Spring-y Saturday in Testaccio

In the past week or so Rome has apparently made the decision to skip right over Spring and jump directly in to Summer, and I'm not complaining. The temperatures here have been warm -- still pleasantly, not yet infernally so, that's reserved for August -- and the days have been jacket-free and sunshine-y. My seasonal set of freckles have reappeared, I've prepared my trusty summer dress collection, and I've gotten started with my first gelato of the season (chocolate + pistachio cone). 

I feel a little less inclined to spend so much of my weekends cooking and baking when summer arrives; as much as I love my kitchen, I'd rather not be inside when the weather is so nice. This past weekend I took a much needed break from blogging and spent my time out and about in my marvelous adopted city -- and so today, in exchange for a recipe, I've got a blog post about a Spring-y Saturday in my favorite neighborhood in the city, Testaccio. If you're visiting Rome any time soon, consider all of the below as recommendations during your stay here.

Ahh, Testaccio! Even though I'll always love the Prati neighborhood of Rome where I live, Testaccio is the zone where I probably spend most of my free time. It's a few minutes walk from where I work, the area where some of my favorite restaurants are located (Flavio a ve l'avevo detto! Nuovo Mondo! Da Bucatino!) and where most of my socializing happens. It's a neighborhood with an incredibly rich history, too. In the times of the ancient Romans, much of the trade done via the Tiber River happened in Testaccio, and the remains of the clay vessels that contained much of the goods being traded -- known as amphorae -- were, back in the day, recycled in a certain sense, broken down and artfully stacked to construct the artificial hill known as Monte Testaccio (after all, it wouldn't have made sense to occupy space on a ship with empty vessels, especially ones that had contained olive oil, for example, and would soon be rancid). Not surprisingly, the hill is therefore a source archaeological evidence as to the every day life of the ancient Romans; below, you can see a photo of the outside of the hill below. Right smack in the middle of a busy intersection, you'll also find the Pyramid of Cestius, or an Egyptian-inspired pyramid was built between 18 and 12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius (see photo above!) Right beside it you'll find Porta San Paolo, or one of the gates constructed within the 3rd century Aurelian Walls; there is a (free) museum housed within the gatehouse that teaches you all about Via Ostiense, the road that left Rome through Porta San Paolo and connected the city to the important sea port of Ostia Antica in ancient times. Ancient Rome aside, Testaccio went on to become one of Rome’s traditional working class neighborhoods, but over time has been revamped, reinvented, and transformed in to a neighborhood with a sort of hipster vibe, and a genuinely cool place to spend your time (in the past few years I've also noticed more and more tourists here -- the secret's out). 

But let's talk about modern day Testaccio! My favorite place in the whole neighborhood -- and most certainly one of my very favorite places in the whole city -- is the Mercato Testaccio, or a market packed with stands selling fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses, and baked goods, not to mention a bar selling coffee and pastries and still others selling food; if you happen to stop by, I highly recommend Mordi e Vai, which sells some of the best sandwiches you'll ever eat (I have mentioned them on this blog before) and Le Mani in Pasta, or a little corner of the market that sells fresh pasta to go (the menu changes daily, but is all always consistently delicious). The market is open from Monday to Saturday from early in the morning until around 2:30 in the afternoon, but as of fairly recently stays open until late at night once or twice a month, as part of a new event called Testaccio Open Day, where all the usual vendors are open, and there's live music and even a dance floor. 

The non-Catholic cemetery (also known as the Protestant Cemetery or in Italian, the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma) is a very old cemetery (established in 1716) that, as the name suggests, contains the graves of not only Protestants but also many Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims, among other faiths. Now: it may seem strange to include a cemetery in my Spring-y Saturday off, but the non-Catholic cemetery isn't your usual cemetery; it is an incredibly peaceful, beautiful place, full of flowers, trees, and a serene silence that you don't generally find in the capital. It doesn't convey the expected air of sadness, but rather one of tranquility and calm, and its one of my favorite places in the whole neighborhood. The cemetery contains quite a bit of history, too; it is the final resting-place of the poets Shelley and Keats, as well as many painters, sculptors, authors, scholars, and diplomats (while wandering through I also found the grave of a man named Chester Holmes Aldrich, from my home state of Rhode Island -- photo below). If you look closely, you'll also notice narrow window-like spaces built into the walls of the cemetery; these go all the way back to ancient times, before the space was converted into a cemetery, and were used by archers who would protect the city from any potential attackers (photo below). Its built adjacent to the Pyramid of Cestius (see above) and right beside it you'll find a small park with a beautiful view of the pyramid, plus lots of green -- hard to come by in Rome, again -- and cemetery or not, it's a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon. Bonus: the cemetery is also a sanctuary for stray cats, who are very well taken care of by the cemetery administration.

Since I wasn't at home baking this weekend I got my dessert fix from Pasticceria Barberini, a mainstay of the Testaccio neighborhood, where you'll find some of the best pastries in the capital. We opted for a tiny lemon meringue tart, a mini strawberry and cream tart, and my personal favorite, a little tiramisu served in a chocolate cup. Bonus: Barberini also makes a mean cornetto -- Italy's answer to the French croissant, if you're not familiar -- and is a great place to get breakfast in the morning. If you find yourself in the Testaccio neighborhood, do yourself a favor and stop here!

Ahh, Tram Depot! Tram Depot is a tiny, outdoor bar in the heart of Testaccio; it is closed during the colder months of the year, and therefore its reopening signals the start of the Spring and Summer, sunny weather, and all things nice. It is located near the stops of a few main tram lines (hence its name) and is also adjacent to very green, shade-filled lawn, complete with benches, flowers, and trees (again, another rare patch of green haven in the city). The bar makes a mean Spritz and offers my favorite snack, taralli, as a (free) accompaniment, and at night the bar is decorated with lights that add a festive touch. Bonus: you can also get coffee and breakfast at Tram Depot in the morning, making this the perfect stop on my morning walk to work.

I'll be back soon with some recipes! In the meantime -- have a good start to the week everyone!


  1. Thanks! You’ve brought back great memories of my time spent there in December/January. Testaccio was where my paternal grandparents lived as children so I wanted to stay there and experience something of my family history. I loved its vibe and the huge array of fabulous restaurants. It was wonderful to spend time away from the tourist centres and meet the real Romans.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post Laura! Testaccio is a great place to stay if you're in Rome -- good choice!!

  2. What a fabulous post Francesca! It's at the top of The List for when we return to Rome. :) Baci!

    1. Aww thanks!! :) And yes it will have to be explored on the next trip!!