Three youngsters, three lifestyles, and three different ways of living the Rome experience.

Stefania, Tobias and Simone accompany us on a journey of discovery. Our itinerary takes us through the city, with interviews of the inhabitants, and photos of locations and people. We learn about Rome through its character, anecdotes and the more curious facets of the Eternal City.

The material was produced within the ambit of the Master course in “Comunicazione e Cultura del Viaggio” (communication and culture of the journey) organised in 2013 by the Centro Studi CTS and the Società Geografica Italiana, and was kindly made available to the Dipartimento Promozione del Turismo e della Moda.

For this special project, the Master course coordinators selected students Stefania Perrone, Simone Prezzolini and Tobias Marchetti, who took part in “in field” workshops in the city’s quarters (Garbatella, Ostiense, Aventino, Terme di Caracalla, Testaccio, Pigneto – San Lorenzo).


Our reporters tell us something of the unique, simple and even highly personal nature of the Garbatella district. Garbatella, or la Garbatella, is a “city within a city”. When we come to la Garbatella we leave the Rome we all know behind us. We enter a ‘garden city’, a residential quarter for workers (modelled on English precedents), planned during the fascist era. The architecture here is quite striking, and provides the backdrop for parks and fountains. Here, we find various cultural associations and clubs, as well as very colourful murals, and theatres dedicated to independent creative activities, such as the famous Palladium. But there is a great deal of old Rome here too. As we wander around the streets of la Garbatella, we will come to appreciate the lore of the place, its poetry, the stories of times long past. Take the Donna Carlotta fountain, for example. Thanks to its waters, the dreams of lovers, it is said, can come true…

GARBATELLA MON AMOUR - A world rediscovered - Stefania Perrone

Elvia and her family run a colourful fruit and vegetable market stall. Her happy singsong voice draws the trade in. The first thing she says to me is, “At la Garbatella people are happy”. Elvia e mercato“I was born here, and I’m glad of it too!” These are Elvia’s thoughts on the place where she was born and raised, and which she has never left.
The quarter was originally planned on the basis of an English model. The houses are low. The first houses date back to the 1920’s, as part of a London-style garden city settlement. During the years of fascism, the area had to absorb many who were evicted from the centre of Rome. What with the architect Sabbatini’s “alberghi suburbani” (suburban hotels) and other blocks built during the fascist era, the district is characterised by the severe style of certain façades, juxtaposed with other areas with quiet gardens and fountains. Combine these various elements and you’ll see why la Garbatella is a quarter renowned, first and foremost, for its architectural significance.Fontana di Carlotta
For many years it was just another suburban quarter of Rome. During the 1990s, the area was rediscovered by artists, film/theatre directors and intellectuals. It became a film location and a venue for cultural and political initiatives. The inhabitants were once unflatteringly labelled “borgatari”, vulgar dwellers of the outskirts. Now the other Romans envy them because they live in an absolutely unique residential quarter.

The place has so many faces. In the centre, we have the atmosphere of an old village. It is a place to enjoy getting lost in, and to be explored for its hidden corners, such as the fountain, fontanella di Carlotta, in Piazza Ricoldo Montecroce (at the foot of a flight of steps that reminds one of Trinità Dè Monti). The fontanella di Carlotta is also known as the lovers’ fountain (“Fontana Degli Innamorati”). It was once a dark corner where couples would meet. The face is of a dark woman with wavy hair. How can one pass by and not sip some water? When every sip is a lover’s wish come true!?

Polpette tipicheClose by, Marisa open the doors of the restaurant that bears her name, reputed one of the oldest and most traditional in this area. Before a dish of meatballs and another one loaded with rigatoni pasta and coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew), we listen to Alvaro Amici, a popular local figure. Roman folklore poetry holds no secrets for him. We learn of Alvaro Nuvoloni, the famous Italian boxer, and film directors and actors who came from this quarter or who live here now, such as Neri Marcorè and Valerio Mastrandrea.
Up one of the side streets we reach the square, Piazza Sapeto with its pavilion palaces (“palazzi padiglione”) by the architect Trotta, and the lower houses amid their greenery. Through the arches, we reach Piazza Benedetto Brin. Here − white, clearly visible, embedded in the wall of a building − is the first stone laid, at the start of construction work on Rome’s first working class housing estate.

