I had been to Rome eight times before I discovered the gem that is the Janiculum Hill. Of course, I’d heard of it and knew where it was; you may remember my post on the Seven Hills of Rome, of which, as I noted, the Janiculum is not one. But somehow I’d never got round to exploring it, and one stiflingly hot day this July, I finally did.
I have to say, I owe my discovery of this peaceful part of Rome to my dad, who decided it would be a good place to go for a walk on our last morning in Rome. Admittedly I was a little unwilling on account of the heat, and I definitely would have got more out of it had the temperatures been more comfortable (the sun was beating down and temperatures were soaring into the mid-thirties – so high that even the lizards seemed to have sought refuge, for there were none in sight). However, we got a good sense of this part of Rome and it’s somewhere I’ll definitely return to at a milder time of year.
We approached the hill from the Vatican, via a series of steps set not far back from the Tiber. They’re not continuous all the way up, rising instead in stages, and at each new level the view of Rome gets better. Once you’re at the top, you are met with a stunning panorama of the city of Rome, and you instantly get a sense of how Rome sits within the mountainous landscape beyond. The immediate view encompasses Castel Sant’Angelo to the left, the Pantheon straight ahead and Trastevere down to the far right. As usual, the most eye-catching monument from this distance is the gleaming white Vittorio Emmanuele Monument, which dwarfs the surrounding buildings. I was surprised to have some difficulty in locating the whereabouts of the Colosseum, which, though it seems vast when you’re standing next to it, blends into the cityscape remarkably effectively. Eventually I spotted it by reference to the Vittorio Emmanuele Monument and the senate house in the Forum Romanum, the sharp diagonal line of the Colosseum’s restored wall edge giving it away.
There are plenty of benches along the top of the hill which overlook this impressive vista, and I could quite happily have sat there all day admiring it. But we valiantly continued our walk in the oppressive midday heat, coming to a lighthouse which was a gift to Rome in 1911 from Italians living in Argentina, and, a little further along, the striking Garibaldi Monument, of the man himself mounted on his horse in rather a Roman way. We were somewhat taken by surprise by the sudden firing of a cannon at noon, which my dad had forgotten to warn us about. This tradition, apparently dating from 1847, was started in order to signal the exact time to Rome’s churches, so that they could start ringing the bells at the correct time at midday.
Our final stop of the morning was down the slopes of the hill into the Orto Botanico, which was a tranquil oasis filled with Japanese-style water features, elegant shrubberies and a small solitary duck which had orange feet. It’s fair to say that we were pretty hungry by that point, so we didn’t spend long there – just long enough to know that it is somewhere I’ll definitely visit again. The other entrance to the Botanical Gardens is in the Trastevere quarter of Rome, and it was there that we made our exit for a much-needed lunch.