If you spend time in Rome, you'll probably walk through the neighborhood of Monti, especially if you visit the Colosseum, Forum, Trajan's Markets, or the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. While many visitors pass through Monti, more and more are basing themselves here or at least taking time to explore this character-filled section of Rome.
History of Monti
The Monti area of Rome is often called one of the Eternal City's most authentic neighborhoods. Of Rome's 22 rioni, or districts—much like the arrondissement of Paris—Monti is Rioni 1. It is the oldest residential neighborhood of Rome and was once a densely populated, impoverished slum. Due to its location adjacent to the Roman Forums, which were the political and religious center of the city, Monti was originally called Suburra—the source of the word "suburb"—and was known as an area of ill-repute. A wall was even built to separate Monti from the Forum area to keep frequent fires in the crowded slum from spreading to Rome's municipal areas.
Today, Monti is a vibrant and colorful area with interesting touristic sights, great places to eat, charming wine bars, unique shops, and a young, slightly bohemian vibe. It's not so much a pristine, well-groomed neighborhood as it is a genuine, lived-in area of Rome, where vines cover centuries-old apartment buildings, laundry hangs out of upper-floor windows, scooters line the sidewalks, and little kids play in urban parks and piazzas while their parents sip wine or coffee and keep a watchful eye. For a look at how real Romans live, work, eat and shop, there are few better neighborhoods to explore than Monti.
Where is Monti?
If you're looking at a map of central Rome, the Monti neighborhood is southwest of Termini train station, and begins adjacent to the Santa Maria Maggiore church. The wedge-shaped neighborhood runs down to Via dei Fori Imperiali, stopping just short of the Colosseum. It also includes a small area of streets southeast of the Colosseum. Via del Quirinale, Via Nazionale, Via Cavour, Via Merulana and Via dei Fori Imperiali are the main arteries of Monti, which is served by multiple bus lines and two Metro (subway) stations, Cavour and Colosseo.
Monti's wide thoroughfares and narrow backstreets are a delight to wander and discover. Here are 10 of the best things to do and see in this charming Roman neighborhood.
Visit Trajan's Market & Forum
In the southwest corner of Monti, Trajan's Market and the Imperial Forums are part of a combined museum complex. The market was essentially an ancient shopping mall with small shops under covered arcades. The ruins are in surprisingly good shape and despite their proximity to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, they are never crowded. The entrance is at Via Quattro Novembre 94, and the complex is open daily.
Explore the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Though technically not in Monti, the papal church of Santa Maria Maggiore is right on the border of the neighborhood. The massive church has stunning 5th-century Biblical mosaics, plus a marble floor, bell tower, and additional mosaics dating to the medieval era.
Experience Ancient Rome at the Domus Aurea
Alhough it can only be visited on weekends and only via reservation, the underground remains of Emperor Nero's vast palace, the Domus Aurea, make for one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Rome. A recently added virtual reality experience, which is part of the required guided tour, makes ancient Imperial Rome come alive in vivid color and detail.
Set a few blocks east of the Colosseum, the Basilica of San Clemente is a medieval church built on top of early Christian and pagan structures, including a Mithraeum, where followers of the cult of Mithras ritually slaughtered bulls. You can visit the ornately decorated church for free, though the extremely interesting underground archaeological excavations have an admission fee.
See the Old Suburra Wall on Via Tor de' Conti
Suburra, as Monti was known in ancient Rome, was an overcrowded, dangerous neighborhood where fires frequently consumed its ramshackle wooden houses. The Old Suburra Wall, a big chunk of which is still visible on Via Tor de' Conti, was built both as a firewall and as a visual buffer between Suburra and the Roman Forums. It didn't work—the Great Fire of 64 A.D. started in Suburra and spread quickly to the rest of the city.
Stroll Through the Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
This piazza on Via dei Serpenti functions as a sort of living room for the neighborhood. Teenagers gather at the Renaissance fountain, little kids learn to ride their two-wheelers, and couples and families drink and dine at La Bottega del Caffè, a neighborhood institution.
Shop for One-of-a-Kind and Vintage Items
The smaller streets of Monti are a treasure trove of made in Rome fashions, with everything from one-of-a-kind clothing to handmade shoes and leather bags to quirky homewares design. There are also stores specializing in vintage clothing, antiques and Bijoux and estate jewelry. Via del Boschetto, Via Panisperna and Via degli Zingari are just a few places to search for unique items.
Dine Like a Local
Monti's streets are lined with simple trattorias and casual wine bars, most of which haven't lowered their standards or added "tourist menus" in order to lure in customers. Favorite places include La Bottega del Caffè (mentioned above), L'Asino d'Oro, and Trattoria del Monti.
Sample Small Plates & Local Wines
At many of Monti's favorite haunts, you can order small plates off a tapas-like menu, rather than sitting down to a full meal. If you see the sign "Enoteca" (wine bar), you're on the right track. La Bottega del Caffè, Ai Tre Scalini, and Cavour 313 are among some of the great places in Monti to sample regional wines, cheeses, cured meats, and other delicacies.
Monti is one of Rome's best neighborhoods in which to wander, even if that means getting lost along the way. Since it's anchored by the Colosseum, Via dei Fori Imperiali and other huge landmarks, chances are you won't get too lost. It's a safe area, even at night, and before too long you're likely to come across a main traffic artery (or something even bigger, like the Colosseum!). So we recommend you put away your GPS-loaded smartphone, risk making a wrong turn, and enjoy soaking up the flavor of this unique Roman neighborhood.