine Hill, and learn about its secret history while exploring ancient churches and admiring spectacular views of the city. You’ll visit the atmospheric Tiber Island, and uncover another side of Roman history - a fascinating story of healing and medicine, which began in the heart of the river more than 2,000 years ago. Join us on an journey through Rome, visiting overlooked sights at a relaxed pace, for an alternative tour of Ancient Rome.
The Protestant Cemetery: “The holiest place in Rome”
According to Oscar Wilde, the Protestant Cemetery - also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery - was the most sacred space in the Eternal City. The area surrounding the Pyramid of Cestius was originally an open field; because of its location outside of the city walls, it was used for the burials of non-Catholics and foreigners who had died in Rome. As you walk among the tombs you’ll see gravestones written not only in English and German, but even in Arabic and Hebrew.
You’ll also hear some of the deeply moving stories of the people buried here, including two of the great Romantic poets. John Keats was only twenty-five when he died of tuberculosis in 1821, but he had already written some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language. His grave is located in the oldest part of the cemetery, which is overlooked by the Pyramid of Cestius. This vast marble pyramid is even older than the Colosseum, having been built around 18 BC as a tomb for a wealthy Roman nobleman.
In the company of your personal guide, you’ll then explore the labyrinth of tombs on the hillside. It is here that you’ll find the grave of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who once said of the cemetery that “It might make one in love with death, to be buried in so sweet a place”. Your guide will also show you the famous “weeping angel” grave, and tell you about the lives and deaths behind some of these tombstones.
Many are surprised by the beauty of the cemetery, a place which moves and inspires due to its tranquil atmosphere and scenic location, in the shadow of the pyramid and the Aurelian Walls.
The secret churches of the Aventine Hill
The Aventine Hill is overlooked by many visitors to Rome, but it hides a fascinating history. These shady residential streets were once the location of pagan temples and a sacred grove, where bacchanals took place.
On your private tour of the Aventine you’ll discover the hill’s Christian history, in the beautiful Basilica of Santa Sabina. The interior is elegant and understated, and its wooden doors feature the oldest representation of the crucifixion. In the thirteenth century St Dominic made Santa Sabina his home, and planted an orange tree in the garden, which can still be seen today. Have a look at the chapel dedicated to St Dominic and you’ll find a black stone; legend has it that the Devil himself threw this stone at the saint.
The church of Santa Prisca also has its secrets. Beneath the fifth century church is a mysterious pagan temple, dedicated to the god Mithras. The underground mithraeum of Santa Prisca is not usually open to the public, and this private tour is a unique opportunity to learn about the beliefs and rituals of mithraism, as you admire the evocative ancient frescoes. This religion once had so many followers that in Rome, it even rivalled Christianity.
After visiting the churches you’ll enjoy a walk through the romantic Giardino degli Aranci (orange garden), a park filled with orange trees and umbrella pines. The gardens overlook the river, and offer spectacular views of Rome. For an even more unusual view, follow the road to find a secret keyhole - one of the most beautiful hidden sights in the city.
A history of healing on the Tiber Island
In the middle of the Tiber river is a boat-shaped island, an iconic landmark nestled between the neighbourhoods of Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto. Many walk past or even across the Tiber Island without realising that it has a long and important history as a centre of healing and medicine. As you explore the cobbled streets with your private guide, the secret history of the island will be revealed.
In ancient times local people avoided the island, as it was populated by criminals and people suffering from contagious diseases. But after the construction of the Temple of Aesculapius in the third century, the reputation of the Tiber Island suddenly changed. Your guide will tell you the story of how the temple - and the unusual shape of the island - came to be, as a result of a terrible plague and an unexpected omen. On your private tour of the Tiber Island you’ll also learn how votive offerings were given to the god of medicine, in hope of being blessed with a cure.
Even to this day, the island remains a centre of healing, as Fatebenefratelli, a hospital with sixteenth century origins, continues to heal modern day Romans.