The Villa Celimontana is a historic villa and garden on Rome’s Caelian Hill. The parkland, with its landscaping, artworks and viewpoints, is popular with both tourists and locals. A short distance from the main tourist sites, it is a place to escape the crowds, to enjoy the peace and the surroundings.
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History Of The Villa Celimontana
The grounds of the Villa Celimontana are on the western side of the Caelian Hill (Monte Celio), one of the seven hills of ancient Rome. They cover around half of the hill, sloping down to the valley between the Caelian and Aventine hills. In classical times this was a popular residential area, where the rich and powerful had their luxurious villas. The Emperor Nero extended the Aqua Claudia (one of the aqueducts of ancient Rome) to bring water to his own villa.
The abundance of spring water (later supplemented by the aqueduct) made the hillside very fertile. For many centuries the land now occupied by the Villa Celimontana was covered with vines. According to tradition Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, would meet the nymph Egeria, his consort and advisor on this spot. And in the 1st century CE the Emperor Augustus established a group of vigiles (fire-fighters) here.
The Villa Mattei
The wealthy Mattei family purchased the vineyard in 1558. They landscaped the gardens and filled them with artworks. At the same time they conducted some excavations on the site, discovering evidence of the vigiles and remains of what may have been a temple. The villa (originally known as the Villa Mattei) was built in 1580 and at one time it offered accommodation to pilgrims on the Sette Chiese di Roma route.
The villa subsequently changed hands several times, and the gardens were redesigned. The state seized the property during the First World War, and subsequently passed it to the local authority. Today the villa is home to the Società Geografica Italiana, and the grounds are open to the public.
Exploring The Gardens
There are different sections to the gardens. You can walk across the lawns and along winding, tree-lined pathways. Parts of the original landscaped gardens remain, and the panoramic parapet offers views across the city. There is also a small children’s playground.
In the summer the Villa hosts a jazz festival and occasional art exhibitions. It is also a popular place for picnics.
Artworks And An Obelisk
The gardens are also known for their artworks, and you will pass statues, fountains and a fishpond. Some of the larger structures have been relocated to the nearby Piazza di Santissimi Giovanni e Paolo. However, you can still see the remarkable Fontana del Fiume, a massive 17th century fountain topped by a reclining figure.
Don’t miss the Egyptian obelisk. This is 12m high and covered with hieroglyphics. The origins of the obelisk are obscure but it dates from at least the 14th century and includes fragments of several ancient monuments.
How To Visit The Villa Celimontana
There are two ways into the gardens. The main entrance is on Piazza della Navicella, a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum. Alternatively, you can enter from the Clivo Scauro, a historic Roman road. This entrance is useful if you are also visiting the Case Romane del Celio, or walking to the Circus Maximus (a few minutes away).
The gardens are free to visit, and are open from 7 am until sunset. Note that, because they are on a hill, there is quite a bit of walking up and down. There are toilets and drinking water but, if you want to eat, you will need to bring your own food.