If I’m in love with Trastevere now, when it’s overly gentrified and (at peak times of the day) chock-a-block full of tourists, I can only imagine how much I would have adored it before the 1990’s, when this lovely quarter of Rome started becoming fashionable).
Yes, it’s the history of the area that really captiavtes me.
You see, historically, Trastevere was one of the city’s deprived neighbourhoods, home to foreigners, sailors, travelling salesmen and Jews. In fact, it was the only inhabited part of Ancient Rome, on the west side of the Tiber River, to be inhabited.
Indeed, the gritty side of Trastevere manifested itself in the construction of what is now Rome’s most famous prison - Regina Coeli (in Latin this means ‘Queen of Heaven.’) Formerly a Catholic convent, it opened in 1861 and is still operating today (Pope Francis famously washed the feet of an inmate there on Holy Thursday 2018 (re-enacting Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet at the Last Supper).
In Fascist Italy, things took a darker turn and Regina Coeli was used to detain political prisoners. Even worse, it was also the spot at which 1,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in 1943.
Today, like many working-class areas turned fashionable, Trastevere still has a charm all of its own. By day, its less touristic areas are filled with locals shopping in small delis or enjoying a espresso at one of the endless cafes in the various piazzas. As much an institution as Pizzeria Ai Marmi (see my blog on this fabulous restaurant!) I Suppli on Via Francisco de Ripena is where everyone in the know goes to grab some of these delectable morsels - fried rice balls, with a little piece of mozzarella ticked inside.
The place is so well-known that, at lunchtime, the lines are often four or five deep, with diners standing out on the pavement, tucking in their suppli on paper plates.
At night, of course, this neighbourhood comes into its own, with a host of restaurants and bars, which are popular with students, locals, tourists and Romans from every other neighbourhood in the city. You’re spoilt for choice if you want an aperitif, live music, fine dining or a simple gelato.
And the back streets - don’t get me started on the backstreets. Ochre walls - shades of orange, yellow and brown, everywhere you walk. Ivy-clad walls, shutters in blues, pinks and greens, cobblestoned alleways and, at every turn, tiny houses that make me sigh with delight. It’s something I’ve learned to love in this neighbourhood - the medeival architecture, particularly the church of San Crisogno, with its imposing bell tower.
Yes, it’s my view that Trastevere is best enjoyed by indulging in what I call aimless wandering. My recommendation is to set off without a cellphone, or even an old-fashioned paper map, and get yourself lost. Piazzas, churches, tiny streets…there’s nothing here that will fail to disappoint. And, personally, I could walk these streets every day for the rest of my life and not get bored. It’s really that beautiful.
Yes, Trastevere, you stole my heart.