Rome is fantastic any time of year. If you look at Rome’s historic climate, you’ll notice it rains a lot in October and November. You’d think this would lead to those long days reading the dog-eared pages of your useless guidebook in your hotel room, but it doesn’t have to come to that. Lots of Rome exists below the surface. You don’t want to miss the old stuff that exists hidden under the modern city. So grab an umbrella while I give you instructions on how to access these things.
One of the least known of these underground attractions is the Case Romane del Celio, the fabulously frescoed houses under the convenient Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a little known basilica wedged inside a triangle bounded by the Coliseum and Arch of Constantine on the north, the Circus Maximus to the west, and the Caracalla baths to the south. Go past the Coliseum and there’s another underground attraction, St. Clement Basilica, which also sits upon Roman ruins.
The interior of Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo, shown above is where St John and St Paul, (not the Apostles) were allegedly martyred and buried in 362AD. The rumors were too juicy to pass up, so in 1887 a search for their tombs brought to light 20 houses, a treasure trove the excavators didn’t expect. The rooms are what you wind through today, dated round the 2nd or 3rd century AD, except that sometime between the 3rd and 4th century AD an “aristocrat” got a hold of the property and transformed all the little houses into one huge house.
And then there are some mosaics as well:
This little underground excursion will make your heart dance in wonderment after you’ve observed how people lived and decorated their houses 2000 years ago; the frescoes have been well preserved. But that’s not all. Would I, your faithful guide and drunkard supreme, just leave you at the gates of a Roman village/basilica looking forlornly at the drizzle, without pointing out that you might partake of a little “pick me up” in the form of an aperitivo the inhabitants of these darling little fixer-uppers might have swilled? Inside I mean, out of the rain?
And with that warming drink you’ll need to have a bit too eat. Perhaps some Roman “small plates” will do. Yes, of course, coming right up.
You see there is a company, Ancient Aperitif in Rome willing to serve you well-researched food and drink from prior times when lions roamed the compacted soil of the Coliseum and you paid for a ticket to see them bleed. Alas, the site is in Italian and as of the time of writing there seems to be no events on the calendar. But when they get scheduled, you join them at 7:30 pm for a 45 minute guided tour and have your wine and food ending at 10:30pm.
Where Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo is and how to get there
Case romane del Celio – Via Clivo di Scauro, near Villa Celimontana, Piazza Ss. Giovanni e Paolo
Metro: Linea B – Circo Massimo stop
Autobus: 81, 673 (Via della Navicella Stop)
Tram: 3 (Parco Celio stop)