Life  |  Travel

Wandering Rome: Trastevere’s hidden corner

Posted on February 17, 2017

A couple of weekends ago, after waking up unusually late to find a heavy grey sky outside the bedroom window and a lunch appointment lurking just over an hour away, I pulled on a wooly sweater-dress (my winter uniform for any situation in which I want to be both cozy and reasonably pulled-together), grabbed my camera, and tucked an umbrella into my bag before heading out the door and across the bridge linking my neighbourhood with Trastevere for a quick photo walk.

I usually think of Trastevere as being split into two sections – the popular, touristy part that spreads out from Ponte Sisto and hums with activity day and night, and the much calmer section sliced off by the busy Viale Trastevere, full of quiet corners and whole streets where you can find yourself totally alone. But there’s a small third section of Trastevere, a section that seems almost forgotten, which is exactly why it makes for such a pleasant wander.

As an area, it’s actually a bit odd. Fronted by a row of rather stern-looking buildings encrusted with many, many years worth of grime and pollution from the snarl of traffic constantly making its way down the Lungotevere, and accessible by a long, sloping street – Via della Lungara – that seems devoid of personality and interest, it’s not the kind of neighbourhood that immediately invites exploration. There’s a restaurant or two on this street, a dull-looking bar with a dour-faced barista, and a couple of very dusty shops that appear to be untouched since the 1980s, at least – but the rough grid of streets radiating off of it are noticeably non-commercial. While there aren’t shops and restaurants, there is a rather high number of rusty gates, walls and closed-off courtyards, which is perhaps unsurprising considering that the area is also home to a prison; the rather notorious Regina Coeli.

I’m probably making this area sound unappealing. I certainly spent ages using Via della Lungara exclusively as a way to reach the lively part of Trastevere, ignoring everything before that point. But one day, feeling curious, I turned the corner, started wandering, and realized that this section of Trastevere has its own kind of charm – a rusty, worn, jagged kind of charm, one that lets you focus in on texture and quirks and those strange details that can end up getting too smoothed over in the more frequently-visited neighbourhoods. Here, there’s also a good deal of silence – fewer cars, fewer motorini buzzing by, nobody trying insistently to persuade you to step into a restaurant. You might hear someone shouting in rough Roman dialect though, or a flock of Rome’s resident acid-green parrots squawking from a nearby tree. And more than maybe any other area of the city, there’s a strong sensation that someone, most likely a little old lady, is watching from behind the curtains of an upper window somewhere.

This little section of Trastevere extends back to the base of the Gianicolo, the hill that looms over the neighbourhood, and there are a couple of streets that unexpectedly turn into staircases. My favourite is the imposing flight of stairs at the end of Via di Sant’Onofrio, draped with vines in the summer and carpeted with slippery red leaves in the fall, lined with the kind of perfectly worn walls, windows and doors that could inspire almost anyone to pull out their camera. If the entire area has a kind of undiscovered feeling to it, this is the point where you will feel it strongest – turn your back on the busy Lungotevere down below, and it’s not hard to feel like you’ve suddenly been transported to a small town somewhere.

This is one of the things that I love about Rome, and one of the things that makes for a great wander: That right in the centre of the city, a few minutes away from one of the most tourist-laden, guidebook-friendly neighbourhoods around, you can still find little pieces of authenticity, all rough around the edges – an area that’s fascinating precisely because it’s doing absolutely nothing to try to persuade you to come explore.

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Comments on this post

Abigail 17 February 2017 at 6:56 pm

I really love this post for so many reasons. Your photography is stunning and this part of Trastevere is so perfectly raw in such an otherwise touristy area–it’s one of my favorite things about Rome! Thanks for a great read and photo inspiration!

    Sara White 17 February 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this post, Abigail! I think there’s something about the area that makes me feel extra-inspired for photography… Maybe all those rough textures!

Lauren gay 18 February 2017 at 3:11 pm

Stunning photography. I love to wander off the beaten path in a city. You never know what you will stumble across.

Stephanie Fox 18 February 2017 at 3:16 pm

Stunning photos, they look so authentic. Love the idea of exploring such an untouched area!

Kat 18 February 2017 at 3:22 pm

great post! I cannot believe i was never in Rome (and have lived for 26 years in Slovenia before moving to Germany). It is on my bucket list for sooo long. And when i visit i will surely take my time to explore some of the less touristy places, love this post and your photos are great!

Megan | Red Around The World 18 February 2017 at 3:33 pm

I absolutely LOVE your pictures! This definitely makes me want to visit Rome and see all the neighborhoods and stuff.

Penny 18 February 2017 at 4:33 pm

Sometimes the best places are of the beaten path. Not everything is beautiful in everyone’s eyes. True beauty is all how the beholder views it.

Justine Cross 18 February 2017 at 4:40 pm

This is a fascinating post – I love seeing the other sides to places!
I must admit that my visit to Rome was purely touristy (sorry) but your article has made me want to look again and see the rust.
*starts hunting your site for more*…

Jen 18 February 2017 at 8:09 pm

I’m a fan of your photos! Loved your description here too. I’ll be in Trastevere for a week this summer, and you’ve gotten me even more excited about this opportunity to wander.

Monica @ Not a nomad blog 19 February 2017 at 5:27 pm

I really love these photos! It seems like you really capture a special side of this part of town. I haven’t been to Rome in a few years, but you’ve definitely inspired me to visit again and see these places ^_^

Athena 21 February 2017 at 8:58 am

I have to say your words and photos make me want to jump on the train to visit this area of Rome. I’ve been to there 4 or 5 times since moving to Naples, always doing the touristy thing. Would love to just wander and take photos for a couple of days.

Caroline @ The Travelling Sloth 25 February 2017 at 2:37 pm

Oh wow, your photos are absolutely stunning! I think you’ve captured the place beautifully.
I love getting lost in a city and just wandering their streets aimlessly, you always stumbled across really amazing gems and areas. I’ve never been to Rome (or Italy for that matter) but it definitely looks like a perfect place to just wander. I’m saving this for when I head to Rome :)
thanks for sharing!

Myk 29 March 2017 at 5:23 am

When I was working away in foreign cities I loved to spend the weekends just wandering, looking for interesting places. Your wonderful photos remind me of that time, so many years ago now.

Agness of Fit Travelling 12 June 2017 at 2:24 pm

This is a truly spectacular and breathtaking place! Thanks for bringing it closer!

Dana 24 September 2017 at 9:59 am

I absolutely loved reading your post. The photos are amazing and inspiring! I’m traveling to Rome next month and looking forward to exploring Trastevere! :)

Irina, the Rome emigree and a 8 July 2018 at 8:44 am

Sara, thank you for this. My heart bleeds for this Rome. It’s all mine. It was not a love from first sight initially when I was a passport-less immigrant in 1989 there. But it has grown into this heart-ache thing that never left me. Mine. Not wanting me. Mine, nevertheless.

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