The Esquilino district is one of the oldest of Rome, although it is not considered to be part of the historical centre. The Latin word esquiliae means more or less suburbs. Esquilino is bordered by the Via Marsala in the north, the Via Cavour and the Monti quarter in the east and the quarters Prenestino-Labicano and Tiburtino in the south west.
Esquilino District Rome
Esquilino was situated outside the Servian Walls, the first defensive walls that were built around Rome, but within the more recently built Aurelian Walls.
The rione consists of three hills, the Cispius, the Oppius and the Fagutalis and was one of the first inhabited parts of the city. The first time Rome was divided into districts, in the times of Emperor Augustus, the neighbourhood now called Monti was also part of Esquilino.
In those days part of the area was used as a garbage dump and a burial place for slaves and poor people. However, when August became Emperor he had 10 meters of earth poured onto this dirty and unhealthy area.
Mecenate had his gardens built here, but unfortunately there is hardly anything left of these. When the population started growing and more housing was needed the gardens were destroyed. In 1874 the Auditorium was discovered.
Also after Augustus‘ reign the rione was mostly used by the wealthier Romans in orde to have their villas constructed. On the central square of the area, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, ruins of one of these villas can still be seen in the shape of the Trofei di Mario and Porta Alchemica.
In later years many churches were built in the direct vicinity of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. This church was originally part of the rione Monti, but came to be within the borders of the rione Esquilino in the year 1921.
Together with Rome’s central station, Roma Termini, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the most important building of the area. Thanks to its high position on top of the Cispius hill it also very visible.
Nowadays Esquilino, and especially the area directly around the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, is an immigrant district, with a number of streets completely taken up by shops selling cheap Chinese clothing and trinkets. The streets nearer Termini are full of cheap Rome b&b’s and hostels.
The main churches of the quarter are Saint Mary Major, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and Santa Prassede. Other Esquilino tourist attractions are Porta Maggiore, where many aqueducts can be seen and the Museo Storico della Liberazione.
More tourist attractions
Take the Via Giolitti exit from Roma Termini and walk along this street till you come to the second tunnel under the railway tracks. The small church before the tunnel is the Santa Bibiana, the facade of which was designed by a 26 year old Bernini, who also contributed to its interior design.