To be honest, a very good reason to go to Viminale market, in Via Cesare Balbo just a few steps from Via Nazionale, is Mrs. Anna. With her 84 years (of which 66 working at her stall) is the best candidate as historical memory of the market.
A walk through the stalls
“It was 1947, I was still a girl... I was 18 years old and I got pregnant with my first child, a boy. It was the post-war period, a bad time, we used to work earning just a little margin because there was a lot of competition among stalls. When we started, my husband and I, the market was only made of fruit and vegetables stalls, while today there is only another one, on top of ours. And the time is even worse: people buy one or two pieces of fruit, not two or three kilos as they used back then, also because the historical center has been closed to cars”.
Together with her two sons, Enzo and Amedeo, and her French daughter-in-law Christine, Mrs. Anna keeps on working at the stall, born as fruit only, but over the years enlarged to vegetables and now specialized in clean vegetable (“in the evening I'm up to 10:30 to clean green beans, shell peas and beans”).
The most vivid memories of the old times are related to Anna’s customers. “I was so young, I had a baby son and I had to work. My customers were of great help: they used to give milk to the baby, take him around, cradle him while I had to serve”.
Today the market in Cesare Balbo road has changed a lot. Of sixty fruits and vegetables vendors, only Anna with her family and another vendor are still there.
As far as food is concerned, there are a butcher and Romina’s deli. All around lining stalls, clothes, jewelry, shoes, makeup. Almost all moving, one day here, one day there.
“After Anna's, ours is the oldest stall in the market – says Romina, who inherited the business from her father Cipriano – I'm here since I was born, I am 42 years old and my father bought the stall in 1969, two years before. Since 1993 I have taken over, as my father works as “grandpa”, taking care of my two children. My memories of the market date back to when I was a child, I went to school nearby and then immediately after class I used to come here”. With her stall of cold cuts, cheese and local food, Romina tries to keep her family tradition alive. Her mother and father are from Umbria, one from Spoleto and the other one from Vallo di Nera, so, she offers cold cuts, truffles sauces and other delicacies of the area to the many tourists passing by the market.
Besides them, the main customers are ministerial employees (“who come running during lunch break”), but also a small group of older people still living in the center to whom Romina offers a stool to sit on while they shop or to whom she brings the shopping bag home because they cannot carry weights. Over the years these older people I've known since I was a child are progressively failing and this kind of clientele is not replaced. On the other hand, the tourists who come from far away and who buy salami and cheese to take back home are increasing. Between January and February for example there is an invasion of Russians who come to Italy looking for a better climate and, besides warm temperatures, also find some Italian specialties”.
“The first time I went to Viminale market I was a few months old, it was very hot and I was a little tired. But I was curious to see fruits and vegetables. At the time, I still used to eat apple or pear baby food, together with other mush prepared by Mummy…
So, although my eyes were almost closing, I was looking around to see, on top of fruits and vegetables, all the bags, clothes, scarves, cheese and cold cuts. But then I got sick of it and started to cry, so Mummy started walking up and down Cesare Balbo road, which is actually a leaning road, made of small stones called sanpietrini and I fell asleep. But when I woke up I still saw a stall full of make-up with a sign “At Singh’s everything at 3 euros”.
Just around the corner
ust a few steps from Cesare Balbo road, there is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, a ‘must’ of any Roman pilgrimage. Pope Francesco knows it well, as he chose this church for his first visit as pontiff , an early morning prayer early just a few hours after the white smoke that had consecrated him bishop of Rome. The chronicles told of how he prayed in the Pauline Chapel, where the ancient image of Maria Salus Populi Romani is honored, and in the Sistine Chapel, which houses the beautiful nativity scene carved by Arnolfo di Cambio. But we prefer to address our visitors to a monument that doesn’t really catch the eye, and it’s indeed difficult to find the first time. It’s under a step, on the right side of the main altar . It’s BERNINI’S TOMB. For once, the artist who has decorated the Eternal City with baroque splendor leaves us open-mouthed, not for his sculptural designs or architectural solutions , but for the absolute simplicity of his tomb, a sobriety which makes it almost anonymous. A slab of stone , and the inscription “Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, glory of the arts and the city, here humbly rests”. A humility that even Pope Francesco might have appreciated.
