If you read the previous post successfully, you should be sugar laden and ready to explore a little closer to my place in the African Quarter.
Viale Somalia, Viale Libia, Viale Etiopia and Viale Eritrea are the four main roads that delineate this neighborhood, but do not come expecting a vibrant African oasis in the heart of Roma: they represent former Italian colonies and, although you will find some lavish embassies, the vibe is very much Italian.
Stop 1: Hire a bike at the “Devil’s Chair”
For the next leg of your jounry to less-known Northern sights, I suggest hiring a bike to ride down one of the very few bike paths Rome has to offer: the Nomentana. Conveniently, there is one located at our first stop for the second half of this tour (you can read the first half here).
The bike shop is right next to the Devil’s Chair Square or La Sedia del Diavolo. Was this a site for Satanical worship? Absolutely not! It is the 2nd Century AD tomb of Elio Callistio, but quickly became named the devil’s chair when shepherds used the ruins as makeshift shelter and lit fires there to keep them warm. From a distance, the illuminated tomb resembled a flaming throne.
Stop 2: Find Pagan and Christian fusion at the Mausoleum of Saint Constance.
Rome is a mille-feuille of layered history: you find all artistic and architectural periods still represented in various locations throughout the city. What makes this mausoleum, or burial chamber, unique is the fusion of pagan and Christian Byzantine mosaics. In other words: this 4th Century Mausoleum has a circular vaulted ceiling adorned with images from the Bible as well as vines, peacocks, carts and grapes. The mausoleum was constructed when Emperor Costantine’s daughter “Costantina” miraculously recovered from an illness. It only became a consecrated church in the 13th Century.
Stop 3: Get lost in the leadlight art of the wacky House of Owls and (sneaky addition) the Moorish Greenhouse Villa Torlonia
In case you have not noticed, the Torlonia family was a rich, powerful lot in Rome. In the 18th and 19th Centuries they controlled the purse of the Pope, so you can imagine where that wealth emanated from. Originally commissioned by Alessandro Torlonia in 1840, his kooky nephew Giovanni Torlonia the younger decided to embellish the Swiss-chalet style pad with leadlight artworks of owls (leading to the nickname).
Upon entering, you feel like you have stepped into the Mad Hatter’s tea party: every window has a different stained glass masterpiece, while the rooms themselves are often oddly shaped giving the place the feel of an adult treehouse. Indeed, the front door (be sure to get a pic) feels more like Hobbiton than Rome.
Keeping with this “pretty coloured glass” aesthetic, amble down to the hothouse with the Moorish inspired glass. A recently renovated site, it is definitely worth a peek.
Stop 4: Bunkers of Mussolini Villa Torlonia
In Berlin, we know that Hitler’s bunker was filled (rightly) with cement to avoid the glorification of a dictator. In Rome, Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator of WWII infamy, decided to construct his bunkers in Villa Torlonia near his residence (the Noble Villa) where he resided between 1925 and 1943.
Word of warning: to visit these bunkers, you will need to book a private tour by filling in a form. Clearly, we are off the mainstream tourist path, but it is worth organising it in advance. Many Romans have never even been, so you will definitely feel local.
Stop 5: Gelato Guttilla
To finish a swell afternoon, relax in the gardens of the Villa, which are well worth a stroll, then head to another well-known gelateria.
After your gelato, either return the bikes or catch the 60 bus that runs express to Piazza Venezia.