Enjoy Rome City Guide
Quartieri: Neighbourhoods in Rome we like
Trastevere – taking its name from its position trans Tiberim (across the Tiber), Trastevere has largely maintained a charming village atmosphere in its pretty cobbled streets. The area is divided in two by the 19th century, and uninteresting, Viale Trastevere. The quiet smaller southern part is home to the beautiful church of Santa Cecilia, and there are a few ceramicists and artisan shops nearby. To the north of Viale Trastevere, things get a little busier. The focus is the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, home to the church of the same name. Behind Santa Maria, is the pretty Piazza Sant’Egidio, home to the Museo di Roma in Trastevere (Tues-Sun, 10am-8pm, €3/€1.50), which occasionally has temporary exhibitions on the ground floor, and has a permanent collection of watercolours showing Rome in the late 19th century upstairs. On summer and weekend evenings, Trastevere is packed with Romans and tourists alike, but visit during the day mid-week and the chaos of the city will seem a million miles away.
The Ghetto – This small area close to the Tiber Island, between Largo Argentina and the river, has been the heart of Rome’s Jewish community since the 15th century. It was enclosed with gates and walls by Pope Paul IV in 1555, who ordered the creation of a “Ghetto” during the height of the Roman Inquisition. The walls and gates remained intact until the 19th century, when over half of the area was demolished and reconstructed. Nevertheless many of the areas narrow and characteristic streets remain, home to kosher butchers and fast food joints. The rebuilding saw the construction, of the grand Tempio Maggiore, Rome’s main synagogue. The Synagogue houses a museum which recounts the history of Roman Jewry, a constant presence in the city since 169 BC, and as such the oldest continuously present Jewish community in Europe. Largo 16 Ottobre, 1943, in front of the imposing ruin of the late 1st century BC Portico of Octavia, commemorates the deportation of over 2,000 Roman Jews to the concentration camps of Northern Europe during the Nazi occupation.
Campo de’ Fiori – The site of the execution of heretics during the Inquisition, the Piazza del Campo de’ Fiori is now home to an open air fruit and vegetable market (Mon – Sat, crack of dawn-c.2pm). Each afternoon the stalls are dismantled, the leaves swept away, and it becomes the aperitif hot spot. It’s pretty rough and ready, but that’s why we like it, especially the oldest (and cheapest) of the bars, the Vineria Reggio. A stone’s through from the grubby charms of the Campo de’Fiori is one of Rome’s most elegant piazzas, the Piazza Farnese. Dominated by the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy)which was partly designed by Michelangelo for Pope Paul III of the Farnese, the piazza contains a couple of fountains which recycle the communal baths which once contained icy water in the frigidarium, at the Baths of Caracalla. The fountains are topped with the lily flower, symbol of the Farnese family, which recurs right across the palace’s façade, a happy coincidence for the French, also represented by the fleur de lys.
Monti – tucked between the traffic of Via Cavour and Via Nazionale is the Rione (a small borough) Monti. Medieval and Renaissance apartment buildings occupy what was once the Suburra, the ancient slum area of the city. Lots of hip shops have opened up tucked down unlikely little alleys around Piazza dei Zingari, Via dei Serpenti, and Via del Boschetto. Take a breather in the Piazza Madonna dei Monti which has a couple of bars from which to watch this bit of the world go by, listen to the fountain, and marvel that you are a stone’s through from the belching buses on via Cavour. Scientists can pause on Via Panisperna,once the site of the University of Rome’s Institute of Physics, and which gave its name to a pre-war group of physicists, including Enrico Fermi, later technical director of the Manhattan Project.
