The old covered market of Piazza Testaccio had been waiting for years to be moved to a location assigned by the municipality to a private real estate manager. A move announced for years and postponed several times, including a delay due to the discovery of archeological findings (that by the way could be an antique market). We have visited it before – between a glorious past and an uncertain future – and after.
Walking through the stalls
Before July 2014
Next to the traditional fruit, vegetable, fish, meat and bread stalls, some different ones have appeared at Testaccio in the last few years, the kind of stalls that you would not expect in a farmers’ market. There’s a used books and comics stall, where Samuele also sells T-shirts and fabric bags made by his creative wife; there’s a tailor shop ‘made in testaccio’ with clothes and accessories both off the peg and tailor made;
there’s a stall called ‘20mq’ selling design items and gift ideas, such as a vase to hang plants upside down, washable maps of the most popular cities, all kinds of lamps, clothes hangers made of stones or ties made of rag cloth that can be used both by ‘business men and house men’.
The stalls are organized by category, in one corner the fish vendors, in the other the butchers, clothing on one side of the square, refrigerated section for food on the other. Some historical stalls look ‘antique’ and often the business has been passed from father to son for generations.
The vendors are quite talkative. Some give recipes (“the ‘acqua pazza’ fish, Madam, is so easy, let me explain…”) or recommendations (“in ‘amatriciana’ sauce you put lard, in ‘carbonara’ bacon… don’t mess up”), others tell you the story of their stall. You can even find a unique stall selling nothing else but sardines from a can. Or a bread vendor with bio products by a well known brand – from spelt biscuits to brasilian acai nectar – competing with specialized shops.
The new market at via Galvani was officially opened on July 2nd. 5000 square meters, of which 2000 dedicated to public services and shops, slots for 103 vendors, an underground of 6000 square meters for a total of 270 parking spaces. Additionally, an archeological area of 7000 square meters which can be partially visited in specific times of the year. Many of the stalls are the same as “before”, but some old sellers, who were already thinking about retirement, actually left. Generally, good old stalls, with some news. Samuele, for example, has added some pottery alongside books and comics (“there wasn’t enough room before”), while the “20mq” guys have actually got a box of 20 square meters, as their name.
There is almost anything at Testaccio market: shoes, socks, clothes, Cristina’s haberdashery Cri Cri where you can fins also nice gifts for babies, especially at Christmas and Carnival time.
Alessandro and Alessandra with their lab Le mani in pasta (literally, hands in the pie). Hand-made cannelloni, ravioli and gnocchi with bio and kamut flour, bio and local products, but also catering services at your home. "I work as a cook by night – says Alessandro – I wanted to open a place on my own, but with such a crisis it doesn’t seem to be the right time, so for the time being I make pasta and cook at people’s homes”.
The big news at this new location of Testaccio market is possibility to eat at the market: there is the Roman Deli with tripe sandwiches, sausages, scottona beef and boiled meat cooked with picchiapò sauce (tomato, onions and mentuccia leaves); Sergio’s Mordi e Vai, In cibo veritas girls who make delicious rice balls and biscuits, all gluten free. Then there is Zoe, run by the chef Matteo and his sister, offering fresh fruits and vegetables: fruit salads, salads, fresh squeezed juice and extracts, just made to preserve all the vitamins and other properties.
With the help of a nutritionist, they have planned a menu of 15 dishes, some permanent, some changing, made with the ingredients they find at the stalls around, except for the bio lemons and oranges coming from Sicily and also the apples (bio) from a farm in Lazio. Next to Zoe, Marco’s Foodbox, who works with his sister and two friends, from the brand we assume that also the (food) container is important. “We want street food to be global, not only regional specials, so in addition to the Roman line Supplizio by the chef Arcangelo Dandini (which includes the Jewish artichoke), we offer street food typical of other Italian locations, such as Sicilian supplì (fried rice balls) and croquettes, stuffed olives from Ascoli, but also French quiches, American bagels, Venezuelan arepas”.
