September 12, 2013

A Guide to the Secrets of Rome’s Streets

When planning a tour of Rome, many of us focus on the monuments, galleries, and other Rome tourist attractions without sparing a second thought for the city’s streets. But they, too, are rich in heritage; behind their names lurk stories big and small.

Italy, like many countries, has a tradition of calling its streets, piazzas and bridges after famous sons (rarely daughters), including statesmen like Mazzini or Cavour, both instrumental in Italy’s unification. Others celebrate families, such as the wealthy Barberini clan (think of piazza Barberini, right next to via Veneto) which spawned a couple of popes and sponsored acres of architecture and art.

There are plenty which trace Italy’s linguistic evolution; take piazza Navona, a name which has Latin roots. Agone is the Latin word for amateur, which morphs into navona in modern Italian, referring to the amateur games that were held there. Others immortalize long lost ancient sites, like Campo di Marzio or Campo Boario. Many are self-explanatory, like Piazza del Colosseo; but next time you’re taking a tour of the Colosseum or exploring the Roman Forum, it’s perhaps worth remembering that Via dei Fori Imperiali has only existed for less than 100 years – it was built by Mussolini, and named by his unimaginative Fascist government.

Some of Rome’s streets evoke generations of anonymous tradesmen, with a few winding lanes in the historical center recalling the professions of the artisans that populated those zones; the hatters of Via dei Cappellari, or the trunk-makers of Via dei Baullari. Neither is far from the well-known Campo dei Fiori, whose name originated in the Middle Ages when the area was still a meadow (and actually has nothing to do with the bustling flower market found there today).

In the Testaccio area, the streets aim to inspire a little civic pride. There’s Via Galvani, for the Italian physicist and engineer, whose name gives us the English word galvanize; Via Alessandro Volta, named after Mr. Volt himself, who invented the battery in the 1800s. But there are also roads like Via Giovanni Battista Bodoni, called after a lesser known pioneer of printing, or Via Nicola Zabaglia, a man who became famous for the type of scaffolding he created in the 1800s, a big deal in a city that was aspiring upwards, generating churches and monuments for a wealthy and dynamic Rome which aimed collectively for the skies.

So spare a thought for the artisan who thought small; the forgotten hat-maker; the inventor of fonts, or a humble builder whose scaffolding solutions helped the city grow great. Rome hasn’t forgotten that genius lies in the detail, and as it happens, neither will we.  Take a walk with Roma Experience through the winding streets of Rome’s city center on our exclusive Heart of Rome tour.