IN THE CITY

M Style - - Contents - Text: VICKY VÍLCHES

Rome’s most au­then­tic neigh­bour­hoods are just a short walk away from the Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina.

Traste­vere and Campo de’ Fiori are some of the most au­then­tic neigh­bour­hoods in Rome and walk­ing through them will make you feel like a real Ro­man. With the Gran Meliá Villa Agrippina ser ving as a star ting point for these strolls (and many more), you’re sure to make ever­last­ing mem­o­ries of the Eter­nal City.

Rome is not usu­ally known for its river. The Tiber, with its calm and green­ish wa­ters, doesn’t have quite the same grav­i­tas as the Seine that flows through Paris, the Thames that tra­verses Lon­don or the grand Danube in Bu­dapest. Even so, the Ro­mans them­selves say that it’s the soul of the city, and once you’ve crossed its main bridges a few times you’ll un­der­stand why. Ro­man bridges, em­blem­atic of the em­pire’s prac­ti­cal feats, thread to­gether so many of an­cient Europe’s land­scapes. And de­spite their age, you’ll find them fa­mil­iar: what Euro­pean doesn’t know of a Ro­man bridge close to their city or town?

But you don’t have to cross any bridges to en­joy a peace­ful walk along the banks of Rome’s river, lead­ing you from the Gran Meliá Villa Agrippina to Traste­vere. This colour­ful neigh­bour­hood takes its name from its re­la­tion­ship to this great Ro­man wa­ter­way: trans Tiberim, mean­ing lit­er­ally ‘be­yond the Tiber ’. It’s not just a scenic neigh­bour­hood where you can wan­der around and feel a lit­tle less like a tourist (as you might in, say, St. Peter ’s Square or the Im­pe­rial Fora).

In an­cient times, this area con­tained both work­ing­class res­i­dences and the vil­las of the Ro­man aris­toc­racy and no­bil­ity. There were up to 13 syn­a­gogues, and it was also home to the first Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. It’s still an in­ter­est­ing place to­day, with an eclec­tic va­ri­ety of peo­ple and build­ings: vis­i­tors and res­i­dents from here and there, an­cient sites and palaces, the holy and the pro­fane, stray cats and the ‘mam­mas’ that flood the San Cosi­mato mar­ket to stock up on high-qual­ity veg­eta­bles.

This ex­pan­sive neigh­bour­hood of­fers a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing, just like most of Rome. The stateliest part lies clos­est to the river, and the area around the busy Pi­azza di Santa Maria in Traste­vere sees the great­est in­flux of tourists (it’s best to avoid it on Satur­day nights). You can re­ally hear the Ro­man di­alect in this area, where the il­lu­sive lo­cal flavour of a truly tra­di­tional life­style has been best main­tained. The zone ex­tends up to where the river makes a sharp bend, around the Santa Ce­cilia church. Nights in the neigh­bour­hood’s most pop­u­lar spots are bois­ter­ous, and it’s easy to get lost in the wind­ing streets—which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. Pass­ing the bars, trat­to­rias and small shops, you’ll reach the Gian­i­colo area, also just a short and pleas­ant walk away from the ho­tel. The high­est hill in Rome, the Gian­i­colo it­self has en­vi­able views and more mon­u­men­tal and res­i­den­tial parts than Traste­vere, as well as lovely green ar­eas that never cease to im­press.

Con­tin­u­ing our pur­suit of au­then­tic Ro­man sites, we re­turn to the river and the bridges that cross it. Close to the Gran Meliá Villa Agrippina lies the Ponte Sisto. A rel­a­tively un­known bridge, it has one of the city’s best views of St. Peter ’s Basil­ica, as well as its own sto­ries to tell.

Its con­struc­tion be­gan in 1473 by or­der of Pope Six­tus IV. In or­der to beau­tify the city with build­ings in the Re­nais­sance style, he de­cided to re­ha­bil­i­tate and mod­ernise the prim­i­tive Ro­man bridge. Like many of the city’s mon­u­ments, it has its own leg­end. It’s said that on stormy nights the ghost of Olimpia Pam­phili—one of Rome’s most prom­i­nent no­ble­women who died while cross­ing the bridge in her char­iot—can be seen walk­ing along it to­wards her palace.

