Cobblestones Rome (Sampietrini)

Several streets in the historical center of Rome are paved with sampietrini, the typical Roman cobblestones. Among these are some of the most important streets of the city, such as the Via Nazionale and the Via IV Novembre. Although considered a symbol of the city, they are also slippery when it rains and hard to maintain. The mayor has now decided to take the sampietrini (or sanpietrini, both spellings are allowed) away from the main thoroughfares and place them in the pedestrian streets in the historical centre instead.

Cobblestones (Sampietrini) Rome

Even Saint Peter’s Square is paved with cobblestones. The stones are made of a black basalt that is found in several of the hills in the area around the city. The shape is either that of a cube or of a truncated pyramid. The most common size is 12x12x6. In Piazza Navona a smaller size of 6x6x6cm is used. The biggest cobblestones in Rome measure 12x12x18cm.

Clivus Argentarius Cobblestones Rome
Cobblestones at the Clivus Argentarius

The cobblestones are laid on a bed of sand or pozzolana and then beaten, creating a road surface which, although irregular, is very resistant and elastic and allows the soil to breathe thanks to the spaces between one tile and another.

The origin of the word sampietrino is due to the fact that these blocks were used in 1725 to replace the old pavement of St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro).

Towards the end of the 18th century the cobblestones were often used in battles between rival districts, especially between the rioni Trastevere and Monti.

The famous ice cream parlour Fassi sells sanpietrini ice cream, a delicious so-called semifreddo shaped like the equally famous cobblestones.

Disadvantages to the use of cobblestones are plenty. The roads become irregular quickly and are harder to maintain than those of plain asphalt. Moreover, when it rains they become slippery and hard to navigate for the city’s army of scooters.

At the moment 68 streets are paved with cobblestones. The mayor of Rome has now decided to replace the pavement of the main thoroughfares with asphalt. The sanpietrini are to be reused in 113 pedestrian streets in the historical center. One of these is Via Condotti, the most prestigious shopping street of the city. It remains to be seen how high heels are going to cope with the gaps between the stones.

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