TWO MILLENIA OF HISTORY UNDER YOUR FEETS: THE AERCHEOLOGICAL AREA OF THE NEW MARKET OF TESTACCIO, COMMERCE IN THE PAST, COMMERCE IN THE PRESENT
The excavation of the Testaccio New Market, a four-sided area extended for one hectare, started from the street level (15 m ASL), and reached a depth of about 9 m, providing an uninterrupted stratigraphy from the Early Roman Imperial age until the Contemporary age. The Early Imperial period (Augustan age Flavian period; I century AD) in the North-East and then in the West part of the excavation brought to light a system of roofed rooms and open courts served by a network of service roads, which are peculiar for the building material used. All the “walls” of the structure are in fact made up of amphorae emptied and reused piling them on top of each other. At the present time, this system of rooms has been identified, in the North-East section, with a wide area of dumps for reused building material, mostly made up of amphorae and brick material; while in the West sector are rooms, probably warehouses, with well recognizable beaten earth floors. The following Middle Imperial period (age of Trajan age of Hadrian; end of the I century AD first half of the II century AD) in the West sector is characterized by the excavation of the building levels of a trapezoidal edifice, identified as a horreum, made up of rows of rectangular rooms facing a wide central porticoed square, partially effaced by the moderns streets via B. Franklin (West) and via A. Manunzio (North). Only the building levels of this warehouse are preserved. The horreum was, in fact, completely plundered in the antiquity (end of the III century AD beginning of the IV century AD) up to the thresholds of the ground floor. In the East portion of the excavation, were found the remains of the foundations of what was identified as a building with pillars and aisles, probably coeval with the horreum, and completely plundered as well in the antiquity. On the long eastern side of the huge horreum there is a walled up passage (corridor), whose function is still uncertain. The southern portion of the corridor wall, whose remains are there preserved, provides an example of the original walls of the Middle Imperial period building. It allows to date, together with some amphora burials found on it and in the corridor, the phases of the abandonment of the area between the end of the III and the V century AD.
The warehouses were connected to the Emporium. It was the river port of the ancient Rome, that rose approximately between the Aventine Hill and the Rione Testaccio.
Since the beginning of the 2nd century BC, the impetuous economic and demographic development had made the former river port in the Forum Boarium totally inadequate: moreover, it could not be enlarged due to its vicinity to the hills. Therefore in 193 BC the censors Lucius Aemilius Lepidus and Lucius Aemilius Paulus established to face the problem by building a new port within a free area on the border of the town, south of the Aventine Hill. On that occasion the Porticus Aemilia was also erected.
In 174 BC the Emporium was paved with stones and divided with walls and ladders descending to the Tiber. Here there was the docking place of the wares and raw materials (especially marbles, wheat, wine, oil); they reached the harbor of Ostia by sea and went up the river on barges pulled by buffaloes (towpath).
During the centuries, the fragments of the amphorae (then used as containers for the handling of liquid foods), were clumped until they created the still-existing hill of shards: the ancient name of Mons Testaceum (“Hill of Shards”) derived from it. The number of stacked-up amphorae is esteemed to be about 25 millions.
During the reign of Trajan, new opus mixtum structures were erected, while the plain of Testaccio was gradually filled with warehouses, especially for foodstuffs, with a huge hike when free distributions of wheat and other foodstuffs to citizens began to take place, starting from the age of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus (Horrea Sempronia, Galbana, Lolliana, Seiana, Aniciana).
The port was first excavated in 1868-1870, during the damming works, and then in 1952. Now there are few visible stretches, bricked in the wall of Lungotevere Testaccio: a quay 500 metres (1,600 ft) long and 90 metres (300 ft) deep, with steps and ramps toward the river, with bulging travertine blocks having holes for ships mooring, very similar – though not so well preserved – to the one in the Roman port of Aquileia. During the building of modern Testaccio quarter, severals remains of warehouses have come to light: among them, the tomb of the consul Servius Sulpicius Galba, one of the most ancient known individual sepulchres.
TESTACCIO IN THE MIDDLE AGE AND RENAISSANCE
With regard to the Middle Ages, the faint traces preserved suggest a sporadic use of the area examined, rather than a complete occupation of it. From the Renaissance, instead, the archaeological records clearly testify the agricultural use of the area and the rural landscape, which remained unchanged until the end of the XIX century, when Testaccio became a neighborhood, even if peripheral, of the capital city, Rome .The Renaissance phase of the excavation shows records of agricultural activities, namely parallel furrows, of the vicolo della Serpe, running North-South as shown in historical maps, and of the remains of a Renaissance farmhouse. The archaeobotanical analyses on soil samples show the presence of vines and orchards, with vegetables gardens, and of little wheat, a selection rather common in the so-called “Mediterranean diversified agriculture”.
WORKING CLASS IDENTITY
The contemporary phase of the excavation revealed the foundations of some public housing buildings known as “villinetti”, build from the Istituto Autonomo Case Popolari (today ATER) in the 1920s’, and demolished at the end of the 1960s’. They were the set of some late neorealist movies in the postwar years, and were much loved, as the whole neighborhood, by Pier Paolo Pasolini, who filmed there the final sequences of “Acetone”. Finally, the levels occupied by the sporting field of A.S. Testaccio were detected. During 2005 started the creation of a new indoor market, that have given the opportunity of realizing the archaeological intervention. After the Urban re-qualification intervention, in the area are hosting the indoor market, an underground parking, a multi-service center, an archaeological site and an exposition hall.
