A Panoramic Bicycle Tour of the Vatican and Old Rome

Following a nice morning excursion to the hillside town of Frascati, I had more sightseeing planned in Rome. After my half hour train ride back from Frascati I arrived again at the Roma Termini Railway Station and continued on foot through the streets of the Esquiline Hill. Past the famous Santa Maria Maggiore Church I walked again to the Via Quattro Cantoni to the Office of Top Bike Rental, a company that provides guided bicycle tours of the Eternal City. Yesterday I had already enjoyed a bike tour on the Ancient Appian Way. Today, the Panoramic Tour of Rome was on the menu.

After a quick excursion to Frascati it was time to head back to Rome

I briefly talked to the owner Ciro, a former banker, who made a transition into the bike rental and bike touring business. His guide Roberto arrived a few minutes later, and we were ready to head off on our tour. We were joined by Leandra and Alan, a couple from Australia that also wanted to get to know Rome on two wheels.

Our friendly and knowledgeable guide Roberto in front of the Colosseum

As yesterday, we started our bike ride again by cycling up to the Oppian Hill and back down towards the Colosseum which is located just east of the Forum Romanum, the center of Ancient Rome. Today was the second time I cycled down the Esquiline Hill, and the view of the Colosseum and the other ancient Roman sights was still as breathtaking as ever.

The Circus Maximus

After passing a variety of t-shirt and souvenir vendors right next to the ancient amphitheatre we turned right and cycled alongside the Circus Maximus, ancient Rome’s largest stadium. Although nothing much more than a grassy field today, this stadium had grandstands that held an estimated 270,000 people. Chariot racing was one of the favourite events at the Circus Maximus; it also held horse races, athletic competitions and animal fights.

Tourists are keen to insert their hand into the “bocca della verita” – the Mouth of Truth

At the end we reached the Piazza della Bocca della Verita (the Square of the Mouth of Truth). In the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church, hundreds of people line up every day to put their hand inside the Mouth of Truth, a carved marble face of a bearded man that supposedly came from a fountain that was built in the first century. Other people speculate that it could also have been a manhole cover.

The Mouth of Truth will bite off your hand if you lie…

It was believed to have the powers of a lie detector, and anyone caught telling a lie with their hand in the Mouth of Truth would have their hand bitten off. Not surprisingly, tourists are very keen to insert a hand into this ancient sculpture. Fortunately, while we were there, all the tourists emerged with both hands intact after their lie detector test. I guess we were dealing with a really honest crowd…

The Aventine Hill provides a great view over Rome

Then we headed further on southwards and climbed the flanks of the Aventine Hill. Today, this hill is an upscale residential area with numerous ancient sights. We cycled up to the orange grove in the Parco Savello from where we had a gorgeous view over the Tiber River to Janiculum Hill and the western Side of Rome including the Vatican. Once at the top we stopped at the Basilica of Santa Sabina, and then at an old gate on the Aventine Hill, which provides a magnificent view to the Vatican through a keyhole.

The Vatican can see you through the keyhole

Our guide Roberto explained that “la mano lunga del Vaticano”, the long hand of the Vatican, is everywhere in Rome, and they can see you even through a keyhole and keep watch over you. Then we cycled down the Aventine Hill, crossed the Tiber River and entered one of Rome’s most popular neighbourhoods: Trastevere.

Some of the narrow streets in Trastevere

Literally translated “beyond the Tiber River”, Trastevere is an ancient fishing village that was also home to many sailors. During the Middle Ages, many narrow and winding streets were built here that still give this formerly poor quarter a very romantic look. Today, Trastevere is one of Rome’s most popular residential neighbourhoods, and appeals to many artists, expats and celebrities. Much of the down-to-earth working class character has been replaced by fashionable restaurants and upscale boutiques.

Piazza in Trastevere

Once arrived on the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Roberto allowed us a 15 minute break which I used to peek inside the church of the same name. This minor basilica is one of Rome’s oldest churches, and the floor plan dates back to the 4th century AD. Santa Maria in Trastevere has an outstanding 13th century mosaic depicting the “Coronation of the Virgin” and the church tower, the Campanile, also holds mosaics from that time.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

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