Secret Gardens in Rome
The ‘Bocca Della Verita’. Made famous and romanticized in the classic Italian rom-com ‘Roman Holiday’, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, ‘The Mouth of Truth’ draws tourists by the droves who line up to experience a little bit of Hollywood magic every day of the week. From the moment the gates open, the queue to slip your hand into the same marble mouth that Mr Peck used to frighten a 24 year old Miss Hepburn on film, starts growing. And they don’t dissipate until the gates close in the late evening.
The legend says, if a hand is placed inside the mouth and a lie is spoken, the Bocca Della Verita will take that hand as punishment. Lovers use the ‘Bocca’ to swear eternal faith and loyalty, and gladly pay a €.50 donation to immortalize this declaration in photo.
While this monument bares a sweet sentiment, and is no doubt, an eternally romantic spot, there are equally, if not more romantic, and much less crowded spots, in this eternal city if you care to look for them.
Step back from the ‘Bocca Della Verita’ and walk about fifty meters to the right, turn up an innocuous cobbled side street, and you’ll be heading towards a scenery that even some of the Romans don’t know about.
The most striking part of following this path is noticing how the throngs of people seem to almost immediately disappear. The sounds of the traffic quieten and you find yourself, for the most part, completely alone as you step up the moss-covered pathway encased by creeping vines. It’s a rare moment in Rome where you can feel entirely in touch with your surroundings with few distractions. In this case, the only distractions you’ll find are the lively greens of the vegetation trying desperately to engulf the man made structures, and the way in which the lights breaks through this hidden place revealing shades of green and brown that make you truly grateful places like these exist.
Atop the slope is an old metal gateway sheathed in vegetation. It’s completely locked up and inaccessible but looking through gives you a sneak peak of the almost fully enclosed ‘Giardino Degli Aranci’, a square garden filled with orange trees and surrounded by ancient roman walls. Peer through and you’re sure to catch a glimpse of couples lying on the grass, intertwined, and small groups of friends sharing a picnic. But if you want to enter, you’ll have to trudge on a little further for there is only one true entrance to this secret garden.
Turn right at the gates, and walk along the roman walls until you reach the Piazza Pietro D’Illiria. There you’ll find the only entrance to the little known garden. In this square piazza, orange trees cover all four corners, and the gentle breeze whispers softly as it passes through their leaves, heavy with unripened fruit. Daisies cover the fields of grass, and white gravel stones coat the four walkways while a small fountain trickles steadily in the centre of the piazza. The birds resting in the trees chirp in harmoniously with a soundtrack to match the visual surroundings. This place is the epitome of peace and tranquility. Walk towards the end of the piazza and look over the ledge to find one of Rome’s most stunning lookout points. Take a look below at the river, gleaming in the sunlight, framed by the stone pine trees that Rome is renowned for, then look up across the pines and the river and into the distance to spot the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica breaking out amongst the buildings.
Some may be stunned enough by this view to move no further, but this would be a sorry mistake. Only a small walk further down Via di Santa Sabina and a slightly closer look, and the true star of this attraction reveals itself. The Knights of Malta (I Cavalieri di Malta) headquarters reside in its very own piazza, the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, and while the gardens of the Knights are not open to the public, the doorway into them presents a little gem to those looking to notice. Walk up to the grand gates and peer through the keyhole and what you’ll find is one of the most spectacular views in Rome.
The keyhole provides a sneak peak into the gardens of the Knights of Malta. Peer through and find green hedges lining a footpath to the edge of the garden. If you don’t know what you’re looking for this illusive beauty might easily distract you and you may not see the star attraction itself right away. But keep your eyes straight ahead and watch as St Peter’s Basilica comes into focus, perfectly framed by the hedges in the garden. It’s a view that can only be seen one at a time, to be enjoyed in your own, private moment of solitude. While it’s name may not be made immortal in film, and no Hollywood actress has ever brought it to fame, in it’s uniqueness, beauty and tranquility it makes itself one of the most romantic and secluded spots in Rome. It’s a little kind of buried treasure, in a secret garden, down a hidden pathway.
But you'll have to find it for yourself.