The Soul of the City

by Danilo Brunetti

Rome’s true essence is preserved in its picturesque piazzette. By F. Schiaffino

Rome may be famous for its places of worship, immortal monuments, ancient streets, and elegant palaces, but also for the magic of its alleyways that sometimes lead to grandiose piazzas, and other times to beautiful tiny ones—the piazzette of Rome. It’s here that you can discover the essence of everyday Roman life and taste the memory of times gone by in a city that, beyond its eternal splendors, lives and pulses in unison with its inhabitants. Today, as in the past, the life of the Romans transpires in the many hearts of this large city, rendered intimate and cozy by the myriad piazzette. As they are often rimmed with bars, restaurants, and bookstores, the piazzette are the hubs of Roman nightlife and the social life of the inhabitants mostly takes place around them. They are also filled with life during the day, for they usually play host to markets like the one in colorful Campo de’ Fiori. The piazzette have always hosted processions, parties, and shows, and still today they offer improvised concerts and original performances to the curious traveler, both by day and by night, with a magnificent fountain, a steep staircase, an elegant palace, or a suggestive church as a backdrop. Since there’s an abundance of these piazzette in Rome, it is impossible to name them all; but a select few are impossible to ignore.

Largo dei Librai (Square of the Booksellers) dates back to 1634 when a fire destroyed a small group of workshops and homes. A church, which belonged to the confraternity of the binders, printers, and book- sellers, survived. Since the surrounding area wasn’t rebuilt, there was space for the enlargement of the church and the creation of the square. Today the piazzetta is always bustling thanks to the adjacent Via dei Giubbonari (Street of the Jacket-makers), still today lined with small shops.

Piazza Margana offers a wave of serenity and silence, and its abundance of flowers and workshops gives it an aura of romanticism. Though the triangular piazzetta witnessed the presence of various noble families throughout its history, the one that left an indelible mark was the powerful Margani family. Near Campo de’ Fiori is Arco degli Acetari, one of Rome’s most picturesque hidden corners. Pass under an arch at Via del Pellegrino no. 19 to enter the small courtyard where the houses have quaint outdoor staircases leading to the upper floors.

You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a small village in the Italian countryside, with the big city light years away. Compared to nearby Piazza Navona, Piazza dei Massimi is an oasis of modesty and solemnity. Like an open history book, the painted walls of the buildings are on display for passers-by to admire and ponder. Entering Piazza dei Mercanti (Piazza of the Merchants) in Trastevere, it is difficult to believe that sea trade once took place here, at the nearby port of the Tiber River. The names of surrounding streets, such as Via del Porto and Via del Canale, are proof, however, of the piazza’s past vocation. Piazza della Quercia is named after the majestic oak tree that rises in its center, and has been home to the lavishly ornamented church of Santa Maria della Quercia for about 1000 years. In the 1930s, demolitions took place and the church and piazzetta were incorporated into a larger space that includes the adjacent Piazza Capodiferro. Another welcoming piazzetta is Piazza della Pace, a delightful square in a splendid position. Dominated by the church of Santa Maria della Pace, the piazzetta is one of the most frequented meeting places in the city thanks to its strategic position right beside Piazza Navona and next to another famous square, Piazza del Fico.