Casilino 23 market is over twenty years old, officially opened on September 16th 1993, a modern market looking like a little mall, rather than like a traditional market and in fact it’s called Casilino Trade Center. But it’s an open air mall, recalling a small village main square, with flowers, benches, toilets, a café with tables outdoors and also a plexiglass structure to protect it from the rain.
A walk through the stalls
There are less fruit and vegetable stalls than in a traditional markets (only three, including a farmer from Fondi coming only a few days a week), but a number of services, such as a library, a catering provider, a seller of professional skateboards, a fiscal assistance consulting corner and a nail center.
"It’s a different market, it has changed a lot throughout time: the non-food stalls have increased and we have tried to target a different customers base, younger and more diverse than the one of a traditional market – explains Claudia, who, with her haberdashery is one of the first sellers at Casilino 23 – we put a lot of effort in keeping it neat, clean and colored. The only tools we have to fight against big stores competition are quality, kindness and home services”.
Actually Casilino 23 market has another string in its bow: communication. Casilino 23 has a free Wi-Fi thanks to a partnership with the province and, as it targets a wide audience and on average young, the approximately thirty sellers have a web site and a Facebook page where they post special offers and other initiatives. Every stall publishes the offer of the week (clean salad at 1,80 per kilogram, roasted chicken at 6,50€ per kilogram with free French fries) or the sale (10% on Giuliano’s beauty products). Yes, at Casilino 23 there is even a beauty corner for hair and make-up. It’s called Bellissima (beautiful, literally) “specialized in high quality professional products, many with bio minerals, without nickel or paraffin, as we believe we can offer great make up products at good price, even if we are at the market” tells us Giuliano. And also some beauty advice for free, we add. And to take care of your hands, there is Emanuela’s nail center, opened after working at her sister Claudia’s haberdashery, next to her parents’ stall selling clothes for ever, before at Tor Pignattara market and then here, since 20 years.
Moreover, there are Angelo and Massimo with their deli’s, Tiziana with her “ready to cook” (food and pizza), Anna with her handmade pasta, Sabrina and Luigi with their bread and pasta, the bio food shop selling also products for celiacs, the vintage corner, Daniele with his pets corner.
But the real flagship of Casilino 23 markets is Ivana’s bookshop.
She welcomes us with a smile while working at her artistic magnets, a passion coming from her past as creative agency designer. “For 18 years I worked at Feltrinelli (large Italian bookshop chain) where I met my husband. Then I had three children, I opened a handcraft shop and then I came back to books – she tells us – for sure you don’t earn much, but my consolation is that my former Feltrinelli colleagues tell me that even there they feel the crisis”.
Ivana’s bookshop, named Ya Ya Book (as the title of the novel ‘Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’, the first book that Ivana brought to the reading group that she led for ten years), is a special bookshop. “You will not find the top ten chart books here. Of course, if a customer asks, I will order them, otherwise I prefer not to keep this kind of books as even supermarkets sell them”. The area is well decorated, with colorful books, some German design items, a kids corner with a small table and chairs and Ivana’s creations, but it has one flaw: the lack of space. So Ivana has set up the area in front of the shop with two tables and benches where workshops or readings can be held.
“I really like to draw. With pencils, markers, chalks or even tempera. Sometimes you can’t really get what I had in mind so I call them abstract drawings!
Wandering around with Mummy I have seen plenty of bookshops. But the one at Casilino 23 really surprised me.
First of all because it’s inside a market, then because it’s owned by this very nice lady with silver hair and a pencil always in her hand. Last but not least, because there is a table with some chairs where we can write and draw. It’s a very small table and the nice lady wanted more room, but even if she asked and asked again they wouldn’t give it to her. So, I made up my mind and I asked myself to the mayor: would you please give a little more room to the bookshop inside the market so that many children can come and draw? Well, I don’t know whether it was thanks to my request (I also said please) or not but now the silver hair lady has her room”.
