This is a collection of the most unusual things to do and see in Rome.
It’s hard not to love Italy’s capital city, Rome, and all of the wonderful history and architecture it has to offer, which dates back past BC. Since then it has seen hundreds of wonderful great buildings, as well as art production and major historical events taken place, which tells a story like no other across Europe.
To all who have visited Rome, it’s more than likely you will have visited or seen the famous attractions, like the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, or St. Peters Square. These are the main attractions and definitely should be on your to-do list. These attractions are unbelievable landmarks for their grandeur and cultural importance. In return, however, they’re also the major tourist attractions in every Rome travel guide, meaning they’re normally quite packed.
If we look a little bit at what else this incredible city has to offer, then we discover there’s also a great choice of attractions you wouldn’t find in every travel guide. To get away from the crowds and visit some of the lesser-known attractions, then this collection of unusual things to do in Rome, Italy, is a good place to start.
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These are 9 of the most unusual attractions to visit in Rome, let’s get started!
1. Saint Victoria’s wax remains in Santa Maria della Vittoria – Unusual Things to do in Rome
In Roman Catholic tradition it was customary to preserve the remains of canonized saints, often encasing them in wax so they could be displayed as relics to be idealized and worshipped in the great cathedrals and churches of Italy. In the city of Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria is a beautiful Baroque church holding the wax remains of Saint Victoria, patron saint to Anticoli, probably one of the most famous examples of her kind.
The wax facade conserves her skeleton, which you can see ever so slightly through the ombre glossy tone. She rests in her grand Baroque shrine, which is one of the only completed buildings designed by architect Carlo Maderno. Definitely something unique to do when in Rome. 😉
2. Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts – Unknown Things to do in Rome
In the Capuchin Crypts underneath Santa Maria della Concezione church, there is awfully creepy sight if ever you saw one. It is a very unique and strange attraction with every corner of the underground crypt adorned with over 4000 bones from Capuchin Friars who lived there during the 16th century.
Although, the concept is a little gross the decorative display could interest anyone with a fascination for the afterlife, death, and so on, with flower designs and other images, such as a figure skeleton enclosed in an oval circle holding a scythe and scales, all made from bones… There is even an entire room dedicated to pelvises. If you’re open to it and you love your gothic horror stories you must visit the crypts of Santa Maria della Concezione at Via Vittorio Veneto, 27, 00187.
3. St. Valentine’s Skull – Unusual Things to see in Rome
For all the romantic’s at heart, there is an attraction not to be missed! Here is a sight for sore eyes… the skull of the patron saint to lovers, St. Valentine. It is cased in a small gold-framed glass casket in the Basilica di Santa Maria. The glowing shrine sat on a bed of red embroidered silk cloth has a symbolic crest of dead flowers around the cranium and ‘Valentine’ in letters across her forehead.
Whether, it is genuine is uncertain with over 10 sites around the world claiming to hold the saint’s charming remains. Still, you can be mesmerized by this gothic shrine echoing a life of lust completely clouded by romantic love.
4. Roman Cat Sanctuary at the Torre Argentina – Unusual Things to do in Rome
Largo di Torre Argentina holds an epic history in its concrete ruined blocks. If you visit this historical spot you will see the four Republican victory-temples, as well as the famous curia of Pompey where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44BC.
Today this famous spot has been overrun with hundreds of abandoned cats that over the years have turned it into an open cat sanctuary where local volunteers visit to feed and help the cats, many of them poorly and injured. They guard the old ruined tower day and night and can be seen sunbathing on a hot’s summer day.
Largo di Torre Argentina is also the holder of the best Google Maps caption IMO…
Archaeological site close to where Julius Caesar was killed, also home to a colony of cats.Google Maps
5. Pyramid of Cestius – Unusual Things to do in Rome to escape the crowds
The Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt were two powerful civilizations reigning at the same time on either side of the Mediterranean Sea border. They crossed paths in the late century BC, most famously when Cleopatra joined alliances with both Julias Caesar and Anthony, two important members of Ancient Roman history. Prior to this Egypt had captivated the Romans’ attention with their treasures and centers of academia, well-renowned at the time, as well as their spectacularly grand architecture. It set a trend at the time with much of the Roman architecture becoming influenced by the Egyptians.