Buzzing with activity, chatter and delicious aromas, the market square has historically been at the center of city life. The Greek concept of agora – a term whose literal meaning is “gathering place” or “assembly” as the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city – later evolved to a place that also served as a marketplace where merchants sold their goods on stalls and small clustered shops. The agora marketplace brought people together to supply and provide sustenance for family and to foster communication, enhancing social interaction.
One of Rome’s best examples of this cultural evolution is the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio: a modern-day agora sitting on nearly two millenia of history.
In the 1st century much of the Tiber River trade took place in Testaccio, and the remains of the broken testae amphorae (clay vessels) stacked to create the artificial Monte dei Cocci hill in the heart of Testaccio, is the archeological evidence of the area’s ancient everyday Roman life. In the 1900s thanks to the building of the mattatoio (the city’s slaughterhouse from 1920s until it closed in 1975) – which employed many workers lodging in the developing housing “lotti” – Testaccio became a center of activity for butchers and one of Rome’s most traditional working class neighborhoods. Two decades ago, a process of gentrification changed Testaccio’s hard-at-work face to a more hipster one, shifting it from a raucus blue collar neighborhood to a swinging food and culture mecca.
THE TESTACCIO MARKET TODAY
ITALYS NEW TREND: FOOD ART
It comes to no surprise then that the Testaccio neighborhood market – which for several decades resided in the small square at the intersection of Via Bodoni, Via Manuzio, Via della Robbia and Via Mastro Giorgio, and relocated to its present address in 2012 – should become one of the neighborhood’s most striking and beloved attractions. Despite initial skepticism regarding the modern 5000-square meter structure designed by architect Marco Rietti, past and present come together in and among the sky-lit, pristine stalls, which Romans now greatly appreciate.
Fishmongers, butchers, produce sellers and other vendors occupy the 100 or so stalls that circle the central “piazza” complete with refurbished pellet seating and a cafe overlooking ancient Roman ruins of the original 1st century market found in the lower levels during construction. Favorite occupants that moved from the old location and the newly businesses are thriving and include the likes of butcher dynasty Sartor (box #61 and #70), while stall #94 is fishmonger Mastroianni (yes, related to the late actor), baker Da Artenio who also sells a few natural wines and the best bite-sized pizzas in the universe occupies box #90.
Great mixed juices and vegetarian smoothies can be enjoyed at Zoé at box #59, while retired butcher Sergio Esposito stuffs classic cucina romana recipes in sandwiches at box #15 Mordi e Vai. Fresh seasonal vegetables are sold with a smile at #82 Fiori di Zucca, and Silvia‘s fruit and produce stall #68 is one of our favorites. Michelin star-studded Chef Cristina Bowerman recently opened another Romeo space in the market at #30, and with it Cups at #44 which is a fun takeaway kitchen that sells tasty signature dishes served in portable gelato-like cups. There’s also a gluten free bakery In Cibo Veritas at number #57, a delightful old school deli run by the sweet couple Lina and Enzo at #89, and fresh pasta makers Le Mani in Pasta, which besides selling all kinds of fresh pasta also conveniently serves plates of freshly stretched and cooked pasta for a handful of Euros at box #58.
In the Testaccio neighborhood where the market is located there are also contemporary art museums, shops that sell sublime cured meats, balsamic vinegars, cold pressed olive oils and cheeses, plus baked goods, coffee bars, and pastry shops. Not to mention the fabulous restaurants that serve everything from quinto quarto to freshly caught fish!
TESTACCIO, THE LEGEND OF ITALIAN STREET ART
Rome is gorgeous and everybody knows it. What you might not know is that her beauty is not just about classical art, Renaissance and museums. Something new is happening around here. Art is coming out of galleries and frames, ready to spread into the streets and live among the people. Art is now made of everyday life tales to be told to everyone who wants to get carried away by them. The ancient and Eternal City, where time and the history of humanity has marked itself upon every corner of its walls, has now become one of the centers of contemporary and urban art.The town council itself has recently released a map of the best places to go and discover Rome’s Street art. It covers 13 districts and goes from the most central and historical ones, like Testaccio for example, to the most peripheral one.
Almost 150 streets have been painted, more than 330 artworks have been made through the years. Between January and February only, 40 wall paintings were born within “Roma Creativa” project (“Creative Rome”, literally), a public project by Rome’s Cultural and Touristic Department aimed at reevaluating a few disreputable areas and fostering local artists.
Testaccio, is although known for its new hipster identity and street art. Walking around this area you will spot many wall painting marvels. Testaccio now boasts some of the most talked about street art in the city. Progressive artists are turning the walls of abandoned buildings, train underpasses, and apartment blocks into canvases for spectacular murals. The nicest piece to see might be the “Jumping Wolf” by ROA, a Belgian artist drawing black a white local animals as his trademark. Have you ever seen those little statues with a wolf feeding two little twins? Everyone sells them in Rome, of course you have. The female wolf is the symbol of the city. What strikes your attention is exactly how ordinary the animal seems. This makes it all really expressive, really impressive.