Rione Monti is the neighborhood for the cool and young, the old and vintage. For those who want a serving of cobblestone, antiques and artisans, with a side order of beauty, great food and the best bars in Rome. Centrally located between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, this is The place to while away the afternoon peeking into vintage stores, paging through old books, grabbing coffee in Rome’s chicest cafes, chatting over aperitivo, and people watching at the fountain in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. A tiny quartiere, it’s a haven between the tourist traps of Via Nazionale and Via Cavour, and much more Roman than the more popular districts like Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona. This is working-class Rome, where older couples maintain tradition, even as young entrepreneurs open trendy galleries.
Start at the fountain in Piazza Della Madonna dei Monti, the heart of Monti for its beauty and buzz. As you continue, stunning views of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore burst at you from Via Panisperna, and endless ivy walls and ancient relics reflect a Rome from long ago, but never lost. Monti’s character shines from every street, a trendy village, old versus new, both classic and chic at once. To complete your experience, walk the streets at night, where the meld of peace, vibrance and history make Monti truly magical.
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Take a trip across the Tiber river to Trastevere, a charming medieval neighbourhood with a fiery temperament. A stroll around Trastevere, a formerly working-class district with a heady nightlife, will take you away from the crowds to the hidden corners of Rome.
After an early morning at the Centro Storico’s colourful Campo de’ Fiori market, stroll three minutes to the Tiber and cross the river via the stone footbridge, Ponte Sisto, to reach Trastevere.
Head towards Piazza di Santa Maria, the heart of this labyrinthine district; take Via del Moro, with its many shops and cafes, then divert into the quiet cobblestoned side streets lined with crumbling buildings with faded paintwork. Plants and religious shrines brighten up the streets, washing is strung up between buildings, and graffiti covers the shutters of closed bars.
When you reach the piazza, join the locals, tourists and buskers and take a seat on the steps of the fountain – a great spot for people-watching. This lovely neighbourhood square is dominated by 12th-century Basilica di Santa Maria; step inside its dimly lit interior to see the glittering Cavallini mosaics depicting the font of oil that spouted when Christ was born – according to myth, the church was founded on that very spot.
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Testaccio quarter is a gentrified hip district south of the Aventine Hill in Rome where locals still sit with a gelato after market hopping. Once a working class zone for trade and industry steeped in ancient history, the area has reinvented itself with progressive party organisers and contemporary chic restaurants staking their claim, followed hot on their heels by the city’s best street artists and music lovers of all tastes.
The area’s history is rich and varied. Testaccio hill or monte is entirely made of ancient broken earthenware pots or cocci, used for transporting goods such as large quantities of olive oil to the bustling river harbour. The hill was used for many celebrations in the Middle Ages and later as a place of papal ceremonies and its porous structure provided the perfect spot for wine cellars. Now new venues occupy these cellars and many ex-trade buildings and warehouses meld with the quarter’s abundant history. At the beginning of the 20th century Testaccio was a busy industrial hub and this fingerprint is still very palpable, such as at the Ponte dell’Industria (Bridge of Industry), an alarmingly narrow bridge of imposing raw iron overlooking the old overgrown warehouses and workshops lining the river.
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Campo dei Fiori
The Campo dei Fiori in the Parione district is one of the jewels of Rome. In the morning it’s a bustling marketplace, that transforms into a nightlife centre in the evening – all amid a beautiful setting steeped with history.
It has always been the piazza for races, palios, and executions.
It is located where the Temple of Venus Victrix stood in ancient Rome, attached to the Theatre of Pompey.
The name of the piazza seems to have come from Flora, Pompey’s beloved, for whom he had already built a theatre in the area. It could also have come from the fact that by 1400 the piazza was deserted and had become overgrown with wildflower meadows and vegetable gardens.
In the mid-1400s, Pope Callistus III reorganized the whole district and paved the entire area. It was during this renovation work that many elegant palazzos were built: the Palazzo Orsini, for example, is located right on the Campo dei Fiori. It was the Orsinis who gave the little piazza alongside Campo dei Fiori the name Piazza del Biscione (large snake), because their family crest included an eel.
Once the piazza was restored, it became a mandatory place for prominent figures such as ambassadors and cardinals to socialize. All this helped the Campo dei Fiori area become the centre of a thriving horse market held every Monday and Saturday. As could be expected, hotels, inns, and artisan workshops sprung up in the area, making it one of the most vibrant parts of the city and a lively cultural and commercial centre.
But Piazza Campo dei Fiori was infamous as well, being the place where executions were carried out. A statue in the centre of the piazza commemorates this fact to passers-by: Giordano Bruno – a philosopher and Dominican monk accused of heresy – was burned alive here on February 17, 1600.
Over the centuries, the piazza has remained a lively and tumultuous place. Since the second half of the 1800, it has hosted a vibrant and picturesque daily street market, where you can still sense the soul of the Roman populace among the colourful cries of vendors and the throngs of buyers.
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Ponte Milvio, also known as the “Lovers’ Bridge” due to the chains of padlocks left hanging on its lampposts by sweethearts wishing to leave a token of their never-ending affection for each other, links the banks of the River Tiber to the north of the city.
The bridge was constructed in order to prolong the Via Flaminia, enabling it to reach across the river. It was here that one of the pivotal moments of Roman history was decided: the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on 28th October 312 A.D. Maxentius’ unsuccessful stand at the bridge (he himself was forced to retreat and drowned in the river) opened the way for Constantine I to become the sole ruler of the empire, while the battle is also said to have marked the beginning of the latter’s conversion to Christianity.
Besides being a favourite spot for nightlifers looking for a “simpatico” bar or other, every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Ponte Milvio also provides the charming setting for an antiques fair. At this “Anticaglie a Ponte Milvio. Il primo mercato dell’antiquariato”, you may spend a couple of hours ambling among the 200 stands, browsing through the varied antique pieces, collectors’ items which include small picture frames, jewellery, knick-knacks, books of all shapes and sizes.
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