Trastevere: a little bit of history
Trastevere is the 13th district of Rome, on the west bank of the Tiber, south of Vatican City. Its name comes from the Latin trans-Tiberim, meaning literally “beyond the Tiber”.
In Rome’s Regal period (753-509 BC), the area across the Tiber belonged to the hostile Etruscans, the area began to be considered part of the city under Augustus, who divided Rome into 14 regions (regiones in Latin); modern Trastevere was the XIV and was called trans-Tiberim.
Since the end of the Roman Republic, the quarter was also the center of an important Jewish community, which inhabited there until the end of the Middle Ages.
With the wealth of the Imperial Age, several important figures decided to build their villae in Trastevere, including Julius Caesar (his garden villa, the Horti Caesaris). The regio included two of the most ancient churches in Rome, the Titulus Callixti, later called the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, and the Titulus Cecilae, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
In the Middle Ages, Trastevere had narrow, winding, irregular streets; moreover, because of the mignani (structures on the front of buildings), there was no space for carriages to pass. At the end of the 15th century, these mignani were removed. Nevertheless, Trastevere remained a maze of narrow streets. There was a strong contrast between the large, opulent houses of the upper classes and the small, dilapidated houses of the poor. The streets had no pavement until the time of Sixtus IV at the end of the 15th century. At first, bricks were used, but these were later replaced by sampietrini (cobblestones), which were more suitable for carriages. Thanks to its partial isolation (it was “beyond the Tiber”) and to the fact that its population had been multicultural since the ancient Roman period, the inhabitants of Trastevere, called Trasteverini, developed a culture of their own. In 1744 Benedict XIV modified the borders of the districts, giving Trastevere its modern limits.
Nowadays, Trastevere maintains its character thanks to its narrow cobbled streets lined by ancient houses. At night, natives and tourists alike flock to its many pubs and restaurants, but much of the original character of Trastevere remains. The area is also home to several foreign academic institutions including The American University of Rome and John Cabot University (both of which are private American universities).
The unique character of this neighborhood has attracted artists, foreign expats, and many famous people. Sergio Leone, the director of Spaghetti Westerns, grew up in Viale Glorioso (there is a marble plaque to his memory on the wall of the apartment building), and went to a Catholic private school in the neighborhood. Ennio Morricone, the film music composer, went to the same school, and for one year was in the same class as Sergio Leone.
When to go
This is the perfect area that should be visited in Summer. First of all, in July (from 15th to 30th), the people who live in Trastevere organize a huge party called Festa de’ Noantri (our party), and it’s really amazing, if you’re in Rome in that period, you can’t miss it.
Second, because in Summer (usually from the end of May until September) a cinema festival is organized on the Isola Tiberina (the only island of Rome, right between Trastevere and the other side of Rome) and it’s really beautiful and “typical”; and, last but not the least, restaurants, pubs, bars and shops of the area open a “stand” on the river, so you can walk right on the river and have dinner or buy something. This is a thing that all the Romans do every summer, so…you can’t miss this one either!
What and where to eat in Trastevere
Having dinner or lunch in Trastevere feels like having dinner at home.
Restaurants are usually open all day long, and prices are really affordable (with, of course, always good quality ingredients and amazing recipes).
Try to avoid touristic menù, it’s better to choose roman recipes: bucatini all’amatriciana, spaghetti cacio e pepe, penne all’arrabbiata, spaghetti alla carbonara, gnocchi and so on; not very “light” recipes, but if you come to Italy and you want to try the real Italian cuisine, you should better leave the diet home. In summer, the area is full of stands and kiosks where you can have an amazing grattachecca (which consists of manually shaved ice flavored with sweet sciroppo and fruit), or some fresh fruit.
If you want to have a gelato, one of the best gelaterie of Trastevere is Fior di Luna (Via della Lungaretta 96), where the high quality of the all-natural ingredients will make you try on of the best gelato in Rome.
Trastevere is full of restaurants, osterie, and trattorie. One of the most “traditional” is La Tana de’ Noantri (Via della Paglia 1), while a more creative restaurant is Cave Canem (Piazza San Calisto), but one of the best restaurants of Trastevere, where you can taste the real roman pasta (and some other roman recipes) is Sette Oche in Altalena (Via dei Salumi 36). Two other amazing restaurants are Da Teo (Piazza dei Ponziani 7) and Da Augusto (Piazza Dè Renzi 15).
If you’re looking for something different than a restaurant, something more like a pub where you can have both dinners and drink a beer, this is the perfect district; since this is the highlight of the nightlife in Rome, both for roman young people than for tourists, it’s full of pubs and bars; the best one is Ma Che Sete Venuti a Fà (Via di Benedetta 25), but you can find them everywhere, especially around Piazza Trilussa and Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.
How to reach it
If you are close to a subway station, the quickest way to arrive at Trastevere is to take the B line (the blue one) till Termini, then from there you can take the bus H and you will arrive right in the middle of Trastevere (the bus stop’s name is Gallicano, if you need to ask someone).
If you are close to the tram (railway), it’s quicker if you take the train number 3 or 8 (it depends on where you are).