Among the unique and historical areas of Rome Testaccio is one of the districts slightly underestimated by the first-time visitors and greatly appreciated by those who are already familiar with the City of Seven Hills.
First-time visitors always seek for timeless and 100% proven masterpieces, which are praised all around the globe. They certainly can’t miss on the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Vatican City State and other significant sights of the Eternal City. However, after they have done their pleasant duty, all of them look forward to enjoying the city itself, to chill out on the typical relaxing verandas, to taste the food in real restaurants meant for locals, to see the city’s nightlife and become those laid-back Italians at least for some time. And here is the district number XX that can provide you with all that - a charming district, called Testaccio.
So, here is Testaccio, authentic and rich in different eateries, full of local Romans and great nightlife vibes with not a bad location at all! It is situated on the Eastern bank of the Tiber river 2 km far from the Colosseum with the metro station Piramide (Linea B). This district is that part of the city that has much in common with Trastevere at first sight. However, unlike Trastevere, Testaccio is less crowded and less expensive. Good news, right? What’s more, it underwent the program of gentrification, which changed its reputation from the one that belonged to the modest working-class district to a vibrant and young area with great top-notch restaurants, bars and clubs.
On top of that, Rome never forgets its roots and, as we all know, they all lie in antiquity, meaning that you still have a couple of historical sights to visit in Testaccio as well. So, are you up for expanding your gastronomic senses in the realm of traditional Italian cuisine? Are you ready to see more historical landmarks during the day and have amazing nights out? If you nod yes, then Testaccio is looking forward to showing you another side of Rome.
Being the biggest city of the ancient world with a population around one million people Rome was the biggest market for oil, which during the ancient period was shipped in amphorae.
The olive oil arrived mainly from the following parts of the world: modern Spain, Libya and Tunisia. These countries provided oil of three different types and came in amphorae of different sizes. The biggest ones came from modern Spain - called back then Baetica - and contained up to 70 litres of oil. Libya and Tunisia provided oil in other types of pottery smaller in shape. What’s interesting, all of those heavy amphorae were not reusable. For Ancient Romans it was easier to make new vessels instead of cleaning them. The latter was too complicated and the bits of the previous oil could cause rancid in the new product, so everything was just thrown away. The used vessels were transported to Testaccio, cracked and stacked together until with time they formed a massive artificial hill 700 metres in perimeter and 50 meters in height. Again, this artificial hill was born in the Ancient Roman Empire period and is fully made from ceramics. Testae, meaning “crocks” gave us in fact the current name of the district Testaccio.
This hill still exists and is a great source for archaeological artifacts. It still gives archaeologists a chance to make new findings and recover new relics. Thanks to the commercial inscriptions - tituli picti - made on the surface of every vessel arriving in Ancient Rome, archaeologists still gather a lot of historical information about Ancient Roman economy. Every year new excavations uncover new findings and provide archaeologists with food for thought.
The San Paolo Gates is a part of the Aurelian Wall. These gates in the Ancient Roman times were called the Gates of Ostiensis, because an important road from Rome to Ostia - Via Ostiense - started right here. Then the gates became associated with one of the four major papal churches Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls Basilica and got the current name.
The Via Ostiense Museum (museo della Via Ostiense) is located within the gatehouse of the San Paolo Gates.
This museum is free to admit, but hard to reach due its morning working hours. Many people start their sightseeing tours at the time when the museum is already closed, which is 13:30. The museum is quite tiny, but unique and is worth visiting. This museum tells a story about one of the most ancient structures in Rome - the Aurelian Wall, which has survived partly in different places of the city, but once it encircled all of the seven hills of Rome.
The museum is located comfortably near the metro station and has an amazing view on the famous Pyramid of Cestius and not less famous protestant cemetery.
One of the strangest things to find in Rome is the Pyramid of Cestius. Apparently, Ancient Romans had fashions, too. One must have noticed an abundance of ancient Roman obelisks in different parts of Rome. First, they were erected at the circus and forums and later on in history most of them were moved to the most famous piazzas, e.g. Piazza Navona, Piazza Spagna and St. Peter’s Piazza, all of them have an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the center. Thus, the Pyramid of Cestius is also part of this Egyptian phase in Ancient Roman culture.
An interesting thing is that this pyramid didn’t use to be the only one. There was also the Pyramid of Romulus, but that one was ruined completely, unlike the Pyramid of Cestius, that has survived the time and stayed in really great condition. The pyramid stands 37 meters high and 30 m wide. As a tomb it couldn’t stand in Rome, because it was forbidden, but the city grew with time and consequently the Pyramid of Cestius became part of new Rome (around the 3d century) and became adjacent to the Aurelian wall. The inclusion of the Pyramid to the Wall was probably the reason why it wasn’t ruined, the Aurelian Wall “protected” it.
So, at the core, the Pyramid of Cestius is a family tomb for the Cestius family members. The inside treasures, columns and statues as well as the tomb of Cestius were discovered in 1660 and now can be seen in the Musei Capitolini. Today the Pyramid of Cestius is the only pyramid in Rome, which is a remarkable scene to overview and which is definitely worth a visit.
In the middle of the buzz of traffic behind the Pyramid there is a very special place, which is filled with roses and pines and which is cut off from the whole world. It is a protestant cemetery of Rome, also called a non-Catholic cemetery for foreigners, since people of other confessions were buried here as well. The decision to open a cemetery here was taken in 1821 by Pope Pio VII and since then a lot of famous people died and were buried right here. Among them there are such great names as John Keat, Karl Briullov, Frances Minto Elliot, Percy Bysshe Shelley and many others.
As we know, the program of visiting Rome is drastically busy. However, when we want to go away from traditional Rome, we might choose a simple, yet unique district that still gives us historical landscape, nightlife entertainment, great food and cosy places to shelter in the heat of the summer. Testaccio is an amazing place to indulge yourself in great Italian cuisine and explore everything it has to offer. If you look for peculiar and special hidden spots, then choose Testaccio when you are in Rome and you won’t go wrong.