For the fourth and final Rome installment, I wanted to venture further afield, into the real suburbs of Rome. But neither Coco nor I have been 100%, and the days have been too short to stray far – with temperatures hitting 36-38 degrees C, you only start thinking about going out after 5pm.
When I reviewed my shortlist of potential Roman neighbourhoods, I decided to choose one that I’d previously dismissed – Trastevere. Just west of the River Tiber, it’s within the Aurelian Walls and is one of the rioni of Rome. Jam packed with history – and tourists.
But as much as I feared it would be too postcard perfect and lacking in depth, I was pleasantly surprised; unlike much of Rome, Trastevere manages to transcend its tourist hordes.
Some facts… Name comes from the Latin trans Tiberim, ‘beyond the Tiber’. Isolated for a long time due to its location across the river. It houses two of the most ancient churches in Rome, Santa Maria and Santa Cecilia, as well as a multitude of restaurants and bars. Today, it’s still a maze of narrow, winding streets paved with the distinctive cobble stones, sampietrini – the enemy of the stiletto.
Okay, for the last time, andiamo!
Part 1: Santa Maria
One of the oldest churches in Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere is tucked away in a corner of the neighbourhood’s main piazza. Not particularly grand or imposing, your eye is drawn more to the central fountain and the restaurants and bars that line the square.
But its interior is impressive – as are the events that take place here. On one day, a prayer vigil for the African boat people, the next, a glamorous wedding. Santa Maria may be a thousand years old but she’s still very much alive and kicking.
Part 2: Tourists aren’t the only people who love Italy
Italy is one of the countries that many North Africans and others are fleeing to, in search of a better life. But many don’t survive the journey across the seas. In 2011, 2,200 people died trying to reach Italy’s shores.
We happened to be in Trastevere when a prayer vigil was being held at Santa Maria – Morire di Speranza, Dying of Hope, ‘in memory of victims of voyages to Europe’.
It’s complicated of course; not everyone in Italy wants more immigrants.
It reminded me of the tragedy of the boat people who try to make it to Australia – and the wars they cause amongst the politicians and the populace.
These are hard times in Europe – you can feel the desperation on the streets, far more so than in Australia. As a result, the tensions over immigration are worse than ever. Yet Rome is probably as multicultural as it’s ever been. All the immigrants we met had jobs and felt life in Rome was pretty good. They are the lucky ones.
Part 3: Wedding bells
The next day we visited, Santa Maria was hosting an altogether different kind of ceremony – a wedding. Coco and I watched from the back of the church then hopped outside once it was over to take some shots. Kids tearing about the piazza, grandfathers blowing bubbles, kisses everywhere – it was chaos. But I did manage to capture one of the flower girls, Ginevra – well, I tried anyway. Everyone else seemed happy to have me in their midst – but not Ginevra.
I gave up in the end. Actually, that’s not true. I never give up. Ginevra and her family drove off so I had no choice. Her mum asked me to send her a photo – didn’t she see that her little darling hadn’t played nice?
Defeated by a four year old I took two more snaps and left. At least the bride smiled at me. Sort of. (Yes, I know, I crashed a wedding, what did I expect?)
Part 4: The mix
Trastevere is populated by a mix of locals and tourists from all over the planet. You can tell who’s who by looking at the clock – those eating at the restaurants before 8pm, well, that’s your tourist. No self-respecting Roman would even consider sitting down to dine before then.
First up, a few locals…
And my favourite, Ferruccio. When I asked to take a photo, he said, one?, why not take two – and proceeded to assume the pose below.
And then there are the tourists…
Part 5: Different types
Trastevere has a handful of interesting typefaces and signage from different eras spotted around the place. My favourite, the lettering outside a now derelict 1950s cinema; it was almost demolished a few years ago to make way for apartments but the community loved it so much they resisted the development and won. So far so good anyway.
Of the cities we’ve visited so far, Rome seems to be the one that’s most infused with tourists. I suspect in fact that all the ancient pillars and ruins are only remaining vertical for the tourists; were the backpack-wearing, map-toting mobs to evaporate, I think the old stones would take a long last breath before crumbling to the ground. What would they have to live for without the tourists?
But Trastevere seems different to me. Yes it’s touristy, but the place has so much soul that it rises above the masses that come to eat, drink and be merry down its narrow lanes. Were the tourists to evaporate in Trastevere, life would go on here perfectly fine. Just ask Ferruccio.
On the ‘home front’
As I said, both of us haven’t been 100% this week, not helped by the debilitating heat. But Coco was well enough to enjoy her umpteenth gelato so things can’t be too bad.
I, on the other hand, felt much improved after meeting our neighbour. One night this week the power went out in our apartment. Pitch black, no torch, no candles. Both Coco and I on our hands and knees to get down the stairs to the front door to fiddle with the fuse box. After flicking all the switches and nothing happening, I went and buzzed the other apartments – and who should answer our cry for help but this handsome man. He takes one look at the fuse box and flicks a switch I didn’t see – and hey presto, light! The perfect excuse to plant a smoocher on him, on the cheek of course. Just as we were leaving Rome… Agh, he’s probably married anyway.
(Oh, and then I met this incredibly sexy priest in Trastevere. There was definitely chemistry between us. I think. Not sure if you can have chemistry with a priest – Thornbirds anyone? – but I think we did. Yikes.)
Clearly the heat is getting to me and it’s time to head north to cooler climes. So, Rome, arrivederci! Your famous old bits are impressive but it’s your people and your neighbourhoods that I really like. And thanks to everyone we met for their ‘suburb’ suggestions and general encouragement – Lisa, Elisa, Simone and Ana, and Ilaria and Luca. Grazie mille!
This suburb has been brought to you by Chrissy Griffin
We’re heading over to Madrid for a few days to meet up with friends so we’ll see you in Berlin in two week’s time – the first Berlin post will be on Monday July 9. Can’t wait.