IN THE CITY
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.