Just around the corner
Casilino neighborhood is crossed by the “Southern Francigene road”, the road that the pilgrims who had come to the Eternal City would take to reach Brindisi port and embark on to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
From the market go back on Via Casilina and walk towards the center, after a few steps you'll get to the grave of the first sovereign in history who took this journey: it’s ST. HELENA’s MAUSOLEUM, mother of the Emperor Constantine. She was the one contributing to the son’s conversion, who was the first one to grant freedom of worship to Christians in the Empire. And according to tradition it was actually her, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the one who found Jesus Christ’s grave and the remains of the Cross. Looking at the remains of the majestic circular building, you can still see traces of empty jars, which were used to lighten the weight of the dome.
These amphorae were called pignatte (literally, pots) and therefore the mausoleum got the nickname of “Tower of pignatte”, which has been handed down over the centuries until it gave the name of Tor Pignattara to the whole neighborhood.
In this area so rich in spiritual suggestions, the Emperor Constantine himself wanted to build a basilica in honor of the Saints Marcellinus and Peter, martyred during the great persecution of Diocletianus. From the parish church which kept the ancient basilica’s name, you can access to a complex of CATACOMBS which is the third in Rome for its size –18 thousand square meters – and keeps as a treasure precious examples of early Christianity painting. Actually, a treasure that was hidden for decades from the visitors’ eyes, due to the degradation of the hosting environment, which could be opened only extraordinarily, while waiting for a radical refurbishment. Now this underground museum could be opened to the general public, on Saturdays and Sundays, thanks to the works partially funded by a foundation from Azerbaijan Republic, which is the first Muslim country to support the renovation of such a big Christian inheritance. Which was already a pilgrimage destination in ancient times: the refurbishment has shed light on the frescos and also to some graffiti left in runic characters by the “romeos” from northern Europe.
But the real tourism ‘boom’ would happen if Maria Valtorta’s vision ever comes true: during Second World War she put in writing the revelation she apparently had by Jesus, according to which St. Peter was not buried on his martyrdom site, in Vatican. According to the Viareggio mystique, the first apostle’s remains had been transported – and still rest – in Saints Marcellinus and Peter’s catacombs. A discovery that would not only change the topography of tourism in Rome, but also completely rewrite the rules of spiritual geography of Christian Rome.
Behind the Mausoleum and the Catacombs, there are 12 hectares of Villa De Sanctis green area, public area which hosts a SCUPLTURES PARK since 2003. To the five works which were there at the official opening – among others a 9 meters “Moon” in jail and glass which the Greek artist Costas Varotsos dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasini – a sixth sculpture has been added in 2010, as a tribute to Amerigo Tot, the Hungarian master arrived in Rome by foot in 1933 running away from Nazis Germany, who died in Rome in 1984. His story deserves to be told: pupil of Kandinsky and Otto Dix, in the first years in Rome he supported himself sleeping in shelters for homeless and working as zincography printer for the newspaper “Il Messaggero”, until a Collegium Hungaricum scholarship and the meeting with via Margutta artists launched his career. Just an anecdote to describe his character: in 1940, year in which fascist Italy joined Nazis Germany in World War II, Tot was called to decorate with a low relief Goldoni family’s grave in Bologna. And among the 472 figures that decorate his “Crack of Doom”, the Hungarian exile was brave enough to put in hell Hitler and Mussolini.
So it’s not surprising to find Tot fighting for Resistance: since 1943 he served as official and parachutist under Sandro Pertini, the partisan who later became the most loved president of Italy. If you are Romans but Amerigo Tot’s name doesn’t mean much to you, you have certainly seen his most important works hundreds of times: it’s his the aluminium decoration on Termini Railways Station pediment.
And, you probably don’t know, but even his face could be familiar: in 1974 the Hungarian artist interpreted the role of Bussetta, the taciturn and loyal killer, always black dressed, who came from Sicily to guard the body of Al Pacino/Michael Corleone in “Padrino – Part II” by Francis Ford Coppola. In the movie he came to a bad end, killed by an officer of the Cuban army while he’s trying to suffocate the enemy boss Hyman Roth in a hospital at Havana, on New Year’s Eve.
Amerigo Tot will actually die 10 years later his “cinema” death, on December 13, 1984, at the age of 75, in the city he loved and had adopted him.