This is one of my absolute favorite things to see in Rome.

You can stand outside the door and look at thousands of tourists in the vicinity of the Forum and Colosseum, then walk back inside and only have a small group of you waiting to go on the tour of the Palazzo. This one is on the list of places in Rome that most tourists don’t ever hear about, and don’t even realize is right there in front of them. It’s pretty fantastic. And now you are in the know too…

Why You Need To See Palazzo Valentini In Rome

Palazzo Valentini is a beautiful Renaissance palazzo, with an interesting history. At one point it was owned by an incredibly handsome fellow by the name of Giacomo Boncompagni, Duke of Sora, Aquino, Arce and Arpino. He was a feudal lord and also happened to be the illegitimate son of Pope Gregory XIII. Those Popes were a raunchy bunch – celibate to the world but with mistresses and wives and children. I find it fascinating!

What’s Below Palazzo Valentini?

In 2005 while renovations were being done on the palazzo, the remains of two magnificent Imperial Roman homes and thermal baths were discovered underneath. Archeologists spent years working on it and now the 20,000 square foot space is open for viewing. Let me tell you, it is amazing!

2000 year old mosaics on the floors of the Domus Romane underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

2000 year old mosaic floors still in perfect condition, in the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

Buried for centuries under the palazzo, the Domus Romane (Roman Houses) are incredibly well preserved. You will see the original ancient staircases, mosaics, frescoes, inlaid marble floors, all dating back to around the 3rd century.

Frescoes lining the wall at Palazzo Valentini in Rome

Ancient frescoes lining the walls at Palazzo valentini in Rome

You walk across a glass floor, with ancient Rome lit up below you, so rather than observing from the sidelines you feel as though you are in it.

Glass floors at the Roman Houses under the Palazzo Valentini in Rome allow you to see the homes from directly above rather than from the sidelines, giving you a more inclusive experience

RELATED POST: WHY YOU NEED TO VISIT THE BATHS OF DIOCLETIAN IN ROME

The thermal baths give you an idea of how wealthy this family must have been, and the location alone speaks to their importance – right outside the roman forum.

There is a glassed off room full of ancient Roman trash – plates and cups and kitchen gear that had been thrown away.

A multi media installation at the Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini Rome lets you see how the houses would have looked back in the 2nd century

It keeps getting better too, because this museum has a multi-media element to it. While a taped narration explains what you are seeing (in clear English, over a speaker system so you don’t need to wear headphones), the lights go down and the multi media part lights up, letting you see how it would have been back then, completing rooms and walls and ceilings.

The multi media installation at the Roman Houses at Palazzo Valentini in Rome shows you how the houses would have looked back in the 2nd century A.D.

The multi media experience lets you see how the homes would have looked in the 2nd century

A multi media show in the Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini shows you how everything would have looked back in the 2nd century A.D. It's fantastic!

Part of the multi media experience at the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

One part that I really loved was looking down onto the remains of a Roman road. A laser lights up the stones and shows you how clever they were with their construction and how the shapes of the stones were repeated and not random, making strong roads that lasted for millenia.

An ancient Roman road underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome. During the tour a laser lights up the ptterns in the stones

The remains of a Roman road run between the two houses. A laser lights up the shapes of the stones and you learn just how clever the Romans were when building their roads. They are a variety of sizes and shapes making up a repetitive pattern. It’s incredible!

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The final part of the tour takes you into a video room where the stories on Trajan’s Column are explained (it’s brilliant). When the video is done they walk you to a private viewing area that looks out at the column, immediately in front of the palazzo.

This is one of Rome’s treasures that I will keep returning to. It is just fascinating and fabulous.

Ancient mosaics on the floors of the Roman house underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome. These mosaics are 2000 years old!

2000 year old mosaic floors, still intact, in the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

You can only go through the Domus Romane with a guide and they have set times for each tour. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and is in English. The Domus Romane are closed on Tuesdays.

RELATED POST: 10 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO IN ROME

Make sure you book ahead. You can get dates, times and online tickets at the Palazzo Valentini website. You have to arrive 30 minutes before your tour to turn your voucher into a ticket.

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On the On the secret Rome list this is an absolute must see! Two roman houses from the 2nd century, underneath Palazzo Valentini

Are you traveling to Rome anytime soon? Do you want to see some fascinating sites, full of ancient history, but far from the tourist crowds? Guess what? Rome is full of amazing places that the tour buses don’t go to. Places you can wander around at leisure, experience ancient Rome without the crowds, and that are right in the heart of the city. Today I want to introduce you to one of these treasures.

Why You Need To Visit The Baths Of Diocletian In Rome

Personally, I find Diocletian fascinating.

