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Monday, August 6, 2012

Testaccio's New Market: RST Weighs In

Tables outside a bar - the only classic Rome bar - in the market
Testaccio's new market opened Monday, July 2, to rave reviews from public officials.  "This is one of the most beautiful markets in Rome," said right-wing Mayor Gianno Alemanno.  And David Bordone, with a title that translates into something like "Assessor of Productive Activity," gave his assessment of the activity, claiming that "we are endowing the city with one of the most beautiful structures in the capitol's system of markets." 

We don't share their enthusiasm for the "beauty" of the market.  We were shocked when, two years ago, we saw the "artist's conception" drawings, posted around the exterior, and we're still schocked: from the outside, Testaccio's new market, designed by architect Marco Rietti, is pretty much a big, flat, brown and white box.  (You can see the artist's conception in RST's earlier post on the new market movement.)

The space between the two boxes is, for now,
almost empty
Or boxes.  There are two of them, a smaller one devoted to a variety of purposes, including administration and computer-based classes, and two restaurants, the "Roadhouse Grill" and a sushi place, and a larger box that houses the 103 commercial spaces.  The boxes are separated by an open, exterior corridor that for now is empty, save for some tables serviced by a bar.  To some extent, the big box effect is softened by small brown tiles that dot upper walls.  The market interior--resembling a chessboard with aisles--is sensible and functional, if not flashy.  More on that later.  But now, some background.

Interior, Magna Grecia market
Rome has over 150 large "public" markets--i.e., not grocery stores and not delicatessens.  Many are housed in large, older buildings, done in a variety of styles, and often dating to the 1930s and 1940s; the markets at Piazza Bologna, Trieste (via Chiana), and San Giovanni (via Magna Grecia) fit this description.  Others, like the markets in Monteverde Nuovo (Piazza San Giovanni di Dio) and in Monteverde Vecchio, are simply collections of green iron shacks.

                                 Many of the older markets have raised concerns about sanitation,
Interior of the Trieste market, during an evening
community meeting on the future of the market
and many are are at least partially empty, under pressure from supermarkets and a younger generation that is less enthusiastic about shopping on a daily basis from individual vendors in a marketplace setting.  For these and perhaps other reasons, the city administration has a long-term plan to replace the old markets with new, modern ones.  This has already happened in the Ponte Milvio area, in Trionfale, in lower San Giovanni, and now in Testaccio, and there are plans afoot to replace the Trieste (the quarter in Rome, not the city) market with a complex that includes a new market, dedicated parking, and apartments. 

Although the new markets are, in a sense, "public" markets, they have not been built with public funds.  The markets at Triofale, Ponte Milvio, and Testaccio have all been
built with private money, in exchange for ownership of the complexes.  That, at least, is what the newspapers say, and it more than implies that the markets are privately owned and operated--with consequences, we might add, as yet unforseen.  The same could be said of the largest market of them all--the enormous Eataly complex in Ostiense
Abandoned biscotti in the old Testaccio market

The old Testaccio market was a combination of the two kinds noted above: a collection of metal shacks, old enough that large trees had in some cases grown around and through the metal, but contained within a building, probably dating to the 1940s.  When we visited the old market (the day after the new one opened), it was, of course, abandoned. 

A tree inside the old market
We looked for, but did not find, any sign that the merchants would have preferred to remain in their old quarters--for us, an indication that most vendors welcomed the move.  On our way out, we were stopped by a woman who had come to the old market only to find it closed, and did not know where the new one was. 

Residents of via Mannuzio register their concerns
about stands on their street
One group has been vocal in its concerns.  The residents of via Aldo Manuzio, which borders the new market on the northeast, fear that "bancarelle" (stands) will appear on their street, creating noise, dirt and refuse beneath their windows.  In the Roman tradition, they've hung banners from their windows and across the gate that accesses a courtyard within.  Some residents who enjoyed easy access to the old market will doubtless be irritated at having to walk about 4 blocks to the new one.  Indeed, we wonder if the new market, bordered on one side by Monte Testaccio and its bars and clubs, and on another by the art gallery, Macro Testaccio, is properly situated to draw and serve the customers it will need to flourish.

Swordfish for sale
These issues aside, including the big-box look of the exterior, the market would seem to be positioned for success.  On its second day of operation, when we visited, about two-thirds of the spaces were occupied, and there was considerable foot traffic.

The market's administrators have grouped the merchants, with fruit and vegetable vendors occupying one area, fish and meat vendors another, and sellers of general goods--household supplies, shoes, women's apparel--at one end. 

Marcello Mastroianni once shopped at this store--when
it was in Testaccio's old market
Vendors had begun to humanize their stands with photos of famous customers and the like.  The checkerboard layout of the place thankfully avoids the confusing configuration of the Ponte Milvio market and the subterranean feel of the Trionfale space.

A small group tour--in English
Side walls allow light and air to enter, and skylights brighten the aisles. 

Ancient ruins found under the market
In the center, a piece of Roman wall found during the excavation process is visible below, and more of the archaeological discoveries--the market was built on land that 2,000 years ago was commercially active--will (so they say) be unveiled for the edification of shoppers in about two years.

In short, we wish the market's exterior wasn't quite so stark, so unyieldingly separate from the surrounding buildings.  But we applaud a straightforward interior design that in some basic way suggests the old market. 


RST is not fond of the exterior of the structure, but it doesn't look so bad from this angle

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