The name derives from the Latin “trans Tiberim” (beyond the Tiber).
Ancient Rome was founded on seven hills located on the left bank of the Tiber. The right bank (trans Tiberim) belonged to the Etruscans and most likely to the town of Veius (today Isola Farnese). A famous episode of early Roman history makes reference to the defence of Rome which took place on the timber bridge which crossed the river (Ponte Sublicio). Only after the defeat of Veius and the expansion of the Roman rule to most of Central Italy did the right bank of the river become an area of stable Roman settlements. However only in 275 AD Trastevere was included by the emperor Aurelianus in the pomerium (the city border) of Rome and it was protected by walls. In the XVIIth century Pope Urban VIII redesigned the borders of Trastevere by building new walls which included in the rione most of the Janiculum hill.
Trastevere, the heart of Rome
The symbol of Rione Trastevere is a lion's head. In today's Rome the sense of belonging to a certain rione has since long disappeared: less than 5% of today's inhabitants of Rome live in the 14 historical rioni (quarters), but Trastevere is no doubt an exception. Its inhabitants believe to be "Romani de' Roma", true Romans and many associations try to keep alive old traditions including a yearly fair (La Festa de' Noantri). That's why many shops show the symbol of the rione.
While Rome entices with its extraordinary monuments, Trastevere, one of its many distinct neighborhoods, captures the traveler's heart, it's the perfect place to glimpse a bit of the old world while still enjoying the lifestyle of today's Romans. Often described as Bohemian, homes bedecked with flower boxes and clinging ivy intertwine with coffee bars, restaurants, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. Buildings in terracotta, maize, and wine cast a glow, like a daylong sunset. From the cobblestone streets to the overhanging laundry lines, senses are pleasantly awakened with every step.
Equidistance from the Coliseum and the Vatican, Trastevere is an ideal place to make a home base.
Start your visit at the outdoor mercato at Piazza San Cosimato, located one block from Via San Francesco a Ripa. Tented booths display a bountiful array of tantalizing fruits and vegetables. It's an opportunity to observe locals buying the freshest ingredients for the day's meals and then carrying it all home in their trailing, 2-wheeled shopping carts. Vendors open their stalls around 8:00 a.m. and close at 2:00 p.m.
The most popular gathering place in the area is Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Dating back to the 3rd century, the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere is the oldest in the city. Take note that there are no less than 80 other churches named for her in Rome. Visitors come to view the gleaming mosaics by Pietro Cavallini and then linger on the steps of the octagonal fountain to people watch and enjoy an aperitif or a coffe. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere could be called the piazza that never sleeps: street performers entertain crowds into the wee hours with music, fire juggling, acrobatics and comic skits.
Some neighborhoods in Rome can be intimidating after dark; Trastevere isn't one of them. Italians and foreigners pour in after hours to enjoy the many bars and restaurants. Even if you're Traveling alone, it's no big deal to wander around the well-lit streets and piazzas. At dusk, in adjacent Piazza Sant' Egidio, artisans and vendors set up tables to sell crafts, jewelry, candles and more. A former convent turned museum, Sant'Egidio's Museo del Folklore features exhibits portraying more recent Roman life. One example is a photo exhibit highlighting the era of "La Dolce Vita" and movie making in the 1950s. Incidentally, if in need of a little cinema therapy, the Pasquino theatre opposite the museum features English-language movies.
With a multitude of churches just steps apart, one can easily compare different influences. Aiming away from the Aurelian Wall and ambling up Via della Scala, visit Santa Maria della Scala for a rich taste of Baroque design. The simple facade gives no clue to the heavy ornamentation inside.
For a spectacular view of Rome, head up to Mount Janiculum ( Gianicolo ). You'll pass the church of San Pietro in Montorio, built on the site where Saint Peter is believed to have been crucified; also famous for its cloister and artwork including Bramante's "Tempietto."
A bit further up the hill is Fontana dell'Acqua Paola, a grandiose fountain dating to 1612. In fact in the early XVIIth century Trastevere got once again an ample supply of water; Pope Paul V reactivated an ancient Roman aqueduct. The fountain, built to celebrate this achievement , is the most imposing monument of Trastevere. Across from the fountain and next to the Spanish Embassy is a photo op not to be missed. Numerous domes dot the urban vista and on a clear day, you can observe the snow capped Colli Albani, the hills behind Rome. Other easy-to-spot points of interest are Palazzo Venezia and Castel Sant'Angelo.
With its multitude of must-see historical sites, Rome can be overwhelming. For a genuine look at how today's Romans live, you need to know Trastevere. It very well may be the highlight of your trip.