A Guide to the Trastevere Neighborhood in Rome

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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When going to Rome for a holiday, most travellers head straight to the ancient ruins and other tourist hubs. While Rome might be famous for its stunning architecture, such as the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, there’s definitely more to this vibrant city. If you look beyond its tourist hubs, you’ll find charming neighborhoods brimming with history and culture. 

One of the most charming neighborhoods in Rome is the Trastevere; a funky, bohemian area located on the opposite bank of the River Tiber, just south of the Vatican. Originally known for being home to nonconformists and rebels, sailors, soldiers, and formerly enslaved people have called Trastevere their home during ancient Rome. Nowadays, it’s now one of the most charming neighborhoods in the city.

When you explore the Trastevere district these days, you’ll find the city’s best bars and nightlife. It’s a popular hub for the younger crowds, both locals and tourists, especially students looking to unwind after a long day of studying. If you’re thinking of exploring this area, here’s a guide to the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome.

History of Trastevere

Trastevere is a neighborhood rich in history, as evident in the various historical attractions in the area. It was captured by the Romans around 753 BC to gain control of the waterway on both sides of the Tiber River. Since it was solely a strategic move, the Romans were not interested in developing that side of the river, so Trastevere was left to flourish by its own means.

Eventually, fishermen started settling in the area along with immigrants from the East. Since the Romans mostly ignored the outpost, residents of Trastevere have managed to develop their own culture, which is what makes it different from the other parts of Rome. 

With its beautiful, narrow, winding streets and diverse nightlife, not to mention the archaeological gems, Trastevere has become a favourite dwelling place for artists, expats, and international students. It’s also famous for its nightlife and is a great place to grab a beer at one of its many clubs and socialise with expats and locals. 

Where to Go in Trastevere

Trastevere is a beautiful neighborhood in Rome, home to several interesting sights and attractions. Here are some of the best. 

Museo di Roma

Given Rome’s abundant history, it’s difficult to walk along its streets without coming across some historical landmarks, and the Trastevere neighborhood is no exception. You’ll discover the rich history of Trastevere in every corner of the area, from its centuries-old churches to fascinating museums like the Museo di Roma.

The Museo di Roma in Trastevere features Roman Arts collected from the 18th Century to the first half of the 20th Century. Its permanent collection includes the works of Ettore Roesler Franz, one of Rome’s great chroniclers. He is famous for his series of Vanishing Rome watercolours that document the changing of the city in the late 1800s. 

You will also find a collection of temporary exhibits in the museum, including videos, photos, reportage, and more.

Basilica of Santa Maria

The Basilica of Santa Maria is believed to be the first place of Christian worship in Rome. According to some historical accounts, this church was built by Pope Callistus I in the 3rd Century and finished in 340 by Saint Julius I. It has recently been restored and was given new life with the addition of 12th-century Pietro Cavallini mosaics, including marbles and frescoes of more recent vintage. 

The interior of the basilica has three naves divided by 22 ancient granite columns in varying sizes, all bearing the Ionic and Corinthian capitals. It also features a 16th-century octagonal gold ceiling, which houses the paintings of the famous Italian painter Domenichino, including the L’Assunzione Della Vergine. 

The Basilica of Santa Maria is open to visit daily, from 7:30 AM to 9 PM. However, visitors are not allowed inside to look around during mass.

Church of Santa Cecilia

The Church of Santa Cecilia, also known as La Chiesa di Santa Cecilia, is a 5th Century church honouring the martyred patron saint of music, Santa Cecilia, who was martyred around 230 AD. According to history, she was guilty of having tried to convert her husband and brother and was tortured for three days in a caldarium in the church’s basement. Pope Urban I, who witnessed the torture and buried her body, consecrated the house and transformed it into a church. 

In 1599, Santa Cecilia’s body was exhumed and sculpted into a strikingly naturalistic pose. It’s one of the famous marble masterworks of Stefano Maderno called “Santa Cecilia” and is kept in the church in a glass case. 

Another well-known work of art that you will find in the church is part of Pietro Cavallini’s Giudizio Universale fresco from 1300, with one surviving segment occupying the church’s west wall.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is one of the historical sights you could encounter as you stroll the Trastevere district. It’s a beautiful mansion built around 1505 to 1511 and is one of the most majestic buildings from Rome’s Renaissance Period. Built under the orders of a banker who hails from Siena, the mansion was named after its subsequent owner, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.

Villa Farnesina consists of a central block with two small wings and two floors. The villa’s interiors are richly decorated with frescoes done by some of Rome’s famous artists, including Peruzzi, Sebastiano del Piombo, and Raphael. 

On the first floor of the mansion, you will find stunning frescoes of the Sala di Galatea, one of the most important works of the famous Raphael. As you marvel at the ceiling, you’ll find astrological paintings that feature the position of the stars when the villa’s first owner, Chigi, was born.

What to Do in Trastevere

If you’re wondering what to do in Trastevere, check these suggestions out. 