Just between you and me I knew exactly nothing about him until I started googling his namesake public baths and pool. Partway down my never ending list of things to do in Rome was an entry for Diocletian’s Baths and I had decided to read up on Diocletian and then visit them on the next trip to the Eternal City.

It seems as though every emperor I research has something quirky or interesting going on…

About Diocletian

Anyway, old Diocletian was a Dalmatian military guy who rose to power towards the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. Said crisis was caused by invasions, civil war, economic depression and the plague. The reign of Diocletian stabilized the empire and ended the crisis.

Diocletian was emperor of Rome from 284 - 305 A.D. Although he never set foot in Rome, his co-emperor Maximian dedicated the massive Baths of Diocletian to him. These were the biggest public baths and pools in the Roman Empire

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome

Diocletian became Emperor in 284. He understood that the empire had become too huge and too far reaching to be successfully governed by just one person, so in 286 he made Maximian his co-emperor. He ran the Eastern Empire himself and had Max take care of the west. It is thought that Diocletian never set foot in Rome.

The empire had had a revolving door of emperors, some only lasting weeks or months, others just a few years. In order to ensure smooth succession for themselves and for future emperors, they created a system whereby two competent, experienced administrators would be in place as “junior emperors”, learning how to run the empire so that when the time came the transition would be seamless. (Greed and power hunger meant this would be short lived, even though it was a brilliant idea)

He reformed and restructured the government, essentially keeping it intact for the next 150 years. It had been on the verge of collapse during his youth. Diocletian was an important emperor.

A Life With Vegetables

All went well until 305 when in poor health Diocletian decided to become the first emperor to abdicate. He moved back to the Dalmatian Coast and retired to a palace in a Croatian town now known as Split, living out the rest of his life growing vegetables. Years after his abdication when his system of co-emperors and junior emperors collapsed and the empire returned to chaos, Rome asked him to come back, be emperor again and fix everything, but he was happy with his tomatoes and cabbages (or whatever vegetables he was growing) and chose to stay in Croatia.

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The Baths

Emperors left their mark on the empire by building structures designed to last the test of time. The third century was to a degree a building wasteland, so it was time for something huge to be built.

Maximian was co-emperor of Rome. Diocletian ruled the Eastern empire and Maximian ruled the western empire. Maximian commissioned the Baths of Diocletian, named for an emperor who never set foot in Rome

Maximian, co-emperor of Rome

And so the Baths of Diocletian, the largest of all the imperial baths in the Roman world, was commissioned. They were actually commissioned by co-emperor Maximian in 298 and completed in 306, by which time neither were still emperor. Maximian named them the Baths of Diocletian. Diocletian himself never saw them, as he didn’t go to Rome.

The Baths of Diocletian are not just huge, they are gargantuan. They take up 130,000 meters (or 32 acres) between the Viminal and Quirinal Hills. They were designed to be public baths/pools for the people living in the Viminal, Quirinal and Esquiline quarters of the city.

Supposedly large enough to accommodate 3000 people at any time, the complex was made up of a cool water pool (frigidarium), and medium temperature pool (tepidarium) and a hot pool (caldarium) as well as a 4000 square meter outdoor pool. There was an open air gym (palaestra) on either side of the pools, as well as libraries and beautiful walkways.

Today the ruins of the baths are still enormous. As you walk through the ruins the size and scope of the project is quite overwhelming. You can almost hear the patter of Roman sandals ambling through the common areas nearly 2 millennia ago. How incredible it must have been for the people of Rome to stroll these giant walkways on their way to the pools, how sensational the beauty must have been!

For two centuries water was supplied to the pools via the Aqua Marcia aqueduct, until the siege of Rome in 537 when Ostrogothic king Vitiges had the water supply cut off.

If the shell of the building and the pools were all there was to see I would recommend you add this stop to your Rome itinerary, but there is more.

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The Statues

Statue at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. Statues here date from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.

Throughout the complex, everywhere you turn there are statues.

Statue at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. Statues here date from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.

Spectacular, awe inspiring statues of Gods and Kings, beasts and beauties. Statues and artifacts that will take your breath away.

Statue of a water nymph from a 2nd century fountain. Found at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

Water nymph from a fountain, dating back to the 2nd century

Sometimes I think they just dig up so many treasures in Rome that there is no place to put them. The Baths of Diocletian are as good a place as any to line up endless treasures from antiquity!

Walking through the cloisters looking at them all lined up throughout the inner courtyard was just incredible.

Cloisters at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

Statues line the cloisters of this inner courtyard at the Baths of Diocletian

Some date back to the 1st century B.C. Plenty are dated to the 1st century A.D.

