Although the actual city of Rome may look quite flat to visitors, it is surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains. When the city was born, it was actually formed by a number of settlements that where scattered in what became known as the Seven Hills of Rome (i Sette Colli di Roma, in Italian), and which in the 4th century BC were surrounded by the Servian Walls, which you may still see in some parts of the Italian capital.
Continue reading to discover more about the Seven Hills of Rome, their history and facts, and what to see and do in each of them.
Map Of The Seven Hills Of Rome
The Seven Hills Of Rome In Short
Below are the name of the Seven Hills of Rome that constituted the city when it was first created, and their name in Italian:
Aventine Hill / Aventino
Caelian Hill / Celio
Capitoline Hill / Capitolino
Esquiline Hill / Esquilino
Palatine Hill / Palatino
Quirinal Hill / Quirinale
Viminal Hill / Viminale
When Rome expanded, new hills where included in the city. You may know some as they are actually quite famous – the Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo), the Pincian Hill (Pincio) and the Vatican (Vaticano). New fortifications were also built to protect the city as it expanded – for example, the Aurelian Walls, which date back to the 3rd century AD.
The Seven Hills Of Rome
Formerly known as the Collis Aventinus in Latin, the Aventine Hill or Aventino was once a suburb of ancient Rome. In the Imperial era, it was popular among aristocratic residents of the city, with private bath houses situated here, too.
Today, it’s part of the 12th district, Ripa, and is the southernmost of Rome’s Seven Hills. It’s defined by two distinct peaks.
The name is thought to derive from the name of Aventinus, one of the mythical kings of the pre-Roman kingdom, Alba Longa. It also features in the Aeneid by Roman poet Virgil. Yet its more mythological claim to fame is that it was in a cave in the Aventine Hill that the monstrous Caucus was slain by the hero Hercules.
While Romulus is said to have set up his camp on the Palatine Hill, his twin brother Remus set his up on the Aventine. But we all know which brother ended up dominating this area!
Things to see on Aventine Hill
Today, Aventine Hill retains its high-end imperial origins, and is a residential area that is also home to a good few historic churches. It’s a nice place for a quiet stroll away from the busy city center.
The Giardino degli Aranci is named for being an orange grove – specifically, it’s Seville oranges that grow in abundance here. Not only that, but it’s one of the best spots for views out over the city of Rome.
Just south of the orange garden is the Church of Santa Sabina. Founded between 425 and 432 AD, this ancient Christian monument has been restored since but still features attractive architecture from the 5th century inside.
One of the main sights of Aventino is the view through the Knights of Malta Keyhole. Set in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, look through this centuries-old keyhole, and you’ll see a leafy pathway with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.
You may want to check out this guided tour of the Aventine Hill.
Originally named the Mons Querquetulanus, the Caelian Hill is situated to the west of the Palatine Hill, with the Esquiline Hill to the north. It’s been a fashionable district for wealthy residents of Rome since the days of the Roman Republic (so, for over 2,000 years). Cut in half by the Via Claudio, this affluent area is also referred to in Italian as simply Celio.
On the eastern side of the hill, you’ll find the contemporary side. But in the west, a more medieval atmosphere and architecture has been maintained. Both sides of the hill, however, are home to countless archaeological sites.
Emperor Nero constructed a temple on the Caelian Hill, the remains of which you can still see to this day. Remnants of old villas and their gardens are still to be spotted too.
Things to see on Caelian Hill
Once a place only for the wealthy, the Caelian Hill can today be explored and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. And with plenty of historic sights to uncover, it’s a worthwhile spot for a wander.
The much-loved Villa Celimontana is well known for its gorgeous gardens. Encompassing the valley between the Caelian Hill and Aventine Hill, these gardens were first constructed in 1580 by a student of Michelangelo. It features an Egyptian obelisk, fountains, and landscaped greenery. It’s popular for wedding photography.
The Caelian Hill is also home to the Basilica of St. John in the Lateran, the oldest basilica in Rome and the seat of the Pope in the Italian capital.
The Basilica di San Clemente may be minor in stature, but inside it’s a beautiful sight. First built in the 12th century, there are actually layers of history to uncover here, including parts of a more ancient church.
