With so many world-class museums in Rome, it would probably never occur to you to go sightseeing on the metro. But with the opening of the Line C metro station at San Giovanni (near St John Lateran), Rome has an unconventional new tourist attraction.
For many years, the opening of the C Line and the new San Giovanni station seemed more like a dream than a realistic plan. Progress was hampered by endless delays caused by lack of funds and the unearthing of ancient Roman artifacts, which regularly brought work to a halt. However, despite all these setbacks, the metro station is finally open to the public, and filled with cases displaying fascinating archaeological findings. The statues and vases that slowed down construction now have pride of place in the new station.
More than 40,000 artifacts were discovered during the construction work, ranging from statues of nymphs to colorful fragments of pottery. A collection of peach stones might seem an odd choice for an exhibition, but in fact represents the neighborhood’s past as a rich agricultural estate. The fruit from these farms would most likely have ended up on the dinner tables of wealthy Roman families, and perhaps even the banquets of the emperor himself.
The metro has been described as a “sort of time machine”; as visitors descend into the depths of the station they see the layers of ground marked and dated. The deeper you go, the further you travel back in time. Once at platform level, you’ll find yourself at Pleistocene (Ice Age) level, 100ft below the ground. It’s a fantastic opportunity to appreciate Rome from an archaeological perspective, learning about its history through the descending layers. Rome is a multi-layered city, and this is obvious as you walk through the streets of Rome. But if you pay attention to what’s under your feet such truth becomes even more obvious and stunning.
So, aside from its practical function – connecting with the pre-existing Line A station and providing an essential transport link for people who live in the eastern suburbs of Rome – the station is worth a visit in itself. Even if you have to go nowhere, but you find yourself in the San Giovanni neighbourhood, make sure you pop into the station for a free exhibition and a whirlwind trip through more than 10,000 years of history!
While in San Giovanni, here are some of our other suggestions for things to see and do:
Besides, it is always a great idea to visit the area of San Giovanni/Piazzale Appio, which is not so far from the Colosseum, even on foot. While in the area you can visit the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran) one of the four stunning papal basilicas in Rome. St John in Lateran is the oldest official Christian church in Rome and the official seat of the Pope, even though since the Middle Ages the popes have most often lived on the Vatican hill.
This magnificent 4th century basilica is just a couple of minutes away from the new metro station, and is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in the art, religion or history of Rome. On a private tour of Rome’s papal basilicas you’ll visit the church known as the “Mother and Head of all the churches in the city and on earth”, exploring its beautiful baptistery and cloisters and learning all about its remarkable history.
Nearby you can also see the Lateran Obelisk, the world’s largest standing obelisk. It weighs an incredible 455 tons, which is even more amazing when you consider that it was shipped over from Egypt in ancient times.
If you are a believer — well, even if you are not! — you can climb the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs) on your knees. These steps are supposedly the very steps that Christ climbed on his way to his trial before Pontius Pilate, shipped to Rome from Jerusalem during the Middle Ages. There’s a parallel staircase to climb as well, for those who don’t want to climb on their knees.
Finally, located just between St John Lateran and the Colosseum, you can visit the extraordinary Basilica of San Clemente. Wonderful in itself, you can visit this incredible site also as part of an underground or Catacombs Tour of Rome. Underground Rome is truly another world – a city beneath the city – and San Clemente is one of the most extraordinary subterranean sites. The medieval basilica sits on top of a 4th century basilica, which in turn sits above the remains of a private Roman house and a temple to the pagan god Mithras. Somewhat eerily, you’ll hear the trickle of the water that still flows through ancient pipes. Undoubtedly one of the most atmospheric attractions in Rome.