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The other side of the Tiber

 
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Trastevere Yesterday
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Trastevere, which gets its name from the Latin word, Transtiberim, “across the Tiber”, is the area on the other side of the river from Ancient Rome which, in the early decades was largely unsettled, a place where wealthy Romans had their villas or farmlands and not a location for major ancient monuments – those destined to survive during the centuries. Subsequently, and by the reign of Augustus (27BC to 14 AD), it became home for thousands of Jews and “Syrians”, that is other foreigners, and was included at the time of the first Roman Emperor’s administrative reform became part of the Regio XIV, is fourteenth urban district. Other early residents, generally referred to as "non-conformists", included the early Christians who, if not martyred, were busy constructing the neighborhood’s first basilicas, such as Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere.
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By the second half of the third century, Trastevere had become a vast urban neighborhood, populated by workers, merchants and artisans and criss-crossed by major arteries, including the the Aurelia Vetus. This road named after the Emperor Aureliano who reigned from 270 to 275, had its starting point (see the map below) at the pons Aemilius, later renamed the Ponte Rotto, or broken bridge, and ran north along what is today Via della Lungaretta, climbing up the Janiculum Hill and exiting the city through Porta Aurelia, today's Porta San Pancrazio.
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At Piazza S. Egidio, a secondary branch of the road turned sharply right and continued on to Porta Settimiana and on between the Janiculum and the Tiber, moving north along today’s Via della Lungara. A third road, which began further down the Tiber, near the now extinct pons Probi, ran through Trastevere along what is now Via Luciano Manara to Piazza San Cosimato and the windmills of the Janiculum and was the dividing line between that part of Trastevere which was more urbanized and the southern-more area of the Horti, the area’s orchards and vegetable gardens.
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It should be mentioned that scholars now appear convinced that the triangular Piazza San Cosimato was part of the site built for the Naumachia, a giant flooded amphitheatre constructed by the Emperor Augustus for the re-enactment of major naval battles and inaugurated in 2 AD. And archeologists have found fragments of a mosaic floor dating even earlier, and that is to the time of the Roman Republic, which may have been part of a “domus”, or Roman villa. The fact remains that by the sixth century, the piazza had been turned into a Christian cemetery, one of the first inside the city walls. And a church was erected on the spot that in the in the 10th century became the site of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to the saints Cosma and Damian, later parts of which can still be seen inside the grounds of the Regina Margherita Hospital which now occupies part of the area.
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Trastevere Today
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The Trastevere neighborhood was long referred to as “popolare”, meaning that it was an area inhabited by largely lower-income Romans who could trace their “romanità” back at least several generations. Your typical “Trasteverino” would thus be extroverted, sharp-tongued and possibly a bit arrogant, since the residents of this area consider themselves to be the true descendants of the ancient Romans and are proud that the neighborhood was an insurrectionist hotbed during the short-lived 1849 revolt against the papacy. Following the unification of Italy in 1870, which marked the end of the Church's temporal power, the "bulli" of Trastevere were known for their violent escapades and the local poet, Gioacchino Belli (his statue stands at Piazza Belli, where Viale Trastevere meets the river higway, wrote often of their clashes with the young toughs of another “popolare” neighborhood, Monti.
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Porta Settimiana Porta Settimiana Santa Ceclia
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No one really knows why, but the Trasteverini tend to have loud, rather hoarse voices and to speak with a very heavy Roman intonation, the equivalent – let’s say - of a very thick Brooklyn accent. Traditionally, they would drink lots of coffee, often spiked with aniseed, breakfast on maritozzi (plain, sweet rolls filled with fresh whipped cream) and choose heavy lunch or dinner entrées such as spaghetti cacio e pepe (spaghetti with grated caciotta cheese and pepper) or coda alla vaccinara, oxtail in tomato sauce, and smoke like fiends. They are a dwindling race, since over the last several decades many have left the area either by choice, preferring the newer, more modern apartments built in the postwar period, or forced out by gentrification and spiraling rentals. But enough of them remain to allow the neighborhood to keep much of its traditional color and character.
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Via della Scala Via Garibaldi Via Luciano Manara
As for the area’s ancient international flavor (again those Jews and Syrians!), this was certainly heightened following the Second World War, when many foreigners chose this area because it seemed so “Roman” and was (alas, this is no longer the case) considerably cheaper than other central areas. Foreigners are still drawn to the quartiere because of its relaxed atmosphere and style. Artisans are still around but increasingly have given way to small clothing and jewelry shops, bars, pizzerie and other eateries. In fact, the trattorie of Trastevere have always been a draw for “outsiders”, especially on weekends or during the Festa de’ Noiantri (“Our own festival”) held every July. Nowadays, in the evenings the restaurants have been supplemented by scores of small locali or clubs, sometimes consisting of only a few tables, which appeal to young people. Many intellectuals - filmmakers, artists and students - also live here. This, along with an abundance of street peddlers, art galleries and boutiques, explains why today's Trastevere is often compared to the Marais in Paris or New York’s Soho or Greenwich Village.
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Piazza S. Cosimato Santa Maria in Trastevere Ponte Rotto
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Today’s Trastevere is informally divided into two parts, one stretching upriver from Viale Trastevere (see location maps) in the direction of the Vatican and, nestling on the lower slopes of the Janiculum Hill, passes through Porta Settimiana along Via della Lungara where you come to the Botanical Gardens, once part of the beautifully post-baroque Palazzo Corsini, and to Villa Farnesina which during the Renaissance Siennese lawyer Agostino Chigi had decorated with frescoes by Raffaelo and others. The other part, primarily on the southern side of Viale Trastevere, runs by Tiber Island and includes lovely Piazza in Piscinula, the church of Santa Cecilia and, at its outer limit, Porta Portese where, every Sunday morning, the neighborhood is given over to a large flea market. But the heart of the neighborhood is Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, the piazza facing the magnificent basilica of the same name and which, with its cafes and restaurants, its newsstand and pharmacy, is akin to a village square for many of the area's residents. Nowadays, many people still shop in the outdoor market in nearby Piazza San Cosimato or buy bread on Sunday mornings at the forno (bakery) in Via del Moro. In the distance, beyond the Basilica, looms the Janiculm Hill, where churches such as San Pietro in Montorio and Sant’Onofrio compete for attention with the breathtaking Roman panorama.
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