For more ancient intrigue, check out the Roman Houses under the Basilica of Saints John and Paul. Upon the Basilica being excavated, many incredible homes were discovered, including an ancient apartment building and a villa. There are 20 rooms in total to explore today, covered in mosaics dating from the 3rd to the 12th century.
Once known as Mons Saturninus – in honor of the Roman god, Saturn – the Capitoline Hill sits between the ancient Roman Forum and the Campus Martius. It is covered in Medieval and Renaissance era palazzi (palaces) that are now cultural hotspots.
The area is steeped in historic stories. It was actually settled on by the Sabines, following the Rape of the Sabine Women by Romulus and his followers in the early days of Rome. It’s home to the 8th century BC Shrine of Vulcan.
At its summit was the site of the Temple for the Capitoline Triad, a trio of deities very important to the ancient city of Rome – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
There are more modern stories too – Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., USA, actually takes its name from this ancient hill!
Things to see on Capitoline Hill
Easily the top sight on the Capitoline Hill is the Piazza del Campidoglio. Designed by Michelangelo with great precision in order to be aligned with the St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s surrounded by grand palazzi, which are today home to the Capitoline Museums.
The Capitoline Museums are set in the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo. With a history dating back to 1471, this is an important place in Rome to understand the cultural history of the city. It opened to the public in 1734 and is actually considered to be the very first museum in the world – a place where art was on show for everyone to experience.
As well as being home to various works of art, there are archaeological wonders too, such as the Statue of Marcus Aurelius – one of only two surviving bronze statues of any Roman emperor (they tended to be melted down during the later days of Imperial Rome). There’s a replica in the piazza.
Also housed in the museum is the Capitoline Wolf statue which, according to legend, raised Romulus and Remus.
For tickets to the Capitoline Museums, click here.
Actually comprising three hills – the Oppian, Cispian, and Fagutal Hills – the origin of the name of the Esquiline Hill is unknown. It’s thought to be related to either the high density of Italian oaks (aesculi) which grow here, or that it was an area populated by inquilini or “in-towners”, as opposed to suburb dwellers (exquilini).
Thanks to improvements made by Servius Tullius, the sixth king of the Roman Kingdom, the hill became a trendy residential area, and today – known by the name Esquilino – it still is. It’s a charming place to explore, with many historic remains of yesteryear rubbing shoulders with more modern places to discover.
Things to see on Esquiline Hill
The ruins of Nero’s “Golden House” (the Domus Aurea) are to be seen on Esquiline Hill. The opulent palace also occupied as far as the Palatine and Caelian Hills too. After being destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt with much opulence – sea and sulphur water were piped into its private baths, for example, and it also quite literally had a shining, golden facade.
The more modern Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a beautiful and much more intact attraction. It’s thought to be one of the largest churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary. First built on the site of a pagan temple in the mid-4th century, it features an array of architectural styles, from columns and 5th-century and Medieval mosaics, to its exquisite Baroque exterior.
More Roman ruins can be seen in the form of the so-called Temple of Minerva Medica. However, this was a building connected to the worship of water deities called nymphs and dates back to the 4th century AD.
The Palatine Hill lies at the center of Rome’s famed Seven Hills. It’s considered to be the oldest core of the Roman Empire, and is actually thought to be the origin of Rome – where Romulus first set up base in 753 BC.
But it’s older than that. People have actually lived in the area of Palatino (as it’s also known) since at least the 10th century BC. Because of its ancient credentials, the hill is steeped in Roman mythology.
For one thing, it’s the location of the cave where Romulus and Remus were fed and partly raised by the she-wolf. The word “Palatinus” is thought to derive from the word for “heaven.”
It was home to many powerful and affluent people during the days of the Roman Republic and onwards, being an exclusive area for emperors, the palaces of whom can still be seen to this day.
Things to see on Palatine Hill
This is basically an open-air museum today, with many monuments pointing back to Rome’s ancient origins. It’s where the Colosseum and the Roman Forum are located, but there’s much more to see and do there!
