When I was a kid, I used to travel back and forth to Rome to visit my cousins. Back in America, my elementary teachers and posse of frenemies used to ask me what was the “best thing” in Rome. I consistently repeated, “the pyramid”– to which I was relegated to remedial history review and the taunts: Duhhh, Rome isn’t in Egypt.
Had I been the Professor, I am sure my 6-year-old response would have been a snide, “Duh, Rome conquered upper Egypt in 30 BC. Divide et impera.” But instead I probably mumbled something about cats and ice cream.
Flashforward to 2006 and the Professor wooing me with special visits to Rome’s impossible to access archaeological sites: Cloaca Maxima and Pyramid of Gaius Cestius. We finally nabbed a special visit to the Pyramid last summer, and yes, it was everything my 6-year-old fantasies were made of– a pyramid in Rome with a narrow entrance corridor and small tomb. Quick history: magistrate Gaius Cestius had the pyramid built in 10 BC as a tomb to him and his family. By the third century AD and facing potential invasion, the Roman included it in the new city walls, rather demolishing it. Eventually, it became a “must-see” of the Grand Tour, and my favorite place in Rome.
And apparently, it is the site to see for International Obscura Day March 20,2010, a global celebration of overlooked oddities by at Atlas Obscura, which has other amazing visits in cities around the world–shout out to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia! There are still some tickets available for Obscura Day Rome, and remember to take walk around the amazing exterior of the pyramid and traipse Piazza di Porta San Paolo and Piazzale Ostiense for my bit and bobs of additional obscura:
1. The disconcerting sculpture in the middle of Piazzale Ostiense: 6 life-size, flat and shiny steel figures, hand-cuffed.
2. The Protestant Cemetery just behind and incorporated into the grounds of the Pyramid. You can salute Shelley, Keats and Trelawny, and meander the almost-Victorian cemetery unique to Rome.
4. Porta San Paolo– one of the original gates into Rome and now a museum.
5. DuParr’s – a bar/gelateria behind Porta San Paolo in the Parco della Resistenza dell’Otto Settembre that has the notorious cremolato al fico. To be honest, this gets ranked as obscura because fig cremolato (a less milky version of gelato) has a very weird consistency only pleasing to true fig lovers, and the bar has the most magnificent 1950s Los Angeles neon sign.