Stroll Down the Via Della Lungaretta

One of the beautiful areas you will come across in Trastevere is the Via Della Lungaretta. This section of the neighborhood corresponds with the old street layout from the 2nd Century BC known as the “Via Aurelia Nova”. 

One of the best things to do in Trastevere is to stroll through this long-walled road, which has a long history of significant constructions, particularly along the walls at the section of Porta Settimiana. The walls of Via Della Lungaretta extend from the Aurelian walls, which served as a fortification for the smaller Trastevere district. 

Today, you can still find many Renaissance and modern marvels along Via Della Lungaretta, including the Palazzo Corsini, Porta Settimiana, Villa Della Farnesina, and the John Cabot University.

See the Art at Palazzo Corsini

For art lovers, the Palazzo Corsini is the best place for you to visit in the Trastevere district. Palazzo Corsini is a magnificent Baroque palace sitting quietly along Via Della Lungara, at the neighborhood’s edge. Since it’s a bit far from the centre of Trastevere, Palazzo Corsini doesn’t get a lot of traffic, which makes it even more interesting to visit. 

The palace is just across Rome’s botanical gardens, right beside Villa Farnesina. Aside from its magnificent facade and interiors, the palace is home to Galleria Corsini, which houses some of Italy’s ‘Arte Antica’ collections, most of which were donated by the Corsini family in 1800. 

The art gallery is small, yet it contains interesting collections, most of which are works by Italian artists from the 16th and 17th Centuries. One of the highlights of the palazzo is its beautiful library, which features row after row of well-bound volumes.

Enjoy the Quiet in the Orto Botanico

If you want to escape the bustling streets and head somewhere quiet, check out Orto Botanico, or the Botanical Garden of Rome, which is just across the Palazzo Corsini. It’s one of the largest botanical gardens, set in over 12 hectares of land along the lower slopes of Gianicolo Hill.

The garden was first laid out in 1883 and is managed by La Sapienza (Rome’s University). It’s a beautiful and serene park with sloping lands filled with palm trees, terraces of gravel paths, and beautiful waterfalls. 

These botanic gardens are home to more than 3,000 plant species and have a Japanese garden, greenhouses, and a wide variety of tropical species, including bonsai and orchids. Head along the pathway to the top of Gianicolo hill, where you will find a beautiful Baroque fountain and a Garibaldi monument, along with stunning views of the long and winding Tiber River.

Hop Over to Tiber Island

Isola Tiberina, or Tiber Island, lies along the southern end of the Tiber River. It’s a tiny island that’s only about 270 metres by 67 metres wide. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for its uniqueness. 

Like most of the Trastevere neighborhood, Tiber Island has a diverse and colourful history. The island is connected to the rest of Rome via two bridges, the Ponte Cestio and Ponte Fabricio.

Tiber Island has always had a strong link to the art of healing. During 293 BC, Rome got hit by a terrible plague. The Roman Senate consulted an ancient oracle, Sibyl, for help, who suggested building a temple in honour of the Greek God of healing and medicine, Aesculapius. 

When the delegation tasked to build the temple set off on a ship to the ancient Greek city of Epidaurus, they took a snake with them as good luck. However, the snake slithered off the ship and went to Tiber Island, which they took as a sign that Aesculapius would want his temple built on the island. The original temple was eventually destroyed, and the Basilica San Bartolomeo was built over it to honour the martyr Adalbert of Prague.

Despite being small, the island is well worth a visit. Sometimes, events and festivities are held there, such as the open-air Isola del Cinema, which takes place every summer. During this time, many restaurants and bars in Rome will put up temporary locations on the island, attracting quite a crowd of locals.

People Watch in the Piazza Trilussa

Piazza Trilussa is located at the heart of the Trastevere neighborhood, between Lungotevere Raffaello Sanzio and Lungotevere Della Farnesina. The square was built in honour of the famous Roman satirical poet, Trilussa. 

Born in 1871, Trilussa was famous for his ironic poems slating corrupt politicians. Within the square, you will find a monument that honours Trilussa, one of the greatest poets in the history of Rome.

The Piazza Trilussa is a great place to observe locals as they go about their daily lives. In fact, it’s a popular meeting point for young locals and tourists, thanks to its welcoming and vibrant atmosphere. There are also great restaurants, clubs, and cafes nearby where you can enjoy a drink as you watch people passing by.

Summary

The Trastevere district is a beautiful neighborhood in Rome, home to centuries-old churches and other significant Roman historical sights. So, if you have already explored all the famous places in Rome and want to venture off-the-beaten-path, head to Trastevere. 

Stroll through its winding streets and admire the ancient structures and monuments that you’ll come across along the way. Learn more about its fascinating history by visiting museums and art galleries. If you want to relax and enjoy some quiet, head to the botanical garden. Finally, end your day with a drink or two at one of the cafes near Piazza Trilussa.

If you’re planning a trip to Rome and want more advice on where to go and what to do in the city, get in touch with Italy4Real and speak to one of our team about our bespoke range of tours.

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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