Time passes slowly here. On this sunny day, the bright red and yellow of the houses is Archi palazzienhanced in its effect, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere. From here on we go to the pedestrianized part of via delle Sette Chiese, where we find a couple of small bars enlivening this peaceful area.

We take the slope down to the Palladium theatre. The Palladium theatre, with its six floors, is a well-known venue in Rome, appreciated for its independent creativeness. But there is more to the area than its theatre. La Garbatella’s political and social life is animated by cultural associations, clubs, political party headquarters and a squatted social centre with colourful murals dedicated to the themes of peace and justice worldwide.
If we continue along via Passino we reach the arches through which we enter the area with the English-style houses. We then reach piazza Giovanni da Triora, with its traditional restaurants and bars. Soon afterwards, we reach the very recently founded L’Ambretta and Teatro Ambra. As the people who work here claim, L’Ambretta and the Teatro Ambra are truly a “city in a city”. The space hosts a theatre, a restaurant-bar, a reading room and a hall for meetings. We are impressed by the enormous potentials of the place.
Andrea, in charge of food and beverage, tells us the area is made up of many communities and situations, leading to the formation of a multicultural movement, which this space serves as a hub for encounters among movements and also between movements and others. “The theatre came first, about ten years ago. Then there was an opening out to other forms of artistic expression, which was perfectly natural”.

This is something he is clearly very pleased about. “This is not a particularly good time, but we try”, he adds. This large venue exploits one of Italy’s most popular icons, the L'ambretta,Teatro AmbraLambretta scooter. We see the Lambretta in the trade mark and in the name of the theatre. With a contemporary feel, and outdoor tables, the place is ideal for an aperitif or a light supper. Inside, the lighting is subtle, but the colour scheme is quite distinctive. We see signposts and street artefacts tastefully arranged within the interior. L’Ambretta is where refinement and resourcefulness join hands.
All the quarters of Rome seem to be “a world apart”. Each has its own ways, inhabitants and propensities. Garbatella is all this. But here, other separate “worlds” can be discovered within. Even if your stay is a brief one, keep your eyes open. Explore, and enjoy the unique fragrances you shall discover here.

La Garbatella - Simone Prezzolini

a garbatella stemmaOpening his film, Caro Diario (Dear Diary), the film director and actor, Nanni Moretti, says, “What I like most is looking at the houses, looking at the quarters, and the quarter I like best, more than any other, is la Garbatella, and I wander around the workers’ housing estates”. Try it. Try wandering around la Garbatella and its streets, and you’ll soon see why Nanni Moretti loves the place. Indeed, la Garbatella is something like an oasis or reserve within the great fabric of the city of Rome. Here, Rome presents another face, where traditions flourish and where a genuinely Roman quality pervades even the tiniest moments of day-to-day life – a quality threatened where there are classic “tourist traps”. While ancient Rome is majestic in its bearing, la Garbatella is modest. Where ancient Rome saw senators donning their togas, la Garbatella’s workers don overalls, and commute. Here, we don’t have that imposing presence of history. The white marble of palatial structures and the tributes paid to the deeds of the Great are absent.