Aventine – quiet, charming, and littered with churches and monasteries, and the occasional embassy, the Aventine is a leafy enclave of smart houses rising loftily above gritty Testaccio. One of the most beautiful of the churches is the 5th century Santa Sabina. After you’ve wandered round, have a seat in the shade of orange trees in the pretty adjacent garden of the Parco Savello, and peer through the keyhole at the nearby Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta to see the surprise which lies beyond…
Testaccio – The gritty urban foil to the Aventine’s refinement, Testaccio was once the site of Rome’s main river port. It takes its name from the 35 metre high Monte Testaccio, made up entirely of closely packed terracotta pots, discarded after their wares had been sold. In the nineteenth century it once again became a bustling trade centre with the construction here of the city’s main slaughterhouse Il Mattatoio (Piazza Giustiniani) although fear not, there are no more squealing animals here. It has recently been converted into MACRO Future, part of the Rome Contemporary Art Museum, and a university architecture department. Testaccio’s slaughterhouse makes it home to the traditional backbone (excuse the pun) of Roman cooking, offal. Known as the quinto quarto, the fifth quarter of the animal, the slaughter man could keep all the bits that were not sold. If you want to try Roman staples such as rigatoni alla pajata (pasta and tomato sauce with the intestine of the un-weaned calf), trippa alla romana (tripe), or coda alla vaccinara (slow-stewed oxtail) make for Checchino dal 1887, the neighbourhood’s top eatery.
Celio – The Celian Hill, just opposite the Palatine close to the Colosseum, was once the residence of choice for Roman nobility. From the early Middle Ages on a number of religious orders grew up in the area, Santo Stefano Rotondo, Ss Giovanni e Paolo, Santa Maria in Domnica are especially recommended. More recently Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset television company built its studios here- uncharacteristically unobtrusive, the complex hides behind medieval walls opposite the church of Saints Giovanni and Paolo. Climb up the Clivio Scauro from Via di San Gregorio to the church, visit the remains of Roman houses beneath (Open every day except Wednesday, €6), continue to the Arch of Dolabella. A stroll over the Celian hill gives the best idea of what Rome might have looked like to a medieval pilgrim; beyond the arch cross the small park and head down into the lower, inhabited area of the Celio, for a return to the 21st century.
San Lorenzo – Right next to Rome’s main University “La Sapienza” which moved here in the thirties during Fascist rule, and the vast mass of the city’s smartest cemetery, Il Verano (entrance piazzale del Verano), San Lorenzo is now the haunt of students and professors alike, whilst still retaining some of its traditional working-class roots. Taking its name from the Basilica of St Lawrence, it became the site of ad hoc housing for the workers who were building the apartment buildings for the new capital’s influx of civil servants in the 19th century and its deprivation led Maria Montessori to choose to open her first school here in 1907. When Allied bombing hit the Termini and Tiburtina railway stations on 19 July 1943, San Lorenzo (between the two) was also hit, with the loss of 3,000 civilians. The deaths are commemorated in the war memorial in the park at the Termini end of Via Tiburtina. Scars are still apparent on many buildings, as is an inordinate amount of graffiti. But don’t let that put you off, if you are staying in the Termini area, the trattorie and pizzeria of San Lorenzo offer a refreshing alternative to the plethora of bleak tourist traps around the station.
EUR – South of the city centre the EUR district is largely now home to offices, and residential areas which like to think of themselves as a sort of Roman Beverly Hills. The curious name, pronounced AY-OOR, derives from the Esposizione Universale di Roma, a massive event planned by Mussolini for 1942 in celebration of what would have marked twenty years of Fascist rule. The Second World War rather put paid to the plans, but a number of the planned structures were nevertheless completed including the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, more popularly known as the “square Colosseum”. For maximum unsettling surreal impact visit on a Sunday, when it’s deserted. EUR is also home to a number of museums including the Museo della Civiltà Romana Piazza Giovanni Agnelli (Metro: EUR Fermi, €6.50, €3.50 concessions, 9am-2pm Tues-Sun). Part of Mussolini’s bombastic celebrations for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus (Mussolini was a big fan of Augustus), the vast Fascist-Classical hulk of the museum is interesting not only as an exercise in Fascist propaganda, but is full of fascinating models of the city’s Imperial monuments. There are cut-away models showing the maze of tunnels and lifts at the Colosseum, and casts of the carvings of Trajan’s column, enabling a close-up view. There is also a fabulous scale model which reconstructs how the city looked during the reign of Constantine.