Trastevere is the most authentic neighbourhood in Rome. The old inhabitants of this picturesque part of the city considered themselves the most genuine Romans.
In Trastevere, the area “across the Tiber”, it is still possible to catch glimpses and moments of everyday life that belong to previous decades, despite the fact that it has become a popular tourist destination. In Italy, there are few places in such touristic destinations that retain their true identity. An old Roman woman staring out of her window, clothes drying in a narrow alley, or an old Vespa noisily speeding past pedestrians are not uncommon sights in Trastevere.
There are no top attractions within the streets of Trastevere. However, a series of mediaeval churches and interesting buildings will enrich your tour of its streets. But more important here is to indulge in the pristine charm of the area, get lost in the narrow streets, and enjoy authentic Italian cuisine in its restaurants.
Five bridges connect Trastevere, which is situated on the west side of the Tiber, to the other bank. It shares a border with the Portuense suburb to the south and the Rione Borgo to the north. The island of Tiberina is also located at this Tiber River bend.
The history of Trastevere
The region west of the Tiber belonged to the Etruscans when Rome was created by the Romans, and it was connected to the city by a short wooden bridge. It evolved into a region that was mostly populated by fishermen and sailors. At the same time, all of the Eastern immigrants settled here, primarily Syrians and Jews. The result was the development of a significant Jewish community. The region’s isolation was heightened during the Middle Ages by its difficulty of access, the resulting small roadways, and the presence of numerous ethnic groups. As a result, the Trasteverini, as residents of Trastevere were called, created their own culture and conscience.
During the 20th century, Trastevere attracted artists, expats, and many famous people (foreign and Italian), while it was the birthplace of important Italian artists such as Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. Today, the neighbourhood, while maintaining its character, attracts many tourists who are charmed by its unique atmosphere and authenticity.
Although the main attraction of Trastevere is the neighbourhood itself and its authentic character, five points of special interest are the following:
Piazza di Santa Maria
The centre and beating heart of the neighbourhood is Santa Maria Square, in front of the homonymous church. In the centre of the square stands the fountain, built at the end of the 17th century by Carlo Fontana. The perimeter of the square is full of restaurants and cafes, but the favourite habit of locals and visitors remains relaxing on the steps around the fountain. And of course, before leaving the square, it is worth trying authentic Roman gelato at Il Gelato di Santa Maria.
Basilica di Santa Maria
As it is mentioned, Trastevere was the place where immigrants and foreign-religious people lived, so it is not surprising that the first official place of Christian worship in Rome was established here. And this place was none other than the Basilica of Santa Maria. The church was founded, according to legend, by Pope Callixtus I in the 3rd century, when Christianity was a minority cult.
The church we see today is mainly a 12th-century building with remarkable mosaics. Most of the mosaics are the work of the renowned artist Pietro Cavallini. Another interesting element of the church is the 22 granite columns in the nave, which were taken from the ruins of various Roman constructions. Despite several additions, the church maintains its mediaeval character. At the same time, it has strong relations with the local community and is one of the most prominent places in Rome related to the worship of the Virgin Mary.
Basilica di Santa Cecilia
The church and the related monastery of Saint Cecilia in the homonymous square of Trastevere are built on the site of her house. Saint Cecilia was an aristocrat and patron of music who was martyred in this location around 230 AD. The first church was built in the 4th century, and the saint’s body was buried here after the renovation of the church in the 9th century. In the interior of the church, the fresco The Last Judgement by Pietro Cavallini stands out as an excellent example of the Roman style of the 13th century. Finally, according to legend, for the exceptional statue of the saint in front of the altar, the sculptor Stefano Maderno, used as a model the miraculously preserved body of the saint that existed in the basilica.
The Sisto Bridge is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful bridges in Rome. It is also the main way of connecting Trastevere to the opposite bank. The bridge was built by Pope Sixtus IV on the site of an ancient Roman bridge. Sixtus carried out many masterpieces during his tenure, with the Sistine Chapel being the highlight. Today, the perfectly maintained and repaired bridge connects the lively Campo de’ Fiori with Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere. It is a lively square where many Romans and tourists gather for an aperitivo. Piazza Trilussa is the perfect introduction to the unique ambience of Trastevere.
Casa della Fornarina
Near Sisto Bridge, there is the small Via di Santa Dorotea. If you cross it, it is worth paying attention to the building at number 20, where one of the windows is different from the others. It is a window that hides a beautiful love story. According to history, the painter Raphael was commissioned to paint the nearby Villa Farnesina. In a break from work, as he was walking, Raphael turned his gaze upward and saw a girl combing her hair at this window. He instantly fell in love with her.
The girl, who according to tradition was called Margherita Luti (or Luzi), was the daughter of a baker (fornarina in Italian) and became Raphael’s lover and model. She is assumed to have been the model for the famous portrait of La Donna Velata in Palazzo Pitti in Florence. After his acquaintance with Fornarina, Raphael changed the prototype with which he painted the women. It was this prototype that he used for all the Virgin Marys he painted since then. It is an interesting aspect that all the Romans prayed to the icon of a Virgin whose prototype was the humble daughter of a baker.
And certainly, apart from the interesting buildings and stories, Trastevere is a special destination to discover the authentic cuisine of Rome.
Two places to eat
Tonnarello – Photos by Electra Manias (By Food and Travel team)
The most historic restaurant in Trastevere is Tonnarello. It has been operating since 1876 and has served millions of Romans and visitors to the city. The restaurant owes its name to Tonnarelli pasta. It is a pasta that resembles spaghetti but is made with eggs and has a thicker, squared shape. Every day, the restaurant makes fresh pasta and serves it in unique flavour combinations. There is nothing to single out in Tonnarello’s large catalogue. However, carbonara and amatriciana stand out, and they certainly serve the best pinsa in Rome. Reservations are not possible, and there is always a line outside the restaurant. But don’t be put off by this because the service is fast and efficient. (Via della Paglia, 1/2/3)
Il Duca is not as famous as Tonnarello, but it’s just as good. It is a family restaurant that has been operating since 1988, and its philosophy is based on the fact that the important thing is “eating well”. With special attention to the raw materials, it is a restaurant that serves unforgettable Italian dishes. Apart from the excellent pasta, you should try the saltimbocca alla romana. This dish consists of veal that has been wrapped with prosciutto and sage and then marinated in wine and oil. (Vicolo de’ Cinque, 56)
Trastevere is the most authentic neighbourhood in Rome. It is there that the city’s unruly heart still beats and its lively temperament unfolds. It still strongly resists the pressures of tourism and offers the visitor many unforgettable moments. It’s a neighbourhood beyond attractions and restaurants. It’s a unique experience worth experiencing if you’re visiting Rome.