The eternal city of Rome needs no introduction. The Roman capital is the most popular tourist attraction in Italy. The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon in Rome attract millions of tourists every year.
The encompassing region of Rome, Lazio, on the other hand, has fallen between the cracks. Lazio (one of the twenty regions of Italy) has so many wonders that it almost feels like Rome overshadows everything else in the region.
At least as far as tourists are concerned.
I was oblivious of its gems too until I stayed at a cozy Bed & Breakfast for a week just outside of Rome in the medieval town of Zagarolo. Just the authentic Italian experience that I was looking for.
Ivano, the host of Olive Tree Hill, is a passionate advocate of the history and culture of the region. He revealed so many hidden insights of the Lazio region that it would be a sacrilege not to share it with the world.
So here I am sharing an account of an ancient Italian city, Palestrina. A city which is just 35 km east of Roma (Rome in English) and is even older than the Roman Empire.
Let’s start with the recent past, shall we?
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Discovering the ancient city of Palestrina near Roma
During the world war II, Nazi took over Italy. The headquarters was in Rome, and the troops were up in the surrounding mountains.
During this time, subject to Allied bombings, Palestrina was almost destroyed. As a result of American bombings of the German positions, the ancient remains of the sanctuary came to light.
Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina, Italy
“Once the current buildings collapsed, they discovered a five-level temple lying underneath in a series of terraces over a mountain. The lower level is two or three times bigger than the Colosseum in Rome.”, Ivano told us.
“In the past, from Rome, you could even see the temple of Fortuna Primigenia. Many people arrived here at the time wishing for a better life.”, he went on.
“As a result, Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) was famed for this temple which was one of the three most significant temples at the time.”, he added.
The Temple of Fortuna Primigenia houses a spectacular series of terraces creating a system of ramps and stairways. On the summit of the hill stood an ancient citadel and a ruined medieval castle of the Colonna family.
Building the sanctuary in the 2nd or 1st century BC(dates are controversial) with the limited resources at their disposal is truly spectacular. Don’t you think?
National Archeological Museum, Palestrina, Italy
The Renaissance Barberini Palace, built above the ancient temple of Fortuna houses the National Archeological Museum. It exhibits the most important works from the ancient town of Praeneste (Palestrina). There are only about 60 visitors per day in the museum.
“60 visitors just pass through the Colosseum in a minute”, Ivano stated.
“They are planning to close the museum due to lack of visitors, which is a shame because the temple is beautiful and is older than the Roman Empire.”, he went on.
The near cusp of oblivion of Palestrina and its rich history saddened him. I could see that he was extremely passionate about this region and felt that there are not getting the attention they rightly deserve.
Entrance fee: 5 Eur.
Free on first Sundays of the month.
Timings: 9am – 8pm.
Post Roman Empire
“During the Roman empire, they built a lot of temples. But after the empire collapsed, all of these temples didn’t have much bearing on the civilization that came after. Most of these (Pagan) temples were destroyed, dismounted, or recycled.“, Ivano stated.
“Same can be said about Roman churches too. If you find different kinds of columns in the churches, most likely they are coming from different temples.”, he went on.
“Fill up the gap between columns with bricks and stones, and with plaster and it becomes a building. Part of the buildings in Palestrina are sections of the temples.”, he added.
I was beyond intrigued.
So, I ended up researching about Palestrina, and he was right. I could hardly find any information about it online in the travel circles.
However, there was an interesting video of the famed temple of Palestrina that I stumbled onto. Turns out it is a subject matter at Ivy league universities like Yale and Princeton. Watch the video on Concrete transforms a mountain at Palestrina.
Additional Read: The Temple of Fortuna at Praeneste, Italia near Roma.
How to reach Palestrina, Italy
It is quite possible to go on a day trip from Rome to Palestrina.
From Roma Termini – the main train station in Rome, board a train to Zagarolo.
Zagarolo is the on the same route as trains to these final destinations: Cassino, Frosinone, Caserta, and Colleferro. One way ticket to Zagarolo sets you back by 2.6 EUR and takes about half an hour to reach.
Just near the train station of Zagarolo, you will find blue Cotral buses every hour which is around 15 minutes away to Palestrina.
Visit Another Hidden Gem near Rome – Tivoli, Italy – Of lovely Renaissance villas and gardens near Rome.
Where to stay
On the other hand, if you’d like to stay away from the crowds of Rome, yet have easy access to the city, you can make your base at Zagarolo just like I did and stay in Olive Tree Hill.
Ivano takes you around these hidden gems narrating the historical significance of these locations without you having to worry about the logistics. Also, prepares lip-smacking Italian food and staying here is an experience in itself.
I only wish I had stayed there longer and discovered more hidden gems in the process!
So, until next time,
Feature image credits: YuLin Li