Roaming through Rome off the beaten tourist paths lends to many interesting discoveries through local neighborhoods, and today, we’re going to Trastevere, the “other Rome” across the Tiber River!
Before Rome became a Republic in 509 BC, the area across the Tiber River belonged to the Etruscans, connecting to the rest of the city only with a small wooden bridge. After 509 BC, sailors, fishermen and immigrants from the East settled in what became a very multi cultural area…one that after 2 thousand years, is still preserved and unique compared to the rest of Rome. Eventually important figures of the Roman Empire moved across the Tiber, or Trastevere… like Julius Caesar, and elegant villas were constructed by affluent families in the 1500’s. Also 2 two of the most ancient churches in Rome were built here: St Maria in Trastevere and St Cecilia.
In the video I show you Isola Tiberina, a small island in the middle of the Tiber River. Once upon a time there was a temple here dedicated to Aesclepius, the Roman pagan god of medicine. Ill Romans used to come here, leaving little votive ceramics in shapes of the body parts they need healing, and messages of thanks. In times of plagues and epidemics, the ill were quarantined on this island away from the city. The island reputation for healing has endured, and a large public hospital was built here, the Fatebenefratelli, or brothers of good deeds.
Ponte Cestio may look like any other bride around, but it contains a bit of ancient material scrap that you might appreciate: a slab of stone stapled to the balustrade that contains a faded inscription that reads CAESAR. I wonder if that’s in Latin for Caesar was here?
Right off the bridge you’ll run into Piscinula Piazza. The name comes from the ancient Roman baths that used to be here. Piscina means “pool”. The buildings around here still retain their original Roman earth color façade from the Renaissance time.
In the medieval times, people just HAD to outdo the Joneses in terms of towers, and by 1200’s there were some 300 of them blocking the sun. The city authorities had enough of these medieval sky scrapers and knocked them down. Now you see some stumps here and there that remained and were incorporated into different structures because it made more economical sense to do that instead of rebuilding from the foundation up.
Until the end of 1400’s the streets not paved, so you can imagine pulling a carriage through Trastevere’s narrow streets in complete muck after a good rain. Cobblestones, although left alone in Trastevere, have been replaced in most of Rome due to the vibration from traffic that causes cracks in the already centuries old and fragile buildings and monuments. There was really no forethought in city planning, and what you have here is a web of narrow winding streets, which of course adds to the charm and invites you to throw away your city map and let these random little streets take you to places you would’ve never seen before!
Trastevere attracted a bohemian culture of people from artists to poets, musicians and students….and don’t be surprised to come upon a bottega, or a workshop, where the owner invites you in for a chat. And as a tourist, Rome can be pretty overwhelming with all the must-see and must-dos, and Trastevere offers you a pause with a genuine glimpse at local Roman life away from the city madness.
In the video we stroll through rustic neighborhoods you will see ivy climbing on aged earthy colored walls and hanging from garden terraces, laundry hangs out to dry, Virgin Mary shrines looking down at you, bicycles and cars sharing the same narrow cobble stone streets, and cafes and restaurants eager to welcome locals and tourists for alike!
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, perhaps the first in which mass was openly celebrated by Christians. The basic floor plan and walls of the church were built in the 340’s AD, although the church was rebuilt by Pope Innocent II in mid 12th century.
The interior of the church is quite eclectic. And sometimes, you find some wonderful surprises inside of Italy’s churches too, like the talented Central College Cappella Chorus from Pella Iowa who toured Italy in May of 2009.
The collection of 22 granite columns with mismatching capitals, were taken from the Baths of Caracalla. Those medieval folks sure knew how to recycle! Not only THAT, but they preserved Ancient Roman architectural pieces that otherwise we’d never get to see because without proper and constant maintenance and care, ancient architectural wonders would have disintegrated entirely by now.
The floor designs are likely the originals from way back in the 4th century in the Cosmedin paterns you see in the video. Forth century is when Christianity first became legalized in Rome, and Rome was still…the Roman Empire!!
Inside the church are a number of late 13th century mosaics on the Life of the Virgin, and in the apse is the Coronation of the Virgin.
In the video I take you to Sora Mirella, a great sidewalk establishment that specializes in shaved ice drinks, or grattachecca….just watch out for grattachecca brain freeze that hit me right when filming this video!! Ouch…..