And, being aficionado to this basilica, the pope coming from “the other side of the world” certainly knows the story of the probably most curious monument of Santa Maria Maggiore: NIGRITA’S BUST. It’s a sculpture made of black stone on the cast of the death mask of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Congo Antonio Emanuele Ne Vunda. His story actually deserves to be told: in 1604 the king of Congo Alvaro II decided to send a diplomat of his personal confidence to the Vatican to ask the Pope to send missionaries to his land, bypassing the mediation of Portugal, which until that moment, by exercising his spiritual protection on the kingdom, had sent “evangelizers” more devoted to slave trade than to spread God's word. So, Antonio Emanuele Ne Vunda, cousin of the king, was the one to be chosen. But his mission soon turned into an odyssey. On the way to Europe he was attacked by Dutch pirates, who stole all the gifts for the Pope. When he finally reached Spain, only four of his 26 fellow adventurers were left alive. With this modest suite, in October of 1607 he left towards Rome, but he became very ill during the journey. So, when on January 3, 1608 Vunda reached the Eternal City, Pope Paul V – who was preparing to welcome him with all the honors reserved to princes and emperors – met a man exhausted and debilitated by fevers. He ordered to host him in one of the most beautiful rooms in the Apostolic Palace, made him available his personal physicians and even paid him a visit while he was sick in bed, a scene which is still immortalized in a fresco in the corridor leading to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican. But the pontiff’s attentions were not enough: on January 6, Epiphany, “Nigrita” died. Paul V decided to bury him in Santa Maria Maggiore, where you can still admire the black marble commissioned by the Pope himself to the sculptor Francesco Caporale. Last note: according to some historians, the real purpose of Ne Vunda’s mission was to ask the Pope’s support to end the slave trade. One more reason to pay homage to this noble and unfortunate character.
Leaving Santa Maria Maggiore, crossing Esquilino square, you can reach the OPERA THEATRE, today home to the conductor Riccardo Muti, who has been appointed honorary director for life. Also known as Teatro Costanzi – name of its creator and first manager – it was opened in 1880 with the “Semiramide” by Rossini. In the horseshoe shaped room, at the end of '800 resounded for the first time the music of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “L'amico Fritz” by Mascagni, but perhaps the most famous première was on 14 January 14, the “Tosca” by Puccini. The chronicles tell of an evening not without tension, with the conductor stopping the play because of the late arrival of some members of the audience. But the real tension was actually behind the scenes, and it was not only the anxiety that normally accompanies each debut: just before getting on the podium, the director had been informed by some police officers that a bomb could have exploded during the performance.
Whether it was by music lovers belonging to a group hostile to Puccini (in those years of tough music rivalry, often the fans of other composers would boycott rivals with quite extreme actions) or by anarchists (among others attending the play, there were the Chairman of the Board Pelloux and Queen Margherita), the threat was considered credible. Due to all of the above, the performance was not truly unforgettable, as the newspapers pointed out the day after. However, at the end, the public gave recognition to Puccini and his interpreters with seven calls and more than twenty replicas which were sold out, handing the “Tosca” at the place it deserves in the history of music. The visitors who pass today in the square named after the great tenor Beniamino Gigli will not find themselves in front of the neo-Renaissance style that welcomed the audience in '900 . The current appearance of the theater was designed by architect Marcello Piacentini , who was in charge of the renewal of the the “old” Costanzi in 1926 and then a second time exactly thirty years later. It was Piacentini to put up the breathtaking chandelier of Murano glass still showing off in the theater : apparently the largest in the world of its kind . Unfortunately, the door keepers will not allow you to take a look at any hour of the day: if you want to see it, you'll have to put on a nice dress or suit and buy a ticket for a show. But, you'll see , it's worth it .
|Where||via Cesare Balbo|
|OPEN||Monday – Saturday, h 7:00-14:00|
not easy (limited traffic zone)
|BUS||FROM largo Argentina, 40|
Line A, stop Repubblica Line B, stop Termini