The beauty of la Garbatella lies in the detail, in simplicity and modesty. We find the a mercato garbessence of the place in a folk saying or belief, in the dialect and in a poem or ditty. We learn about our past from the old folks who speak the old “romanesco” dialect. Granny at the window, in her flowery dressing gown as she hangs the washing out to dry. La Garbatella’s treasure is its people and their unique spirit, preserved as lovingly as any great historical monument.
What of the folklore round here? Yes, it has its share of deities, cults and inner sanctums. Bars and card games (er baretto ‘na brisca e tressetti), the local parks, football, the lively, noisy, colourful local marketplace (where the cooks from the top catering establishments come to stock up). A noted local restaurant owner is sora Marisa, whose restaurant, called Marisa’s “scalini” (steps), is considered one of the top places for genuine Roman cuisine. A special feature of these restaurants or trattorie is their welcoming, intimate atmosphere, providing the ideal setting for a meal fit for a king (or queen). You’ll become part of the family. It’s like sitting at a family table!

An evening at la Garbatella
If you want to, nothing too fancy,
Enjoy the dishes of Rome, and drink to your heart’s content,
Just come to la Gabriella.
It is more like eating at home than eating out.
Here the finest songs ring out,
Guitars that harmonise hearts.
In addition, nobody is a pauper, and nobody is a great lord;
just happy folks together.
Tripe, pajata, abbacchio scottadito,
saltimbocca or a dish of beans,
tonnarello, and pasta. It’s all as you want it.
Yes, no tablecloth, no napkins,
on a table that’s just been cleaned,
but here you’ll eat better than at Parioli [a wealthy quarter of Rome].
Stefano Agostino

This cordial atmosphere is part of what la Garbatella is all about. It’s even the name of the place!

La Garbatella is short for Garbata Ostella. And “garbata ostella” means kind hostess. The a carlottastory runs that a magnificently beautiful woman once ran a tavern close to via delle Sette Chiese. She was well known to be an extremely kind, generous-spirited person always ready to help the pilgrims who came by. She is portrayed in a bas-relief work which can still be seen today, in piazza Geremia Bonomelli. Her smile, and expression make this portrait every bit as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa. Her breasts, bare but only just so, also symbolise the loving care of a mother. A woman nurturing and watching over the local population. Many people have debated the question of how la Garbatella got its name. Many more have posed the question, why exactly was she thought to be “kind”? The poet, Stefano Ambrosi, a native of la Garbatella, looks into this burning question…

The Garbatella, basically, was wealthy enough!
But let me explain how it went
In a couple of lines, let’s say, as they come.
A pretty face and a pleasant manner.
And, in a tavern, the more pleasant you are,
The more the wine shall flow.

So, she was easy-going and Miss Friendliness herself.
She had her tavern around here,
but not where the street got the name.
I say for people who might not understand;
between Ostiense and Sette Chiese, lower down,
with the district above.

Does the name come from her? There are others who say,
it was (a risky hypothesis),
a certain Monsignore, a certain Nicolài
who planted his vine using the “Aggarbata” method,
here in the area at the start of the nineteenth century.
It’s an idea that has attracted attention.

But it goes without saying, the name of the place didn’t become
CONCORDIA, as King Vittorio would have liked,
or REMURIA, which fascism preferred,
so it’s yet another mystery to be resolved.
But the idea remains, “GARBATELLA”:
a landlady as sweet and “garbata” (pleasing) as she was beautiful!

But who’s to believe the things people say?
If some folks reckoned
She may, let’s put it this way, have sold something else.
Who can swear to it? On their very life?
But if she was a whore,
she must have been good.
Stefano Ambrosi

Marisa and other hosts and hostesses have carried on the traditions of Garbatatella, where we shall always find a door open. And yet, there’s another woman who is remembered over the ages. This woman is donna Carlotta. We shall find her in piazza Ricoldo da Montecroce. From her lips flow waters that many believe are the “freshest in Rome”. The Garbata Ostella sold wine. Donna Carlotta dispenses her water free of charge. Legend has it that if lovers takes three sips of donna Carlotta’s water, they can wish three wishes. If their wishes are pure and authentic, the joy shall be granted to such lovers.

