Trastevere: My Neighborhood For A Month

by Sydney Kahl / Apr 06, 2013 /

Walking through the neighborhood of Trastevere, in the heart of Rome along the West bank of the Tiber River, is a good way to experience Italian culture and character. Every street has some new interesting aspect worth exploring.

 

Trastevere, Rome

 

The neighborhood is a maze of narrow, black, cobblestone streets lined with mostly three and four story apartment buildings, painted in various shades of cream or orange with mostly dark green or brown shuttered windows. Shops of all kinds and trattorias (small restaurants) are located on the first floors of these buildings. Pedestrians have to watch out, because sometimes they have to smush themselves against a wall so a car or small bus can carefully navigate down the narrow street.

 

Trastevere, Rome

 

I found that the squares, or piazzas, tend to exist in front of churches and often contain fountains, a statue, or both. These squares are often full of vendors selling flowers or other goods - jewelry, sunglasses, watercolors, or scarves -  all propped up on temporary cardboard box displays, trying to attract those out for a stroll. The main square of Trastevere, Piazza Santa Maria (as pictured above), is a short walk from where I stayed for the month of March in Rome. I passed this piazza on my way to the John Cabot Library to do school work.  Either coming or going each day, I slowed down to enjoy the newest excitement in the square.

 

Restaurant, Trastevere, Rome

 

If you walk slowly enough down the street, friendly restaurant staff greet you and invite you to sit down and have a bite to eat.  Most restaurants are decorated with traditional Italian artwork and contain outside tables with tents and heated lamps. This restaurant with the wine barrels in the photo was only a few steps away from our apartment. Faces such as this one soon became familiar. I felt like Trastevere was my neighborhood.

 

in Trastevere, Rome

 

I was introduced to gnocchi pasta at Fratte di Trastevere, my favorite trattoria. On the walls are giant murals of the famous Spanish steps site in Rome, as well as a painting of Vesuvius erupting. (I travelled to Naples to climb Vesuvius, so the image was personally meaningful.) The simple but delicious gnocchi potato pasta has a unique texture. The dish soon became a regular addition to my diet while in Italy, since I wasn’t sure I would be able to find it when I returned to rural New Hampshire. I also love Fratte di Trastevere because they have the best Tiramisu, at least of all the places I tried and I ordered it at nearly every restaurant I visited. Fratte di Trastevere pours the liquor over a light, airy cake. Other places add the Tiramisu to pudding -  and there is also Tiramisu flavored ice cream.

 

Fratte di Trastevere, Rome

 

Bruschetta, a toasted bread appetizer with fresh basil and tomatoes on toasted bread with olive oil, is another of my favorite dishes.

 

Street performers, Trastevere, Rome

 

 

On Friday and Saturday nights, there is no shortage of unique street performers to entertain everyone; including musicians, belly dancers, and even a woman dancing with fire. I couldn’t resist taking a short video (you’re in for a surprise). Another regular is a break-dancer who jumps around on one-arm while doing a handstand, and then he lies on his back and spins around on the hard, uneven cobblestones in just a t-shirt.

 

 

 

Church Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome

 

Another unique aspect of Rome is that it seems as if there is a church around every corner. All are exquisite with some combination of paintings, frescoes, statues, gold inlaid ceilings, chandeliers, columns, or crypts. Many were built thousands of years ago, with new additions added over the centuries or as repairs were made after earthquakes. The church ceiling in this photo is from the Church Santa Maria in Trastevere, begun in AD 222, best known for its detailed mosaics, inside and out, which literally glitter in the right light.

 

Gelateria, Trastevere, Rome

 

Almost as common as churches in Trastevere are Gelaterias, where Italian ice cream is served.  I certainly took advantage of these shops. The flavors and colors are unlike anything found in the U.S., including nutella, hazelnut, biscotti, pine nut, or tiramisu.  In Italy, you have the option to order two kinds of ice cream in your cup, and they are very generous in the amounts they serve. 

 

pasticerria, Trastevere, Rome

 

Almost as common as gelaterias are pasticerria (baked goods) and pizza shops, with brick or stone ovens - an essential component. The largest pasticerria/pizza shop in the neighborhood is conveniently located underneath the apartment where I lived. The delicious, ever changing array of baked goods caught my eye every time I walked by.

 

Shoe store, Trastevere, Rome

 

Italians are known for being stylish, and Italy is famous for its leather.  Almost all the women wear leather boots and many have leather jackets. This also seemed to be the uniform of most of the American study abroad female students I saw.  As the saying goes, when in Rome, do like the Romans, so I left the country with a dark brown leather jacket and matching boots.

 

Architecture, Trastevere, Rome

 

In spite of all the liveliness on the streets, the architecture still draws attention.  Even a simple apartment entrance in Italy, with massive wooden doors and arches, is appealing to the eye and made me want to snap a picture. There are no lawns, but plenty of potted plants outside doors and on every windowsill, and vines crawl over most doorways.

 

Drying clothes, Trastevere, Rome

 

In Italy, no one has a clothes dryer, so another familiar sight walking down the streets is flapping clothes strung between two second or third floor apartments.

 

Tiber River, Trastevere, Rome

 

The Tiber River separates Trastevere from the rest of Rome.  On a nice sunny day, you can see people strolling on the pedestrian bridge or terraces surrounding Isola Tiberina, the only island in the Tiber River in Rome.  A hospital is located on the island, as well as a Gelateria - and a Church of course.  

 

Bridge, Trastevere, Rome

 

A main bridge, as seen in the photo, is used by vehicles and the tram, which runs from the Trastevere Train station to the “Cat” forum - a central point from which to explore historic sites. The Italians pack the buses, trams, and metro, so if you don’t care about your personal space, you can hop on and off for 1 and ½ euros and travel around for 100 minutes.

 

Street lamp, Trastevere, Rome

 

In the evening, the many bridges crossing over the river are lit up with street lamps.

 

A walk along the Tiber River, Trastevere, Rome

 

A walk along the river takes one under a canopy of sycamores trees that line the Tiber River on both sides.

 

Trastevere, Rome

 

On the outside of Trastevere, I climbed up to this overlook to survey my neighborhood.  I never expected to grow so attached to such an old place, and I never expected a city to be so culturally rich in so many memorable ways.

 

 

 

 

Sydney Kahl is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program

 

All photos and video courtesy and copyright Sydney Kahl