Discover Roman sights that leave celebrities speechless and why you should start your day at the market.
For centuries, Rome has captivated the world’s imagination. Its rich history and iconic landmarks, such as the Colosseum and Roman Forum, continue to inspire visitors. But to truly experience the Italian capital, you need to delve deeper.
“There’s more to the city than just the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. I recommend you get lost in its side streets and alleys,” says historian Alexander Mariotti. “Rome is a magical, mysterious and intoxicating city that never ceases to surprise you.”
Half-British, half-Italian, Alexander lives between Rome and London. His extensive knowledge of the Italian capital’s history has made him sought-after by Hollywood superstars such as Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, as well as tourists who enlist him as a guide.
It all started when Bill Gates asked Alexander to show him and his family parts of the city the average visitor never saw. Since then, the great and the good have all sought his services.
He unveils the passion, artistry and history of Rome through trips to local markets, restaurants and archaeological digs.
Why your visit to Rome should start at the market
When in Rome, the first place Alexander heads to is the market, where he delights in the hive of activity from dawn to dusk, as market traders haul their wares over the cobbles providing a gateway to the past.
“Roman markets are an orchestra of life; full of smells and sights rooted in history,” he says. “You can buy huge tomatoes grown on the sulfurous slopes of Vesuvius for centuries, gargantuan oranges from Sicily and an array of colourful spices.”
You’ll find food markets dotted across the city on any given day of the week. According to Alexander, all are as good as one another, but for a true local experience he recommends Mercato San Giovanni di Dio in Monteverde.
“Watch a theatre play out on the piazza until it is swept up and the piazzas become spaces to eat and drink.”
Where to dine like a local in Rome
When it comes to dining, Alexander opts for artistry over location. He believes it’s the people behind a restaurant who imbue true luxury.
Massimo, the chef at Trattoria La Rosetta, is a third-generation restaurant owner and a true artist in the kitchen. He uses the freshest fish and ingredients available, crafting them into dishes with palpable passion. The result is incredible food that makes La Rosetta one of the best seafood restaurants in Rome, Alexander says.
Over the years, he has dined there with the likes of ‘Gladiator’ star Russell Crowe and Kourtney Kardashian.
In some places, artistry and location collide to make magic. Hostaria Antica Roma, run by chef Paolo Magnanimi on the Appian Way, is a prime example. The restaurant is surrounded by an ancient wall that dates to the first century BC, and you can also find ancient tombs and a circus area in front of it.
Paolo makes cheeses and bread to the exact recipe used in Pompeii almost 2,000 years ago. “Your tastebuds will experience the same sensations someone had on the morning of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD,” says Alexander.
For coffee, Alexander is loyal to his great-grandfather’s favourite shop, Sant’ Eustachio Caffè. For gelato he heads to Flor or Gelateria Artigianale Corona Roma, a family-owned shop across the road from where Caesar took his last steps.
Visit an archaeological dig on the Appian Way
Get your coffee to go and visit an archaeological dig on the Appian Way, Alexander recommends.
Here, you can unearth Rome‘s heritage as you walk on ancient cobblestones in the footsteps of soldiers returning from wars and gladiators’ great parades.
The archaeological excavation at Via Appia Antica 39 is open to the public and runs educational workshops.
For further glimpses into the city’s enthralling past, head to Largo Argentina square. Thought to be the scene of Julius Caesar’s assassination, it opened up to the public with a new walkway last June.
Alexander helps bring history to life in more ways than one. He’s taken Jonathan Roumie, who portrayed Jesus in ‘The Chosen’, to the tomb of the Apostle – Peter’s Basilica – where the star had a spiritual experience.
Researching for his role in the TV series ‘Medici’, Dustin Hoffman was moved to tears by the Renaissance art Alexander showed him. From Michelangelo’s famous frescoes in the Sistine Chapel to Raphael’s works in the lesser known Villa Farnesina, Rome is an art historian’s dream.
“History and art in Rome have the power to compel even the most famous people,” says Alexander.
“Some people are hard to amaze because they have the financial resources to explore the world and experience things you and I have no access to. But in Rome, such individuals are left speechless by the tales behind the art, the history and the views.”