Across from the Jewish Ghetto, across the river Tiber, pass Isola Tiberina lies an area which only Romans know and only Romans visit. It is called Trastevere.
It holds for me the most of Rome’s magical secrets, and every time I visit Trastevere, something magical happens.
A bit of history:
In Rome’s Regal period (753-509 BC), the area across the Tiber belonged to the hostile Etruscans: the Romans named it Ripa Etrusca (Etruscan bank). Rome conquered it to gain control of and access to the river from both banks, but was not interested in building on that side of the river. In fact, the only connection between Trastevere and the rest of the city was a small wooden bridge called the Pons Sublicius (Latin: “bridge built on wooden piles”).
In fact, Trastevere is one of the oldest regions of the city. The area is so specific and so isolated, that it has its own dialect/accent, and its inhabitants are called Trasteverini.
Of course, the bridge connecting two banks of the river is now made of stone and is called Il Ponte Garibalde. Garibalde withstood and attacked the French hiding in Trastevere.
When we lived and worked in Rome, and tried to survive in order to get to the wonderful shores of Australia (legally – we were refugees from USSR then), I saw this area first from the main street (Viale De Trastevere) and spotted a house with no glass windows and, obviously no inhabitants, with the huge marionette dolls and skeletons sitting peacefully on window ledges. Their legs were swaying slowly from the wind. It was a bit macabre sight, but I did not have a chance to see Trastevere then.
12 years passed and we went to Rome with my daughter. On one glorious Sunday we ended up having a lunch in Trastevere.
By then we have been living in Australia already for 11 years, and since we left Rome I did not have a chance to say goodbye to the nicest American Joint caseworker, who looked after us for two years while we were in refugee camps. I had a niggling feeling that we would meet her that day. I had a niggling feeling we would meet her in Trastevere. And we did, after lunch, just like this on the street. The skeletons were still there…
I went to Rome 4 years later and rented “la cantina”, (a cellar), which promised a lot on the internet, and turned out to be a very dank, smelly and dark place with a room upstairs representing a bed and nothing else. The water was temperamental and no washing machine existed as a device of civilisation. I was so depressed that only ventured out to have a cornetto and cappuccino and dinner in the nearest trattoria. Until I discovered a Laundromat on the corner of my street, and met there a wonderful Australian lady, who worked for Caritas Vatican and was about to fly to Thailand to help the locals with medical supplies and food amidst the terrible floods. I also met there an owner of car repairs shop, who looked like our Aussie bikie, albeit with the Roman nose. He made the best cornetti and the best cappuccino. He also had two huge Dobermans who would kiss and lick everybody in vicinity in a very Italian dog way. Something must be happening with the dog breeds, after they get Italian citizenship. I started going on my own for lunches and dinners and not every time, but quite often, the owner of my favourite trattoria would drive me on the back of his Vespa home.
La Dolce Vita does exist.
As for more formal review, Trastevere does not have your usual brand shops and luxury restaurants, but it has many artisan places with unique choices and many little restaurants, which are simply unforgettable.
My favourite shop there is Roma Store Profumi on via Della Lungaretta 63.
It seems that all other perfume stores in Roma have the “usual” name brands — Bvlgari, Prada, L’Occitane, etc. But this shop has better selection with: Laboratio Olfattivo, Eau D’Italie (of Le Sireneuse fame), I fell in love with two different Eau D’Italie scents…
For shoe shopping it’s the best to go to Joseph De Bach
You won’t find a more unusual shoe shop anywhere. DeBach, a native of Tripoli who now lives and works in Rome, makes fantastic clogs, sandals and wedgies for men and women. Leather is stamped with comic strip art, with metallic patterns. Heels are made of iron in unlikely shapes- curves, curlicues. It is as much a gallery of shoe art as a store. Check it out when window shopping, if nothing else. The address is Vicolo del Cinque, 19. Open evenings only from 7:30 pm
Fabrizi is in via Lungaretta 98 – there, you will find Italian leather goods in snakeskin, crocodile and calf. The shop has exquisite purses and accessories, as well as a collection of interesting jewellery. Its run by the same family since 1954.
The best dinner in Trastevere I had, was in Enoteca Ferrara in Piazza Trilussa 41,
This is a wine bar with tables on three levels and a lovely back garden for warm weather dining. The two wine lists (one huge book for whites, one for reds) provide for a full evening reading. Some visitors come to Ferrara to buy a bottle or a little gastronomic treat from the in-house deli, some for a pre- or post-dinner glass of wine, others opt for the full-on restaurant experience. The cuisine is undeniably creative, with a tad bit of Slow Food approach. The crowds happily drinking beer on Friday night make this little piazza disappear– they are not from Ferrara, they are from the pub next door. It is still a huge difference between the ruddy crowds behaviour In Roma and in Sydney. I wont tell which one I appreciate more. Whatever you decide to do in Trastevere„ be assured ,that it’s a little Rome inside Rome and it’s a place like nowhere else. Its so much to write about, but…En plus, I forgot to check my skeletons…
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