back to the DISTRICT INDEX

~~~ part 2 ~~~
back to the MAIN INDEX

The crossing by Porta Settimiana is a rather crucial spot, as also the other two streets that start from here, namely via di Santa Dorotea and via della Scala, reach interesting sites.
The first street, which soon splits into two branches, leads to piazza Trilussa [16], named after a very popular Roman dialect poet (1871 - 1950), whose bust decorates the northern side of the square. On its western side, instead, stands an early 17th century fountain (see Fountains, part III, page 12). On the opposite side, the ancient Sixtus Bridge (c.1475) crosses the Tiber and reaches Regola district.

Via della Scala, instead, points straight towards the centre of the district, passing in front of the church of Santa Maria della Scala [17], whose nearby chemist shop, one of the oldest in Rome, has a rich collection of antique jars and other vintage chemist equipment, unfortunately kept in a room very rarely open to the general public.
piazza Trilussa

In another small square called piazza Sant'Egidio [18], just ahead of the church, one branch of the Museum of Rome holds some interesting memories of the city, among which many paintings by Ettore Roesler Franz (see some of them in There Once Was In Rome... section).
And finally, round the corner, a short charming lane abruptly opens into piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere [19], the real heart of the district.
piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
The church after which the place is named is one of the oldest in Rome (if not the oldest!), and undoubtly belongs to the city's highlights, especially for its mosaics, dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Under its porch hangs a very rich collection of inscriptions from early Christian burials, many of which featuring traditional symbols of this religion (the Chi-Ro monogram ☧, the fish, the bird, the anchor, etc.), often engraved by rather naive hands.
Also small mosaics of Roman age, kept by the sacristy of the church, should not be missed; they likely come from a tavern or hospice that stood on this spot before the church was built.
A strange story about Santa Maria in Trastevere's is described in Legendary Rome, page 4.
The fountain in the centre of the square, rebuilt in the 1800s, replaced a much older one, that stood there since the mid 1400s, probably the earliest fountain ever built in Rome before the reopening of the ancient aqueducts.
piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere

Trastevere's small district fountain is located in the nearby via della Cisterna [20]; it is called the Fountain of the Cask, as it features a small wine barrel, flanked by two wine measures traditionally used in taverns, that used to be found all over the district, replaced by more trendy establishments over the past few decades.
via della Cisterna
the Fountain of the Cask
Much deeper changes had already taken place in Trastevere between the second half of the 1800s and the the early 1900s, when several dilapidated houses were taken down, to be replaced either with bulky buildings in the typical eclectic style of the age, that mixed up together previous ones (two examples are the Ministry of Education in viale Trastevere and the Tobacco Factory in piazza Mastai, right), or leaving open areas, which became new squares and plazas. But in some cases, old and new were blended with surprising results.
piazza Mastai
the Tobacco Factory in piazza Mastai and its fountain of similar age
For instance, the church of San Cosimato and its convent [21] form a 10th century complex (with some later additions), which around 1870-75 was turned into a functional hospital, yet preserving the original architecture. The large triangular square where it stands, which is now the site of an open air market, is another sign of the district's modernization process.

A further example is viale Trastevere, the wide and busy thoroughfare that cuts through the whole length of Trastevere, acting as a boundary between the central and the southern part of the district. It starts by the riverside, from piazza Belli [22], dedicated to Rome's other famous dialect poet, Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, whose monument stands on one side. It features his statue, standing by one of the four-headed figures of Fabricius Bridge, with two small fountains on its sides and a relief on the back, inspired by the etchings of Bartolomeo Pinelli, another popular painter and engraver of the same age. An inscription on the front reads "TO THEIR POET G.G.BELLI  THE PEOPLE OF ROME  1912": in fact, the funds for the making of the monument were raised by the people of the district, by means of a popular subscription.
piazza San Cosimato
porch of San Cosimato's church
piazza Giuseppe Gioachino Belli
the monument of poet Belli

via della Lungaretta
medieval house in via della Lungaretta
At the back of the monument is the 13th century house of the Anguillara family, which includes one of the few medieval towers extant in Rome, the Anguillara Tower; it is now also known as 'the House of Dante', after an important centre for the study of Dante Alighieri.
The narrow street that runs by the house, crossing viale Trastevere, is via della Lungaretta: its name recalls via della Lungara, mentioned in page 1, but its original name was via Transtiberina ("Trastevere street") as it crossed the district connecting two crucial spots: the old Santa Maria Bridge (presently called 'Broken Bridge') and Santa Maria in Trastevere's church. It is a charming street, with several old houses, among which a very typical one [23] is located about midway, by the corner of vicolo della Luce (picture on the left).
via della Lungaretta
the House of the Mattei
Also at the end of the street stands a much larger mansion [24], dating to the 14th-15th centuries, which belonged to the Mattei family, before they moved to Sant'Angelo district (picture above right).
Another cute medieval house stands along vicolo dell'Atleta [25], i.e. "Athlete's Lane", whose name is due to a famous statue, a 1st century Roman copy of a Greek original featuring an athlete in the attitide of scraping off from his body sweat, dust and oil, known as the Apoxyomenos (Greek for "scraper"), now held by the Vatican Museums; it was found on this spot, during excavations, in the early 1900s. In this same neighborhood also traces of an ancient synagogue were found, a further confirmation to the fact that in ancient Rome the Jewish community dwelt in Trastevere.

