I’m going to let you in on one of the best-kept Secrets of Rome. It’s a short walk from the most famous part of town, but just far enough off the beaten path that you’ll have it all to yourself. What is it?
Take the B-line metro to Circo Massimo. Walk down Via del Circo Massimo, along the rectangular grassy field that once contained the greatest sports arena of all time. It was here, ages ago, that three hundred thousand Romans gathered to watch the chariot races, drinking and gambling the hours away. Legend has it that this is also where Remus and Romulus held their fatal bird-watching contest to decide where their new city would be built.
At the end of the field, bang a left onto Clivo del Publicii. In a few minutes, the road will curve to the right into Via di Santa Sabina. Keep on walking. As you continue down the narrow street, you’ll pass the 5th century basilica from which the street takes its name. If you take this trip during the day, you’ll have the fortune of seeing the gorgeous interior of Santa Sabina. But the place I’m taking you to is much cooler at night.
At the end of the road you’ll come to the headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Don’t be freaked out by the guys with machine guns. This rigidly-guarded compound houses the modern Roman Catholic continuation of the Knights of Malta. Know how the Vatican loves to brag about how it’s the smallest country in the world? Well technically, given their extraterritoriality status, this is the smallest. You aren’t getting in there, so don’t even try. Besides, you don’t need to get inside to see what I’m going to show you.
At 3 o’clock in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, at the entrance to the villa, you’ll see a closed green door. There might be two or three people standing in the doorway, peering through the keyhole. When they’re gone, take a look. What will you see? I’m not going to tell you. It’s a secret.
Whenever I take friends there, I don’t say a word until they’ve looked for themselves. I’ve been thanked each time.