Testaccio is one of Rome’s most interesting neighborhoods. You probably won’t find it in many guidebooks of the city, and it is definitely not known for its beauty. And that is exactly why I would recommend that JCU students check it out!
Head down Viale di Trastevere on foot, by tram, or by bus and you’ll get to this unique neighborhood in about 15-30 minutes. Once you hit the Porta Portese city gate, just cross the river and you will find yourself in the center of what was ancient Rome’s trade and commerce hub. Testaccio is a perfect example of gentrification within a working-class neighborhood. In ancient times, the neighborhood was right next to the Tiber River port, where traders came daily from other parts of the Roman Empire to deliver olive oil stored in clay pots. When the clay pots were no longer needed, workers would throw the broken pieces into a pile. Over a few hundred years, this pile grew into a sort of hill and became known as “Monte Testaccio.” Today, this “hill” is home to modern night clubs, shops, and bars that have been carved into the hillside.
In the late 1800s, Testaccio became the home of Europe’s largest slaughterhouse, providing meat for the entire city. While the area’s purpose had changed, the gritty neighborhood was still the heart of Rome’s working class, and public housing for the slaughterhouse workers was built over a period of 20 years, starting in 1903. Because of this, many new jobs were created in the surrounding area, bringing in more butchers and tanners, not to mention the growing restaurant scene, even back then.
The meatpacking industry was moved out to the suburbs after World War II, and eventually the public housing became property of the Comune di Roma, with many apartments being rented to actors and artists. Later, it was taken over by Roma Tre University and transformed into the university’s architecture department. Today, the space also hosts art galleries, a music school, and a market.
What once was considered Rome’s dirtiest, most foul-smelling, low-class neighborhood has become one of the city’s most authentic and trendy neighborhoods, full of food festivals, up-and-coming markets, nightlife, and popular shops. Testaccio also prides itself on being Rome’s original “foodie” neighborhood.
Today, Testaccio is the most Roman neighborhood that Rome has ever seen! Take advantage of your long weekends and head on over one day to Trastevere’s next-door neighbor. Take a walk through this urban, gritty paradise, and get a feel for the city’s not-so-glamorous past. Try some of the most authentic (and delicious) food in the city, including Roman specialties stemming from the neighborhood’s slaughterhouse history.
Alexa Vujaklija (Shearer)
Class of 2015
Grew up in the United States, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria