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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Not Quite a Christmas Story: A Bar and a Church

In the early years of the last century, a Roman family bought a nice piece of land in Monteverde Vecchio, then sparsely developed.  They hoped--indeed, expected--that the parcel's location, just a 10-minute walk from the Trastevere train station, and on what they knew would be the main road up the hill, would position the family to serve and profit from the expected traffic.  Location, location, location. 

Bar Vitali, modestly promoted
(the sign says only "BAR")
And it happened that way--or sort of.  The Vitali family started a business there that evolved into a bar, on Via Lorenzo Valla, and it's still there, and very successful, more than 75 years later.  Today it's owned by Mario Vitali, a grandson of the original owners, and it's become a bar/restaurant (lunch only), and one of more than local reputation, if only because Italian movie director Nanni Moretti lives nearby and eats there from time to time.  On the MAP below, Mario's bar lies at the intersection of Via Lorenzo Valla and Via Pindemonte, the dog-leg street coming in from above.

Monteverde Vecchio in 1935.  The photo hangs
in a back room of Mario's place. 
The flow of automobiles and scooters by the bar is substantial, too, certainly all that one could expect in an area of one-way streets.  But it is not what the Vitali family had in mind when they purchased the property.  They believed then, and it seemed a very good bet, that traffic flowing uphill into Monteverde Vecchio would move straight out of the small piazza fronting the train station (and off two major thoroughfares, the Gianicolense and Viale Trastevere, which come together there) and directly northwest, onto Via Lorenzo Valla: a straight shot to the bar.  Visions of coining money. 

But it didn't happen that way.  If you look at a map, or stroll the area, you'll see that there is no street running straight uphill from the train station.  Instead, there's a church (on the map, the blue rectangle at lower right, with a cross).
The church was built in 1942 (Mario knows the date, all too well), in the last years of Fascism, and it's situated right where the anticipated road would have been.   It's an undistinguished, late-Fascist-era building, just the sort of place that Bill enjoys and to which Dianne must be dragged.  I don't think you'll ever get Mario Vitali inside.  And now you know why.


PS from Dianne - Mario is something of a local historian and has written (in Italian only and now out of print) an intriguing family history.  His grandmother, widowed young with 4 very young children, simply started cooking for local construction workers, then selling anything she could buy and break up into smaller lots.  Her home turned into a luncheonette, then a store, then the bar and tobacco shop owned by Mario's father.  Mario's grandmother, who had built her business from scratch, was the one most upset by the church's closing off of via Lorenzo Valla, Mario told me when I asked.  But she did attend the church and her burial procession, down via Lorenzo Valla, ended there - a touch of irony in the whole story.

1 comment:

Jessica Dello Russo said...

Actually, your "Not Quite a Christmas Story: A Bar and A Church" made my Christmas, because it shed new light on a subject I know rather well from other sources: the development of the southern slope of the Monteverde and valley below in the early decades of the 20th century. An ancient cemetery, including catacombs (many used by Jews) and tombs sub divo all emerged from the hill slope at this time, only to be largely destroyed or (in the best case scenario) buried under artificial terracing for the new buildings and streets indicated in the aerial photograph ca. 1935 illustrating your post. Some remains of this funerary complex are believed to still exist below buildings close to the intersection of via Vincenzo Monti and via Lorenzo Valla and are being investigaged by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma as I write. Although the Jewish catacombs of the Monteverde excavated in the early 20th century were located several hundred meters from the quarries on the old via di Monteverde (more extensive than the current street of that name), perhaps the concentration of underground galleries in that area led to the changes in planning that "blocked" via Lorenzo Valla from the busy intersection below. The Soprintendenza Archeologica would be extremely interested in any information the Vitali family record could provide about these sites. An extensive, but by no means complete, study of the Monteverde catacombs is on (yes, something I wrote, although it does not include the current investigations, begun in 2009). Thank you again for calling my attention to this, and to so many other fascinating aspects of Roman history and culture, and for sharing the great image of Monteverde from that time! Very helpful. Compliments, as well, on your in-depth coverage of so many other aspects of Roman history and culture on "Rome the Second Time" - Jessica Dello Russo