A Guide For The Pilgrim in Rome
Forum & Aventine Hill
The Forum was the cultural and religious center of ancient Rome. The now ruined temples and monuments testify to the greatness of this once all-powerful city. Rising just to the west of these ruins is the Capitoline Hill upon which is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument. This monument goes by several official names but is often just simply dubbed the Wedding Cake to describe its rather ostentatious appearance. It was completed in the early 20th century to celebrate the unification of Italy. Ever since the Middle Ages this hill has served as the center of Rome’s civic life. The beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio and its surrounding palazzi designed in part by Michelangelo demonstrate its historic importance. The Aventine Hill, located just south of this area, also has a rich history. It is known in particular for its many important Christian churches including Santa Sabina.
Begin this walking tour at the church of Santa Francesca Romana located just west of the Colosseum. After your visit head west along the Via dei Fori Imperiali to reach the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano. From here continue as before until you reach the very large Victor Emmanuel II Monument. Upon reaching this monument walk so as to go up and behind this building. One can either follow the road or take the staircase. At the top you will enter the Piazza del Campidoglio. From here there is access to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. After visiting this church descend the Capitoline Hill from the exit located in the south-eastern corner of the piazza. Along the descent you will find a lookout with an amazing view of the entire Forum area. Continue as the following map indicates until you reach the church of San Giorgio in Velabro. Should you have time several other churches in this area are also worthy of a visit including: Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Santa Maria della Consolazione, San Nicola in Carcere, and Sant’Anastasia. However, don’t get too bogged down since you will still need to climb the Aventine Hill to finish the last stage of this walk. On top of this hill is the historic church of Santa Sabina and also the very famous keyhole with a stunning view of St Peter’s Basilica. This keyhole is located within a gate just 500 feet south of Santa Sabina as one walks to the church of Sant’Anselmo. The gate is the entrance to the headquarters of the Knights of Malta. You will probably find tourists lining up in front of it for a view.
The following churches are listed according to the order of the suggested route. The total distance is about 1.7 miles. To walk will probably take about 4 hours when one stops at each of the churches. The churches are generally open from 7AM-1PM and from 4PM-7PM. San Giorgio in Velabro may not be open as frequently.
Santa Francesca Romana
(Saint Frances of Rome)
Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana 4
*This church is next to the Roman Forum.
*The remains of St Frances of Rome (d. 1440) are in the crypt below the main sanctuary. Her skeleton is vested in the habit of the Oblate Sisters.
*To the right of the sanctuary is the tomb of Pope Gregory XI (d. 1378). He returned the papal seat to Rome after the exile in Avignon. St Catherine of Siena (d. 1380) was instrumental in persuading him to return. A relief depicting her involvement can be seen on the tomb.
*Two flagstones within the right transept of the church are said to bear the imprints of the knees of St Peter. According to a legend the magician Simon Magus levitated in the Roman Forum to demonstrate that his powers were superior to those of Peter. In response, Peter fell to the ground in prayer causing the knee imprints in the stone. Simon Magus then immediately fell to his death.
Santi Cosma e Damiano
(Saints Cosmas and Damian)
Via dei Fori Imperiali 1
*This church is located next to the Roman Forum.
*The mosaic within the apse depicts Christ at his Second Coming. This masterpiece, created in the 6th century, was originally intended to be viewed from a greater distance. In the 17th century, however, the church was restored and the floor raised about 25 feet to its present location. Thus the mosaic is now much closer than it was intended. Under the altar in the lower church, which is normally closed, are relics of Saints Cosmas and Damian.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli
(Our Lady in Aracoeli)
Piazza del Campidoglio 4
*This church is on top of the Capitoline Hill.
*Relics of St Helena, the mother of Constantine, rest in the left transept.
*Twelve paintings in the upper nave depict events from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Also the gilded ceiling honors the victory obtained at the Battle of Lepanto.
San Giorgio in Velabro
(Saint George in Velabro)
Via del Velabro 19
*This church is just east of Tiber Island.
*Part of the skull of St George rests beneath the main altar.
Piazza Pietro d'Illiria 1
*This church is located on the Aventine Hill just south of Circo Massimo.
*In 1219 St Dominic and his friars received permission to move into this church. Three years later, on June 5, 1222, the church was given in perpetuity to the Dominican Order by Pope Honorius III. Today it serves as the Order’s General Curia. The room in which St Dominic lived has been converted into a chapel and can be visited with permission. Also in the garden, visible from the narthex, is an orange tree that is said to have been planted by St Dominic himself.
*The first chapel on the left side of the nave is dedicated to St Dominic. Within this chapel is a polished black stone that the Devil is said to have thrown at St Dominic.
*St Thomas Aquinas lived here when he opened a house of studies at Santa Sabina to teach theology to Dominican students in 1265. It was also around this time that he began to write the Summa Theologica.
*One of the oldest depictions of the crucifixion in Christian art is located on the uppermost left panel of the left entrance door. This wooden door dates back to the year 430 AD. (Note: This is not the entrance off of the street but the entrance from the narthex.)