It’s THE market of Rome, the most notorious also (be careful to pickpockets and to the three cards game), but certainly the most famous one. There are songs and poems dedicated to it, and there have been shot movies such as ‘Bicycle Thieves’ and ‘Sciuscià’. Born after the war as new home to the black market taking place at Campo de 'Fiori, Porta Portese, now with more than a thousand traders, is the most popular “Sunday market” in Italy.
A walk through the stalls
You can find almost anything: furniture and objects of all times, flea market merchandise, but also lining, new and used clothes, vinyl and CDs, books and prints, historical newspapers, but also Rome soccer team t-shirts and underwear, pet food and balls of wool or cotton (depending on the season), watches and shoes, shells and jewelry, leather jackets and luggage, beads and toys. Just to mention some, as the list could be endless. In fact there is a quote about Porta Portese which says “you can find anything, from a pill to a Jumbo Jet’. True, excluding food, apart from a couple of stalls such as the nuts one close to the door which gives its name to the market, the doughnuts one, or another one selling taralli from Puglia (small snacks).
Even the most famous market of Rome is going through a transition phase. In August 2012 the City Council approved three resolutions to reorganize municipal licenses (for 600 stalls formally authorized, there are approximately 700 unauthorized), more than fifty years after the last resolution, back in 1959.“We are waiting for the opportunity given by the City Council to self-manage ourselves and organize the market for the next two years – tells us Maurizio Cavalieri, president of Porta Portese ‘used merchandise’ sellers association – and then there is project to re-qualify the whole market and its neighborhood (street pavement, toilets building) from via delle Mura Portuense, to Largo Toja and piazza Ippolito Nievo, then down to the Treasure Ministry in via Bargoni, clearly splitting the ‘used’ merchandise area from the ‘new’ one, as it happens in many European markets, such as Portobello in London or Rastro in Madrid”.
An eye to Porta Portese future, without forgetting its past. It’s thirty years that Maurizio loads his the van every Saturday around midnight, leaves from Lavinio and gets to his beloved market on Sunday early morning. “When I was young I loved Porta Portese and Via Sannio markets, because for us young and penniless it was the only chance to get fashion clothes. For years I had a porno movies stall, then five years ago I opened a sort of collecting shop, where I sell any collectors’ merchandise. During the week I sell at the shop, on Sundays I come to the market”.
Apparently Porta Portese “is at the fifth place on the to do list” of anyone traveling to Rome, states Maurizio. He also tells us that a few years ago he even helped a Canadian girl to write a final dissertation paper on Porta Portese, “and she didn’t speak a word of Italian”.
“Even if things have changed in the last few years, the atmosphere remains beautiful, unique”, he ensures.
“I have been to Porta Portese so many times, it’s the most popular market in Rome, isn’t it? And it’s also close to my home ...
The only problem for me is that it’s toooo big. With Mummy we never seem to get to the end. So, last time, we went the other way around, we started from the end, to see the stalls we never get to!
Once I was so hungry that I started screaming in the push-chair until Mummy found a tarallini snack stall and I ate half a bag!
Another time (no push-chair, I had grown up) I wandered around the stalls for long time and only at the end Mummy confessed there are no fruit and vegetable stalls at Porta Portese.
But there are so many other things, even some strange ones… I saw a stall of toy helicopters only, and another one full of shells. I met a man with a long beard and a white hat who had some beautiful things on his stall: beads of all shapes and colors, tiles with creative drawings, boxes of watches that don’t exist anymore and even some weird stones that Mummy explained me are fossils of animals who lived many and many years ago.
Even when we were leaving I saw a couple of funny things: one man so tired who felt asleep on a beach chair he was actually supposed to sell and then a boy trying to load a big box on a little Fiat 500 (the old model) and I was thinking will it fit?! And finally it did fit".
Just around the corner
Let’s start our walk from the door after which the market is named and let’s make a little clarification: the one you see it’s not the original PORTA PORTESE, but its remake, ordered by Pope Urbano VIII in mid-1600, when the Gianicolense walls were built. The original Porta Portuensis, a hundred meters towards south in ancient times, opened next to some other walls, the Aurelian ones, and welcomed to Rome travelers and traders arriving at Porto, currently known as Fiumicino.
We can actually say that today’s market has grown in the area between the ancient door and the mid-1600 one. The desire to keep the Latin toponymy in spite of the historical vicissitudes is proved also by the name of the bridge connecting Testaccio to Porta Portese: it’s called Sublicius, as the bridge where – in 508 a.C. – Horatius Cocles succeeded in stopping the Etruscan advance led by king Porsena, saving Rome from their invasion. Historians have different opinions on the end of the story: according to Polibius, the hero died drown in Tevere river, while according to Titus Livius he survived swimming to the other side of the river. But all historians agree on one point: the real Sublicius bridge was actually up north, towards Tiberine island, and its last remains where demolished at the end of ‘800.
The Portuensis door and the Sublicius bridge were two of the main entrances to the “Augustan region” of Transtiberim, the current Trastevere. If you just make a few steps into the neighborhood, you will be able to admire Bernini’s last masterpiece,
the ECSTASY OF BLESSED LUDOVICA ALBERTONI. It’s in a chapel of San Francesco a Ripa Church, in the square with the same name. Or actually: to admire Bernini’s penultimate masterpiece, in the church on the square that once used to have the same name. Let’s explain: blessed Ludovica’s statue, completed in 1674 by a 75 years old Bernini, was considered his last masterpiece until 2001, when a Saviour’s bust was found, today kept in the Roman monastery S. Sebastiano fuori le mura. As far as the square is concerned, it was renamed S. Francesco d'Assisi (apparently the Saint spent some time in a pilgrims hostel nearby) in 1926, but all the inhabitants keep calling it S. Francesco a Ripa, as the church.
Wandering around in this less chaotic corner of Trastevere, you will get to another square known for a famous church, this time entitled to an authentic Roman Saint: SAINT CECILIA, executed in the third century for her conversion to Christianity.
The church stands on the ruins of the house where the Roman noblewoman would have lived with her husband Valeriano: in the basement you can visit some rooms of an ancient domus. But what catches most tourists’ and the faithful’s attention is the beautiful sculpture by Stefano Maderno, portraying the martyr in the same position in which her body was apparently found intact when the tomb was opened in 1599. Inside the church entitled to the patron saint of musicians, there couldn’t miss a pipe organ: in the traditional iconography the Saint often appears besides this musical instrument. But, according to some historians, there might have been a misunderstanding of the Latin term organus, which actually gave origin to the musical “worship” of the Saint: a sentence of an antiphon, which for centuries has been translated as “musical instruments”, could refer instead to the “instruments of torture” used for her martyrdom.
Walking away from the square, a couple of additional curiosities: in the left corner there is a medieval building, known as Ettore Fieramosca’s home. The legend says that between these walls, the captain took some rest after Barletta disfide (the battle in 1503 where he led 13 Italian knights against 13 French knights, revenging for the blame of cowardice by the French Guy de la Motte) before taking part to the security escort transferring the prisoner Cesare Borgia to Spain.
In the right corner (with the church on your back) starts Vascellari road, at number 61 you will find another medieval building, where lived another Saint from Rome: it’s the home of Santa Francesca Romana.
|where||starting from via Portuense to viale Trastevere and piazza Porta Portese|
Sunday, h 6:00 – 14:00 (but some stalls are there until 17)
|parking||difficult. Possible on Lungotevere di Ripa Grande, but better on the other side of the river, at Testaccio (then you can walk through the bridge)|
from Termini Railway Station, Line 75