Staying in Rome: Monti district, the quietest corner of the historical centre of Rome
Sometimes people and tourists wander along Via Panisperna in Rome realizing they got lost, but without worrying about it, because the view from there is divine: a part of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore between nineteenth-century and crumbling palaces, the San Lorenzo's elevated church and shops like Macelleria Stecchiotti, an historical butcher selling some of the best meat in Rome, and much more.
Monti district is an eclectic, bohemian and classic area of the city, with a very special and beautiful architecture. This mix of elements is mainly due to its history and to the peculiar position in the middle of many areas of Rome protagonists of the city's history. This is Monti: the first district of Rome, or better Rione I, as the marble signs installed in the eighteenth century said between the crowded Via Cavour and Via Nazionale to the east of the Forum. Even if it is not known by tourists, unlike districts such as Campo de' Fiori and Piazza Navona, Monti district undoubtedly is the most Roman of all: a working-class district in the heart of the historical centre, a place that cultivates the dreams of young entrepreneurs who open art shops, cafes, vintage clothing stores, organic markets and galleries.
Experience the Monti district
Spending time there is enough to make a tourist dream of throwing everything away and moving there: Monti district is the quietest corner of the historical centre of Rome. The fountain in the centre of the square is a simple Renaissance building with some grotesque decorations and an always working tap, from where you can drink pure Roman water. On April, a festival takes place in the tiny square, with free Italian music, fava beans and unbottled wine: hearing and taste can celebrate.
Imagine the pleasure of moving around the district, taking a walk till the end of the district in Via del Boschetto, stopping at small designer and furniture stores, women's clothing, jewellery shops and vintage costumes.
The ancient evidences of Monti district
Monti is an ever-changing district, but traces of the old ancient district are everywhere. A few blocks from the American Apparel, in a crowded office on the ground floor of Via Neofiti, Umberto Silo sells luxurious Roman trinkets: broken frames, lampshades of water-stained lamps and old hair. He sits in the shadows, fiddling with clocks and fans stopping there to take pictures, preparing meals on a gas stove in the corner. But in his days of glory he was a successful boxer who worked at L'Audace, an underground gym opened in 1901, in Via Frangipane, in the district. The gym is still there, with athletes who train themselves every day.
Around the corner of Via Neofiti, the doors are almost always open in the Church of the Madonna dei Monti, designed by the sixteenth-century architect and sculptor Giacomo della Porta. The parishioners meet for the Sunday Mass, and when someone in the district dies, shops and taverns close for a few hours, so the owners can attend the funeral. Monti managed to keep his character lived and unique because it is a little out of the centre, even though it is near the Roman Forum, near the most popular parts of the historical centre. Although there are no important tourist attractions in the heart of the district like the Pantheon, it does not mean that Monti does not have interesting sites, on the contrary: staying in this district is the ideal solution for those who love tranquillity and relaxation.
Places of interest near the Monti district
Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four great papal basilicas of the city, is located in the east side of the Monti district, while the Colosseum and San Pietro in Vincoli, home of Michelangelo's Moses, are in the south. The Scuderie del Quirinale, a museum where important exhibitions and great shows take place, facing the north. The western border is a robust wall along Via Tor de' Conti, a counterpoint to the forums of Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and Nerve. As you can see, this district is the Roman midpoint and even more tourists spend more than a day in this beautiful area of Rome.
Suburra and its ancient slums
The wall built to separate the imperial Rome from the Monti district was a slum formerly known as the Suburra: its pimps and cut gorges are now gone, but you can visit the formidable Palazzo Valentini, on the nearby Via IV Novembre, which gives an idea of what the district was like. In the palace cellar, now seat of the Province of Rome, a residence is now open to be visited, on the edge of the Suburra. The visit includes sounds and light shows highlighting the mosaic floors, fragments of frescoes and thermal baths, trying to give life to a dark and hot world of red blood. The audio-video effects of rebellious centurions and a robbery in the slums of the Suburra may appear as distractions to somebody, but they are almost as good as the images of the HBO mini-series "Rome".
The modern Monti district
Monti has been characterised by a deplorable appearance until Rome became the capital of the united Italy in 1871. Then wide avenues like Via Nazionale and Via Cavour were built on its borders, and in the 30s an entire section of the district near the Forum was demolished to make space for Mussolini's great Via dei Fori Imperiali. The four and five-floor apartments financed by real estate speculators attracted families to the district. Today less people live there, many real estate owners do not live in the district, although it remains one of the most peaceful and pleasant places to live in Rome. The residents really love Monti district, they do everything to make it a pleasant place to relax outdoors. You can talk to people around and with the old ladies who are always alert to everything that happens on the streets of the district: even if the district has changed, there is always a small village, a small oasis in a paradise called Rome.
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