If you have tried other tourist-clogged neighborhoods in the Italian capital of Rome and are ready for something different, visit Testaccio, referred to by locals as the “heart of Rome.” This neighborhood is anchored by the old stockyards and a hill made of amphorae (ancient Roman pots) from ships on the nearby Tiber River, broken into fragments and discarded.
The hill at Monte Testaccio has been transformed into a place with where you'll find lavish nightclubs and wine bars; it's where Rome's beautiful people go to enjoy their dolce vita (sweet life).
Foodies like Testaccio because of the traditions surrounding the foods attributed to the early stockyard workers such as innards cooked into a stew. These dishes are found at local Testaccio restaurants today. The neighborhood is a fun place to explore not only history but many more attractions including pizzerias, a lively covered market, and shops with international organic foods.
The hill known as Monte Testaccio reaches 150 feet high and spans about 220,000 square feet, and is said to have approximately 53 million broken shards of terracotta pots. These amphorae were used to transport olive oil, honey, wine, and other goods.
Also known as Monte dei Cocci, Mount of Shards," the hill is located next to the location of the ancient Tiber River port, and the warehouses, which would have been used to store imported goods like olive oil shipped in those jars.
Over the years, interesting facades and murals have been added to sections of the Monte Testaccio neighborhood to transform it into a center for clubs and restaurants housing some of the Capital’s best eateries.
If you crave a coffee or pastry after walking, Pasticceria Linari is a place to rub elbows with the amiable residents of the area. This neighborhood family business, around since 1971, makes everything by hand: beautiful desserts such as cakes, cookies, donuts, and fresh gelato, plus pizza for those craving something savory.
Volpetti Salumeria is the place where you can buy everything from pizza and sandwiches to some of Italy's best cheese and meats. It's an amazing and crowded place. Buying provisions for a picnic in a park is the way to go if you're trying to save money—but you won't find anything dirt cheap.
The Mercato Testaccio covered market is another place to find fresh vegetables, meat, and cheese. It's not a tourist market, but it offers a selection of edibles that will impress you if you're used to the limited selection of things in an American market. Around the periphery of the market, you'll see stands selling clothes, shoes, and household items.
The stockyards representing the southern boundary of Testaccio, wedged between the Tiber and Monte Testaccio, have given way to the impressive building and courtyard, Mattatoio di Testaccio. Now, this popular contemporary art exhibition space is the cornerstone of the arts center now occupying the old stockyard buildings.
Built between 1888 and 1891, the structure is considered one of the most significant original examples of industrial archaeology in the city. They haven't really dismantled all the old slaughterhouse mechanisms used to move hanging carcasses through the building for processing so you can get a pretty good idea of what went on there in the early stockyard days.
Learn More About Roman Foods
La Città dell'Altra Economia, found in Largo Dino Frisullo, is a very interesting 3,500 square meter farmer's market complex devoted to fair-trade products and organic foods, The complex hosts exhibitions, the SpazioBioRoma organic shop, a restaurant with vegetarian options, education facilities, and a renewable energy center. Lots of festivals use the area in front of the complex, which was the cattle field, or Campo Boario, when the stockyards were in use.
For what is considered by many to be the best pizza in Rome, head over to Pizzeria Remo in Testaccio's Piazza Santa Maria.
For excellent traditional foods, try Checchino dal 1887, a 19th-century restaurant between Monte Testaccio and the stockyards; it's a bit formal and not cheap, but worth it. Agustarello a Testaccio is another traditional Roman place worth a look.
For a guided experience of the neighborhood, leave it to the expert guides of the Taste of Testaccio walking food tour that also educates you on the history and culture of Rome.
Visit the Jewish Neighborhood
As you head back toward central Rome on foot following the pleasant Lungotevere (path running along the Tiber), you can enter what is known as the Ghetto near the Portico d'Ottavia, just across from the Isola Tiburtina, a small uninhabited island. Roman Jews were locked into this corner of Rome at night for more than 300 years starting in 1555. The area is now a thriving neighborhood full of kosher bakeries, restaurants serving Jewish-Roman food, and shops. Here foodies will find a whole different type of Roman cuisine.
Don't miss the Museo Ebraico di Roma (The Jewish Museum of Rome), closed on Saturdays and during Jewish holidays. The museum is located in the basement of the Jewish Synagogue located on the Lungotevere de' Cenci.
The food here is quite different than in Testaccio but is just a 15-minute walk away. You'll find many places to choose from and cultural variety in the cuisine, which ranges from pizza and pasta to sushi to Mexican or Israeli food, as well as desserts. The highly-recommended dish in the Ghetto section of Rome is Carciofi alla Giudia (famous fried artichokes).
BellaCarne Kosher Grill is a restaurant in the heart of the Roman Ghetto, serving traditional Italian-Jewish cuisine.