The tranquil Garden of Oranges, also known as Parco Savello, affords fantastic views of the many monuments, roof tops and domes of Rome, encapsulating flavors of the modern and medieval on its shady walkways.
The park itself fits neatly behind the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina, and beside the Piazza Pietro d'Illiria, named after the founder of the church. Visitors to this secluded square are greeted by the scowling face of Giacomo Della Porta's fountain, perhaps made in reference to Oceanus, a River god. The mask had several previous locations, including the Forum and Lungotevere Gianicolense, before coming to rest on the peaceful Aventine Hill.
To the side of the garden are the remains of a wall which once surrounded the Tenth Century Savelli Castle. Built by Alberico II, and inherited by Ottone III after the first Millennium, it was later given to the Dominican Order, who transformed the castle into a monastery, and the small park into a vegetable garden.
Legends surrounding Spanish Saint Dominic gave the garden its name, and its first orange tree: having transported the sapling from his homeland, he planted it close to the cloister where it flourished. Legend tells how Saint Catherine of Siena picked the oranges from this tree and made candied fruit, which she gave to Pope Urban VI.
The tree remains to this day, visible through a "porthole" in the wall of the nave. Miraculously, a younger sapling grew on its remains, which continues to bear fruit. Years later, orange trees were added to the monastery garden, which became known as the Garden of Oranges. Though they produce bitter fruit, they give a pleasant shady air to the garden, affording a lovely retreat from the bustle and noise of urban life.
The garden's present form is the result of the work of architect Raffaele de Vico, creator of many of Rome's "green spaces".
Upon entering the Garden of Oranges, the ancient apse of the Basilica of Santa Sabina appears, while, on the opposite side, scanty remains of the old Savelli fortress, drawbridge and towers are visible.
The garden was designed on a symmetrical plan, drawing visitors ever closer to the central walkway leading to the terrace. A couple of steps forward offers a fantastic panorama of the Tevere, the ancient temples of the Forum Boarium, Santa Maria in Cosmedin (where the Mouth of Truth is found) the Gianicolo, and the imposing dome of St. Peter's from afar.
During the summer it is no surprise that the garden is the choice setting for theatrical productions, a favorite resting spot for visitors touring Rome and the haunt of lovers. Perhaps the inspiring view and romantic ambience offers the ideal prompt for falling at the feet of one's beloved!