Trastevere is one of the oldest districts of Rome and also the capital’s main night-time area, with its myriads of narrow, meandering streets and alleys and its cheerful and cozy collection of restaurants and pubs, often still run by the same families that ran them 50 years ago.
Trastevere district Rome
The name Trastevere (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, thus Tras-TAY-ve-re) is a combination of the words TRA (between) and Tevere (the Italian name of the river Tiber). Since the main part of the rione (which is the official word used for the most central and important districts of Rome) lies in a bend of that river, it is called Trastevere.
Nowadays one of Rome‘s most popular neighborhoods, only a century ago Trastevere was only populated by prostitutes, sailors and pick-pockets. The first inhabitants of Trastevere were mostly freed slaves and Jews. The latter were businessmen and made their money thanks to the vastness of the Roman Empire.
Initially, however, Trastevere was one of the most densely populated parts of Rome. It was also extremely unregulated, which explains its layout. Especially the area close to the river, small alleys seem to randomly meander off in various directions.
Thanks to the construction of the Ponte Sisto, Trastevere became a popular neighborhood for artists and intellectuals. In the 15th century, wealthy people started building villa’s across the river, such as the Villa Farnesina, the Palazzo Lante, the Villa Sciarra and the Villa Doria Pamphilj.
Although Trastevere became a popular neighborhood for people in the centre, the opposite did not happen. The original inhabitants of the district (Trasteverini) did not cross the river, and on the rare occasions they did, it was only to fight the inhabitants of the rioni Regola, Ponte and, especially, Monti.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the neighborhood underwent a number of changes. These were mainly meant to fight the plague epidemics that afflicted Rome in those days. They included easier ways to get to the lazzaretto on Tiber island and a quicker removal of corpses from the city. The streets that were laid in these days tended to be wider and straighter. Examples are the Via della Lungaretta and the Via Lungara.
In the 18th century the San Gallicano Hospital for skin diseases was built in Trastevere.
Until the end of the 19th century, the only bridges from the centre to Trastevere were the two wooden ones of the Isola Tiberina and the Ponte Sisto. Then Italy became a country, Rome became its capital and a network of new and more modern, wide streets was constructed. The Via Arenula was laid in the centre. The Viale del Re was constructed to run straight through the middle of the neighbourhood. The Ponte Garibaldi was built to connect the two streets.
After World War II, when the king had to abdicate and Italy became a republic, the Viale del Re became Viale Trastevere. The parts on either side of this main street gradually took on different characteristics. The eastern half became more residential, the western part, with its multitude of restaurants and bars, livelier.
Main Trastevere tourist attractions
The first square after crossing the Ponte Garibaldi is the Piazza G.G. Belli, named after a local poet. The Piazza Sonnino across the road has two two attractions, the medieval Palazzo degli Anguillara and the San Crisogono Church.
The main church of the rione is the Basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is the first Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Church of San Pietro in Montorio, which was built in the spot where Saint Peter was crucified, contains the Tempietto di Bramante. It is located halfway up the Janiculum hill, which leads to Piazza Garibaldi and to a beautiful view over the city. The botanical garden (Orto Botanico) is very interesting used to be part of the Palazzo Corsini, which is now the seat of the Galleria Corsini.
Streets and squares
Trastevere has many picturesque little streets like the Vicolo dell’Atleta (with the ruins of a medieval Synagogue), the Via della Lungara and the Via della Lungaretta. The main street running through the area is the Viale Trastevere itself, which is not particularly interesting.
The most important square is the beautiful Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere. Other picturesque squares are the Piazza di Sant’Egidio and the Piazza in Piscinula.
On Sunday mornings Trastevere forms the background to Italy’s biggest flea market. Here you can buy anything from safety pins to (more or less) antique pieces of furniture. There are many pick-pockets and the prices of the wares on offer go up when your hair is blond. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
Recently it has become easier to reach Trastevere from the center of Rome. Tram line number 8, which used to end at Largo Argentina, now travels all the way to Piazza Venezia, the central square of the Eternal City. There are no metro stops in or near the area. Finding a parking spot nearby is virtually impossible. There are taxi stands at Piazza Belli, Piazza Cosimato and Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.