But the quartiere Garbatella is more than magnà e beve e tanta allegria (eating, drinking and fun for all). La Garbatella also means art, architecture (buildings, including religious works), archaeology, cultural events and parks and gardens. Sometimes, these attractions come together in one place. The older building lots, higher up were developed in about 1920 near piazza Benedetto Brin (Garbatella’s park, er pincetto de Garbatella). The houses are a ruddy rose colour. Surrounding them all are private gardens that remind one of seaside resorts. The planning owed much to early twentieth-century positivist thinking, which drew inspiration from the “garden cities” model and from Italy’s construction practices. It has to be recognised that these buildings embody a social ethic (rooted in Robert Owen’s Utopian vision of the world) which we may look back upon today with envy. Owen said that villages must be founded on the principle of a union between work and consumption, based on farming, and that we should all have shared and reciprocal interests.

The village was therefore granted to the manual labourers who had immigrated from the agro laziale (or countryside of Latium), who worked in the new industrial zone of Rome. The manner of construction of the homes made for smoother transition from country to town life, with all the chaos of a city such as Rome (a city transiting to the status of a metropolis). Here, we see civic sense at work. Not profit.

Only rarely has this model been emulated since then! Let us now leave the square around which la Garbatella orbits, There are now fewer single family housing units in their barocchetto (Baroque revival) style, with little balconies, ornamental bas-relief works and menacing gargoyles positioned on the corners of these buildings. Gradually, we see the rise of blocks of flats. Gradually, the fascist style takes over. The need arose to house the people evicted from the city centre as the result of a new urban plan.

This new policy is exemplified, architecturally speaking, by the “red, yellow and white” buildings (or “alberghi”) close to the square, piazza Eugenio Biffi. The greenery retreated before the advance of these large blocks. But the project did foresee large internal courtyards, which meant some of the greenery would survive. These courtyards were to become places in which the locals could gather and socialize. Dating back to the same period as these buildings is the Palladium, a cinema-cum-theatre complex.

a palladiumThe Palladium is now run by the Roma Tre university. The Ambra theatre has been recently renovated. Here, films are shown and cultural and theatrical events are organised. The premises also host an “enocibolibroteca” (winery-eatery-bookshop area), known as l’Ambretta. L’Ambretta is a vey attractive modern underground venue whose menu includes food and drink… including food for thought! La Garbatella also hosts cultural associations which organise events including concerts, evening entertainments, dancing, music and fun for all.
La Garbatella also has its sacred places and places of religious significance. The main churches are the Church of SS. Isidoro ed Eurosia, located in via delle Sette Chiese. The locals call the place “Chiesoletta”. Then we have the neighbouring Church of S. Filippo Neri, the Church of S. Francesco Saverio in piazza Damiano Sauli, and the Church of Santa Galla on the Circonvallazione Ostiense (Ostiense ring road). Ancient burial grounds are also to be found here, such as the Catacombs of Commodilla, and the nearby catacombs of S. Callisto and S. Sebastiano, as well as the memorial of the fosse Ardeatine, at the site of the famous nazi reprisal.

Nanni Moretti is not the only filmmaker who chose la Garbatella as a location. We must also remember De Sica. Big names in Italy’s film scene, Alberto Sordi, Maurizio Arena, Proietti and Montesano, come from here. The quarter also provided inspiration for the works of men of letters such as Primo Levi and Pier Paolo Pasolini (many scenes of Pasolini’s novel, “Una Vita Pericolosa”, a dangerous life, were set in la Garbatella). Media fiction productions like “Caro Maestro” and “I Cesaroni” have also put the spotlight on this marvellous district of Rome.

La Garbatella was once considered a rough, tough and dangerous suburban district (or “borgata”). Not very long ago, people also deprecatingly called it “Garbante”. But it is now a ponteconsidered a special, lively corner of Rome where very many people would like to live. There is something of the past here, which people cling to. Which they are proud of. And it is feared that this uniqueness might one day disappear. But at present, la Garbatella is riding high on the crest of a wave. Let’s round off again with another ode by Stefano Ambrosi to this very special corner of Rome.
If you want to know

If you want to know, I live here and here I was born.
My mother gave birth to me,
at Garbatella, and time’s gone by,
wife, two daughters, I mean it’s been great.

