Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Fire on the River: the Two Sides of Rome's Tevere

Looking south from Ponte della Scienza
Early in the morning of June 28, a fire broke out on the east bank of the Tevere, between the relatively new walking bridge, Ponte della Scienza, and Ponte Marconi, downstream.  The fire started in a riverbank encampment (illegal, of course) of some 15 Romanian families, living in some 25 sheds and shacks. Fire departments from Testaccio and EUR responded, but their ability to deal with the blaze was limited by the steep terrain of the riverbank at that point.  Fortunately, no one was injured or died in the fire, but the families were made homeless.

East bank fire, seen from the west bank

Couple enjoying the river and the gazometro from beneath
the Ponte della Scienza, west bank
We found the story sad but also instructive, especially about the complexity of the Tevere as it winds through the city.  On the one hand, about a mile from the site of the fire--beneath Piazza Trilussa--the west bank of the river has been transformed by William Kentridge into one of the century's monumental works of art.

And, on that west bank one can jog or ride a bike on a paved track near water level, about 50 feet below the top of the river bank, for miles, from Ponte della Scienza north.

On the other hand, as one goes south from Ponte Testaccio, people live amid the dense foliage on the east bank of the river.  On that side of the river, there is no regular path for walking or biking, just dirt paths leading down through the weeds into the encampments.

Encampments, east bank, photographed from west bank
Still, parts of the east bank below Ponte dell'Industria (the "Iron Bridge," between Ponte Testaccio and Ponte della Scienza) are accessible, reasonably safe, and compelling in their way.  One approaches from via del Porto Fluviale (a now trendy area for restaurants in Ostiense) takes a curving street--Riva Ostiense--past some new high-end apartments, and out onto a broad street that's full of colorful graffiti of the customary "lettering" style, dramatic equipment once used for loading and unloading ships on the river, the best view in the city of the largest of the gazometri, and the backs of once-active industrial buildings.  One can "exit" over the Ponte della Scienza, a few hundred yards downriver.
The safer part of Riva Ostiense
Farther down.  These structures--industrial detritus from an earlier era--can be seen in the fire photos, above.
Farther on, the area gets dicey and possibly dangerous.  We had assumed that Riva Ostiense was open on the southern end, and it should be, but it isn't, and so there is no through traffic either for autos or pedestrians. Moreover, at some point about a quarter mile downriver from the Scienza bridge, those living on the bank have closed off what remains of the road with green canvas.  So one has to retreat--and the word feels appropriate.

Path leading down to an encampment below
The light blue at the center of the photo is an encampment, likely destroyed in the fire.
Encampment, seen from Ponte della Scienza, looking north.  Probably escaped the fire. 
Rome in a nutshell, one might say.  A nice path for jogging and biking on one side, people living in squalor and poverty on the other, a few hundreds yards from new luxury apartments.  And Riva Ostiense, open to Ponte della Scienza, beckoning to those with just a little sense of adventure, but beyond that, abandonment and no-man's-land, no effort at development or maintenance.


1 comment:

Richard Peterson said...

Dear Bill,

Is there any way that a location map can be included in some of the postings? I think I understand where this place is, but an annotated map would really help.

I also wonder how the Mayor is doing?

I'm still loving the blog.

Best wishes,

Richard Peterson