The Ponte Sisto leads to Campo de’ Fiori, an­other dis­trict that will make you feel like you’ve dis­cov­ered the real Rome, in­stead of a mere tourist at­trac­tion or mu­seum.

CLOSE TO THE GRAN MELIÁ VILLA AGRIPPINA LIES THE PONTE SISTO. A REL­A­TIVELY UN­KNOWN BRIDGE, IT HAS ONE OF THE CITY’S BEST VIEWS OF ST. PETER’S BASIL­ICA, AS WELL AS ITS OWN STO­RIES TO TELL.

This en­tire neigh­bour­hood sur­rounds the bustling square, which trans­forms from day to night. It’s fa­mous for its morn­ing mar­ket, pop­u­lated by a mix­ture of true shop­pers who come to fill up their pantries and cu­ri­ous for­eign­ers who just want a taste of the lo­cal life­style.

As in Traste­vere, the fruit and vegetable stalls are the busiest and most colour­ful. This square is one of the few in Rome with­out a church or con­vent, and was turned from a flower-filled field (as its name sug­gests) into a place of pub­lic ex­e­cu­tions. The statue of Gior­dano Bruno in the cen­tre of the square pays homage to this; he was burned at the stake for heresy in the very same spot. De­spite this his­tory, the at­mos­phere is friendly, cheer­ful and full of lo­cal flavour, a feel­ing that flows through the nar­row streets that ex­tend from the square. Lined with ter­races and shops, the area is home to a small in­de­pen­dent trade that blends the tra­di­tional with the trendy.

Campo de’ Fiori is not far from two must-see places that can also be reached on foot from the Gran Meliá Roma: Pi­azza Navona and the Pan­theon. This part of the city has been blessed with mag­nif­i­cent build­ings since an­cient times. The Pan­theon is the best-pre­served build­ing from An­cient Rome and a true feat of Ro­man en­gi­neer­ing, which many his­to­ri­ans con­sider to be one of the most beau­ti­ful tem­ples in the world. For its part, the Pi­azza Navona is one of the largest squares in Italy and the artis­tic bat­tle­ground of two giants of the Baroque era: Bernini and Bor­ro­mini.

The Ponte Sant’An­gelo is one of the most beau­ti­ful and fa­mous bridges in the city, and most of the stat­ues that line its path are by the mas­ter Bernini him­self. It’s just a few steps from the ho­tel, right by the Cas­tel Sant’An­gelo: a cas­tle that be­came the pa­pal fortress in the Mid­dle Ages. This pedes­trian bridge is usu­ally crossed on the way to the Vat­i­can. Need­less to say, if you’re stay­ing at the Gran Meliá, this is one of the most pleas­ant and in­ter­est­ing walks you can take, if only to con­tem­plate from afar St. Peter ’s Square and the im­pres­sive dome of the basil­ica de­signed by Michelan­gelo.

The Ponte Mil­vio is yet an­other of Rome’s bridges that’s not to be missed. It was the scene of an epic bat­tle (known as the ‘Bat­tle of the Mil­vian Bridge’) be­tween the armies of Con­stan­tine I and Max­en­tius, and the be­gin­ning of the for­mer ’s con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity. After his vic­tory here, Con­stan­tine went on to be­come the Ro­man Em­pire’s first Chris­tian em­peror.

Some­where along this bridge in the north of the city lies the birth­place of a ro­man­tic trend—or dan­ger­ous plague, de­pend­ing on whom you ask—that has since spread to bridges across the globe. It was here on the Mil­vian Bridge over the Tiber where the writer Fed­erico Moc­cia set his fa­mous pad­lock scene, now re-en­acted by lovers both young and old on bridges around the world. Rome, the Eter­nal City, home of eter­nal love… but you’ll have to ab­stain from plac­ing one of those leg­endary locks above the Tiber; nowa­days it’s pro­hib­ited, so that the river and its bridges can be pre­served for eter­nity, too.

Traste­vere’s bohemianand peace­ful at­mos­phere charms both tourists and lo­cals.

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