The sweet life in Testaccio

This morning I walked down to the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome, which is south-east of the centro storico where I live. It is just across the Tiber River from the trendy Trastevere neighborhood and about a half-hour walk from the centrally located campo de’ fiori. Testaccio has a history similar to the Meatpacking district in New York City. It was originally a working-class district where all the mattatoi (slaughterhouses) were located (and have since closed down). Testaccio is now a gentrifying area with a dense cluster of nightclubs which are changing the population of Testaccio from an older, working-class generation to one of young hipsters.

As you walk along the Tiber, you will notice that directly in front of a rather new bridge, called Ponte Palatino, there are the remains of an older bridge.  The older bridge was originally called Ponte Emilio (or Pons Aemilius in Ancient Rome), but is now called Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge) that dates back to the 3rd century BC.  The bridge was in use for hundreds of years, but was eventually rendered unusable after a huge flood in 1598 carried away half of the structure.

Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge)

Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge)


A great reason for a morning walk along the Tiber is to check out the Testaccio Market, which sells everything from shoes to housewares to books to fish.

At one stall, you can find a couple of guys selling books and old CDs/DVDs from the 1990s for €3 each from the back of a van. During my morning visit, I managed to snag a hardcover copy of Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale (Sorceror’s Stone) for less than $5US! In the Italian translation, some of the characters’ names have been changed to more aptly describe their character in Italian. For example: Snape has been changed to Piton (python) in order to convey his snake-like qualities.

Mastroianni of today

Mastroianni of today

Aside from the literary gems hidden among the rubble, another reason to visit the market is to meet the cousin of Marcello Mastroianni, the Cary Grant of Italian cinema (you can see him in many famous films that include La Dolce Vita and Divorce, Italian Style). Despite his famous relative (he’s got pictures and tales to prove it), this Mastroianni wakes every morning before dawn to bring his fresh pesce (fish) from the waters of the Mediterranean to the market. And retiring? Fuhgeddaboutit-he is over 80 years old and still makes it to work before most of us are awake.

After wandering around the perimeter of the market, exploring the various stalls selling shoes, handbags, and various household supplies, I reached the produce stalls in the center.


Vegetables from the market

There, tables are piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, grown locally at prices that will make your wallet smile. While tourists flock to the famous outdoor market in the campo de’ fiori, the market in Testaccio is a haven for all the Italian casalinghe (housewives).

Market Stall

Testaccio Market vendor

Testaccio Market really is a piece of Rome that has not yet given way to the burgeoning tourist industry. Testaccio, open every day except Sunday until about 1pm, is just far enough of the center to avoid becoming a tourist trap, yet close enough to the heart of Rome to warrant a pleasant morning stroll. The products at the market are almost exclusively from the Lazio region of Italy. The seafood is so fresh, some of it is still wriggling. While I had already done my grocery shopping for the week, I couldn’t resist a sack of delicious-looking pesche (peaches) and grabbed €1.50 worth (about 4). So as I meandered back to my neighborhood, I quenched my thirst from the brutal heat (which by then had reached over 95 Fahrenheit) with the juice of a fresh-off-the-tree peach. It really is la dolce vita.

Additional Resources:

Testaccio Market
Piazza Testaccio, 00153 Rome, Italy
Phone:  06 5740158

About the Author:




Sara Hefny hails from the wonderfully overcast city of Seattle, where she studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Washington. She currently lives in Rome, Italy and is researching the developments in European Union migration policy following the recent influx of North African refugees. When she is not researching or writing, her time is spent appreciating Italian cuisine and wandering the Eternal City with a gelato in hand. You can read more about her adventures in Rome .

If you enjoyed this article by Sara, check out:  Beat the heat – beach getaways right outside Rome