Bust of Nero from the 1st century A.D, at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

From Nero’s head to a bust of beautiful Antonia Minor, mother of Emperor Claudius, dated to around 18 A.D, that stands taller than me.

Bust of Antonia Minor, mother of Emperor Claudius, dated to 18 A.D. This statue is at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

Statue of Antonia Minor, mother of Emperor Claudius, 18 A.D.

Sarcophagi from 160 A.D, water nymphs from 2nd century fountains – there is just so much here to look at!

the details on this 4th century sarcophagus are amazing. 1700 years later the eyes and noses and facial expressions are all still there. You can see it at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

I actually spent a small amount of time exploring the pools and an enormous amount of time walking around and around all the areas with statues.

Statue at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. Statues here date from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.

And here is what is even more fascinating: once again I had the whole place almost entirely to myself.

Statues lining the cloisters at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

My first trip to the Baths of Diocletian was in June of 2018. That day Rome was packed to bursting point and stifling hot. I had initially been going to tackle some items on my list that were close to the Colosseum but the crush of tourist humans in the area forced me to head back out of there as fast as I could.

On the map Diocletian’s Baths didn’t look far so I decided to walk, which wasn’t an entirely brilliant idea on a day so hot and humid. A taxi would have only cost a few euros and buses run right up to the Piazza della Repubblica which abuts parts of the walls.

The entry is beautiful, with trees and a huge fountain, a lovely place to escape the heat, or if not visiting during the middle of summer just a lovely place to sit and enjoy the scenery.

The cost of entry was around 10 euros and was worth every penny. There were other people visiting that afternoon – I wasn’t the only one, but I might as well have been. Everywhere I walked I had a clear, uninterrupted view. I could look at the statues from every angle, I could see it all unimpeded.

Inner courtyard at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome

Statues line the walls under these cloistered porticos. It was a busy day in Rome, but there was no one here

I think my favorite part was walking round and round the cloistered internal courtyard, cool and shaded from the heat of the day. A few artists were scattered around sketching, but when I look at all the photos and videos I took, I can’t even see them.

This, to me, is part of the incredible magic of Rome. There is so much to see and do, most of which is far from the tourist crush.

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What else is there?

Diocletian was said to be the most ardent persecutor of Christians. He killed more of them than any other emperor. I have read that the Baths of Diocletian were built by 10,000 Christians. Whether that number is true or not, suffice to say it was a rough time to be a Christian.

This wasn’t based on theology so much as it was based on continuity, obedience and legitimacy. Emperors presented themselves as semi-divine, almost Gods. The concept of aligning yourself with the “one true God” was a direct challenge to that legitimacy. The current system had worked so well and Romans had successfully worshipped their Gods for 1000 years. Why change?

In the end the Christians got the last laugh. Pope Pius IV commissioned Michelangelo to build a church on the site to commemorate the Christians who died building the baths. Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri was built using the frigidarium and tepidarium structures, and a small cloister was built using part of the natation (outdoor pool). St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs is a must see while in the area.

A second church is also there, San Bernardo alle Terme (St Bernard of the Baths). This one was built in 1598 and is quite remarkable in its own right. Similar to the shape of the Pantheon this church is cylindrical, has a dome and an oculus. There are statues of 8 saints in wall niches, by Camillo Mariani dating to around 1600.

You could spend a fabulous afternoon exploring the Baths and the 2 churches. As with so much of Rome you are away from the crowds while still in the heart of the city.

 

How to get there:

Take a bus from any direction to the Piazza della Repubblica.

From the Colosseum/Forum area it is an easy walk up the Via Nazionale.

Have you read my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) (Volume 1)

Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy (Secrets to glamorous travel on a not so glamorous budget) Learn how to plan the trip of a lifetime, get the best deals, and learn tips and tricks from a travel pro!

 

You can get your copy here at Amazon.com

Bonus Content

Do you get overwhelmed trying to figure out where to go on your trip to Italy (or anywhere else!), how long to stay in each place, which things to plan on seeing and doing and which things to skip?

I have a PDF that I send to my Glam Italia Tour travelers to help narrow down what we will do on their tour. I talk about it in my book and now I am making it available to you too! If you would like a printable PDF you can get it here: Send me the PDF!


 

I have written about which shoes are best to wear in Europe before. I wrote about the best summer shoes  and also about winter shoes to wear in Europe, both of which I will re-link at the bottom of this post. A series of events happened last week that made me decide to write a post about the best pair of sandals I have ever worn in Europe.

