Rome Stories and Tips

Centro Storico South: Campo di Fiore to the Tiber

The Torre Argentina - home to Rome's cats Photo, Rome, Italy

When does a market cease to be a market and become a tourist attraction? When does it cease to provide the day-to-day needs of the local populace and become another photo-opportunity for camera toting German/Japanese/Kiwi tourists. The answer I think is never. A good market still attracts locals and tourists and at the Campo di Fiore the two mix in an uneasy fashion. It is without doubt one of the most interesting sights in the Centro Storico and one which is still used by local residents. They come to buy their pasta, tomatoes and fresh vegetables and as to the tourists - they don't care. What is more important - the right tortellini or an idiot pointing a Leica camera at you? I think they have got their priorities right.

The Campo di Fiore (Field of Flowers) is in the southern part of the Centro Storico. From here to the Tiber is the famous Jewish ghetto - a region of apricot houses, switchback streets and zooming vespa's. There has been a market on this sight since the 14th century and it was in this area that Lucretia Borgia was born and Caravaggio murdered his opponent after being beaten at a game of tennis. Most famous though for the burnings of the inquisition including St Bruno who believed that philosophy was more important than Religion. The pope's wern't going to put up with that and he was burn't in the Campo. A statue marks the spot with the cowled St Bruno looking rather like 'The Emperor' in the Star Wars films.

To reach the Campo is rather tricky. The metro is a long way away - the nearest one is probably Colosseo or Barberini. The quickest approach is probably along Via Plebisito which heads west from Piazza Venezia. This Via runs all the way to the Tiber and is lined with souvenir stalls, gelatarias, theatres and fast-food emporiums. The best sight is undoubtedly the Torre Argentina (Towers of Silver)whose russet-red columns poke from the ground (see photo) and are covered in feral Roman cats (I've never seen so many cats in a city as there are in Rome). Along the southside of Via Plebiscito is Via Paradiso leading into the jewish ghetto. You know you are heading in the right direction for the Campo di Fiore when the smell of parmesan cheese hits your nostrils.

This is a traditional market par excellence. Terracotta shuttered buildings overlook a cobbled Campo covered in stalls and awnings (see photo). The atmosphere is worth lapping up - smelly fishmongers with buckets of whelks, rows of tomatoes, apples and fennel, strings of pasta hanging from stalls and earthy Roman characters shouting and hollering to drum up trade. The best time to come is early in the morning when everything is fresh and the locals do their shopping. By mid-day the market is packing up to go home and everybody is heading off for lunch. The only people left in the Campo by then are the tourists.

I most really recommend the tiny family restaurants around the edge. These cater for market traders and are so reasonably priced that they are a great place to have lunch. We bagged a tortellini, mineral water and desert for about 13,000 lira and it's fun to sit outside and watch the hubbub of the market. If you want to escape the crowds then head south and west out of the Campo to the Tiber. The streets around here are so narrow and full of shuttered overhanging houses. This was the jewish ghetto in Rome and has been for 2,000 years. Why so many jews in the home of the papacy? Because they were useful and the popes milked them for taxes.

You will eventually hit the banks of the Tiber. If there is ever a river in a capital city that has been forgotten about it is the Tiber. Not as vast and expansive as the Thames, Seine or the Danube when it flows through Budapest - the Tiber sort of creeps through the city. It is immensely beautiful with high stone banks, waterweeds and drooping cypresses. It does however make a lovely walk in the sunshine. And if you head south you will hit the Isola Tiberina (Tiber island)which is covered in apartment blocks, chapels, palms and mansions (see photo). In any other city this would be a major tourist attraction. But in Rome....

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