Trastevere, ‘the people’s Rome’


Reach Trastevere via Rome’s two oldest bridges across the Tiber;  once across the Ponte de Cesto, Trastevere begins. Walk away from the river, down Via della Lungaretta and you’ll soon come to the heart of the district, the Piazza S. Maria de Trastevere. On the steps of the fountain, children play and teenagers eat ice cream indifferent to the medieval structure behind them – the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Erected in 337 A.D., it’s thought to be the oldest Christian church in Rome. Most of the present building dates from just after the first millennium but above the portico is the city’s only surviving example of a medieval church facade: a 12th century gold-ground mosaic. The curious fragments of carved and engraved stone set into the wall under the portico were scavenged from the catacombs and from the original Basilica.

Inside the church are still more breathtaking mosaics.

To see the apse revealed in all its magnificence switch on the overhead illumination. To do this, drop a €1 coin in the box by the side of the altar rail. Santa Maria in Trastevere is located on the Piazza di S. Maria in Trastevere; open 07:30 to 19:00

Before you leave the piazza, you could stop at Di Marzio at No. 14 for coffee. In fine weather, enjoy it on the terrace with a view of the Basilica. Then continue your stroll down the Via della Scala. On the Piazza di Sant’Egidio, you’ll see steps up to the entrance to the unassuming Museum of Rome of Trastevere. Formerly a convent, it’s now an eclectic museum harbouring a strange collection of bits and pieces. You could skip the rest, but it would be a shame to miss the really engaging series of 18th and 19th century prints and paintings upstairs. The works depict every day life in Rome and seem to echo the street life still going on in Trastevere.

The Museo di Roma in Trastevere is located at Piazza di Sant Egidio; open Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 to 20:00; admission €2.50.

The small piazza of the Church of Santa Maria della Scala is a bit further along the street bearing its name. The Church is open only for Mass but at one side of the piazza you’ll spot a modern pharmacy. The monks of the Carmelite monastery run it and will, if asked, show you the complete 18th century pharmacy still preserved in the building.

And finally, for an idea of what unlimited wealth could buy in Trastevere in the year 1500, you need only continue along Via della Scala until it turns into Via della Lungara. At No. 230 is the Villa Farnesina, a monument to the extravagant lifestyle of the nouveau rich Agostino Chigi. He, it is said, would instruct his servants to chuck the gold plate on which his guests had just banqueted into the Tiber. When the suitably impressed guests had departed, the servants recovered the gold plate for their master (who was rich, but not crazy) by hauling in the nets previously stretched under the water. A more enduring lifestyle statement were the frescoes Chigi commissioned from Raphael, Sebastiano del Piombo and others that still ornament the interior of the villa. The Villa’s architect, Baldassare Peruzzi, decorated one of the upstairs rooms with an astounding trompe l’oeil painting of arches enclosing views of 16th century Trastevere. The Villa Farnesina is located at Via della Lungara, 230; open Monday-Saturday 9:00-13:00; admission €3.00

If Trastevere is sleepy by day, it hums at night. This is where trendy Romans come to dine. If you wish to join them, here are some suggestions:

  1. ROMOLO. Once the home of Raphael’s mistress, La Fornarina (the baker), close enough to the Villa Farnesina to distract him from his work. In good weather, you can enjoy your meal in the garden. Via di Porto Settimania, 8; telephone +39-06- 581- 8284; open Tuesday-Sunday 12:00 to 15:00 and 19:00 to 24:00.
  2. CHECCO er CARETTIERE. Trastevere’s oldest inn, famous for Roman specialities and seafood. Via Benedetta, 10; telephone +39-06-581-7018; open Monday-Saturday 12:00 to 15:00 and19:00- 24:00; open Sunday 12:00 to 16:30.
  3. ASINOCOTTO.Unusual combinations of foods and flavours (e.g. sea bass and lettuce ravioli, or artichoke stuffed with Gorgonzola) are the appeal of this popular restaurant. 48 Via dei Vascelleri; telephone +39-06-589-8985; open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner, and also on Sunday for lunch.
  4. SPIRITO DI VINO. Located atop a medieval synagogue which itself is atop a 2nd century Roman, the restaurant is family run. The specialities include ancient Roman dishes that were once dear to epicures like Julius Caesar. Via dei Genovesi, 31; telephone +39-06-589-6689; open Monday-Saturday.
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