This is not a sponsored post. This post does contain affiliate links

Venice Grand Canal

My sandals in Venice in June 2017

I wore the same pair of sandals everyday in Europe last summer on my May/June Glam Italia Tours, I wore them half the time in Paris in September (I wore these Adidas sneakers the days I didn’t wear my sandals), and then I wore them every day for a month this past June on this year’s Glam Italia Tours.

Portofino Italy

June 2017 in Portofino Italy

A Confluence Of Events.

1. My week started with an email from one of my blog readers. She was in Florence and had been doing everything on the list from my 10 Things You Absolutely Must Do In Florence blog post. She was super excited about it all  and ended her email with “oh by the way, I got those Sofft sandals that you, and you’re right – they are the most comfortable shoes ever!”

2. Then when I was looking through my photos from Venice trying to find something to put in my Don’t Be A Tourist In Venice post I kept noticing my sandals in every photo that showed my feet.

3. Finally, I was scrolling through the notes on my phone and found a page where I had bee keeping a total of the steps and the flights of stairs I was doing each day in Italy. I was pretty wowed at just how many miles I walk on my tours, and more wowed that these shoes not only didn’t fall apart, but are still going strong!

Burano Island

Walking in Burano, Venice in my Sofft Mirabelle sandals, June 2018

Which Sandal Is It??

This is the sandal in question. It is the Mirabelle by Sofft. Here is the affiliate link: sofftshoe.com sandals page

 

Why Do I Love This Sandal?

So here is what I love about this sandal:

*It is unbelievably comfortable. If you have been to Europe before than you already know that you spend your days walking and walking, so you need a good cushy sole to not only protect your foot but also to cushion the pressure on your lower back. Also you are walking on cobble-stoned streets and uneven surfaces, both of which put extra hardship on both your feet and your shoes.

*It takes zero breaking in – the leather is super soft but still good and strong. No blisters, no rubbing, no hurting your feet, yet at the same time offering really great support. You can put the Sofft Mirabelle on straight out of the box and walk all day long with no problems at all.

* It goes with everything. My rule is only 3 pairs of shoes can go with me on a trip, which means I need shoes and sandals that can work with everything I am going to wear. I have the Mirabelle in the color pictured above which is called Luggage.

*It is well made. This sandal is really well made. Even with the non-stop walking up and down hills and the average of 25,000 steps per day, the sole hasn’t pulled apart, the sandal hasn’t ripped and it hasn’t lost its shape.

Shop Sofftshoe Site today!

Paris book stalls along Seine

Walking along the left bank in Paris in the 6th arrondissement. Sometime in 2017

So How Many Miles Have My Sofft Mirabelles Done?

This blew my mind! In 2017 my Sofft Mirabelle sandals did 3 Glam Italia Tours and two Glam Paris Tours. In Paris I wore them half the time on one tour and every day on the other.

Paris, Montmartre

Montmartre, Paris, sometime in 2017

In 2018 they have done two Glam Italia Tours.

I also wear them at home in Phoenix on photoshoots, commercials, ad campaigns, music videos and other long days when I am shooting in studios with concrete floors.

I haven’t kept track of the steps I do here in Phoenix each day but in Europe I am always keeping an eye on it.

In June 2018 on my Glam Italia Tours I walked 158 miles total. So that is about 79 miles per tour, give or take. (I have 2 days in between each tour, arrive 2 days before the tours start and stay on for a few days after they are over. I walk and walk all day long on these days, checking out new places and seeing new things).

Mirabelle by Sofft

Florence, 2017

Working with that average and adding in 3 Glam Italia Tours in 2017, that’s another 237 miles in Italy alone, without factoring in my Paris tours.

Just adding the Italy numbers that’s 395 miles!!! Put into perspective the distance from Phoenix to Los Angeles is 360 miles.

Piazza San Marco, Venice. June 2018

How many pairs of shoes do you own that could walk from Phoenix to L.A. and still keep going strong??

How Do You Keep The Soles White?

One of my friends turned me onto this cool trick. When soles are looking scuffed and dirty you can clean them back to nearly new by using a little bit of bathroom cleaner or Mr Clean and a cloth or rag. If you have a Mr Clean Magic Eraser handy that works brilliantly too. I don’t clean mine while I’m away, but when I get home they really need it.

I wish I knew someone at Sofft Shoes to show this to – they should be sponsoring  my tours! Or something. Maybe they should be sending me free shoes – none of which is happening by the way. But I do think that at more than 395 miles these sandals probably are the best value for money I have ever had.

Sofftshoe.com offers free shipping on all orders, easy returns, and free exchanges.
Chances are you won’t be putting your sandals through the hard work I put mine through, but regardless, these are a great buy!

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