This district owes its name to a legend, which tells of the conquest of the hill by the Etruscan Celio Vibenna. In ancient times the area contained temples, public buildings - like the "macellum", the great market from the age of Nero, and the "castra peregrinorum", the barracks which housed the armies of the province - and prosperous dwellings. In medieval and Renaissance times the district was practically deserted, except for a few ancient churches and villas. It remained so until 1870, with the exception of the San Giovanni area, criss-crossed with busy roads. At the end of the 19th century numerous residential buildings went up and the military hospital was built: Villa Celimontana and the old Cornovaglia vineyard, which became public parks, were saved from the tide of cement.
NOT TO BE MISSED
In addition to the park of Villa Celimontana, which will certainly repay a visit, this neighborhood has a wealth of ancient churches. These include Santo Stefano Rotondo, which dates from the fifth century and is the oldest circular church to be found in Rome, and the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, which was built on the site of an ancient "titulus", or titular church, originally the house of two of Constantine's officers who were martyred for their faith. The church of San Gregorio Magno is medieval; it was built, however, in the place where the saint founded a monastery in 575. The church of Saints Nereo and Achilleo was built more or less on the site of the "titolus fasciolae", which owed its name to the bandage worn by St. Peter round the sores caused by his chains; it dropped off at this spot while he was being led to his martyrdom. Of considerable historical interest is the tomb of the Scipio family in Via di Porta San Sebastiano; a little further on the columbarium of Pomponius Hylas, with its painted and mosaic decoration, can be visited. In nearby Via di Porta Latina is the church of San Giovanni a Porta Latina, which dates from the fifth century, as does the chapel of San Giovanni in Oleo, near the city Gate: both buildings have been substantially altered over time.
The obelisk standing beside the avenue leading into Villa Celimontana comes from Heliopolis, where it was erected by the Pharaoh Rameses II in honor of the Sun. It was brought to Rome in imperial times to embellish first the temple of Iside Capitolina, and then the Aracoeli. Duke Ciriaco Mattei, owner of the villa, received it as a gift from the Roman Senate in 1528. Still in Villa Celimontana, a plaque commemorates San Filippo Neri, who rested there with a group of pilgrims during the visit to the Seven Churches: this happened on a Good Friday, the only day of the year when Duke Mattei opened the gates of the park to the public.