Rome provides an endless supply of ancient ruins, old frescoes, opulent palaces and magnificent churches for wide-eyed tourists. However, there are many less-known places in Rome to visit that offer a glance at the contemporary life of the city. The Testaccio neighborhood is one of them. Located in the southern part of central Rome, across the river from the more famous Trastevere, it is slowly becoming a foodies’ mecca and a favorite with those who want to see less crowded authentic parts of the Eternal City.
In ancient times, the Tiber river trade thrived here and broken terracotta amphorae were dumped from the ships along the banks eventually forming Testaccio hill. Later, spaces for workshops and eateries were carved out in the hill and today some bars and restaurants in the area have glass walls to display some of the 53 million amphorae fragments nicely stacked.
From 1890 to 1975 Testaccio was the slaughterhouse district of Rome with the workers living in the area. Nowadays the old slaughterhouse has been turned into a stunning branch of Rome’s contemporary art gallery, MACRO al Mattatoio.
The area was a quiet backwater of the city for many centuries, so you will not find many architectural gems among Testaccio’s prosaic shabby 19th-century buildings. The spectacular 37-metres-tall Pyramid of Cestius looks out of place here. The tomb was built around 12 B.C. with white Carrara marble as a burial place of Gaius Cestius, a Roman magistrate. It was incorporated in the Aurelian Walls circling the city later.
Across the road from the Pyramid is the Non-Catholic Cemetery (Cimitero acattolico), the quietest and most peaceful place you can possibly find in Rome. It was built outside the city walls in accordance with Vatican ruling that did not allow burying non-Catholics within the city. A stroll here proves once again that all roads always lead to Rome: graves of Russian aristocrats, distinguished Americans, rich Jews and Rome-loving Muslims along with the famous English Romantic poets Percy Shelley and John Keats. Sleepy cats and loud cicadas keep the dead company.
Osterie, pizzeria, a fantastic open air food market and the Volpetti delicatessen attract many foodies to Testaccio. The locals has always been creative with tails, hearts, lungs, and intestines, so you are guaranteed to taste the best Roman offal, thick noodles “gricia” simmered with pork jowl, and trippa alla romana without breaking the bank.
Photos by: Malcolm Moore, Francis Mariani, Michael Day, Eric Parker.