Around 18–12BC an important habitant of Rome assigned the construction of a 36 meter (120ft) high pyramid, which is now near the Porta of San Paulo. It is the only Egyptian pyramid in Europe and the original burial tomb for Gaius Cestius, a member of the Epulones religious corporation. Little more is known about him, apart from the inscription on one of the marble slabs covering the great concrete blocks that make up the pyramid shape calling him the praetor, tribune of plebs.
6. Porta Alchemica – The Alchemists “magic door” – Unknown Things to do in Rome
Inside the park near the central district of Piazza Vittorio, a mystery door can be seen randomly etched into the raised ground. It appears a little disturbingly with two gargoyle statues guarding either side of the marble frame and a round symbolic crest above it.
This door has its history surrounding the magical world set in stone. It’s believed to be an alchemist’s door breaching the portal between two worlds, also known as the “magic door” it dates back to 1600. Whether you believe in magic or not the door appears to hold mysterious secrets and occult beliefs with cryptic messages detailed into the frame, as well as with the crest stamped above it, will certainly leave you wondering…
Related: The best places to visit in Tuscany
7. The Aventine Keyhole – Unusual Things to do in Rome
An elegant building, which is now a church known as Santa Maria del Priorato has a quaint, round doorway at the end of a little cul-de-sac. Through the doorway, which looks like a giant keyhole, you can look out to one of the prettiest views of Rome.
From this hidden gem of a spot, you will get the most memorable view of this beautiful historical city with the building’s prestigious gardens in the foreground leading your eyes out to a wondrous horizon of the capital with St Peter’s rounded, spire prominently standing out.
This view couldn’t have been a coincidence. 😉
8. Ospedale delle Bambole – The Doll’s Hospital – Strange Things to do in Rome
If you take a stroll down a cobbled lane off the back street from Piazza del Popolo, you’ll find a quaint little shop of horrors. If you come across this narrow alleyway, you’ll find yourself face to face with a window-lined with a ghastly display of broken doll heads and parts.
However, do not be intimated by the initial shock, and take a step inside, where you’re sure to find the shopkeeper busy at work with glue and a paintbrush attempting to bring the poor dolls back to life.
This quirky little store is known as the ‘Doll Hospital’ and is an excellent idea to recycle your old dolls and give them a new lease on life… Or it could be the perfect start of a horror movie.
9. Zuccari Palace – Quirky and Unusual Things to do in Rome
Zucarri Palace is a wonderful gothic looking building, known as the ‘Monsters House’ for its unusual adornment on the outside of the building.
The terror-stricken front facade is decorated with caricature faces of monsters around the window frames with a large one at the arched entrance, giving you the impression that you’re walking into the gaping open mouth.
Although, a little creepy looking Zuccari Palace is a grand Baroque palace contracted to be built by the artist Frederico Zuccari and his children. It has since been an inspiration for Italian artists, as well as the home of the Queen of Poland in the early 18th century.
Now it is an Institute for Art History after Henrietta Hertz, who lived there in the early 1900s, collected hundreds of artwork, paintings, and books on art methods and history. When she died she left it all to the Italian state for hundreds of budding students and visitors to enjoy and to aspire to.
The Roman Empire has an epic history originating in this small spot, where it grew to extend to most of Europe and parts of Africa too. Then there is the Roman Catholic religion, which again was founded in Rome. Apart from the extensive artwork and buildings, they have contracted over the years. Rome also plays a big part in the culture and history of this extremely influential religion to the rest of the world. In fact, the importance goes so far as to say that the Vatican City, located in the heart of Rome is in fact a country of its own – So maybe we need a separate article for the Vatican. 😉
As you can see, this city is not just about the wildly popular attractions found in every Rome travel guide, but there are also great unknown places to visit in Rome and things to do.
Which of these are you adding to your itinerary?
David & Maike
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