Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rome's Mill Stream

Water is one of the great unifying themes of Rome – the ancient Romans, Popes, and modern Romans just couldn’t and can’t stop working with it.  We found yet another example at our current address:  via della Marrana in the Tuscolana district (behind the Tuscolana train station, about 2 miles south of San Giovanni in Laterano at the city's ancient walls).  The street takes an odd course, we noticed – and one can see this from a map overlay.  So what does “Marrana” mean, we wanted to know, and what’s with the zig-zag street? 
Nearby remains of 2 aqueducts on
via del Mandrione
One gets a sense of via della Marrana's watery
curves from this photo - complete with scootering
Turns out the answer is something like “the old [as in 1000 years] mill stream,” and “marrana” or “marana” means swamp or standing water.  How to reconcile this?   What seems clear is that via della Marrana follows a stream (perhaps now underneath the street, or once next to it) down from the aqueducts that sit atop the rise at the end of the street, and that several mills were sited here.  One plausible explanation is that a short-term Pope, Callistus II (1119-1124) diverted a river Marana (that starts in the Colli Albani near Grottaferrata, some dozen miles from Rome) at several points until it flowed along the aqueducts (or used some of the aqueduct channels underground),  and then he poured it down the hill above us to get water to San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John the Lateran – at that time the central administrative church of the papacy). 
In more modern times, there were still mills along this street, at least one partially functioning within the past 10 years.  The street is now in its post-industrial age, and that particular enterprise, which specialized in milling maize before World War II, now is comprised of condos.  More on this post-industrial district and its conversion to residential use in a future post (we know you’re fascinated!).
Molina Natalini, the Natalani Mill, now condos
on via della Marrano

PS – lots of controversy on the topic, but the word “marano” meaning standing water or swamp may come from the ponds that were located at certain points along the stream.

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