Testaccio, Rome's Open Air Museum

Written by Katie Parla on November 15, 2009


The Testaccio neighborhood is a veritable open air museum that attracts locals and food tourists alike to its authentic market, bakeries, delis, and trattorie. The zone’s history dates back to the Roman era when the Tiber ports (2) lined its banks and the Aurelian Walls (8) traced its boundaries. Ancient terracotta jugs no longer suitable for use were broken up and tossed in a heap, dubbed Monte Testaccio (4). After the fall of the Empire, the massive trash heap and its surroundings were abandoned by most, providing ample grazing territory for shepherds. The most traffic the area saw was from the pilgrims walking along the nearby Via Ostiense to the Basilica di San Paolo.

In the late 19th century the slaughterhouse (5) was built in Testaccio, sparking a development of the region that was continued under Mussolini (notice the case populari and fascist city planning principles evident throughout the neighborhood). The presence of the slaughterhouse a poor population made Testaccio the heart of a Roman peasant cuisine that drew on offal and poor cuts of meat. The recipes and ingredients of this late 19th century cucina romana like trippa alla romana, la pajata, and coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail) can still be found in the trattorie and markets of the neighborhood.

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