Most of Rome’s 18th rione, Castro Pretorio, is situated directly north of the main railway station Roma Termini. The main attractions are the Santa Maria degli Angeli Church and two seats of the Museo Nazionale Romano.
Castro Pretorio District Rome (rione XVIII)
When Rome was first divided up into rioni the Castro Pretorio district did not exist yet. At the time it was part of what then was the 6th rione, called Alta Semita. At that time the main street was also called Alta Semita, which ran more or less where the Via XX Settembre is situated nowadays.
The present name derives from the ruins of the Castrum Praetorium, during Emperor Tiberius‘ reign the barracks of the Pretorian Guard. These were later incorporated into the Aurelian Walls. The Pretorian Guard served as the Emperor’s personal bodyguard. It had so much power that they could at one point even decide who was going to be the next emperor.
In ancient Rome the area between the present Via XX Settembre and the Piazza dell’Indipendenza was used as a burial place for those Vestal Virgins who were found out being rather more Vestal than Virgin. The area was called Campus Sceleratus.
After the Middle Ages
After the fall of the Roman Empire people left the area, mostly because of lack of drinkable water. It was not until the 16th century, when Pope Pius IV had the Porta Pia built, that the quarter started becoming more popular again.
Pope Sixtus V Peretti was the one who made Castro Pretorio really prestigious by building the Via Felice (corresponding to the present Via de Pretis and Via delle Quattro Fontane) and repairing the Acquedotto Felice. The water brought into the area via this aqueduct was called Acqua Felice. When Pope Sixtus was still a little boy who wanted to become a football player instead of a mere pope he was called Felice, by the way. The Felice Aqueduct ended at the Piazza San Bernardo.
At the end of the 19th century, after the unification of Italy, Rome was turned into a gigantic building site. Castro Pretorio, and particularly the area around the Via XX Settembre, was no exception. This led to the construction of a.o. the present Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Finance. Some of Rome’s most important streets, including the Via Cavour and the Via Nazionale, were built in that period, and so were the Piazza dell’Indipendenza en the Piazza della Repubblica. It is no surprise that many of the new streets were named after heroes and events in the Italian war of independence.
The presence of the central station has made Castro Pretorio into a very important neighborhood. Like station areas everywhere there is a multitude of cheap (and not so cheap) hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts.
The most important tourist attraction in the rione Castro Pretorio is formed by the Terme di Diocleziano. A big part of these Diocletian Baths can still be admired in the Via Cernaia, but they used to be far bigger and even include the area where the Piazza della Repubblica is situated.
On the bus square in front of Termini, the Piazza dei Cinquecento, some ruins of the Servian Agger can still be seen. An agger is a defensive wall, constructed from dug up earth. The stone wall around it was therefore both a defense and a way of keeping the earth in place.
The enormous Santa Maria degli Angeli church was commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese and built by Michelangelo.
Important buildings constructed after the unification of Italy were the Hotel Quirinale, the Grand Hotel, the Costanzi Theater (now the Teatro dell’Opera) and the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (one of the seats of the present Museo Nazionale Romano). The central station, Roma Termini, was also built in the same period.
Public transport Castro Pretorio district
The presence of the main railway station makes it very easy to reach any destination in the city. There are two metro stops, Termini and Castro Pretorio, in the district. The Castro Pretorio stop is right across from the Biblioteca Nazionale. From Termini it is easy to take day trips by to Naples or Florence or other destinations.