Exploring Via Nomentana

One of my Italian aunts lives in an area of Rome just off of the Via Nomentana. It's an interesting area - a typical residential area, not like what most tourists see in the center of Rome - and it offers a little bit of everything for someone who has visited Rome before. Now, if you're going to Rome for the first time, I wouldn't bother with this area. However, if you've been a couple of times, hop on the #60 bus from Piazza Venezia to Via Nomentana for a different take on Rome.

So, what is there to see?

First off, there's Villa Torlonia. Now, the last time I visited the park around the villa, it was in sad shape. You could tell that the park was being spruced up but the main villa, designed by Valadier in the early 19th century, was falling apart. It was used by Mussolini during WWII and later occupied by the Allied command until 1947. An ambitious project restored the main villa and now both all the buildings and the charming park can be visited. Not to be missed is the odd little Casina delle Civette.

Close-up of the main villa before the restoration

Date palms by the entrance from Via Nomentana

Further up Via Nomentana are two of the oldest churches in Rome, the mausoleum of Santa Costanza and Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura. The church was built in the 6th century over a series of 4th century catacombs. The churches are fascinating and are very peaceful. Most Roman tourists have no idea that these churches exist.

The basilica of Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura

Plaques commemorating answered prayers

All around the Via Nomentana are interesting neighborhoods. I wouldn't go further north the Nomentana - it gradually gets worse. However, closer to the center as well as heading towards Piazza Bologna one can come across a blend of art nouveau villas, modern buildings, art deco and fascist era rationalistic buildings, embassies and more. You'll see a mix like the mid-century modern Jordanian embassy to the fortress-like Russian embassy. As mentioned, you'll also see a more typical Roman residential area and can stop in local stores, restaurants, supermarkets and the like. My favorite area supermarket is located on Via XXI Aprile, right in front of Mario De Renzi's famed Casa Federici. It's a great way to see what locals buy - great cheeses, local wines, pastries, fresh produce and much more.

A modern apartment building off of Via XXI Aprile

Speaking of Casa Federici, the area has countless examples of rationalistic architecture - much of it in the form of residential mid-rises. A few civic buildings are evident, too. Ridolfi's post office building on Piazza Bologna is a particularly famous example of rationalist architecture. In fact, for the architecture buff, there's much to see - byzantine mosaics, art nouveau curiosities and art deco design.

L'Accademia Della Guardia Di Finanzia - Typical Fascist-Era Rationalist Architecture

The Mid-Century Modern Jordanian Embassy

From what I know, the area has never been run down. However, you do see some signs of improvements taking place here and there. Clearly, you have what took place at Villa Torlonia - a wonderful project given how long the property languished. Across the Nomentana from the villa, you have another park that has gone a wonderful transformation. We found it particularly nice on a hot September afternoon when the heat was just too oppressive.
Across from Villa Torlonia

Also, on streets like Via C. Corvisieri, streetside markets have been cleaned up and moved to other parts of town. Now, you can make the case that these markets added to the character of the neighborhood and to have them removed sanitizes the area. I tend to agree although the area looks much nicer in the afternoon. Once the market closed, the streets were strewn with trash and discarded produce (visit Campo Dei Fiori in the afternoon for a living example of this phenomenon).

Still, I love the area... so much to see and very walkable. If you have the time, the area is definitely worth the cost of a bus ticket.

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