Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Villa Certosa: A Hidden Rome Neighborhood

Railroad tracks are usually the enemy of community.  They cut through and divide neighborhoods, bringing with them dirt and noise and a certain trashy, industrial ugliness, leavened, if barely, by the graffiti that often covers their sides.  Paradoxically, rail lines can also create neighborhoods and nurture community, doing so by isolating an area and, effectively, protecting it from outsiders.

Railroads explain the charm of a Rome neighborhood known as Villa Certosa.  Villa Certosa is a spit of land bordered on one side by the multi-track Ferrovia Urbana Roma Giardinetto, which runs adjacent to the busy via Casilina; and another--even more impenetrable and isolating--track to the south and west that eventually passes through the Parco degli aquedotti (Aqueduct Park).  One can access Villa Certosa at several several places along the Casilina line, but the other track is a solid barrier.  Because one can't get through Villa Certosa to go anywhere else (there is one exception to that), there's no reason to go there--unless one lives there.  Or unless you're in quest of "authentic" Rome, the "real" Rome that tourists--even clever and committed ones--never see.

Even then, those looking for a spectacular site are likely to be underwhelmed.  The houses are simple, the pace deliberate, the noise and bustle of via Tor Pignattara, while not that far away, fails to intrude - that's also Villa Certosa's charm.

Perhaps the best place to access Villa Certosa is through Largo Alessi, a stop on the Casilina/Giardinetto line.  Wander southwest on via Galeazzo Alessi, along the tracks. As it turns left, take a right at the first or second street--the second one is via Savorgnan, which runs the length of Villa Certosa. As you turn onto via Savorgnan, you'll see a restaurant that is one of our favorites, Betto e Mary, about which we posted several years ago (recognizing the very Roman food - innards and horsemeat, and the bell that rang for our large "mancia" or tip - which we gave because the bill was so small).

Quiet, unassuming streets.
Not far ahead you'll begin to see more commercial activity, including Bar Shakespeare, with benches outside.  There's beer and wine, and the wine list is surprisingly long and good; so get yourself a glass of wine and sit out front with the dog-walking locals, or in a very funky outdoor back room.

A few paces beyond, and you'll be in the "town center," Largo dei Savorgnan, also known as Piazza Ciro Principessa.  Here there's another bar--less hip and cool than Bar Shakespeare, but no less authentic.

The other bar.

--as well as the seat of local government. (below).

A large mural identifies Villa Certosa's local hero son, Ciro Principessa, in whose name there's a yearly festival, held in May.  Raised in Naples, Principessa had been living in Villa Certosa for two years (he was 17; the year was 1979).  A committed anti-Fascist, he was working in a library on nearby via Tor Pignattara when Claudio Minetti, a militant neo-Fascist, entered the library with a companion and asked to borrow a book.  Principessa asked for his library card and Minetti ran out with the book.  Principessa gave chase, and in the ensuing struggle, Minetti stabbed Principessa in the chest.  He died in the hospital.

Below, the poster reads: Fascism is not an opinion, it's a crime.

Having absorbed the minimalist delights of the piazza, continue on the main street until you hit the "T," where you can go right and under the tracks to the famed via del Mandrione in Tuscolano, or left (which we suggest), working your way downhill until you reach via Tor Pignattara, and Villa Certosa ends.   If you turn right at the T, at the end of the tunnel you'll find yourself on a particularly intimidating section of via del Mandrione, with few outlets.

Maybe a hundred yards before you get to via Tor Pignattara, there's an entrance to some older buildings on your right.  In back--you have to be a bit intrepid here--there's ANOTHER wine bar.  This one looks like a back yard, and it was closed when we came through, but apparently it exists.

The other wine bar.  

Villa Certosa has TWO WINE BARS, and all without a hint of gentrification.

We first heard about Villa Certosa from our friend Patrick.  Otherwise we might never have found it.  Thanks, Patrick!


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