Beautiful churches in Rome are a dime a dozen…but a few of them stand out from the rest like Santa Maria in Trastevere, because it’s also at the heart of Trastevere, with its piazza a popular hang out for the locals. In fact, it’s nicknamed the piazza that never sleeps. Day and night there’s a crowd here. You can either grab a seat on the steps around the fountain and people watch, or grab a table at the outdoor cafes for a drink or a bite to eat.
From here, we head over to Via Lungara to Vila Farnesina. We won’t go inside because they don’t allow photography, but if you’re in the area, it’s worth the visit. Or at least the stroll to get there….
Villa Farnesina is a Renaissance house built by Agostino Chigi, the rich banker from Siena who also comissioned the famous Chigi Chapel inside the Santa Maria del Popolo church, featured in the Angels and Demons novel and film. In 1577 it was bought by the Farnese family and became known as Villa Farnesina. Several rooms that are beautifully decorated with frescoes, some by Raphael himself, like the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche. There’s a fee to tour the villa.
While you’re in Trasevere, you can head up to Janiculum Hill on foot or on wheels to discover a fabulous panoramaic view of the city, and its skyline of domes and towers.
Janiculum hill is not one of the 7 proverbial hills that Rome was built upon because it’s west of the Tiber river and outside the boundaries of Ancient Rome. Janiculum got it’s name from the pagan god Janus, the two-faced god, and this hill was a perfect town for ancient augurs of the cult of Janus to observe divine or prophetic signs.
More recently, Janiculum was the site of the battle in 1849 between the forces of Garibaldi, who fought for Italy’s independence, and France, who fought on behalf of the Pope who sought to restore papal dominion over Rome. In honor of this battle many monuments have been erected for Garibaldi and the fallen soldiers.
On Janiculum Hill you’ll also find the interesting point of illusion featured in previous Episode 106: The Grand Illusions of Rome.
Here are some practical tips on getting TO Trastevere from pretty much anywhere in Rome.
Private Car Service = If you’re staying in Trastevere and need to arrive here from Rome’s Fumicino Airport, you can save yourself the hassle and hire a private driver like RomeCabs to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Rates are fixed so you know in advance how much you will pay, your driver will wait for you at the airport Meeting Points.
Taxi = rates may vary as the flat rate of currently 48 Euros from/to Fiumicino Airport and 30 Euros from/to Ciampino Airport are only valid for center of Rome within the Aurelian Walls.
Public transportation = from Fiumicino Airport you can take the FM1 Train, (Ferrovia Metropolitana 1), and it’s a 23 minute ride to the Trastevere stop. Then, you can hop on Tram number 8 which runs through Trastevere in a loop from the far end of Trastevere to Largo di Torre Argentina and Piazza Venezia in Rome which is a short walk from Piazza Venezia and the Pantheon.
Some of the main Buses that stop at Largo di Torre Argentina are Bus 40 Express that also goes to Termini station, 64, 70, 115 or 640.
From Termini Station to Trastevere, you can take Bus H.
From the Vatican to Trastevere you can take bus 492, or 23 to Ponte Sisto, Ponte Garibaldi, or Ponte Cestio.
By car = be aware that non-residents are not permitted to park after dark, and parking spots are difficult to find on weekends. Driving a car is not advisable for non Roman locals as traffic is at best confusing, at worst chaotic and possibly dangerous for those not accustomed to Italian driving culture.
On Foot = Trastevere is also a nice stroll from the Vatican and Castel San’t Angelo along Lungotevere, as well as a 5 minute walk Campo de Fiori and a little further down to Piazza Navona.
UPDATE: Pizzeria Nick & Tony is no longer there, but there’s another pizzeria in its place you can enjoy!
Bonus Feature on A Road Retraveled Travel App: St Maria in Trastevere used columns that once belonged to the Ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla. But what other significant Ancient Roman monuments have been plundered and quarried for materials to be used in new projects around Rome? Find out on the official A Road Retraveled app!
Thank you for joining me today in Trastevere. With so much left to explore, I invite you to spend a day here, get lost through its narrow and windy streets, and discover your own treasures. It might turn out to be the highlight of your trip! Until next time, ciao for now!!