Across the river from the main city, Trastevere is Rome’s “left bank”. A slightly bohemian area of students and artisans, its old narrow streets packed with bars and restaurants. I’d never explored the district before, but on my recent trip to Rome I stayed in an apartment in Trastevere. It proved to be an excellent place to stay.
A Local Community
Despite being walking distance from the city centre and many of the main sights, Trastevere is an area where people live. It is full of tall apartment buildings, often with laundry fluttering outside the windows. And there are small shops and market stalls, where you can buy food and the necessities of everyday life.
This is a good area to explore on foot. It dates back to the Middle Ages, and you will spot lots of interesting architectural details. Look out for frescoes and paintings on the sides of houses, and the seemingly ubiquitous lion’s head door knockers. Occasionally you’ll see some very old stonework – fragments of Roman masonry built into a wall!
Churches, A Renaissance Villa… And Graffiti
Two things will strike you as you walk around Trastevere: the churches and the graffiti. There seems to be a church on every corner – not surprising when you consider that the area is home to almost 50 churches. Many of them are large and crammed with artworks, but two in particular are worth a visit. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is a 5th century basilica with a courtyard, mosaics and murals. And Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, some parts dating back to the 4th century. Its Byzantine style mosaics are particularly impressive.
Another place where you will see magnificent art is in the Villa Farnesina, a Renaissance house with frescoes, painted ceilings and a remarkable Perspective Room.
As for the graffiti, this seems to have been elevated to an art form, especially around the Piazza Trilussa, close to the University. Doors and walls are covered with brightly coloured patterns and drawings. Don’t miss the “street art” on the Via Benedetta, a sort of cross between graffiti and formal art. My favourite was the empty frame waiting for the viewer’s imagination to supply the picture.
Staying In Trastevere
We had an apartment on the Via di Santa Dorotea, close to the Ponte Sisto. It was a good base: from here we could walk across the river to the centre of Rome, or to a bus stop for travelling further afield. There were shops for provisions, and dozens of restaurants to choose from, all serving Roman specialities (not a pizza in sight!). We had particularly good meals at Osteria Pontesisto and La Scala di Trastevere.
Our visit was in December, when Trastevere was lively but not overcrowded. Judging by the number of restaurants, I can imagine that it might be packed with visitors in the summer months. But it was a great place to stay out of season.