This part of the district, which follows the river bend, is undoubtly the most genuine and also the most tranquil: the traffic here is very scarce, probably due to the width of its lanes, through which an average-sized car could barely drive. Among them is vicolo dei Vascellari [26], only 1.30 m (4 ½ ft) wide, undoubtly the narrowest lane in Rome!
via dei Vascellari
vicolo dei Vascellari
A nearby square is piazza di Santa Cecilia [27]; it is named after the church of St.Cecily that stands on its side, which has a nice courtyard with a fountain in the centre, as many churches in the early Middle Ages used to have (see Fountains, part I page 2). By the gate, on the right, is one of the very few stones unearthed so far that in Roman age marked the pomerium (see The City Walls).
A wealth of art tresures is found inside the church, built over the house dwelt by Valerianus and Cecilia, a Christian couple martyrized in the 2nd century. After an unsuccessful attempt of suffocating Cecilia, by locking her up in the small calidarium (heated room) of the house, her persecutors beheaded her; but since they only wounded her, she agonized for three days. The bodies of Cecilia and her husband were buried in the catacombs along the Appian way.
About seven centuries later, pope Paschal I had Cecilia's remains retrieved from the catacombs and buried here, where a church was built in her honour.
piazza di Santa Cecilia - Santa Cecilia's church
the late 13th century canopy
The building was largely refurbished around 1600; on this occasion, the tomb of the saint was inspected, and her body was mysteriously found still intact, with a deep wound on her neck. Artist Stefano Maderno, who was among the witnesses, was so deeply impressed that he carved a lively statue of the saint's body, now on display below the main altar. Other noticeable works of art are a fine marble altar canopy of the late 1200s by Arnolfo di Cambio, and the beautiful 9th century mosaic in the apse, in which pope Paschal I, the sponsor of the church, is featured among other saints, wearing a blue square halo, meaning that was alive by the time he was portrayed.
piazza di Santa Cecilia - Santa Cecilia's church
St.Cecily, by Stefano Maderno (1600)
A famous fresco by Pietro Cavallini (c.1290), the Final Judgement, is kept in the nunnery annexed to the church.
Exiting Santa Cecilia, a further interesting feature is a typical late medieval house on the opposite side of the square.

Slightly further south, in piazza San Francesco a Ripa [28], stands the church that bears the same name, referring to St.Francis of Assisi and to the nearby river bank (i.e. ripa in old Italian). It was built on the site of a hospice where St.Francis slept during his first visit to Rome, in 1209. The church was completely rebuilt over the 1600s. Its most famous feature is a statue of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, carved by Gianlorenzo Bernini for one of its chapels.
piazza San Francesco a Ripa - San Francesco a Ripa's church
Ludovica Albertoni (1474-1533) was a wealthy lady, who became a Franciscan tertiary, and spent most of her riches caring for the poor and the sick. For this reason in 1671 she was declared blessed. By that time, a cardinal, who was one of her descendants, hired the best artist available to have a statue of his ancestor carved for his family chapel. Bernini was already 71, therefore this statue is considered his last masterwork. The lady is portrayed on her deathbed, in her last seconds of mortal life, agonizing; but experiencing one of her mystic visions, she sees that cherubs have come to guide her to the heavens, and her facial expression is a mixture of physical suffering, also expressed by the attitude of her hands and her wrinkled garments, and of extasis for the awareness of her future condition, thus reflecting the moment of transition from mortal life to immortal life.

In the centre of the square stands a plain pillar with a cross, set there by Pius IX in 1847; it is said that the pope apologized to the clerics of the church for being the pillar rather small, remarking that, after all, also the square is not so large.

Along the riverside, where once stood the old port of Ripa Grande, a very long complex named after St.Michael [29] stretches for about 300 m (or yards); it was first built around 1670, and then enlarged in several stages over the following century, up to its present size. It includes two churches, a hospice and other buildings. Up to the first half of the 1900s it also acted as a jail for women and juveniles; then the laboratories of the National Institute for Restoration were moved here. So during the past 20-30 years, no longer criminals but some of Rome's most important works of art have been kept in St.Michael's complex.

St.Michael's complex →
lungotevere Ripa

Facing one end of the aforesaid complex is Porta Portese [30], the southernmost gate belonging to the set of walls built by the popes over the Janiculum Hill (see the relevant page in the Walls section). It is well-known especially because along the main street that starts from this spot, on Sunday mornings takes place Rome's largest and most popular flea market, named after the same gate, with hundreds of stalls.
About 100 metres (or yards) beyond the gate (thus slightly outside Trastevere district's boundary), on the left side of the street is a curious building with ogival arches, presently used as a warehouse. This is the Papal Arsenal, dating back to c.1700, where the boats that once used to carry goods along the Tiber received maintainance and repairs. The coat of arms that hangs by the round central window of the building's front is that of the Albani family, referring to pope Clement XI (1700-21).

~ back to part 1 ~

Rione VIII - RIPA back to the DISTRICT INDEX back to the MAIN INDEX Rione X - BORGO