If you hear talk of the 8th Hill of Rome, don't be surprised: Janiculum is one of the highest hills, even though it isn't one of the Seven Hills of the Eternal City. But it is famous for being one of the most charming corners of Rome -- a balcony with breath-taking views over the expanse of churches, piazzas, and monuments below, with the meandering Tiber taking centre stage. Towards the east, the hill descends to another famous and ancient Roman quarter: Trastevere.
The name Janiculum comes from the belief that in ancient times it was the place where the god Janus was worshipped.
The fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, was the first to occupy, fortify, and join this high ground to the city by way of the Pons Sublicius. The Via Aurelia, connecting Rome to Etruria, passed over this bridge.
Because of its elevation and incredible view of the entire city, Janiculum became an area filled with sacred woods and buildings associated with worship; the hill was in fact the most suitable place for priests to read the sky for signs and be as close as possible to the gods. Here stood an eastern temple dedicated to Isis, some of whose remains are kept at the museum of the Palazzo Altemps.
In the 17th century, Pope Urban VIII enclosed the hill with a wall that came to be called the Janiculum wall.
Later on, stately houses such as Villa Doria Pamphili and Villa Corsini were built in former Janiculum parks; it also remained a place linked with worship, in the meanwhile, of Christianity. It became populated with churches such as San Pietro in Montorio and convents like Sant'Onofrio and the ancient San Pancrazio.
In 1849 Janiculum was the scene of an important battle, where Giuseppe Garibaldi fought the French troops summoned by Pope Pius IX. There are various monuments on the hill commemorating this event and recalling both the battle and that period of Italian history. A large monument with Garibaldi on horseback was built at the centre of the piazza; later a second one was dedicated to his wife, Anita. His ashes are kept in the base. Going today along the streets that lead down toward Trastevere, you can see numerous marble busts of partisans who fought defending the Roman Republic.
A little below the Garibaldi monument is one of the Janiculum's main attractions: the cannon that fires blank shells each day at exactly mid-day, to be heard all the way to the Coliseum.
The midday cannon was Pope Pius IX's idea. In 1847 he decided to provide a reference point for all Rome's church bells, which might otherwise ring at different times based on the different timekeeping practices of their individual clerks. At that time, the cannon was in the Castel Sant'Angelo; after being moved to various locations, it ended up on Janiculum. It wasn't fired during the wars, but the practice was re-instated for good in 1959.