Italy: Santa Maria dei Sette Dolore in Rome- Sleeping With The Nuns

A church-cum-convent-cum-hotel-cum-historical sight all wrapped into one.

Why visit?
If you have the money to spare, this is possibly one of the nicest places to stay in Rome. I mean, how many hotels can boast having been designed by Baroque superstar Borromini?

Can't afford to stay here? Sneak in and attend mass with the Sisters (be warned, they rise early) and wander around this beautiful building.

Then enjoy the view of the city and a Prosecco (or three) from the splendid rooftop or in the beautiful convent garden.

On Via Garibaldi, an overlooked corner of Trastevere, steps away (literally) from the Gianicolo. Map.

LET'S GET ONE thing clear upfront: when we said 'sleeping with the nuns' we didn't mean that they would be sharing a bed with you. Or even a room. Vows of chastity, you know... 

Convent stays are not hard to find in Rome: there's a good list here.  Having stayed in a few of these,  they can be interesting experiences, but many of them are rather sober in terms of atmosphere and architecture.
The nuns hid behind a massive wall and gate to keep the men out.
Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori (Our lady of the Seven Sorrows) is a little different. The heart of this complex is the convent church of the same name, whose original design was made by rockstar architect Francesco Borromini (for more on Borromini and his legendary arch rival, Bernini, see here) around 1643. Borromini never got to finish it-at some point the money ran out (adding an eight, financial, sorrow to the list of seven). 

The bare brick facade is rather sober and knowing Borromini's tendency to go just a little over the top (and then some), he probably didn't intend it this way. Still, it's beautiful.
Borromini's curves- minus the marble. 
The church was commissioned by Camilla Savelli Farnese, Duchess of Latera. We've come across the Farneses before- they were one of the most powerful aristocratic families in Renaissance Rome. (See the Minor Sights of Villa Farnesina and Palazzo Farnese). Donna Camilla, a widow herself, founded this convent for widows as well as 'fresh' (virgin) nuns. The convent buildings, built around the same time, extend well beyond the church and consist of numerous wings built around two courtyards.
The veiled mascaron indicates who used to live here. Men were not allowed. The Farnese lily on the two doorposts is the aristocratic equivalent of a dog's territorial markings... 
Although there have been plenty of upheavals and changes, the nuns are still here. A few of them at least. The community is small but early every morning they celebrate mass in the beautiful church, and visitors are welcome. Rise and shine!
Playing and praying. Every morning.  To the left, just visible, is Donna Camilla's tomb. 
Since the nuns somehow had to pay for the upkeep of this 17th century building, somebody had a mild stroke of genius and converted most of the complex into a 4 star hotel, named for the convent's founder, Donna Camilla Savelli.
You, too, can have breakfast here. Just bring your credit card. 
We can bemoan the crass commercialism but the upshot is that the building has been kept intact, is well preserved, and even if you're not rolling in the dough, you can easily gatecrash and wander in to admire the many remaining details. Or take advantage of the splendid rooftop bar. Although we don't think the 17th century sisters used their roof terrace to enjoy Prosecco with nibbles and a view of the Eternal City, that doesn't mean you shouldn't!

Savvy little detail: from the roof you have a great view of the Fontanone dell'Acqua Paola, the monumental fountain that forms the end of aqueduct built by Roman Emperor Trajan, and restored by Pope Paul V (hence the name). The nuns were on excellent terms with the Papal court- they received their own direct supply of Paul's water, for free. It must have helped keeping the utility bills down. 
The Fontanone- free water for the sisters. 
If you do stay here, be sure to explore the many nooks and crannies of this idiosyncratic building. The sisters had the rest of their lives to figure out how not to get lost among the many hidden staircases and dead-end hallways- you may not succeed with just a few nights to spare but it surely beats the boring straight lines of your regular industrial-scale Hilton. 
Borromini's wine cellar.
You may also run into some unexpected details, like an indoor fountain, frescoes, and 400 year old roof beams and an underground brick cellar which supposedly was designed by Maestro Borromini himself. These days, the hotel organizes wine tastings here. Cin cin! 

Getting there:
Walking is best. It's on Via Garibaldi, in Trastevere, a 5 minute stroll from Sant Maria in Trastevere. Via Garibaldi is within the Zona Traffico Limitato- be careful if you intend to drive here!

Useful links:
Churches of Rome Wiki on Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori
The website of the VOI Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli

Bonus: before it was turned into a hotel, in the 1980s the convent was making some extra money but hosting American exchange students. Mary Jane Cryan, a contributor to Minor Sights who lives not far from Rome, describes her experiences on her own blog


  1. Nice piece! You alluded to it several times but didn't mention how much it costs to stay…

    1. Are you planning a trip to Rome, Mark? ;-)

      Prices for hotels can fluctuate tremendously based on season and demand... So it's dangerous to give prices. will give you a good idea. I had a double room for €150 which I thought was a good deal for such a unique hotel but there's no guarantee that price is available when you plan to go...

  2. Can't wait to go. How exciting !!!


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