One of these is the Baths of Caracalla. Named after the Emperor Caracalla who commissioned them in 217 AD, this is one of the biggest and most well-preserved bath house complexes of the ancient Roman world.
Another famous monument in Palatino is the Palace of Domitian, much of which remains buried and covered by more modern buildings. It was originally built as the official residence of the Emperor Domitian between 81 and 90 AD. Once ancient Rome declined, so did the palace, after being the home for Imperial Rome’s rulers for over 300 years.
The parts you can see today are divided into three sections – the Domus Flavia, the Domus Augustana, and the Stadio, thought to have been used for games and events.
The Quirinal Hill – the highest of all the Seven Hills of Rome – takes its name from Quirinus, the god of war worshipped by the Sabine people who occupied the area near ancient Rome. In the 6th century BC, the hill officially became part of the Roman Kingdom.
Today, the Quirinal Hill is the location of the Quirinal Palace, which is the home of the Italian head of state. Saying “the Quirinal” is like saying “the White House” – both referring by analogy to the president of either country.
Not only was it historically home to the president, but it was also the home of the King of Italy (before the position was abolished) as well as a residence of the Pope too.
The area changed unrecognizably during urbanization in the late 19th-century, after Rome became the capital of the newly unified Italy. During this time, much of its medieval and ancient architecture was lost.
Things to see on Quirinal Hill
Modern day Quirinal Hill is a somewhat elite area. It’s home to high-end hotels, embassy buildings, and many world-renowned fashion boutiques. This is Rome though, and there are always sights to be seen.
The Palazzo del Quirinale (Quirinal Palace) is one of them. It’s possible to tour the reception rooms and grand gardens of this sprawling palace, which was completed in 1583. It’s the 11th largest palace in the world by area, around 20 times the size of the White House.
The piazza outside, dominated by the palace, is a good place to watch the changing of the guards (6:00 PM in summer, 4:00 PM in winter) and enjoy a sunset, too.
Quirinal Hill is also where you’ll find Trevi Fountain, one of the most popular places to visit in Rome.
The smallest of the Seven Hills of Rome, the Viminal Hill might not have the prestige of the Palatine or Quirinal Hills, or even Esquilino or Aventino, but it’s still a very important part of the city.
Jutting out like an outstretched finger, it became part of Rome along with Quirinal Hill, in the 6th century BC (according to Roman historian, Livy). At the foot of the hill, the Baths of Diocletian were built between 289 and 305 AD. The largest of Rome’s imperial baths, these were spread across an area of 13 hectares and could accommodate 3,200 people. The baths were later updated by Michelangelo.
But nothing much was ever situated on the hill itself. In fact, throughout the ages, much traffic was diverted around the hill instead of onto it. However, in a twist of fate, today the Viminal Hill is actually home to Rome’s main train station, Termini.
As ancient Romans got richer and moved onto the hills such as the Esquiline and Palatine, poorer immigrants moved in and found plentiful places to set up shop on Viminale instead. Ever since the days of Imperial Rome, the Collis Viminalis (the hill’s name in Latin) has been a place of lower-class residential buildings.
Things to see on Viminal Hill
Now the site of Rome Termini Station, this is a busy area of town, home to shops and restaurants, and it’s fairly residential, too.
The biggest attraction here is the Baths of Diocletian. Situated on the northeast summit of the hill, these were commissioned by the Emperor Maximian in 289 AD in honor of the late Emperor Diocletian. Today, the baths make up part of the National Museum of Rome, with frequent exhibitions and a permanent collection of archaeological finds, arts, and artefacts.
Viminal Hill is also the site of one of the city’s main piazze, the Piazza della Repubblica. Shaped like a semi-circle, this is home to the large Fountain of the Naiads and the grand Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
There’s also the Teatro Opera di Roma. Originally called Teatro Costanzi, this opera house opened in 1880 and today remains an impressive, attractive building. It still continues to host musical performances – with a seating capacity of 1,600 people, it’s also famed for its acoustics.
Make sure to read my other posts:
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- The Best Quotes About Rome
- The Best Rome Virtual Tour
- The Best Areas Where To Stay In Rome
- The Best Tips For Visiting Rome
- The Most Beautiful Fountains In Rome
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