Granddad at the “Three Cats” tavern,
the cards in his hand and the glasses full;
and you can tell the other’s hand by looking at his face and the way it jerks.
Wine among friends, and for me a Chinotto Neri [a soft drink].

I remember the beatings I received at the Battisti school
from the teachers who raised their hands
because, to educate the ‘plebs’, you
must be strict if they’re to learn anything at all.

Then, after school, there was chestnut cake
and liquorice in bags
The rules for us were a drag,
gone when some pleasure came by.The first clumsy kiss, there in the gardens,

two skinny kids on their feet.
Our lips meet, like knives,
my tongue stabs Oriana’s.

The football matches at the Brin park with the dust
on the pine roots on the ground.
Now there’s the local fountain,
and the Parco Arena gardens welcome other lovers.

Stefano Ambrosi 

Rossa Romantica Rome - Tobias Marchetti

Memories, memories, how many memories
Memories of you, dear Garbatella 
Memories of my youth, the golden days.
Memories of when as a child still,

On the wall I sat, the wall of a garden.
and patiently I listened to what

The many old folks had to say. 
Memories of your rough old roads/bustling squares. 

Those mad challenges, battles, stones thrown. 
The football games where we all thought we were champions. 
Memories of those warm evenings/crowned with splendid serenades. 
What sweet, pleasing songs
Floated high up to the little balconies,
Where, behind a curtain,
bursting, maddened,
beat the loving heart of a young girl. 
Progress has changed you now.
Yes, you’re more beautiful.
But I’m just an old romantic soul, who shall nostalgically
Remember always
That dear, old, Garbatella.

 (Nicola Di Gennaro)

DSC01510It’s with poems like this, with dinners of tripe and an omelette with onions, the tiny bars in the squares, and the rowdy kids. It all floods back! Our memories of the quarters of Rome as they once were. As time strides on, decade after decade, la Garbatella has maintained some of its rustic, working class ways, and its life as a quarter (now apparently disappearing day after day). One of the most fascinating aspects is perhaps the architecture and town planning here. La Garbatella is a suburban district made up of low houses, parks and small multifamily units constructed in a sort of barocchetto (revived Baroque) style − but also with more than a hint of the “Garden Cities” plans of nineteenth-century England. Another striking feature of the place is its many squares (in the sense of a hub… where people meet).

La Garbatella was constructed to the city’s south. The nineteenth century drew to a close. The housing was for manual labourers. The location, close to the via Ostiense, was deliberate. The workers were to live in the vicinity of one of the most intensely industrialised areas of Rome.

Piazza Biffi is one of the gateways to the Garbatella quarter. Opposite is the local DSC01535marketplace. This is one of the most striking of Rome’s town planning works of the 1920s. Let’s move on to the heart of the quarter. After Parco Cavallo Pazzo we climb Via Adorno Gerolamo to the square, Largo G. Ansaldo. Here we find an old bakery. The sign here used to say “Pane” (bread). Now it says “Bakery & Coffee”. Mario Maurizi opened the bakery in 1944. His daughter now runs the place. It’s more than a bakery today. It also serves light meals, and there’s wine here too. The old rustic, working class look remains. The dishes are traditionally Roman. The atmosphere is homely and welcoming. And the price-quality ratio is excellent!

A few hundred yards away we find the Teatro Palladium. This theatre was built in 1927. After service as a pornographic cinema, it then opened its doors to entertainment, theatrical works and… other types of films. It is now used as a cultural space for DAMS university students (the dance, arts and performing arts degree course).

DSC01512Perhaps the most famous street in this quarter is via delle Sette Chiese, nearby. It was once on a pilgrimage circuit revived by Saint Philip Neri. The circuit took pilgrims around the city, with visits to Rome’s major churches. This street goes from Via Ostiense, before the Basilica of San Paolo, to the Catacombs of San Sebastiano.

