Today, via del Portico d'Ottavia is the main street
Today, via del Portico d'Ottavia is the main street
Paul officially confined the Jews to the Ghetto in 1555, and although much of it was razed in 1885 to destroy what had become a crowded and insalubrious district over the centuries, many of Rome's Jews chose to remain here. People still come to the area for its characteristic cuisine, which may be sampled at Da Luciano or Da Giggetto on the via del Portico d'Ottavia, or more expensively at Piperno on via del Monte dei Cenci. There is also an excellent pastry shop, II Forno del Ghetto, at num ber 119. Try the ricotta cheesecake.
Another unfortunate site nearby is the Palazzo Cenci, in piazza Cenci. Never a part of the Ghetto, the palazzo was the home of the bloody Cenci family. In a 16thcentury scandal, the brutal and perverted Francesco Cenci was murdered by a killer hired by his wife and three of his twelve children. Although public opinion held that this was legitimate self defense, his wife and daughter Beatrice were beheaded near the ponte Sant'Angelo, his son Giacomo was drawn and quartered, the other son was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the pope confiscated all the family property. The Cenci exploits inspired many literati, including Shelley and Antonin Artaud, and every year on the anniversary of their deaths a mass is celebrated for the repose of Beatrice's soul in the church of San Tommaso, next to the palazzo.
One block away is lungotevere Cenci, where, to your left, is the Tempio Maggiore, Rome's synagogue. Built in 1904, it also houses a museum of Romanjewish memorabilia (Tel: 65646 48; closed Saturdays). Across from it is the boatshaped island called the Isola Tiberina, reached by ponte Fabricio, Rome's oldest standing bridge, which dates from 62 a.c. (Farther downstream may be seen the remains of the older ponte Rotto, or Broken Bridge, which collapsed in 1598, the year Francesco Cenci was murdered.) The Isola Tiberina was sacred to Aesculapius, the god of medicine, and had hospitals on it long before the presentday Ospedale dei Fatebene fratelli (literally, the do good brothers).
After walking through the ever rushing crowds in the center of the city, crossing the Tiber to Trastevere can be like entering a country town (first the speedway along the Tiber must be bested; push buttons for lights are found about every 50 feet). Go to Trastevere late in the afternoon, when the light on the buildings glows rose and gold, and at night (money belt only zone). You can stroll through lanes where green tufts of grass sprout from little cracks In thick walled buildings; tiny shrines are lit to the Madonna: the smell of fresh bread entices; artisans repair statues, sand tables, solder tin pots; children play in long smocks and dark stockings; fountain steps harbor meetings; and on enviable roof gardens the long arm of gentrification is seen.
The people of Trastevere consider themselves the true Romans and have made little accommodation to the odd little obelisks on its facade, to piazza San Francesco d'Assisi. Here the church of San Francesco a Ripa shelters Bernini's statue of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, strikingly similar to his more famous Saint Teresa. Bernini was in his seventies when he made this statue but was still in command of his formidable powers. The chapel is a domed space, strangely illuminated over the body of the saint lying in her final agony.
Howard Hibbard, in his book Bernini, describes it in terms that recall a host of Baroque scenes in Rome: The waves of draperies in front echo her position, their heaving billows reflect her agony, their colors accentuate her pallor ... the chiaroscuro of this drapery and the diagonal of Ludovica's arms, .broken by [the position of] her hands, create an almost symphonic treatment of physical suffering and death ... the frieze of bursting pomegranates below the painting signifies the immortality to which her soul is passing.
A living Baroque scene takes place daily (except Sundays) at the produce market in piazza San Cosimato, across the viale di Trastevere (a major bus artery) from the church of San Francesco. If the market doesn't have something to entice you, the streets that surround it are likely to. On via di San Francesco a Ripa, which runs from piazza Santa Maria to San Francesco, you'll find freshly made mozzarella and ri cotta, banks of new cheeses to try, fresh bread, pizza squares, and pastries the bigne (cream puffs) con zabaglione are rich with Marsala. On Sunday mornings the bakeries are open and filled with people seeking the traditional cornetti, sfogiiatelle (a Neapolitan transplant), and their more sugary associates.
Come early on Sunday morning for the Porta Portese flea market, which extends for blocks and is filled with sometimes interesting antiques, old books and prints, stacks of jeans and shoes, fresh coconut and raw fava beans (lave) to munch on, and a liberal assortment of pickpockets. Roman authorities would close the market, but the populus Romanus yells a resounding no. Stop first at the bakeries on via di Francesco a Ripa (above) for fresh cornetti and coffee to fortify you. After 11 :00 A.M. only the crowd loving need applyit's the thing to do on Sundays for many Romans. The entrance where the antiques dealers ply their trade, off via degli Orti di Trastevere, is the easiest. The section around Porta Portese, on the Tiber, is often mobbed by 11:00. (Remember that state museums are open Sunday mornings, however.)
From here to the famous piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is only a short walk. Its dominant feature, the church of Santa foreigners who have adopted their quarter, although they themselves are warm and friendly by nature. Start in the southern part of Trastevere at the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, whose large, tranquil courtyard is frequented by local mothers watching their bambini taking their first steps. Life was far from tranquil for Santa Cecilia, however, who lived in a patrician villa on the site (excavations have been made of her rooms below ground; entrance from inside the church). Her husband, Saint Valerian, was beheaded because, as a Christian, he refused to worship the Roman gods. Cecilia was locked in the steam room of her house, which was then heated by a roaring fire; instead of dying, she was found singing in a heaven sent shower.
Three days of heat did not kill her, and even the blows of an ax failed. By the time she died, hundreds had converted, inspired by her courage. Thus armed with the legend, enter the church to see her statue by Stefano Maderno at the high altar, a figure lying down with her head turned away, as she was when her sarcophagus in the catacombs was opened. On November 22 concerts are held in her honor, and the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, among the most prestigious of music academies, was named for her. During the late afternoon, you may hear the nuns singing mass from behind the grate.
In the nearby piazza in Piscinula (named for an ancient Roman bath) stands the 12thcentury Palazzo Mattei (now private), once the home of the family that reigned over this neighborhood in medieval days by force of intrigue and murder. Though both acts were common in the Middle Ages, apparently the Mattei went too far and were thrown out of Trastevere. They landed on their feet, however, amassing a great fortune and a cluster of palazzi at piazza Mattei across the river near the Fontana delle Tartarughe.
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