A quiet respite from nearby Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo, Via Margutta has charmed everyone from Puccini to Fellini.
Via Margutta may be small, but its pedigree is big. Tucked between bustling Via del Babuino and tourist magnet the Spanish Steps, this quaint street has a story that began centuries ago. The origin of its name is contentious: some say it derives from the word marisgutta, or “sea drop,” a sarcastic reference to a sewer stream that spilled from the hill of the Pincii family’s villa in ancient times, while others believe its etymology can be traced back to Luigi Margutti, a daft village barber who endeared himself to the via’s locals.
In ancient times, Via Margutta housed a series of stables belonging to the city’s elite. During the Middle Ages, dozens of artisan workshops began opening their doors, hosting craftsmen who painted, cut marble, forged metal, and more, ushering in a burgeoning industry that saw the little cityscape undergo its own renaissance. During the centuries that followed, artisans from Germany, Flanders, and other parts of Italy ocked to Via Margutta, eventually constructing their own homes and workshops, aided by Pope Paul III who granted artists generous tax breaks. Gilders, restorers, frame-makers, carpenters, and marble dealers prospered. Rome’s rich, whose villas already lined neighboring Via del Babuino, embellished the street with courtyards and lush gardens.
In the 1800s, high-society events unfolded on Margutta, attracting musicians, poets, and writers like Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, Franz Liszt, Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni, Émile Zola, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Sibilla Aleramo, and later Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Elsa Morante, and Alberto Moravia. 20th-century artists Pablo Picasso, Franco Gentilini, Cesare Maccari, Charles Fazzini, Luigi Montanarini, Gino Severini, Renato Guttuso, Alberto Burri, and Mario Mafai all spent time on the street during their careers. Former residents include painter and actress Novella Parigini, whose studio was found at no. 53b; sculptor Umberto Mastroianni; Italian screen legend Anna Magnani; Italo Rossi Ciampolini, who sculpted the athletes in Mussolini’s Forum, now known as the Foro Italico; writers Milena Milani and Truman Capote; and, perhaps most significantly, Italian film director Federico Fellini, who lived with his wife Giulietta Masina at no. 110. A plaque with a carving of the two and a poem is placed at the apartment’s entrance in commemoration .
But what truly put Margutta on the map was the 1953 classic lm Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck as an eager American reporter and Audrey Hepburn as a runaway European royal hoping to see Rome incognito. Peck’s character, Joe Bradley, has an apartment on Via Margutta, 51, and it’s here that the two begin their love story. The romantic comedy raked in a trio of Oscars (including one for Hepburn as Best Actress) and catapulted the Eternal City to a number one vacation destination. Following the success of the film, real estate prices skyrocketed, making it impossible for many of Margutta’s original residents to stay. Today, Via Margutta serves as an oasis of calm amongst the frenzy of the city center. Draped in vines and ivy, with cobblestoned pathways and cheerful window boxes, the street defies its geography, recalling an airy village instead of Italy’s capital. Though not as plentiful as they used to be, art galleries and artisan workshops still thrive here, along with a flurry of boutiques. Stop by Bottega del Marmoraro, the studio of stone carver Sandro Fiorentini, who creates original pieces on marble plaques for reasonable prices (his works are dotted along the street). At Via Margutta, 9 is the workshop of Maurizio Grossi (mauriziogrossi.com), which sells lavish items like full-size statues and bas-reliefs, along with more reserved pieces like vases, bowls, and lamp and candle bases. Enigma, a luxury jewelry atelier helmed by Gianni Bulgari of the famous Bulgari family, boasts extravagant pieces with price tags to match. No. 54 is home to Valentina Moncada’s contemporary art gallery (valentinamoncada.com), open by appointment only. Moncada’s ancestors lived on Via Margutta in the 1800s, and even worked as artisans themselves. The space features works by everyone from Picasso to Yayoi Kusama. Other galleries include Monogramma Arte Contemporary (monogramma.it), and 6° Senso ( sestosensoartgallery.net )
Also on Margutta is leather line Saddlers Union (saddlersunion-shop.com), which has produced bespoke pieces since the late 1950s, once counting Jackie O’ as a client. Timeless bags, walets, belts, travel accessories, and briefcases for men and women can be bought on the spot or customized. If you’re more interested in sprucing up your home than your wardrobe, check out Flair. This vintage furniture store specializes in decor from the second half of the 20th century. Find them at Via Margutta, 55b.
The street also comprises a few top restaurants. Osteria Margutta (no. 82) has hosted legends like Fellini, Italo Calvino, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Their menu centers around creative Italian cuisine, true to their motto that “art is in the kitchen.” Babette (no. 1d) is a cozy bistro dishing out Italian and French-in- spired cuisine. In case of unseasonably warm weather, ask to be seated on the courtyard. The restaurant also serves as an art gallery.
A Font of Inspiration
Via Margutta has remained the neighborhood of creatives throughout the centuries, as illustrated in its Fountain of the Artists. Designed by Pietro Lombardi and completed in 1927, the marble fountain is crowned by a bucket of paintbrushes that rest on top of a pair of easels. Two theater masks sit on opposite sides, one happy, one sad, symbolizing the unpredictable fortunes that characterize an artistic career. Find it near Via Margutta, 54.