Just a little further on, on via delle Sette Chiese, there’s a kiosk bar − very friendly. It’s been there for more than six decades. When it first opened it was only for dairy products − a latteria. The owner’s son tells us, “Yes, when my dad bought it, it was just a latteria. But it became a bar more or less forty years ago.”

My impression is that, here in la Garbatella, these bars, bakeries and groceries have all been handed down, father to son.

“Yes. Here, we all know each other. If something’s up, the news reaches us immediately. forse che si forse che noIt’s like a village here. See over there? That’s the oratory of San Filippo Neri. We were all raised there. My father, too, my granddad, everybody in the quarter. Then there’s the Church of Santi Isidoro e Eurosia. There’s a legend that says Isidoro and Eurosia were the saints of shepherds, that they protected them from storms and lightning, But nowadays there’s no one in the country any more, so the legend gets forgotten. Down there a bit there’s a great place if you want to eat; that’s why they call it ‘Tanto pè magnà’”.

“Along the other way, you’ll also eat well at Dar Moschino. It’s more for tourists. It’s in Piazza Brin. Lamb, tonnarelli (fresh spaghetti-like pasta) with cheese and pepper. It’s our local cooking, basically. You choose”, he said as he served coffee to a customer.

I asked him to tell me some famous proverb or a saying, or an anecdote from la Garbatella.

He smiled, “See. When I was a small boy and used to wander around the quarter all day, the old people used to say ‘Make sure you don’t go to the seven churches’. It meant don’t waste your time. Some people think it means don’t look for anyone who will listen to you. We all give it the meaning we want to, or reckon we know. I always thought it was funny.”

There are plenty of intriguing stories, anecdotes and life experiences worth the telling, here in this charming Roman suburb. But there’s more to la Garbatella than that. Many famous personalities, singers and actors come from la Garbatella. The place has also been used as a location for many art films, including scenes from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “ Una vita violenta” (Violent Life). The main character, Tommaso, a youngster, kills a rival, and he finds himself on a housing estate at la Garbatella.

Then, of course, we have Alvaro Amici and Enzo Staiola. Amici was a great Roman singer-songwriter whose “stornelli” (ditties) were very popular. Staiola was an actor, famous for his part in Vittorio de Sica’s film “Ladri di biciclette” (The Bicycle Thief, or Bicycle Thieves).

Nanni Moretti isn’t exactly from rouDSC01518nd here, but he talks about la Garbatella in his film, “Caro Diario” (Dear Diary). La Garbatella, Moretti says, is one of the most beautiful quarters of Rome. He loves the houses, He’d like to shoot a film about the houses. “It would be great to do a film just about houses. Pan shots of houses. Garbatella 1927!”

How right he is! The redness remains as the hours pass. The clouds float by. The morning is far behind. The sunset is on its way. The red changes constantly. Enchantingly.

There are other great personalities. They’re less famous, but they’re great artists, too. Nicola di Gennaro was a street poet. The sweetness of his verses fascinates. His poems take us straight to the heart of la Garbatella. The reader sees the streets, the life, the local inhabitants, the kids in the street cheerfully playing, the red of the streets and the architecture. He wrote of politicians and football players, too. All these things are part and parcel of his poetry. A simple man, as are his poems. But there’s a depth there, and a feeling of belongingness that binds the people to their quarter. The journal called “Cara Garbatella” (dear Garbatella) carries articles, photos and reviews aiming to celebrate the quarter and draw attention to its historical and cultural heritage.

The legend everyone has heard about is how the place got its name, Garbatella. Actually, the question hasn’t been definitively settled. Some say the reference is to a charitable woman who aided the most needy. Others say the woman was, less innocently, a landlady whose services were not limited to room and board. Some say her name was Carlotta (the name of the famous fountain). Whatever the answer, the place is worth visiting in its own right. The “garbata ostessa” (the kindly landlady), or the “bella garbatella” (the beautiful kindly landlady), it is said, was a very “generous” person!