Dintorni di Roma: Palestrina

I dintorni is the Italian word for surroundings and can be used to describe the places that lie outside Rome. One of my favorite little towns outside Rome is Palestrina – called Praeneste in Roman times. Praeneste or Palestrina was a favorite for the Roman emperors and Rome’s elite during the hot summer months, where they would retreat to the hilly and mountainous Palestrina to relax and cool off.

Palestrina was the home of an important shrine to the goddess of Fortuna Primigenia (Fortuna the First Bearer) and a massive temple structure was built in her honor. Sulla, one of Rome’s numerous dictators, had the sanctuary embellished in 82 BC, creating this grand and massive structure.

The temple was a series of staircases and terraces, of which the modern city is built in and around today. It is believed that in ancient times, this massive temple could be seen even from Rome and was considered to be the largest temple complex/sanctuary in all of Italy. While the building itself proved to be formidable and awesome, the prize of this site is the Nile Mosaic, a richly colorful mosaic showing scenes of daily life in Egypt (pictured left). Amazingly enough, this wondrous work of art survived the second World War, and it is worth the somewhat steep admissions price of the museum, where it is now housed. Unfortunately, the picture I provided of the mosaic hardly does it any justice, and I remember how blown away by its beauty and chromaticism. This mosaic is on display in Palestrina with the ancient temple now an archaeological museum and is the highlight. The museum also houses dozens of other objects and relics, and if you arrive early enough and the weather is good, you can sometimes take a tour of the excavation.

Besides the archaeological museum, there’s not much in the way to do in Palestrina. However, there are some excellent vantages of the countryside, especially in the small courtyard outside the museum which houses the ancient well of the temple. A few cafès and shops can be found in the city, and I find it a great place to relax and stroll around. The main cathedral has some interesting paintings and frescoes and are definitely worth a look.

Palestrina is also the birthplace of the Italian Renissance composer, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – a statue of him stands in the town.

If you’re looking for a break from the Roman smog and traffic, then a day trip to Palestrina should certainly be on your intinerary. I do advise, though, that, before taking any trip to Palestrina, some training on a stair climber might be in order!

Getting to Palestrina is going to be the fun part. As the metro doesn’t reach Palestrina, your only means are to go by bus or by car. As driving in Italy can be tough, I would suggest taking the bus — then you can avoid the hassle and headache of finding a place to park. The bus service, operated by a company known as CoTral, is quite efficient and provides regional bus service to and from Rome as well as between some of the smaller cities in Lazio.

The best way to reach Palestrina from Rome is to take the Metro to Anagnina (last stop on the A line/linea A). A bus leaves for Palestrina every 30 minutes or so – check the schedule for P1. You can find the CoTral bus schedules by clicking here. You will be prompted to download a pdf file from the CoTral web site. Go to page 9 to see the start of the departures from Anagnina. You want to get off the stop for ‘Via degli Arcioni’. Make sure that when you are ready to return to Rome, that you get on the right bus, that is the bus that’s heading back to Rome! The bus trip is about an hour, and the metro ride from Center of Rome to Anagnina is probably about 25-35 minutes.

If you choose to drive, I suggest that you take a pass at TuttoCittà.it — you can use this map tool to give you pretty good door to door directions with probably slightly better accuracy than from Google. Drawback of this site – it’s in Italian so you might have some trouble navigating it without knowing a few basic words/phrases. The total trip should take just under an hour, depending upon traffic. I mapped a sample route for you here, also departing from Anagnina. Take note that Palestrina has a limited amount of parking so make sure that you park carefully and be sure to read any signs nearby to make sure that your car is still there when you are ready to return to Rome.

Below is a map that I constructed showing the approximate location of the bus stops of the CoTral bus, if you leave Rome at 9:10am on a weekday. Take note that on the weekends and holidays, the bus schedule may differ – please check the schedule accordingly before setting out:

Sources on Palestrina: