The old working class district of Testaccio is located a short way south from the Colosseum and a quick hop over the Tiber river to the east of Trastevere. Although not as picturesque as some other areas of Rome, it nevertheless has an abundance of great food, history and character. Here is a guide to some of the highlights of this up-and-coming neighbourhood.
Testaccio has long been linked with classic Roman cucina povera due to its history as a working-class district. The presence of Rome’s immense slaughterhouse between 1888-1975 provided not only much employment but also shaped the Roman cuisine we know today. The need to minimise waste and utilize every part of the animal gave popularity to offal recipes, known as quinto quarto or ‘fifth quarter’, including trippa alla romana (Roman-style tripe), coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew) and pajata (veal intestines) which were cheap and nutritious. Quinto quarto recipes are still widely appreciated and prepared by Romans and can often be found on most restaurant menus in the Testaccio neighbourhood. In recent years there has been a trendy revival of these classic Roman recipes at locations such as sandwich stop Mordi e Vai (Testaccio Market, box 55) where you can join the throng for panino filled with classic Roman stews, including tripe and allesso (boiled beef), or Trapizzino where pockets of pizza bianca are stuffed with historic recipes such as picchiapò (beef with tomatoes and onion) or lingua (tongue with salsa verde). Food lovers should also be sure to make a stop at the historic delicatessen Volpettii which dates back to 1973 and is filled to the brim with the best cheeses and cured meats that Italy has to offer.
The new market of Testaccio opened in 2012, transferring most of the long-standing stalls from their previous premises in Piazza Testaccio to the ultra-modern new structure three blocks south. The relocation of the market was a shock for the traditional Testaccini, many of whom maintain that the market has lost much of its character and ambience. However, the new market and fresh businesses that have arisen from it have created a great buzz for the neighbourhood, and the last five years have seen an increase in visiting tourists, putting it firmly on the map as a food-lover’s destination of choice. From fresh produce, historic butchers and old-school delis to street food, pastries and local wine, Testaccio Market is a great place to both shop and eat. Don’t miss the excellent regional fried snacks and craft beer at Food Box (Box 66) as well as Michelin-starred chef Cristina Bowerman’s deli Romeo (Box 30) and takeaway stop Cups (Box 44).
Much like the market, Rome’s old slaughterhouse has undergone great changes in recent years. The complex was closed down in 1975 and moved further away from the centre of the city, and although the original structures remain, they are now utilised in different ways. A large section is now dedicated to a branch of the MACRO (Rome’s contemporary art museum) while the previous livestock market is now a vast space used for regular farmer’s markets, food festivals and exhibitions named the Città dell’Altra Economia. Part of the complex has also been transformed into the architecture faculty of the Rome Tre University, and there is also a music school and the fine-dining restaurant Stazione di Posta. These developments all have contributed to Testaccio’s new profile as an artistic and foodie hub of the city.
Monte Testaccio is the large, man-made mountain which dominates the neighbourhood, and from which it takes its name. The testae are the shards of terracotta which were piled up to form the hill in ancient Roman times when the Emporio, or river wharf, was located a short distance up the Tiber. Olive oil, foodstuffs and other goods were transported to the emporium in large terracotta pots, known as amphorae, which were then stored in warehouses close by (the remains of one of these storage warehouses can still be seen underneath the new Testaccio Market). When no longer needed, the pots were broken and disposed of onto a large dumpsite nearby. This site grew over the centuries to form the 35 metre-high mountain visible today, created by an estimated 53 million terracotta pots. The foot of the mountain was later excavated to form wine cellars and storage houses, which took advantage of the cool temperature created from the air passing through the porous terracotta. These buildings have for the most part been transformed into bars, restaurants and clubs, and the the area of Via di Monte Testaccio is now one of Rome’s most famous nightlife locations for late-night drinking and dancing.
Pyramid and Non-Catholic Cemetery
One of Testaccio’s most distinctive landmarks is the 37m high pyramid which was constructed in the year 12 BC as the tomb of Roman magistrate Caius Cestius. The pyramid is one of Rome’s best-preserved ancient monuments and recent restoration has returned it to its sparkling white glory. Tucked behind the pyramid is the tranquil Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners, final resting place for distinguished figures such as the Romantic poets Keats and Shelley, American Beat poet Gregory Corso and the Italian politician Antonio Gramsci.