Trastevere is old, colourful and charming.
Get lost in the winding streets......
Trastevere is an area of Rome just across the Tiber River. It is becoming more popular with tourists, but as it does not contain any of the major sight-seeing thrills, it is still unspoiled by the crowds you find in the city. If you have been to Rome before and you like to wander the crooked charming streets of a medieval area, come to Trastevere!
It is easy to reach. If you come from Civitavecchia on the train, get off at the Trastevere stop, and walk north about 2 km. (1.25 miles), following the tram tracks - or take the tram or bus 780 and get off at the Belli stop. Or, from the train station, walk to the right until you come to the Tiber River. There is a lovely treed path all the way north by the river, especially pleasant on a hot day.
If you come into Rome with an 'on-your-own' excursion, you will likely be let off the bus on the street leading to the Vittorio Emanuele Monument - the street is called Via del Teatro di Marcello (map below). Instead of walking towards the huge white monument, walk away from it towards an ancient building that looks similar to the Colosseum. This was once the Roman Theater of Marcello, and now has apartments on the top floor. Just past the theater is a church, and turn right there. Ahead are trees by the river, and cross the street to the path by the river - and turn right. To your left you will see the island, and cross on a walking bridge.
This bridge is Ponte Fabricio, built in 62 B.C., Rome's oldest remaining bridge. On the downstream end of the island is the romantic ruin of the Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge), which dates back to 179 BC—and makes a great photo! Go down the steps to the lovely river embankment to see a relief of the intertwined-snakes symbol of Aesculapius, the great god of healing. In 291 BC, a temple to Aesculapius was erected on the island. A ship had been sent to Greece to get a statue of the god. As the ship sailed back up the Tiber, a great serpent was seen escaping from it and swimming to the island—a sign that a temple to Aesculapius should be built here.
The interior of the Basilica di San Bartolomeo all'Isola is very beautiful, and deserves a viewing. The interior of the church preserves fourteen ancient Roman columns that date from the earliest reconstruction of the basilica.
In the Roman era the entire island was covered in marble to make it look like a ship. You can still see a bit of the original marble and the medical snake symbol near the downstream end - this was the ship's prow. Today there is still a hospital on the island. You can walk around the island and admire the island's sites, and then continue to the south bank. The bridge to the south bank - Ponte Cestio - is also Roman and was built in 46 B.C.
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Once you cross the bridge to the south side of the river, you are in Trastevere. It is time to explore the interesting streets. Remember, the river is to the north and east, and there is a main street with tram tracks going north/south about 4 blocks west. The most interesting streets are generally within 3 or 4 blocks from the river. A street called Via della Lungaretta runs east/west from 1 block from the island bridge, across the tram tracks then about 4 blocks to a square called Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere. There are more neat places to explore from there. If you get into an area with wider streets you are too far from the river—retrace your steps!
Follow Via della Lungaretta west until you come to the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere (see the map below....). Here are restaurants and a place where people gather. The picture at the top of this page and the one below are the piazza.
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Trastevere is the perfect place to sit outdoors and eat a perfect Italian meal!
If you are hungry, here's a suggestion. Go to the corner of Piazza di Santa Maria where there is a farmecia with vines on it, go out of the square to the first corner and turn left. Go down this winding street for about a block and a half. La Renella Forno Antico is a bakery and pizza place. There are vines on the front so you may have to look for the name but you will smell it! The 150 year old oven is fuelled by hazelnut shells…..
To go back to the train station - walk east to the tram tracks and follow them south. To return to the excursion bus, from the piazza go down the street by the farmecia - Via della Lungaretta, and that will lead you close to the bridge to the island.