But the real jewel in Testaccio market’s crown is the Michelin one star Chef Cristina Bowerman’s stand, a second home for her Romeo chef and baker. “Restaurant cuisine went through a revolution in the last few years, some say it’s an Involution, while for me it’s evolution. We, as chefs, are making a step towards clients, without impact on quality”. So the dynamic Cristina got inspired by raw materials available at the market and invented the “cups”, such as those of ice-creams or Starbucks paper cups. “We wanted to adapt Romeo concept for the market – tells us Chef Cristina – so we were looking for a new idea to replace plates, while the gourmet sandwiches menu is exactly the same. We came up with cups, which can be filled by any food, from prosciutto to pasta, from salads to soups. Another interesting idea is having guest chefs “We are often so busy with managing restaurants, that we don’t have time to cook and be creative, so I thought I would give my colleagues the chance to cook without any rules, to make experiments. It started as a joke, but the list of chefs is becoming longer and longer”. Among the chefs who cooked or will be cooking at the market there are: Gigi Nastri, Giulio Terrinoni, Marco Martini, Davide Del Duca, Franco Aliberti, Cesare Battisti, Davide Scabin, Francesco Apreda, Dino De Bellis, Claudio Cargioli, Luciano Monosilio, Angelo Troiani, Francesco Pesce.
“One day, me and Mummy met a very nice lady on the bus, she was carrying heavy bags full of veggies. She was talking in a funny way (with a sort of rolling "r") and she told us that she always comes to Testaccio market, even if she lives in town and has to take the bus all the way there and carry those heavy bags, because she can’t find such good vegetables down town… this is one of the few markets with real farmers. And then she looked at me and said “healthy food is good for children” while I was staring at her bags and feeling like the rabbit on my room wall… I was craving so much for a little carrot!”.
Just around the corner
Walking out of the new market, it’s impossible not to see one of the most popular and peculiar monuments of ancient Rome: CESTIO’S PYRAMID, evidence of Romans’ passion for the pharaohs’ culture, together with the obelisks. Now it appears to be leaning on the Aurelian Walls, but it was built two and a half centuries before. As an inscription on the eastern side recalls, the burial monument was built in 330 days: actually, if Caio Cestios’ heirs delayed the pyramid construction of even one day, they would have lost the whole inheritance, as such a constraint was clearly stated in his Will.
However, in Medieval times, such inscription must have been unreadable due to deterioration, as even a poet and latinist as Francesco Petrarca mentioned the pyramid as ‘Remo’s grave’.
Following the walls, along the street named after Caio Cestio, you can reach one of city’s most evocative corners, a must for romantic travellers: the NON CATHOLIC CEMETERY of Rome, also known as the English, or Protestant, cemetery. Under the peaceful shadow of ancient cypresses the remains of the English poets Keats and Shelley have found rest, but also the ones of several Italian artists and intellectuals, such as Antonio Gramsci, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Bruno Pontecorvo, Miriam Mafai, Antonio Labriola and Amelia Rosselli. Here rest in peace the beat poet Gregory Corso, Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s good friend, and the English actress Belinda Lee, adopted by Italy after the movie “I magliari” by Francesco Rosi, who died in a car accident when she was only 25 years old. The same age as her fellow countryman Langton, who died falling from his horse in 1738: his burial is the oldest of the cemetery . August von Goethe was 41, when death arrived suddenly during a trip to Rome. Apparently he was not old enough yet to have an own identity, separate from his famous father: his name is not even mentioned on the gravestone, where the inscription simply says “Goethe filius”. Then, someone even built his own grave, such as the American William Wetmore Story, author of the “Piety’s Angel” who keeps watching over his and his wife’s remains.
After these moments of peace, going back to the life of Testaccio neighbourhood, you should take a look at the homonym square, once hosting the historical market which recently moved away. It’s impossible to describe it now or even to imagine how it will look like once the move is completed and fully accepted by the locals and the spare space left by the stalls has found a new identity. However, those who want to know how it looked before the market was built, should keep on walking up to Tevere river, towards piazza dell'Emporio. You will find there AMPHORAS FOUNTAIN, once located in the center of Testaccio square, before the new born market, in 1935, evicted it. The masterpiece, reproducing the undisputed symbol of the borough (see Monte Testaccio link), could be a good start for an unusual tour in Rome. The Amphoras one is the first of 8 fountains by the architect Pietro Lombardi in as many boroughs, starting from 1927: in each one he reproduces the symbol in travertine.
|where||Entrance from via Franklin, via Zabaglia, via Galvani and via Volta|
Monday to Saturday, h 6:00 – 14:00
|PARCHEGGIO||underground (1 euro each hour)|
From Termini Railway Station, Line 75
line B – Piramide (walking distance 300 meters)