Roman Houses, the Celio
On the Celio hill, the Roman Houses (Case Romane) have recently been restored and re-opened to the public, along with a room displaying archaeological finds.
Traditionally the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo stands on the site of the dwelling of the two saints, John and Paul, who were Roman military officers put to death for their Christian faith. Later the property is believed to have belonged to a Christian senator called Pammachius, who converted his home into a church.
In the nineteenth century, an enterprising monk excavated underneath the church, and found a series of decorated rooms dating back to the third century. Archaeological investigations have assigned various dates to the remains here; which belong to different stages of the site's development. Once a number of humbler dwellings and shops stood here, before the buildings were incorporated into a more sumptuous villa, whose frescoed walls can still be seen.
Like the more famous Domus Aurea, the rooms here are now underground, and it takes some imagination to imagine the spaces as they were before they were covered by later buildings. The wall-paintings, however, are a vivid reminder of times past. Ranging from fake marble painted on stucco to elaborate arrangements of flowers and garlanded animals, these are the principal attraction of the site and are well-worth the entrance fee.
The Antiquarium houses archaeological finds from the houses and the church, including some of the early Christian art that was later removed to make way for new fashions. There is also a collection of Islamic pottery - interestingly, it was these colourful plates which once decorated the church's medieval belltower (later replaced by copies).
The Roman Houses are situated on the Celio hill (Monte Celio), known to classics scholars as the Caelian Hill, an attractive area which contains several other sights of interest, as well as a park - Villa Celimontana - which is ideal for picnics. Take tram number 3, bus number 81, or Metro/bus services to the Colosseum or Circo Massimo. The site is closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and at lunchtime - check the website (see right-hand panel) for the latest opening times. Entrance costs €6.